Prepare for a dream you won't want to wake up from.
The Sandman fans have been waiting decades for an adaptation of Neil Gaiman’s DC superhero comic.
But over 30 years after the original comic series, which ran from 1989 to 1996, was released, and with the help of a mega-budget, a stellar cast and an epic soundtrack, Netflix have gone and done it.
The epic streaming drama follows Morpheus (Tom Sturridge) as he's captured by an occult group in 1916 and imprisoned for decades before escaping and rebuilding his dream kingdom.
The Sandman release date
The series landed on Netflix on 5th August 2022.
Efforts to adapt The Sandman into a film began as far back as the 1990s, where the project floundered in development hell until Joseph Gordon-Levitt pitched the film to Warner Bros. in 2013 with The Dark Knight writer David S. Goyer. Gordon-Levitt left due to creative differences in 2016, and Netflix announced a TV adaptation in June 2019.
The series was all set to start filming in May 2020, until production was paused like most TV projects due to the coronavirus pandemic.
Neil Gaiman wrote on Tumblr that the crew were "taking the opportunity to get the scripts as good as we can” and in September 2020 Gaiman announced on Twitter that the show was set to start filming in October.
Star Boyd Holbrook told Collider that the ambitious series would unsurprisingly have a long shoot, with filming scheduled to finish in June 2021.
Gaiman recently opened up about previously resisting attempts to adapt any of the 3,000 pages.
"I didn’t have faith that we’d always get here, but I had faith that the important thing was to stop bad versions being made," Gaiman told Total Film.
"Once a bad version is made, you never quite come back from that. It may sound silly, but when I was 14 or 15, my favorite comic was Howard the Duck... And then A New Breed of Hero came out. Howard the Duck became a bad joke. I never wanted that to happen to Sandman and I saw scripts that would have made that happen."
The Sandman cast
Netflix kept casting details notoriously close to their chest, with the cast only slowly trickling out once filming began - but we now have a full - and rather starry - ensemble cast list.
- Tom Sturridge as Morpheus
- Gwendoline Christie as Lucifer
- Kirby Howell-Baptiste as Death
- Jenna Coleman as Johanna Constantine
- Vivienne Acheampong as Lucienne
- David Thewlis as John Dee
- Boyd Holbrook as The Corinthian
- Charles Dance as Roderick Burgess
- Patton Oswalt as the voice of Matthew the raven
- Asim Chaudhry as Abel
- Sanjeev Bhaskar as Cain
- Stephen Fry as Gilbert
- Mason Alexander Park as Desire
- Donna Preston as Despair
- Kyo Ra as Rose Walker
- Mark Hamill as the voice of Merv Pumpkinhead
In September 2020 it was reported - and later confirmed - that Tom Sturridge (The Boat That Rocked) had beaten the likes of Colin Morgan and Tom York for the lead role of Morpheus/Dream, the king of dreams and ruler of the Dreaming. He joined long-time Sandman fan Patton Oswalt (MODOK), who was the first cast as the voice of Matthew the Raven.
In January 2021 Netflix officially unveiled a first look at the cast, which included Game of Thrones alumni Gwendoline Christie and Charles Dance as Lucifer and Roderick Burgess respectively. Sanjeev Bhaskar (Unforgotten) has been cast as Cain while Asim Chaudhry (People Just Do Nothing) plays Abel - both residents of Dream's realm - while Vivienne Acheampong portrays chief librarian Lucienne.
After Liam Hemsworth and Dacre Montgomery were rumoured for the part, Logan's Boyd Holbrook was also confirmed as The Corinthian, who has been described as "an escaped nightmare who wises to taste all that the world has in store.”
We got another big casting update in May 2021, which revealed that the key part of Death - Dream's wiser, nicer sister - had been cast as Kirby Howell-Baptiste (The Good Place).
“[Death was] significantly harder to cast than you might imagine (well, than I imagined, anyway),” Gaiman wrote in a Netflix blog post.
“Hundreds of talented women from all around the planet auditioned, and they were brilliant, and none of them were right. Someone who could speak the truth to Dream, on the one hand, but also be the person you’d want to meet when your life was done on the other.
“And then we saw Kirby Howell-Baptiste’s (she/her) audition and we knew we had our Death.”
Dream's other siblings have also been cast, with Desire portrayed by Mason Alexander (Cowboy Bebop) and their twin Despair played by Donna Preston (Hey Tracey!).
Roderick Burgess's love Ethel Cripps will be played by both Niamh Walsh (Holby City) and Joely Richardson (The Tudors) at different points in the timeline, with Ethel's dangerous son John Dee portrayed by fantasy veteran David Thewlis (Harry Potter).
Doctor Who fans will surely recognise Jenna Coleman, who has worked with Gaiman before after he penned Nightmare In Silver, and the former companion will be stepping back in time again as Eighteenth-Century occult adventuress Johanna Constantine.
“This Sandman character became so popular that she even had her own spin-off series,” Gaiman wrote.
“I created her to fill the role that John Constantine does in the past. When we broke down the first season, given that we knew that we would be encountering Johanna in the past, we wondered what would happen if we met a version of her in the present as well.
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“We tried it and the script was sparkier, feistier, and in some ways even more fun. So having written her, we just had to cast her. Jenna Coleman (she/her) gave us the Johanna of our dreams – tough, brilliant, tricky, haunted and probably doomed.”
The second big Sandman storyline is titled The Doll's House, and tells the story of Rose Walker, a young woman on a desperate search for her missing brother who finds she has a mysterious connection to Dream. Rose will be brought to life by newcomer Kyo Ra, while Razane Jammal (Paranormal) will portray Rose's friend and young widow Lyta Hall.
