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  • Jeff Beck

The Sandman: The Complete First Season: A Grand Adaptation of the Beloved Graphic Novels (Blu-ray)


The Show:


You've got to admire Netflix for some of the wild gambles they've taken on odd TV shows over the years. From series that exploded into popularity like "Stranger Things" and the recent "One Piece," to others like "Resident Evil" and the live-action "Cowboy Bebop" that sadly never found an audience, they certainly haven't been averse to delivering some very peculiar outings.


Another one of these bold undertakings was an adaptation of "The Sandman," Neil Gaiman's popular graphic novel series that originally ran from '89-'96. There had been many attempts to get an adaptation made over many years, but it wasn't until just the last few years that the dream finally came to fruition, ultimately taking the form of a series (with Gaiman overseeing as developer and executive producer). It was indeed a very bold and risky move, but was the decades-long wait worth it? Or perhaps the better question would be, could such a bizarre and fantastical series even work as a show?


"The Sandman" begins as Morpheus (Tom Sturridge), Lord of Dreams, is attempting to stop a rogue nightmare called The Corinthian (Boyd Holbrook). However, before he can, he is captured and imprisoned by a human magic user named Roderick Burgess (Charles Dance), who was actually trying to summon Death in order to bring his son back to life. During Morpheus' century-long imprisonment, Roderick continues to demand favors from the Dream Lord, but he chooses to remain silent throughout his captivity. Meanwhile, Roderick's lover, Ethel (Joely Richardson), steals Morpheus' objects of power (his ruby, helm, and sand) and runs away while pregnant.


The duty of watching over Morpheus eventually falls to Roderick's other son, Alex, whose partner accidentally breaks the seal holding the Dream Lord, freeing him at last to return to his realm of The Dreaming. Because of his long absence, it has heavily decayed, and many of the dreams and nightmares have left, with his loyal librarian Lucienne (Vivienne Acheampong) being one of the few who stayed. Morpheus immediately sets out on a quest to retrieve his stolen items, which will have him running into the ancestor of an old acquaintance, dealing with a man heavily influenced by the ruby, and even delving into hell itself. And that's only the first half of the season.


This is one of those series that I dove into knowing absolutely nothing about its source material (I had heard of it, but never read it), so I was unencumbered with any expectations as far as how accurate an adaptation it was. Right from the first episode, it becomes a rather captivating tale, weaving dreams and mythology with fascinating characters and compelling situations. Even the first main arc, which is primarily Morpheus going about and reclaiming his three items of power, provides a fair amount of exciting adventure, including a confrontation with Lucifer herself (Gwendoline Christie).


This arc culminates in the season's second best episode ("24/7"), which has the ruby's present owner, John (David Thewlis), attempt to use it to change the world by removing the lies. John does this while in a perfectly ordinary diner in a small town, where he has a front row seat to witness the chaos that can ensue when everyone is forced to tell the truth. The episode plays as a kind of intriguing "What if?" scenario, setting up a small group of normal folks (a waitress, a cook, a pair of business execs, a young man on his way to an interview, etc.), and opening the flood gates to have them say what they really think and feel. It's a fascinating descent into madness that acts as a representation of the effect John's little change is having all over, one that leaves us with one of the show's most memorable episodes.


Strangely enough, the season's very best episode is the very next one ("The Sound of Her Wings"), and stranger still is that it isn't connected to either of the season's main story arcs, but rather acts as a standalone pair of stories. The first part of the episode simply has Morpheus traveling around with his sister, Death (Kirby Howell-Baptiste), as she performs her duties. Along the way, they discuss various topics such as humanity, life, and finding purpose, all while Death escorts recently deceased of all ages to the afterlife.


The second story starts centuries before and involves Morpheus and Death meeting a man by the name of Hob Gadling (Ferdinand Kingsley) at a tavern. Hob simply wishes never to die, a wish that Death grants, with he and Morpheus meeting every 100 years so the latter can track his progress. We bear witness to their meetings over the centuries, tracking Hob's ups and downs, and seeing the evolution of this peculiar relationship. Both parts of this episode may not have a direct connection to the main storylines of the season, and yet they end up being the most compelling stories told out of these 11 episodes, which just goes to show that, even if the main focus is just two characters having a conversation, if the writing is sharp, it can easily leave the biggest impact.


The other main arc of the season isn't quite as compelling as the first, though it is a decently interesting story. It involves a young woman who is trying to find a younger brother that she hasn't seen in years. Her search eventually gets her entangled with Morpheus and The Corinthian, with her learning a rather disturbing fact about herself along the way. Again, it's not quite as memorable or engrossing as the show's opening arc, but it's more than enough to keep you wanting to find out what's going to happen next.


As mentioned earlier, I dove into this series without knowing a thing about the source material it was being adapted from, but upon finishing this first season, I made it a point to read the entire original 75-issue run of the graphic novel series, and it simply must be mentioned how remarkably well it's been adapted so far. No doubt Gaiman made sure that it would stay true to the material, and it certainly has been, marvelously & faithfully capturing all of its intriguing characters and stories.


The show has already been renewed for a second season, and now knowing of the arcs & individual tales that they have to work with, my personal anticipation is quite high. What they were able to accomplish with this first season is simply incredible, taking a bizarre series of graphic novels, a series that many felt could never work as a film or show, and turning it into a series which could hardly be more faithful to them. Ultimately it makes for a very easy recommendation whether you're a fan of Gaiman's graphic novels, or totally unfamiliar with them as I was at the start. Either way, it makes for some highly-entertaining and captivating viewing.


Video/Audio:


Video: 1080p, 16:9

Audio: English (5.1) DD


Special Features:


The Sandman: Behind the Scenes Sneak Peek

The World of The Endless


Conclusion:


The first season of "The Sandman" is a stunning adaptation of Neil Gaiman's acclaimed graphic novel series that faithfully brings to life its multitude of eccentric characters & the first few captivating storylines. It may have taken about 30 years to come to fruition, with many doubting that it could even be done along the way, but the outstanding result was most definitely worth the long wait.


Score: 4/5


Available on Blu-ray starting today.


Follow me on Twitter @BeckFilmCritic.



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