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‘I love the fact that Sandman is now regarded as this big, glorious, seminal, important thing,’ confessed writer Neil Gaiman in an interview with Rolling Stone in 2013 on the legacy that surrounds his cult graphic novel series. ‘When I was writing it, it was this weird, monthly comic done by this British guy. Sandman was never considered a big critical hit and definitely never a commercial hit.’ Originally making its debut through DC Comics in the late 1980s the comic title, which focused on Morpheus, the lord of dreams and one of seven God-like beings known as the Endless, soon developed a loyal following due to its surreal artwork and deep subtext.
‘They said: make it your own. So I started thinking more mythic – let’s have someone who’s been around since the beginning of time, because that lets me play around with the whole of time and space,’ stated Gaiman to the Guardian on how developed his initial concept. ‘I inherited from mythology the idea that he was Morpheus, king of dreams: it’s a story about stories, and why we need them, all of them revolving in some way around Morpheus: we encounter a frustrated writer with an imprisoned muse; we attend a serial killer convention and the first performance of A Midsummer Night’s Dream; we even find out what cats dream about (and why we should be afraid).’
Dreams and the dreamworld have fascinated storytellers for centuries, with classics texts such as Alice’s Adventures in Wonderland and motion pictures like A Nightmare on Elm Street exploiting the endless possibilities of a reality that defies logic. As dreams are created from one’s subconscious and each person’s dream is unique to their own experiences and imagination, the potential for what can be conjured up during sleep is limitless. ‘None of us exist in a world that is the same world that any of the rest of us live in,’ Gaiman would explain to Fresh Air on his fascination with the world of dreams.
‘The world that’s important is the world behind each of our eyes, which is something that none of the rest of us can access.’ Co-created with artists Sam Kieth and Mike Dringenberg, The Sandman would soon find its way onto the New York Times Best Seller list and as demand for further issues increased Hollywood soon expressed interest in bringing his unique vision to the big screen. With 1990s cinema populated with graphic novel adaptations that would include The Crow and Spawn, studios were convinced there was a market for a Sandman motion picture. And with The Sandman attraction the same kind of alternative audience as The Crow, an adaptation of James O’Barr’s gothic tragedy, the possibility of creating another cult classic was too tempting to resist.
For the last twenty years there have been numerous writers, filmmakers and actors who have been attached to the project during its various stages of development, with an early contender for director being Roger Avery, who was still riding on the success of his co-writing credit on Quentin Tarantino’s Pulp Fiction and his own directorial debut Killing Zoe. But creative differences would soon see Avery part ways with the production, while the next potential force behind the adaptation would be David S. Goyer, the screenwriter best known for his work with Christopher Nolan on his acclaimed Dark Knight series and his own trilogy of Blades movies.
Most recently Joseph Gordon-Levitt, another veteran of Nolan’s Batman world, signed on to produce the movie which would be distributed by New Line Cinema, before announcing in early 2016 that he had had parted ways with the production. ‘A few months ago, I came to realise that the folks at New Line and I just don’t see eye to eye on what makes Sandman special, and what a film adaptation could/should be,’ he explained via Facebook. ‘So unfortunately, I decided to remove myself from the project. I wish nothing but the best for the team moving forward.’
In April 2017, barely a year after Gordon-Levitt’s departure, Gaiman expressed interest in adapting The Sandman as a series. ‘I’m hoping that the success of American Gods will show Time Warner that maybe something as huge and shapeless and strange as Sandman would be best suited to television,’ he claimed in an interview with Yahoo!. Now the Hollywood Reporter have revealed that his creation is finally to make its way onto the small screen as the latest property of streaming service Netflix. Following its success with recent genre offerings such as Stranger Things and Bird Box, the company have formed a partnership with Warner Bros. Television to create a live-action series that will be adapted by best known as the writer of the 2017 superhero blockbuster Wonder Woman.
With both Gaiman and Goyer signed on as executive producers following their attempts at adapting the story for New Line Cinema, no details have been revealed regarding how many episodes the season will contain or how close to the source material the new story will remain. ‘Sources say Warners, which controls the IP, took the Sandman TV pitch to multiple outlets, including corporate sibling HBO,’ claimed the article. ‘The premium cable network did not make a play for the series, given the massive price tag attached (and likely number of other big world shows in the works) and Netflix snapped it up as the streamer continues to make an active play for massive IP that could be turned into subscriber-friendly franchises à la Amazon’s Lord of the Rings and HBO’s Game of Thrones.’