The Sandman: Season 1 Review – IGN
This is a spoiler-free review of Netflix’s The Sandman, which is now streaming on Netflix; however, we do acknowledge comic book continuity that may lead those familiar with the source material to become aware of certain plot points in the show.
It’s been 32 years since the first issue of Neil Gaiman’s The Sandman hit comic stands, and fans have been clamoring for an adaptation of the material for nearly as long. While it’s just about impossible to live up to the kind of expectations that come with such anticipation, Gaiman, Allan Heinberg, David S. Goyer and the team behind the new Netflix series didn’t just meet them – they exceeded them.
Armies of people brought The Sandman to life on the small screen. Each one of them is wildly important to the success of the show, but not enough can be said about casting director Lucinda Syson’s work on the project. You’ve probably read a thousand different news articles about the casting of this series for a reason. The show does not work for a second if you don’t believe that the people portraying The Endless are, well, endless, and that absolutely comes across here.
Tom Sturridge is ethereal as Dream. Seriously, it’s actually unreal how good he is in this role. From his delivery and speech cadences to the tiny, almost unintentional smirk that comes when Morpheus finds himself amused in spite of himself… it’s impossible to imagine another in his place. Dream’s starry eyes may be gone (and even they make appearances from time to time) but any doubt that the character would be embodied here should be laid to rest. Somehow, he’s not alone in the exceptional portrayal of character, either. There truly isn’t a bad performance in the bunch. Boyd Holbrook’s Corinthian is every bit as suave and spooky as he’s meant to be; no one can call out Dream while showcasing the deepest kind of empathy like Kirby Howell Baptiste’s Death; Gwendoline Christie’s Lucifer is as imposing as you expect; and Mason Alexander Park’s Desire is simply delicious. Syson and Gaiman went to work on the casting for this series and it absolutely shows.
Netflix’s The Sandman acts as a direct adaptation of the “Preludes & Nocturnes” and “The Doll’s House” stories from Gaiman’s The Sandman graphic novel series and, outside of updating the time in which it takes place and a couple key changes here and there, it’s nearly a page-for-page take on the beloved stories. Pages so many of us have loved for decades leap to the screen, transporting the viewer into the dream in ways, well… in ways we could only dream of. From the cold, destitute cellars of Roderick Burgess’ (Charles Dance) estate to the sweeping visions of the Dreaming, there are very few scenes in this series that aren’t stunning to look at or meticulously planned out.
While we don’t know the specifics of the deal between Warner Bros. (which produced the series and owns the rights) and Netflix or its overall budget, there have been reports that an impressive $15 million per episode was spent on the adaptation, and it looks like it. The creatures leap off the screen while the demons of hell creep and crawl through woven walls of bodies. Some of our final moments in hell do showcase the only effect that looks out of place, but what a track record before then!
Sandman’s sprawling story is another tool meant to add to just how endless he really feels. It spans eons and skips from human story to human story as if they’re merely blips because as far as Morpheus is concerned, they are. This was an easy sell in the graphic novels due to the format, but it may be harder to comprehend for audiences new to the material. It’s frustrating, because that endless feeling to Dream is a difficult thing to capture on screen and, if you’re already familiar with what you’re looking at, Netflix’s The Sandman does it admirably. But, an adaptation’s job is to honor the source material while introducing new fans to something they’ll hopefully love and I don’t know how welcoming the series is to those new viewers when it comes to how quickly Dream’s saga shifts from one story to the next. In that one, very specific sense, the show may not do its job, which infuriatingly keeps me from giving it a 10/10 score despite the fact that, outside of that one very minor quibble, The Sandman is a masterpiece. It’s beautiful, rich, lush, and magnificent and everything fans have been waiting for when it comes to Dream, his siblings, and their adventures.
The series sets up a future with enough small changes that longtime fans won’t know exactly what’s coming at every turn, and it captures every ounce of hope that this wonderful franchise is meant to. Watching Dream learn about the goodness of humanity through Death and the tricky mortals he surrounds himself with is truly a gift. Underneath all the darkness, brooding and dark fantasy elements is a story about one of the most powerful creatures in existence learning how complicated, messy, cruel, loving, and selfless humans can be. Like Fiddler’s Green to the Dreaming, that is the true heart of The Sandman. And it’s on full display here, with all the love and adoration that comes with an adaptation decades in the making.