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How Neil Gaiman sabotaged a 'really stupid' Sandman movie in the '90s
Gaiman dealt with a lot of bad ideas before getting the Sandman adaptation he really wanted.
The Sandman has been one of the most popular comics you can buy for three decades at this point, and we only just recently got a live-action adaptation in the form of an acclaimed and widely watched new Netflix series. The wait was long for a number of reasons, including the wishes of Sandman writer Neil Gaiman, who fought for years to get the version of the story that he wanted on the screen.
That fight meant years of resisting other attempts to adapt the series for film, including some that, according to Gaiman, would have been absolute disasters.
In a new interview with Rolling Stone looking back on the legacy of Sandman, as well as much of his other work, Gaiman described one particularly bad attempt to bring the comic to the screen courtesy of producer Jon Peters, best known for his credits on films like Batman and Wild Wild West. According to Gaiman, the script Peters developed would have cast Morpheus, Lucifer, and The Corinthian as identical brothers, somehow, and would have featured all three characters vying for control of Dream's helm, ruby, and bag of sand by midnight on New Year's Eve, 1999, the idea being that whoever had control at the start of the new millennium would "be the winner."
Here's how Gaiman reacted when he got the call from Peters' office to ask what he thought of the script:
"I remember them phoning me up," he recalled. "And I’m normally, I’m polite and nice if you’re on the phone. I try and find positive things to say to people who phone you up. And a guy in Jon Peters’ office phoned me up and he said, 'So Neil, have you had a chance to read the script we sent you?' And I said, 'Well, yes. Yes, I did. I haven’t read all of it, but I’ve read enough.' He says, 'So, pretty good. Huh?' And I said, 'Well, no. It really isn’t.' He said, 'Oh, come on. There must have been stuff in there you loved.' I said, 'There was nothing in there I loved. There was nothing in there I liked. It was the worst script that I’ve ever read by anybody. It’s not just the worst Sandman script. That was the worst script I’ve ever been sent.' And then there was a pause. He says, 'Oh, come on. That thing where we made the Corinthian the Sandman’s brother, that was good. Huh?' And I said, 'No, that was really stupid.' And he said, 'Oh, well, OK. You can’t win them all.' And I said, 'No, you really can’t.' And I put down the phone and I thought, what do I do now?"
Remember, while Gaiman is its creator and more closely associated with the series than anyone else, Sandman is still technically a Warner Bros. property, which means the studio could have made any film they wanted if they decided to just push ahead. Faced with this prospect, Gaiman decided to go rogue and leak the script to Ain't It Cool News, at the time the biggest and most impactful movie nerd site on the web. Ain't It Cool published a scathing reaction to the script, evaporating any good will the project might have had among fans, and Peters moved on to other projects.
Interestingly, according to Gaiman, the script also featured another strange decision that turned out to be a Peters hallmark in the late 1990s: Giant spiders.
"I haven’t read that whole script, [but] I’ve read as much of the script as I could take," Gaiman said. "And I’m not sure if it would’ve been an action movie or quite what it would’ve been. It was a mess. It never got better than a mess. It had giant mechanical spiders in it."
Kevin Smith fans will probably recall that, when the filmmaker was working on the script for the cancelled Superman Lives film, Peters also insisted that a giant spider show up in that project, based on an idea he'd had since seeing King Kong as a child. Peters eventually got to live out his giant spider dreams with Wild Wild West, and it's fascinating to think that a Will Smith movie from 1999 now bears this strange connection to a Sandman film we never saw.
The Sandman is now streaming on Netflix.
Looking for more fantasy adventures? Stream the entire eight-film Harry Potter saga on Peacock.