Yet the dense fantasy elements and lyrical storytelling don’t translate easily from page to screen, and the meticulous detail in the reproduction of look and tone doesn’t create much emotional investment. That might satiate fans who can fill in the gaps, but in the context of a 10-episode series, it might leave the uninitiated drifting off into dreamland.
True to the comics, the opening episode introduces Morpheus (Tom Sturridge), aka the King of Dreams, who is trapped by a strange spell, making him the captive of a wealthy Englishman (“Game of Thrones’ Charles Dance”), who seeks the secret of cheating death.
Decades pass before Morpheus escapes, discovering that chaos has occurred during his long (by human standards, anyway) absence, forcing him to recover lost items to regain his power and control.
This slow-paced mission unfolds alongside the actions of a shadowy, malevolent figure known as Corinthiana (Boyd Holbrook), who tries to profit from Morpheus’ weakness, while the story oscillates between various fantasy realms and the “waking world” where mere mortals live.
Morpheus’ travels take him down various detours (several chapters are essentially episodic, at best peripherally advancing the larger plot), leading to encounters with other ageless supernatural beings, including Lucifer (Gwendoline Christie) and the siblings of Dream, known as the Endless, like neither death (Kirby Howell-Baptiste).
As for the others in the stellar cast – many of whom only appear for an episode or two – they include David Thewlis, Stephen Fry, Joely Richardson and the voices of Mark Hamill and Patton Oswalt, the latter as a wise raven.
On paper, the series certainly has the ingredients for a longer run, but this first season — often visually dazzling as it drags on in later episodes — speaks more to the promise of the concept than its full execution.
For those who have been anxiously waiting for The Sandman to invade this realm — and no doubt have long-cherished notions of how it should do so — that thrill might be enough. But perhaps inevitably given the hypnotic nature of Gaiman’s mythology, a series devoted to dreams doesn’t turn out to be exactly what dreams are made of.
“The Sandman” premieres August 5 on Netflix.