Neil Gaiman provided a rare update on the status of the upcoming live-action Netflix adaptation of Sandman at DC FanDome. The live-action series was greenlit back in 2019, and the first season will consist of 11 episodes, comprising the first graphic novel collection (“Preludes and Nocturnes”). Gaiman has described the series as a “slightly looser, but still faithful adaptation,” with the setting of the original graphic novel having been updated for the modern-day.
Gaiman also addressed Netflix’s adaptation of Sandman and how the show’s updated setting will have ramifications on characters and the plot. “What we’re doing with Netflix is saying ‘Okay, it’s still going to start in 1916 but the thing that happens in Sandman #1 the point where it starts is not 1988, it’s now,'” he explained. “How does that change the story? What is that going to do to the gender of characters? What is that going to do to the nature of characters? What is it going to do to the story? That is going to be a delight… it gives us tremendous freedom. If we were doing it now, what would Sandman be? That is very liberating.” When looking at Gaiman’s comments, it’s clear the series has some big opportunities with its new setting.
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Sandman has always been a series ahead of its time when it came to its depiction of gender, the graphic novel captured a significant female readership mostly due to its imaginative storytelling and large female supporting cast. If gender identity is an aspect of that’s going to be more highlighted in the live-action series, then there are a few ways it can be reflected. Dream and his six siblings in the Endless (Death, Destiny, Destruction, Desire, Despair and Delirium) are personifications of ideas that can take whatever form they wish to appear as, with different cultures conceptualizing them quite differently. Since the Endless are personifications of abstract ideas, it makes sense they could be re-evaluated over time and have a different appearance or gender. Desire, the younger sibling of Morpheus, is the embodiment of want and appears as an androgynous figure capable of gender-fluidity, appearing either male, female, both or neither depending on the situation.
Aside from the obvious changes to technology and the clothing trends, the updated setting will also change aspects of the plot. After the events of Sandman: Overture, a greatly weakened Morpheus was captured by Roderick Burgess and was imprisoned in a glass box in 1916. Roderick was attempting to capture Death in order to gain immortality but ended capturing Dream instead. Dream was imprisoned for nearly seven decades, being inadvertently released in 1988 by Alex Burgess, the elderly son of the long-deceased Roderick. Since his father was long dead at this point, Dream enacts his revenge on the Burgess family by cursing Alex with an unending series of nightmares.
Now that the setting has been changed to our contemporary period, Alex would have to be significantly younger if he is going to be used the exact same way he was in the source material. Other characters like Doctor Destiny, the son of Roderick’s former mistress and Rose Walker will have to have their ages adjusted as well in order to match with the story. Another consequence of the updated setting is that as a result of Morpheus’ century-long capture, a worldwide epidemic of sleeping sickness affected large swathes of the population, with people not being able to wake up until Dream was freed from his imprisonment. This plot point was especially important for Rose’s grandmother Unity Kinkaid, as she was one of the individuals who suffered through the sickness.
The nature of Dream, the protagonist of the series will also be fundamentally changed due to the updated setting. He was imprisoned for over a century, and immediately after being released, he went on a quest to reclaim his stolen items and repair the state of The Dreaming. After finishing his quest, Dream felt dejected and aimless until his older sister Death reminded him of his responsibilities. However, with today’s world being even more directionless than the original setting, it’s unclear how Morpheus will recover from his century-long incarceration and find meaning. This aspect of the updated setting is surely one that Gaiman is interested in exploring in the live-action series.
Netflix’s modernization of Sandman offers a lot of new opportunities for the series to explore. However, even the smallest change could have massive effects on the overall story and theme. Luckily, with Gaiman on board as executive producer, the live-action series will have to remain faithful to its source material.
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