Over the years, there have been numerous attempts to turn Neil Gaiman’s immensely popular graphic novel series “The Sandman” into a movie or streaming series, and it’s finally happening, with Netflix giving us a lush, moody and ambitious adaptation that occasionally skirts the borders of camp with its lofty monologues and fashion-forward shenanigans but remains entertaining and involving throughout.
“The Sandman” opens with Tom Sturridge’s Morpheus, aka Sandman, aka Dream (we’ll just stick with Morpheus here), explaining that while humankind insists on calling the Waking World “the real world, as if your dreams have no effects on the choices you make…. there is another life that awaits you when you close your eyes and enter my realm, for I am the King of Dreams and Nightmares.” All right then! This opening is accompanied by some beautifully rendered visuals of the metaphysical realm known as the Dreaming, which is simultaneously familiar and unsettlingly strange.
The great Charles Dance plays the nefarious human Roderick Burgess, a British occultist who in 1916 conjures up a spell designed to capture Death herself so that he can bring back his son who was killed in the war and gain immortality for himself—but he inadvertently traps Morpheus (second prize!) and holds him hostage for decades. When Morpheus is finally freed, he discovers the Dreaming has been left in tatters, and all hell has been unleashed on Earth.
A 10-episode series available Friday on Netflix.
Along the way on Morpheus’ wild and woolly journey, we meet a number of memorable characters, all brought to streaming-series life with great vibrancy by the terrific cast:
- Kirby Howell-Baptiste is Mopheus’ older sister, Death, and you thought YOUR older sister was formidable.
- Mason Alexander Park plays their younger sibling Desire, who resents Morpheus for his arrogance and maybe for his fabulous goth look that makes him look like he stepped out a Joy Division video.
- Boyd Holbrook is the Corinthian, a Nightmare entity and serial killer who takes the eyes of his human victims.
- David Thewlis is Burgess’ illegitimate, grown son, John Dee, who spent most of his life in an institution after his mind was twisted by a ruby that belongs to Morpheus. Now out and about in the real world, John Dee can create intense chaos by using the powers of the ruby. (In one of the most compelling episodes of the series, John Dee visits a diner and forever changes the lives of everyone there, in a kind of “Twilight Zone” fashion.)
- Gwendoline Christie (Brienne Tarth of “Game of Thrones”) is Lucifer, who sports a shiny black trench coat and matching black wings as she rules over the Kingdom of Hell. (There’s a sequence between Lucifer and Morpheus in front of a rabid crowd that plays like something out of a “Mad Max” movie. Who knew they had existential cage matches in Hell?)
We also get Patton Oswalt as a talking raven who becomes Morpheus’ sidekick and serves an excellent purpose as our guide, often asking the same questions we’d have; Vivienne Acheampong as Lucienne, who is the Dreaming’s librarian and Morpheus’ most loyal associate, and Jenna Coleman as Johanna Constantine, a necromancer who’s very good at her job and has a serious attitude. There’s a LOT going on here, and yet at the end of the 10-episode arc, they’re clearing amping up for more mystical pyrotechnics. We’ll be there.