Sandra James-Young (Eastenders) will play the wonderfully named Unity Kinkaid who is Rose's mysterious benefactor, while national treasure Stephen Fry (It's A Sin) is perfectly cast as Rose's debonair protector with a penchant for a sword cane.
This second wave of casting prompted a backlash from a section of the Sandman fanbase due to the inclusion of a non-binary actor Mason Alexander Park as Desire, as well as the casting of Black actors, such as Howell-Baptiste as Death, as characters previously depicted as white.
However, Gaiman has dismissed the backlash, suggesting that fans critical of the casting had not read the Sandman comics.
"I give all the f***s about the work," Gaiman tweeted. "I spent 30 years successfully battling bad movies of Sandman. I give zero f***s about people who don't understand/haven't read Sandman whining about a non-binary Desire or that Death isn't white enough. Watch the show, make up your minds."
Several other fans pointed out, however, that Desire is androgynous in the comics, and that Death's skin is more akin to a ghost than a caucasian appearance. It's also worth noting that Death and the Endless manifest themselves in many different forms over the series - including as a black man and a young Chinese girl - as they are timeless concepts not locked to a single body.
In addition, Star Wars veteran Mark Hamill himself features as the voice of wise-cracking, pumpkin-headed and fan-favourite character Merv Pumpkinhead.
Gaiman had previously teased fans back in April 2022 that Pumpkinhead would feature in the series and that a voice actor had been cast.
The series is being developed by Wonder Woman screenwriter Allan Heinberg, with Gaiman and Goyer as executive producers.
Goyer told IGN during a preview event for Netflix’s Geeked Week that he had previously collaborated with Gaiman on a different project a decade ago that never materialised but that the two remained friends - and that his participation was paramount.
Reluctance to do the series without Gaiman’s involvement even extended to other members of the cast. “Having Neil’s blessing was paramount. Yeah, the most important thing and the reason why, certainly while I wanted in on with this,” Sturridge told IGN at the Geeked Week event.
The Sandman plot
As the sprawling cast may suggest, The Sandman has a complex and intricate plot stretching over hundreds of years, with the comic running for 75 issues from January 1989 to March 1996 under DC Comics' adult-themed Vertigo imprint.
A Netflix summary describes the series as: "A rich blend of modern myth and dark fantasy in which contemporary fiction, historical drama and legend are seamlessly interwoven, The Sandman follows the people and places affected by Morpheus, the Dream King, as he mends the cosmic--and human--mistakes he's made during his vast existence."
The main plot line of the comics follows Morpheus, who also goes by the name Dream, who is captured by an occult group in 1916 and imprisoned for decades before escaping and trying to rebuild his kingdom of the Dreaming.
Dream is one of the seven Endless - along with Destiny, Death, Desire, Despair, Delirium, and Destruction - who are anthropomorphic personifications of the concepts of the same name.
Outside of the cast announcements and behind-the-scenes look, little has been revealed about The Sandman TV series, though Neil Gaiman has confirmed that the first season will adapt the first two graphic novels. Titled Preludes & Nocturnes and The Doll's House, these novels cover the first sixteen issues out of the original comic book's 75 issue run.
Gaiman told RadioTimes.com that switching to a television format allowed him to pursue a far more faithful Sandman adaptation than the previously proposed films.
Gaiman said: “The joy for doing it as a Netflix series is we aren’t in the place where we’re throwing things out. In fact, it’s the other way round.
“Sometimes that means that a lot more stuff gets to happen because we have room for it. But we’re never throwing things out, and we’re never abandoning things. And that, in itself, is a complete joy.”
Gaiman has confirmed that the series will now take place in the modern-day rather than the comic's setting of the 1980s.
“It’s still going to start in 1916 but the thing that happens in Sandman No.1, the point where it starts is not 1988, it’s now,” Gaiman told DC FanDome. “(This) gives us tremendous freedom… That is very liberating.”
Will The Sandman cross over with Lucifer?
Given that Tom Ellis's Lucifer is (loosely) based on the character from The Sandman comics and is also a Netflix property, there were rumblings that the two shows could take place in a shared universe.
However, author Neil Gaiman has since confirmed that The Sandman will not cross over with Lucifer due to events that had already taken place in the police procedural.
“You can’t get from the Lucifer TV series to Sandman #3 or even Season of Mists,” Gaimon wrote on Twitter in response to a fan.
Season of Mists refers to a collection of The Sandman comics which will form the basis for part of the TV series, in which the character Lucifer features prominently.
When a fan asked why the upcoming show couldn't use the same cast from Lucifer, Gaiman also wrote: "I'm not sure I understand. You'd rather have the Cain, Eve, etc characters from Lucifer TV than the ones in Sandman? And how would you make Season of Mists work, given Lucifer is already gone from Hell and running a Lux that's not the one in Sandman?"
It has now been confirmed that Gwendoline Christie will play Lucifer in The Sandman show, and that her character will be more faithful to the comic books than the Tom Ellis incarnation.
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The Sandman trailer
A trailer for The Sandman has landed. Watch below:
In addition, a behind-the-scenes sneak peek, which includes interviews with some of the cast, a look at the impressive production design, and praise for the crew from a rather excited Neil Gaiman was previously released. Watch below:
The Sandman season 2
While Netflix has only announced an 11-episode order so far, author Neil Gaiman has confirmed that he was planning a second season with The Sandman's showrunners back in October 2019.
“There are three of us, the showrunner Allan Heinberg, David Goyer and me, and we’ve just finished writing the first episode, and plotting and breaking down the first two seasons, so we’ll see what happens next,” Gaiman told RadioTimes.com.
Good news then - hopefully there won't be too many sleeps until a season two then...
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