‘The Sandman’: introducing Netflix’s new ‘Game Of Thrones’-style fantasy

After 30 years in development hell, Neil Gaiman's dark comic book saga is finally ascending to TV heaven

Sometimes you don’t know what you need until it’s there right in front of you. That’s definitely true of The Sandman, the adaptation of Neil Gaiman’s iconic comic book series that arrives on Netflix this week. Star Tom Sturridge sums it up in just six words: “There’s a homicidal orgy, come on!”

He makes a good point. The Tony-nominated actor plays Morpheus AKA Dream AKA The Sandman. He’s the God-like personification of the concept of dreams: not a person, or a superhero, but an abstract sort of idea, wrapped in a package fit for a teenage Twilight fan’s bedroom wall.

“There’s a homicidal orgy… come on!”
–Tom Sturridge

What this means in TV terms is a story that spans both the “waking” and dreaming worlds, one where the infinite possibility of dreams allows for surreal sequences quite unlike anything else. Of course, the people who dream those dreams are plain old humans – and it’s the juxtaposition of the ‘Endless’ beings and all they control with the mundane real world where the series shines. It’s not so much about the immortal powers of these mythical beings, but about how they affect the lives of everyone they encounter.

We’d expect nothing less from the mind of Gaiman, the multi-award-winning creator of Good Omens and American Gods. The world he’s created here blends mythology, high fantasy and horror on an epic scale. “The Dreaming world is like Narnia and Middle Earth, multiplied by the breadth of the universe’s imagination,” Sturridge says. “You get to go to hell. You get to go to a convention of serial killers. I’m excited for people to swim amongst it.”

Here, Gaiman and the cast give six reasons why The Sandman is such a unique proposition.

The Sandman
Tom Sturridge. CREDIT: Netflix

It’s very much a post-Game of Thrones show

The Sandman comic book series, which began in 1989, is long overdue a screen adaptation. Though various film and TV projects have been “in the works” over the years, including one that was set to star Joseph Gordon-Levitt, they’ve never come to fruition.

So, what made this project different? “Every other attempt to do The Sandman started out from a place of trying to do the impossible – which is to say, The Sandman story is 3000 pages long,” Gaiman explains. “They would try and figure out a way to fit 3000 pages of story into a two-hour movie. And they would fail. They’d fail nobly sometimes, and fail dismally other times, but always fail.”

However, Gaiman believes we’re now in a “magical golden era of television” that lends itself to in-depth storytelling. “Our job is to take those 3000 pages of comics and use them in the same way that the guys who did Game of Thrones made Game of Thrones,” he says. “We’ve got the material, so let’s shoot. Putting this onto the screen has been a challenge, but it’s been the most incredibly rewarding challenge you could imagine.”

Jenna Coleman
Jenna Coleman. CREDIT: Josh Wilks/Netflix

It has an incredible cast

In addition to Sturridge, the series stars Gwendoline Christie, Jenna Coleman, Charles Dance, Sanjeev Bhaskar, Asim Chaudhry and many more Brit acting greats. Star Wars legend Mark Hamill even has a voice role. But with multiple worlds and beings in the mix, there’s always room for new cast members further down line.

Vanesu Samunyai, who plays Rose Walker, a seemingly ordinary girl who gets pulled into The Dreaming, already knows who she’d like to see in a future season. “I recently watched Stranger Things and I think Joseph Quinn was really cool… so that would be cool!” she says.

Tha Sandman
Rose (Vanesu Samunyai) and Lyta (Razane Jammal). CREDIT: Netflix

Dreams actually tell us a lot about real life

Think a comic book adaptation featuring fights in the depths of hell can’t get deep? Think again…

“What I love about what Neil has done with The Sandman is that it’s about the human condition,” says Vivienne Acheampong, who plays Lucienne, the head librarian of The Dreaming and a sort of right-hand woman to Dream. “It makes you question so much, and think about yourself and humanity and the concept of dreaming, and how everyone dreams.”

Acheampong adds: “In the show, [villain] Corinthian says, ‘Are men not governed by their dreams?’ When we dream, it’s our unconscious mind. There are no inhibitions, it’s our greatest desires, our greatest fears.”

Vivienne Acheampong
Vivienne Acheampong. CREDIT: Josh Wilks/Netflix

The characters are more relatable than you might think

Yes, some of these characters are all-powerful representations of abstract concepts. But in a way, they’re also just a very messy family. Dream actually does meet siblings Death, Desire and Despair for family mealtimes. Kirby Howell-Baptiste, who plays Death, sums it up perfectly: “I am a member of an extremely dysfunctional family.”

At the same time, these characters get to do some pretty extraordinary things. “What occurs [in this series] is fabulous,” says Christie, who plays Lucifer. “When I read the comic for the first time, I thought, ‘Oh I wish I was doing that’. And then I got to do that!”

Netflix
Kirby Howell Baptiste. CREDIT: Netflix

It’s absolutely stunning to look at

Large parts of this story are quite literally set in a dream world, but it’s been been brought to life without a load of distracting CGI.

“For us as actors, stepping on set was very real,” says Acheampong, “I remember the first time I went into Lucienne’s library, I was like, ‘Oh my god!’ I just wanted to touch and feel every book, because everything is so real and beautiful. We weren’t standing in front of a green screen and having to pretend we were there living it and breathing it. It was truthful.”

Sturridge agrees, pointing out that the show’s dream sequences have to feel real because dreams always do in the moment. “What was so important was that this didn’t become a kind of green screen computer-generated thing where you don’t actually believe anything,” he says. “It had to feel like when you’re inside a dream: you have to believe it. So, they built everything and you could touch and feel it. The fire was so real it would burn your face.”

The Sandman
CREDIT: Netflix

Each episode is like a movie

Many TV series claim movie-level production, but The Sandman is one of the few that can actually back it up. As Gaiman tells us: “This was enormous. We had 340 speaking parts in the first ten episodes.”

The Sandman is already big, but it’s only getting started. “In this series, we get to the end of volume two of the original Sandman – episode 16 of the comics – which is our first 10 episodes,” Gaiman explains. “What is marvellous is that we have an awful lot more to go. So, if people love this, then there’s so much more Sandman waiting for them and the story really has only just begun.”

The Sandman arrives on Netflix on August 5