The Sandman: Netflix’s glossy adaptation of Neil Gaiman’s beloved story

In a story filled with magic and fantastical elements, it’s only fitting that the streaming adaptation of The Sandman is something of a miracle.

Attempts to mount The Sandman, based on Neil Gaiman’s immensely beloved comic books, has been ongoing since the early 1990s. It went through so many rounds of development, it was starting to become like Lucy and the football.

It’s safe to assume then that for The Sandman devotees, this Netflix miniseries is like a gift from the gods, or in the series’ parlance, the Endless, the immortal beings which personify concepts such as dreams, death and destiny.

But what if you’re not a mega-fan? What if you haven’t spent the past 30 years waiting for your screen dreams to be realised? Will The Sandman offer the same intoxicating allure?

Yes and no. The series is definitely high fantasy, which means its complex world can be dense and a little inaccessible at times. Of course, if you’re well-versed in the genre – and fantasy is de jour in pop culture – then it shouldn’t prove too onerous.

Still, newcomers may struggle for the first few episodes as they wrap their heads around The Sandman’s deep lore. And the pacing of the show tugs and pulls in the early half of the series as you bed yourself into its demanding narrative.

But if you stick it out until at least episode five, the stylish and visually arresting series really pays dividends.

For the uninitiated, The Sandman centres on Dream/Morpheus (Tom Sturridge), an Endless who rules over the Dreaming as well as humanity’s sleeping selves. When Dream is kidnapped by an early 20th century occultist (Charles Dance), he spends one hundred years in captivity.

When he is finally freed, he finds his realm in disarray and various threats on the loose. Dream must journey across realms, encountering a raft of characters who help and hinder his quest to restore order.

The Sandman is structured as episodic television, which means there are highs and not-so-highs depending on the focus. You also get a murderer’s row of guest stars who pop in, such as Gwendoline Christie’s (Game of Thrones) arch Lucifer Morningstar or Jenna Coleman (Doctor Who) as the wily Johanna Constantine.

While tonally coherent, each episode can vary wildly. A standout is episode six, co-starring Kirby Howell-Baptiste (The Good Place) as Death, Dream’s sister. She and Dream venture through a sequence of Death meeting various people at their life’s end and it’s a beautiful and poignant 20 minutes of storytelling.

Another episode features David Thewlis (Harry Potter and the Prisoner of Azkaban) as the pained man John Dee, who uses Dream’s enchanted ruby to expose people’s darkest wants while Jenna Coleman’s chapter is steeped in the philosophies of regret.

That’s The Sandman’s strength, the way it imaginatively weaponises its wider story to explore smaller stories about love, time, loneliness, friendship and the shadows that lurk where we dare not look.

Not every episode hits you in the same way just like not every emotion has the same effect. What felt like a cold exercise one moment can envelope you whole the next.

And it’s all packaged up in a glossy, spellbinding series which enthrals more than it distances.

The Sandman is streaming now on Netflix

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