From the sidewalk I see a tiny roundabout. Tinted blue and surrounded by endless cobblestones, it packs in more traffic than its limited size can handle. Blue is intense, it rules the day and the scene. She, that woman whom I know so well, greets me from the other side of the road, enthusiastic, with the intention of materializing the reunion. She crosses. I, in my heart, know that I shouldn’t do it, or at least not so cheerfully. Red gains prominence when her body is trapped between two vehicles. Traffic has stopped. A gasp accompanies my run. I hold her in my arms, limp, and I open my eyes both startled and relieved. It was the work of Dream, of that dark, pale and eternal being, sailing between sunset and dawn.
According to Karen Berger (executive editor of Vertigo) in the prologue of Preludes and Nocturnes (Vertigo collection, number 93), the day she met Neil Gaiman in person, he presented her with three projects that stood out from the rest: the miniseries Orquídea Negra , a series that featured John Constantine and another miniseries, The Sandman. She saw in Gaiman a good creator, one capable of giving birth to interesting concepts that, on the other hand, it was not clear that he could handle. After verifying his talent with Black Orchid, the publisher was kind enough to allow him to embark on a new adventure. An adventure whose original germ was found in the name of Sandman, one that had been carried by several characters from the DC universe (Vertigo’s parent company, which was yet to be founded). But Berger had already taken care to make it clear to Gaiman that this name had to be accompanied by a completely new character. In the words of the editor, The Sandman never met your expectations. These, of course, were inferior to what the collection of eternals ended up meaning.
Now, with the production of Netflix preaching the word of Morpheus, their stories have gone beyond the comic book reader and have entered the huge audiovisual masses. There are not a few who welcomed the project with disdain and expectations significantly lower than those that, in her day, Karen Berger (myself included) entertained, but finally the opinion has been unanimous: The Sandman has turned out to be a surprisingly solvent adaptation, with bright moments and imaginative solutions as far as narration is concerned. However, like any audiovisual adaptation, it has been forced to drop ballast to get afloat in the format that governs the current television entertainment.
I do not consider myself an enemy of change at all. What’s more, I think that expecting an unaltered translation of a literary work to the small or big screen has something absurd and, why not say it, something innocent. Therefore, before fidelity, I value the success of an adaptation. The Sandman is a surprisingly faithful adaptation, and generally speaking it seems to me to be correct in most of the decisions it makes. Among his successes we can list his ability to string together plots from the different issues that make up the first two arcs of the comic (Preludes and Nocturnes and The Doll’s House), to build heterogeneous episodes that are comfortable in that spatio-temporal coming and going that characterizes the Dream stories. As well as its remarkable soundtrack or its production values. “It wasn’t cheap”, said Neill Gaiman, and in fact, it does not seem so. But as disconcerting as it is to me, what I have had the most problems with (hell apart) has been with its protagonist, the Dream itself.
Don’t get me wrong, I think the casting is a hit, Tom Sturridge has the voice that always resonated in my head when I read the comic, and he has the right bearing. In his characterization, ignoring the anecdotal (although somewhat annoying) excess of “pouts”, few objections can be made, and his body language, as sibylline as it is unalterable, matches the character. However, and despite having finished more than satisfied with ten episodes of him, the development of the character still seems to me, at times, run over. Before I get out the torches, let me explain.
First of all, returning to that of evaluating adaptations, I think it is worth asking what needs each change made responds to, if those needs have been covered and how these changes affect the identity of the work. The needs can be very diverse, and are usually linked both to the production context of the medium itself, and to social conditions marked by what is supposed to satisfy the viewer. Some of these changes may respond to particularities derived from the narration: it is not the same to capture an interior monologue in black on white (or white on black in the case at hand), than to do it on screen. Just as there are marked differences in presenting a fictional world when the protagonist discovers it at the same time as the publicor when this he is already aware of the rules that govern his own universe; we know Hogwarts through Harry’s eyes, just as we know the Jedi through Luke’s instruction. But what if the protagonists were Yoda and Dumbledore? It wouldn’t make much sense for Han Solo to explain the nature of the Force to the Jedi Master, or for McGonagall to instruct the renowned director on the principles of magic at this point in the film.
Dream, meanwhile, is an all-embracing being, an absolute that goes beyond the gods, as Corinth himself verbalizes. A presence that he has been observing the human being since his dawn, weaving his destiny through sleep and governing, in this way, a third of the life of each individual. But he is also the protagonist and, as such, receives information from various characters (such as Matthew, Constantine or Lucien) that, it is not unreasonable to assume, he should already know. He is told about the dangers that lie in wait behind the intentions of that species that he has been observing for so long (and that he has already suffered), and he is even lectured on the human condition itself. From the Dream of the comic it can be said that he lacks a certain degree of humanity, but not that he ignores the human condition. He is, in fact, a dark character, with an empty, amoral look, capable of condemning his beloved to hell, and aware of the fears that plague the minds she watches over. He is capable of awakening the most absolute horror in the subconscious of any human being.
On this occasion, however, his journey to the waking plane is used to subtract knowledge, to ensure that, in this way, through the verbalizations of the characters around him, the viewer becomes aware of the danger he is running. Now, as they say, information is power, and the Sandman of the series, at times, seems less intimidating to me not because of what he has lost (his gear, great translation) but because of everything he ignores. I understand the change, and I understand the narrative need to make explicit, both the danger that the protagonist runs, and some basic rules of the functioning of his universe, but his resolution does not seem to me the most successful.
dream with me
In fact, from its halfway point, and here I would include one of the two main plots of the fourth episode (the one that narrates John Dee’s car trip), after having laid the foundations of his fiction, the series begins to forget about those necessities, subtracting protagonism from Dream, at the same time that he begins to draw him as the being that he is supposed to be, the one that he so aptly draws in his first episode. A character who, in the first arc of the comic, it’s even terrifying.
Perhaps, for this reason, when the series decides to show that sad and, to a certain extent, melancholy Sandman, I can’t help but raise an eyebrow. Because when I got to the comics, despite his vulnerability (of course, he is not an infallible character) Dream always seemed scary, and even cruel. Something that this adaptation, in my opinion, only captures at times, and whose absence is accentuated by that strange naivete that the character gives off at times. In fact, Sandman gives me more humanity in the second or third episode, than in the last bars of the told story, thus blurring the general arc of his humanization. This does not mean that, as happened to Karen Berger, the series has far exceeded my expectations. Neil Gaiman is still in the thick of it, and maybe that has something to do with it (the Good Omens thing was also a pleasant surprise).
Beyond “24 hours”, the widely applauded fifth episode, chapters such as “The sound of their wings”, “The doll’s house” or “Collectors” (delicious), have seemed to me exercises capable of capturing with success, courage and good taste, the universe of The Sandman. But I cannot deny that, at times, I have missed that being able to terrify medyeing the bluest of dreams red.