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The Sandman review: Neil Gaiman’s comics become a gloomy Netflix show

The Sandman may be ageless and immortal, but even he would recognise that the three decades it has taken to get him on screen have been a protracted process.

Since 1991, when Neil Gaiman was first approached about turning his dark fantasy comic book series into a film, there have been at least three separate attempts to get an adaptation off the ground.

Now, with Gaiman’s partial involvement, The Sandman is finally airing on Netflix as a 10-part show. Considering that elephantine gestation period, the result is underwhelming.

Or perhaps overwhelmingly tedious. While Gaiman’s bestselling 2,000-page opus was deemed by many to have blurred the lines between graphic novels and highbrow literature, this adaptation is a gloomy, intellectually inert affair.

We begin in 1916 at the home of an English occultist who’s busy trying to ensnare Death with a spell from a newly acquired grimoire.

But the self-proclaimed Magus (Charles Dance) proves himself to be a rank amateur when he accidentally summons another of the so-called Endless beings.

Enter Sandman. Though he may look like a broody, malnourished emo rocker from the early 2000s, the Sandman (better known as “Dream” and played here by Tom Sturridge) is in fact the ruler of the Realm of Dreaming.

But in the waking world he’s vulnerable and at the mercy of the Magus.

Stripped of his power-giving talismans (a ruby, a helmet and a bag of sand), he’s told he’ll be kept prisoner unless he bestows his captor with a supernatural gift.

Not one for bargaining, he spends the next century in silent captivity.

Eventually Dream manages to return to his now crumbling kingdom, which he solemnly vows to rebuild once he tracks down his various knick-knacks.

A lengthy scavenger hunt takes him from London to Hell where he encounters a freelance exorcist (Jenna Coleman), Lucifer herself (Gwendoline Christie) and a tonally incongruous wisecracking raven (voiced by Patton Oswalt).

Other characters and subplots are introduced but little feels fleshed out after several episodes, especially since the dialogue is largely limited to functional statements in which people bluntly declare who they are, what they want or what they intend to do.

Allusions to the unconscious or the necessity of dreams, meanwhile, are bereft of psychological exploration.

What should be a cerebral fantasy is instead indistinguishable from countless others. Still, it’s rather fitting that a series about the “king of dreams” seems so well equipped to send viewers to sleep.

On Netflix from August 5

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