The Series: The Sandman by Neil Gaiman.
The Hero: Dream (also known as Morpheus, among other aliases) of the Endless.
The Ideal Format: A live action series with significant amounts of CGI and puppetry, à la Mirrormask and the Henson films of the 80's.
It's one of the most critically acclaimed comic series of all time, and one of the first graphic novels to ever make the New York Times Bestseller list.
It was one of only five graphic novels to be included in Entertainment Weekly's “100 best reads” (it came in at #46, in fact).
It's garnered more than 26 Eisner Awards, Bram Stoker Awards, a World Fantasy Award, and was nominated for a Hugo.
With all of that acclaim, and with its rather rabid fanbase, why hasn't The Sandman already been adapted for film or TV?
The complexity of the stories and characters probably has a lot to do with it.
Gaiman's iconic series—published from 1989 to 1996—addresses a number of cultural issues (feminism and misogyny, personhood and questions of identity and self-worth, LGBT+ issues) as well as metaphysical ones (sinning and redemption, justice, predestination vs. free will).
Many of the stories in the series remain divisive, hot-button subject matter, even 25+ years later. Few television networks are willing to be as bold and upfront as Gaiman has been with his comics.
It's also hard to pin it down to a single genre. In the early issues, The Sandman was a very dark horror tale with gothic, sometimes Lovecraftian, trappings.
But, as the title character's journey continued, it ranged from fantasy (urban and epic) to historical drama, and was even, at times, a straightforward superhero vehicle, with guest-stars from other DC and Vertigo comics. The Sandman is a series rife with mythological allusions, religious commentary, historical figures, philosophy, and the occult.
What Gaiman achieved with the series is rather sweeping and Shakspearean; something perhaps even Homer would have recognized in a fashion. It's not just a product of wild imagination, it's also an homage to all of the past stories, fairy tales, and legends that serve as inspiration for today's writers.
The series is more a collection of short stories and vignettes than a single, central story. We follow Dream, the Sandman himself, as he journeys through his realm (the Dreaming) and the waking world (what we consider to be reality), with the occasional detour into Hell, parallel universes, and the past.
Dream is one of the Endless: seven powerful anthropomorphized beings with control over different aspects of the universe. His siblings include Death, Destiny, Despair, Delirium, Desire, and Destruction, though the last has turned his back on the family and his duties.
When we first meet him, Dream (who also goes by Morpheus, Oneiros, and the Shaper of Form, among many other titles) is captured in an occult ritual and held prisoner for nearly 70 years. When he escapes, he has to begin rebuilding his damaged kingdom—and decides to atone for past sins.
(Since he's a near-immortal being that has been around for millennia, you can just imagine how many past sins he has to work through. It's enough to make even a god pause.)
As the series progresses, Dream changes from a harsh, unyielding figure into a tragic hero. His mastery over the Dreaming means he can slip into anyone's dreams and unconscious minds, exposing him—and the audience—to every facet of humanity, both ugly and beautiful.
It makes for a surreal and varied story that's as nightmarish as it is dreamlike, frequently confusing, but even more frequently powerful and visceral.
For over twenty years, Warner Bros. has been attempting to produce a film adaptation. But, many of the scripts have been nixed by Gaiman, who has said, “I'd rather see no Sandman movie made than a bad Sandman movie,” and directors, producers, and stars alike keep dropping out.
Most recently, Joseph Gordon Levitt's name has been added to that list of dropouts, though director/screenwriter David S. Goyer remains committed to the “current,” rather nebulous project.
“We need someone who has the same obsession with the source material as Peter Jackson had with Lord of the Rings or Sam Raimi had with Spider-Man,” says Gaiman, who has added that Terry Gilliam might be a good fit.
Personally, I think The Sandman is far too epic and sprawling to be given the movie treatment; not unless a studio could agree and fully commit to a trilogy or tetralogy up front, as New Line Cinema did for the aforementioned Lord of the Rings.
Trying to trim the edges down to fit a single movie, or even two, would be a surefire disaster. You can't possibly contain a series this rich into a two-and-a-half-hour runtime. The result would be lackluster, confusing, and a great way to disappoint the fans while alienating the newcomers.
Instead, a television adaptation seems a much more sensible alternative. With Gaiman's American Gods undergoing the same treatment, now would be a fine time to finally bring The Sandman to our screens.
Given the fantastical nature of the Dreaming, the best choice would be a live-action series that heavily utilizes green-screen, CGI, make-up, and puppetry in the same vein as Gaiman and Dave McKean's Mirrormask. Get the Jim Henson Company involved.
And, while Gilliam definitely has a knack for surrealist fantasy, I think Bryan Fuller would be an even better fit.
Fuller has the whimsical yet dark imagination that could do The Sandman justice and give us a coherent final product that would have mass appeal (something Gilliam still hasn't quite managed). Gaiman obviously already trusts him with American Gods.
If Gaiman doesn't have the time to write any scripts—and I wouldn't blame him, given how full his schedule usually is—Fuller would be a fair replacement. We already know he's one of the most artistic directors around and a seasoned veteran of macabre fantasy (see Dead Like Me, Pushing Daisies, even Hannibal to an extent).
It's been 20 years since the official story of The Sandman came to an end. With Lucifer—a series based off a Sandman character—getting a second season renewal, American Gods on the way, and Stephen King's The Dark Tower right around the corner, there's never been a better time to see a television adaptation of another definitive fantasy series.
Get HBO, Starz, or Netflix on the line. This is a show with a built-in fanbase and the story potential to be a long-running and multi-award winning series. We definitely need more dark, mature fantasy that has a real bite—I'm tired of all of the pale, watered down takes on the genre that populate the current landscape.
Images via comicbook.com, Pinterest & acciolacquer.com
Angie Barry wrote her thesis on the socio-political commentary in zombie films. Meeting George Romero is high on her bucket list, and she has spent hours putting together her zombie apocalypse survival plan. She also writes horror and fantasy in her spare time, and watches far too much Doctor Who. Come find the angie bee at Tumblr.