Appropriately for an epic story like The Sandman, getting it onto screens has been quite the journey in itself. Published by DC Comics between 1989 and 1996, efforts to get Neil Gaiman’s story on film have been in the works for over 30 years.
Oh, and it's arrived with a bit of a fog around it, as new and experienced fans both had some queries. Fortunately, The Sandman's two biggest questions were just answered by Neil Gaiman and Netflix.
Finally, in 2022, Netflix has scratched that itch, and it has shot to the top of the most watched list in the United States. So was it worth the wait?
What is The Sandman about?
The Sandman tells the tale of Dream (Tom Sturridge), the king of dreams, trying to rebuild his kingdom after being accidentally captured by cultists for a century.
Over the course of the first season, which covers the first two volumes of 16 issues of the comic itself, Dream must track down and collect three powerful items taken away during his period in captivity: a bag of sand, a helm and a ruby with the power to make dreams come true.
Although this sounds a typical fantasy fare, The Sandman is known to be a dark, cerebral and thought provoking comic grounded in both the real world and fantasy, which is part of the reason why it’s taken so long to be adapted for the screen. In its final form, it has a hugely impressive cast, with Sturridge joined by the likes of Patton Oswalt, Boyd Holbrook, David Thewlis, Jenna Coleman and Stephen Fry.
Note that the ten-episode first season run doesn’t even come close to covering the full story of the comics. “We have adapted, so far, 400 pages out of 3,000,” Gaiman told the BBC. Hopefully that means The Sandman isn’t added to the growing list of shows cancelled by Netflix.
What do critics think of The Sandman?
The Sandman is off to a very strong start with the critics, with a current Rotten Tomatoes score of 85% fresh. That’s no mean feat for a story which is deliberately strange and confusing.
It’s “an ambitious carefully curated undertaking, attempting to weave a series of complex and not-always accessible stories into a coherent narrative,” explains Joel Harley at Starburst. “Like trying to recall the details of a dream long after waking, this is no easy task.”
But it’s a task it largely succeeds in, even if it left some reviewers slightly baffled (“As to whether it’s also any good, I honestly have no idea,” writes The Times’ Hugo Rifkind.) “The Sandman delivers a surprisingly authentic adaptation of Gaiman’s saga, weaving some of the comic’s most memorable story threads together in a busy (but never rushed) season,” says Rick Marshall at Digital Trends.
Not only is it faithful to the source material, but it’s also compelling. “There’s something about The Sandman that just draws you in and keeps you pressing play on each new episode, and once you finish the first season, you already want to start it again,” The Mary Sue’s Rachel Leishman writes.
But it’s evidently not for everyone, as even the positive reviews conclude. “At its best, the show is strong fantasy entertainment that functions as a great introduction to Gaiman’s writing,” explains David Sims of The Atlantic. “But the barrier to entry is high, and the cost of jumping into such an intricate saga might be too much for some.”
This is where the more critical critics agree. It’s “dramatically listless”, says CNN’s Brian Lowry, and pitched squarely at those “who already possess degrees in Sandman 101.”
Worse, some — such as IndieWire’s Ben Travers — just found the whole thing a touch forgettable. “The Sandman isn’t an arduous watch — it churns out curious cast members or creative concepts regularly enough to stir a kind of baffled fascination. But absent a beating heart and focused mind, it is easily forgotten.”
Outlook: Should you watch The Sandman tonight?
For fans of the source material, this is an absolute no-brainer. Give it a couple of episodes and see if you think Gaiman’s televisual vision matches the original comics.
For everyone else, it could be a tougher sell, but the generally positive praise suggests you’ll get at least something out of it. Even if that something is a hankering to track down the original comics to see what all the fuss is about.