You can say that Neil Gaiman’s The Sandman has been slumbering in development hell for years, as several stalled attempts to adapt the seminal comic book about the Lord of Dreams have been something of a fan’s nightmare.
That’s all changed now that Netflix has taken on the epic saga and is gearing up to turn it into a series. Details have been scant, but — like a faint dream you’re trying to piece together — we’re slowly getting a clearer picture of what might be in store for Morpheus, the master of The Dreaming, once the series eventually drops.
The latest intel comes from an interview that Gaiman gave to CBC Radio, in which he spills on just how they plan to adapt it — and when it should be set. A key point? It’ll remain as current as it can be.
"I was like, OK, I understand how this can be done. And the idea is to stay faithful to Sandman, but to do it for now rather than making it a 1980s period piece," Gaiman, who is also co-writing and executive-producing the show, explained. That’s because the comic series debuted in November 1988 and was very much of its era, moving into the 1990s as it barreled through its landmark 75-issue run before coming to an end in 1996.
"In Sandman No. 1, Morpheus, the Lord of Dreams, is captured in 1916, and in 1988 he escapes," Gaiman noted, recapping the comic series’ debut storyline. For the Netflix show, however, "We're saying, OK, well it'll be 2021, 2022 when he escapes. And seeing how that changes the plot and seeing what that gives us, is part of the fun."
He also teased that Sandman's look will change in the journey from comic to screen, simply offering up this cryptic zinger: "It will."
A lot of things have clearly changed over the years since Hollywood first attempted to adapt The Sandman, which follows the angst-ridden exploits of Dream along with his siblings — called The Endless — who represent a different tenet of reality, from Death to Destiny. The comic is widely credited with blazing a trail for adult-themed comic books, and it anchored DC’s then-fledgling imprint geared toward mature audiences, Vertigo.
Rumblings of a Sandman film have thrummed for decades. In fact, they started as far back as the early '90s, when Gaiman himself said he was approached by Warner Bros. to turn his comic into a movie. It wasn’t meant to be.
"People have talked to me about adapting Sandman since I think 1991, was the first meeting I had in Hollywood," he recounted to CBC Radio, "and I went in — with the president of Warner Bros. — and she said, 'Well, what about Sandman?' And I said, 'Please don't. I'm writing the comic. If there was a movie right now, it would just screw everything up.' And she said, 'Nobody's ever come in here and asked me not to make a movie before.' And I said, 'Well, I am.' And she said, 'OK, we won't make it.' Which was great."
At one point, Joseph Gordon-Levitt was attached to produce and possibly star in a Sandman film, before he left the project in 2016. That same year, writer Eric Heisserer, who was tasked with penning the screenplay, exited as well. His main argument? That Sandman’s rich, dense mythology shouldn’t be turned into a feature film — or even a film trilogy — but a TV series instead.
Enter Netflix, which in July of this year finally gave the green light for the kind of sprawling Sandman series that fans have been clamoring, with Gaiman set to executive-produce alongside co-writer David Goyer (The Dark Knight), and with Allan Heinberg (Wonder Woman) as showrunner. (Netflix has yet to announce a release date.)
Unlike back in 1991, though, Gaiman now seemed ready to tackle a screen version of The Sandman, following the success of two other recent adaptations of his works: Starz’s American Gods and Amazon’s Good Omens. Now, Gaiman says, he knows how to do it.
"The biggest difference was that I had spent 2016 through till the beginning of this year making Good Omens into television," he explained, "which meant that when the people at Warners TV came to me and said, 'What about doing Sandman now?', I was very much into the idea."
So how faithful will the Netflix series be to the source material?
"I hope that it's gonna be about as faithful as Good Omens the TV show was to Good Omens the book. Which is to say, you do things that people loved in the comic on the TV because they loved that thing and why would you change it? But you also take advantage of what you can do on television and what you can do on the screen," Gaiman offered. "There are a lot of Sandman fans, and they're waiting for the Sandman that they know and love to be on the screen, and that's what we want to give them."
So, close your eyes and drift into The Dreaming, folks: With both Gaiman and Netflix onboard and running full tilt, this Sandman adaptation is finally wide awake.