“The Sandman” muses on dreams and darkness

Tom Sturridge plays Morpheus, also known as The Sandman, in Netflix’s adaptation of Neil Gaiman’s DC Comic. Sturridge has an extensive acting history in theatre, film and television. // Photo courtesy of Netflix

Our Take: 5/5 Stars

One of the newest shows to grace the streaming scene, “The Sandman” is a dark fantasy comic adaptation that has quickly made itself into one of Netflix’s most successful debut shows, spending its first week in the first place spot on the Top 10 charts — something that has only been done by three other shows in 2022, according to Forbes. 

The series is based on the widely popular comic series of the same name, written by Neil Gaiman and published by DC Comics from 1989-1996. 

An onscreen version of “The Sandman” has been in constant development for years but never made it past the murky area of tentative proposals. 

That is, until Netflix made a deal with Warner Bros to adapt the series, bringing Gaiman himself on as an executive producer.

The show itself follows Dream, also called Morpheus (Tom Sturridge), an “anthropomorphic personification” of all dreams, nightmares and that which is outside of waking reality. 

Dream belongs to a family known as “The Endless,” immortal human-like manifestations of the seven longest-running concepts such as Desire, Death, Despair and Dreams.

Morpheus, while on a mission in the waking world, is captured by a human magic-user named Roderick Burgess and imprisoned, his symbols of power stolen by his captors. After a century of entrapment and isolation, Dream escapes his cage and returns to his realm, referred to as “The Dreaming,” only to find that it fell into decay in his absence. 

Determined to restore his realm, Dream goes in search of his stolen symbols of power, as well as the dreams and nightmares that escaped into the waking world while their creator was missing. One such nightmare is known as The Corinthian (Boyd Holbrook). 

Having escaped into the waking world before Morpheus’s capture, The Corinthian is determined to live outside of Dream’s control and he spends the years of his creator’s detainment preying on mortals as a serial killer. Upon learning of the being’s escape, the nightmare becomes fixated on figuring out how to strip the dream lord of his power. 

As a  fantasy-horror comic series, the storyline travels between different timelines and realms, dealing with characters and creatures both human and not. These elements seem as though they would make it dangerously easy to create a television show that is confusing, rushed, campy and/or just poorly written. However, viewers will be pleased to find out that none of those are the case with the Netflix adaptation. 

The first episode grants audiences exposition in the form of Dream’s own narration and  some light world-building before it moves into the story at a pace that feels just right for the premise of the show. In the episodes to follow, viewers never feel as if things are moving too quickly, except when it is an intentional decision by the show writers done for a reason that will be seen later in the episode. 

Morpheus, the Sandman himself, is played by English actor Tom Sturridge who does a phenomenal job bringing the character to life. Playing a character who is moody, resistant to change and sometimes mildly insensitive, Sturridge delivers Dream’s lines with little-to-no change in vocal inflection. While this might not be desirable for many character roles, it works perfectly for the lord of dreams.

The flatness of Morpheus’ tone establishes his personality as a no-nonsense being, showing audiences the way that he believes himself to be outside the realm of human feelings. In addition to delivery, Sturridge’s nonverbal acting adds another layer to his
on-screen character. 

Similarly to his lack of tone when speaking, Dream seldom shows emotions on his face. This does not mean Sturridge does not find ways to clue viewers in on what the character is thinking through subtle movements of his brow, faraway looks in his eyes and the rare tug of his mouth lifting into a smile. 

The main characters are not the only important things in a successful show, however. In addition to brilliant casting, “The Sandman” spared no effort in creating visually stunning scenes. 

From the CGI that went into The Dreaming and Hell, to the camera angles and lighting in the waking world, the quality of the series shows the attention to detail that the production team put into the creation of their work. The show has a way of making audiences feel specific emotions exactly when necessary, from discomfort and unease to wonder and relief. 

The visual allure of the series makes it all the more enjoyable to watch. 

Comic adaptations can often be hit-or-miss, and Netflix’s “The Sandman” is definitely a hit. Well-casted characters, artfully-shot scenes and dialogue pulled straight from the source text for the comic book fans comprise a series that is nothing short of captivating. 

Regardless of viewers’ experience  with the comics, the show is undoubtedly worth the watch.