Neil Gaiman’s The Sandman escapes development Hell?

The SandmanAccording to The Hollywood Reporter Neil Gaiman’s landmark literary comic book series The Sandman might finally break free from the development Hell in which it has languished for the past two decades.

Anyone familiar with The Sandman’s difficult journey from the page to the screen will know that the operative word in that sentence is “might”. Following its momentous arrival on the comic book scene in 1989 a number of adaptations of The Sandman have been ventured without gain, notably a movie in the 1990s linked to Roger Avary (with a screenplay that Gaiman has described as "...not only the worst Sandman script I've ever seen, but quite easily the worst script I've ever read”) and an HBO series.

In 2007 Gaiman told Mania.com “I’d rather see no Sandman movie made than a bad Sandman movie. But I feel like the time for a Sandman movie is coming soon. We need someone who has the same obsession with the source material as Peter Jackson had with Lord of the Rings or Sam Raimi had with Spider-Man.” These days the view seems to be that the only way to do justice to Sandman's wealth of material is as a series adapted for the small screen (the comic ran for seven years across 75 issues after all). Matthew Vaughn, who adapted Gaiman’s Stardust for the big screen and who has been hot for a Sandman project for some time, told MTV news earlier this year that "I think as a movie it's virtually impossible to make properly… I think it would make an amazing HBO series, you know, where you can just really create that world. There's too much to get into an hour and a half, two hours." (This is precisely what HBO is doing with George R.R. Martin’s equally epic fantasy series A Song of Ice and Fire.)

The gist of The Hollywood Reporter’s exclusive is that Warner Bros TV is in the process of acquiring television rights from its sister company DC Entertainment and is talking with several writer-producers about adapting the comic book series. Heading the list is Eric Kripke, creator of the CW TV network’s Supernatural. Kripke is said to be cautiously interested, sensitive to the fact that The Sandman has a devoted and, let's be honest with ourselves, opinionated fan base.

For the moment, Gaiman is not involved with the project (nor was he officially involved with the doomed HBO project), a situation we can only hope changes should production get underway. Of course, it’s not necessary to involve an author in the adaptation of their own work, but it makes little sense in this instance to proceed without Gaiman’s involvement. Leaving to one side the fact that Gaiman is a talented writer in almost any media, including for the small screen, no one understands The Sandman material better than its author and no one has greater incentive to see the job done well. Do it with Gaiman’s involvement, and the existing fan base will gladly come along for the ride. Do it right and the show will also appeal to that even larger audience out there with an appetite for horror, mythology and dark fantasy. This could be an outstanding production if done well, and if Warner Bros isn’t looking at this as an opportunity to work with one of the most talented writers walking the planet to adapt one of the most highly acclaimed comics in order to make a landmark TV show, the studio really doesn’t deserve to get its hands on the rights.

For the uninitiated, The Sandman is a comic book series penned by Neil Gaiman and published by DC/Vertigo from 1989-1996. It almost singlehandedly brought intellectual respectability to comic books, winning over a large readership beyond the comic book ghetto. It remains the only comic to ever win the World Fantasy Award. The series chronicles the adventures of Morpheus, Lord of Dreams, and is broadly horror or at least dark fantasy, layered with a complex matrix of references from mythology, literature and the wider DC universe in which the stories take place. The series kicks off with Sleep of the Just in which Morpheus escapes a decades-long imprisonment, exacts a terrible vengeance on his gaoler before setting out to restore his kingdom which has fallen into ruin after years of neglect. Dream, we learn, is one of The Endless, a group of powerful brothers and sisters that includes Destiny, Death, Destruction, Despair, Desire and Delirium, each of whom has their own kingdom, and the subsequent stories interweave the adventures of Dream and The Endless, as well as various characters from the DC universe.

I'm cautiously optimistic but reserving judgement until Gaiman's involvement is determined. Fingers crossed.

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