There’s been back and forth rumor mongering about a potential movie based on Neil Gaiman’s epic 90s comic book masterpiece series Sandman. There always seems to be some sort of speculation or rumor bouncing around. Like Watchmen was, it’s one of those stories that will be next to impossible to please everyone with. The die-hards will want it one way, but it order to function in the realm of movies there will have to be concessions. This isn’t The Avengers or Spider-Man we’re talking about. Sandman is some serious philosophically and psychologically challenging material. It will require an incredibly delicate balance of respecting the source material, handling the very heavy and awkward themes, and crafting a movie that the average comic book movie fan will sit and watch and enjoy.
I’m sure it could be done, but I’m not entirely sure how.
I’m willing to speculate though, and here’s how I would approach it.
I think the best person to give it a shot is Guillermo Del Toro in the role of producer, with someone like Juan Antonio Bayona directing.
The obvious story choice (as far as I’m concerned) is the story collected in Preludes & Nocturnes, the first Sandman graphic novel. It follows Morpheus AKA Dream, a member of a family of mythic, god like entities called The Endless. In the story, Morpheus is imprisoned by a magician for 70 years and, once freed, must go about collecting the scattered remains of his equipment and life. It serves as basically an introduction to the characters and the world, and the rules of that world. It ends with Morpheus realizing that he’s got 70 years of catching up to do, establishing the basis for the continuation of the book.
Now, it would make a fantastic HBO series, but I think it might be a little too cerebral for them. But then again, I wouldn’t have imagined Game of Thrones doing as well as it has, while staying as true to its source material. So who knows?
The casting of a Sandman movie would be contentious at best. Everyone has their own idea of how characters should be portrayed, and because of the more symbolic nature of most of the characters, the physical appearance of the cast from the comics has been fairly fluid over the years, changing from story to story and artist to artist.
For me, I think it makes sense to stick with a mostly UK cast. Neil Gaiman’s voice (writing voice) is fairly distinctly British, and I think most people would agree that, even though much of the story takes place in America.
Here’s who I would cast in the main roles, if it were up to me. Keep in mind that I’m considering things like whether or not I believe an actor would actually agree to play the role, and the distribution of budget and that kind of thing. I’m not going to pick A-List actors for every role, because that’s not realistic.
So here we go:
Morpheus/Dream – Benedict Cumberbatch
Before I watched Sherlock, I’d only ever seen photos of Benedict Cumberbatch and I just thought he was an odd looking fellow. But then I watched Sherlock and heard his voice and it all came together and my brain went “This guy fucking IS Morpheus”. That’s honestly what got me thinking about this for the past six months or whatever it’s been since I watched Sherlock. He’s got the voice, he’s got the face, the haunted, knowing eyes. The delicate lips. He’d be perfect.
Johnny Constantine – Michael Fassbender
Now, we all saw that thing they did with Keanu Reeves, and I genuinely do appreciate the effort they made with that movie, as misguided as it was. There was a few decent moments (casting Tilda Swinton as Gabriel for instance) and its real crime wasn’t in moving the setting to Los Angeles (though I do think that was a bad idea) or even in casting Keanu, but really the major problem with that movie was that they sucked all of the humor and playfulness out of it. John Constantine is a fun, funny character. Keanu Reeves played him like some kind of hardnosed film noire detective. He needed to be less Rick Deckard and more Han Solo.
In the first Sandman story, John shows up for a few issues, helping Morpheus track down some of his stuff. He’s a kind of go-to guy in the DC comics universe for all things supernatural and occult, so it only fit that he’d show up in Sandman.
Fassbender is probably my biggest stretch in terms of whether or not I think they’d do the project for the money available. I think he might and he’d be perfect for the role. Originally John Constantine’s appearance was based on Sting, and while they (thankfully) have drifted away from that, I do think that Fassbender has that kind of edgy weirdness that Sting used to embody back when he was cool. Which, in turn, would translate to the kind of edgy weirdness that makes John Constantine fun.
Death – Jenna-Louise Coleman
The casting of Death would probably be the most contentious among fans, regardless of who was cast. Death is far and away the most beloved and memorably character in the Sandman series, and certainly my favorite. For a long time Fairuza Balk was attached to a solo Death movie in various stages of pre-production. But given that she seems to have floated off into the ether and I haven’t heard anything about that movie in many years, I’m going to assume it’s dead.
Now, I recognize that it may be slightly premature to put Jenna-Louise Coleman forward for this key role, given that we’ve only really just been introduced (or, at least I have), but she just fits the bill so perfectly. Obviously when it comes to The Doctor and his companions, there’s already a fair bit of infighting and fanboy baggage that comes along with picking one over another for anything. I’m see that and I don’t really care. I think she’d be a fantastic choice. She’s got just the right amount of cute charm and knowing detachment.
Lucifer – Cillian Murphy
In the Sandman comics, they very deliberately went with the old testament view on Lucifer. He’s not some epitome of evil monster with horns and a pitchfork. He’s God’s favorite discarded angel, too beautiful for heaven. He’s vain and bored and very businesslike in his dealings with Morpheus. He’s a fun character in how mater of fact he is about everything.
Cillian has that exact right mixture of androgyny and inherent sense of superiority radiating off of him. There are plenty of people who could play that role, but I can’t imagine anyone more perfectly suited for it.
Desire – Ruth Wilson
Now, this one is a little trickier. We’re in a bit of a Transitionary period in our culture when it comes to the concept of gender and gender identity. The character in the comics is generally portrayed as androgynous, with no gender defining characteristics. I believe Desire was meant to be a character that you project your own image of sexual attraction onto. A kind of genderless optical illusion. Because in the 90s we were dealing with a predominantly hetero-male audience (it was a fair assumption at the time) Desire was typically drawn as a somewhat androgynous looking female. Often looking quite like a Patrick Nagel painting or a Robert Palmer backup dancer. I think that for a modern take on the character, that whole aspect would need to be reconstructed for a modern audience. Now, if Tilda Swinton hadn’t already played an androgynous male character in Constantine, she would be the obvious choice for me. But because of that movie, she’s off the table. Ruth Wilson is one of the most interesting and downright frightening actresses working today. Her work on Luther is absolutely stellar.
For me, Desire’s androgyny isn’t the most defining or interesting thing about that character. Desire is crafty and manipulative and kind of sinister in a way the other Endless aren’t. Ruth Wilson would embody that perfectly, while still being sexy and probably quite well suited to androgyny.
Last but not least:
Delirium – Saoirse Ronan
Delirium is generally presented as a young girl in the midst of a ridiculously intense acid trip with no real guidance or direction. Supposedly originally based on singer Tori Amos, she kind of flits around the story dropping non sequiturs that occasionally contain useful information. Really, the most important thing Delirium needs to embody is that sense of almost falling off the edge from high into bottomless mania. Unlike her sister Despair, Delirium represents the part of the psyche that just wants to drift off into a fantasy world to keep from having to deal with the horrors of reality.
I’ve seen Saoirse Ronana in two things, both of which she was quite good in. The Lovely Bones (which was an unfortunate movie, but it had good performances) and Hanna (which was amazing). I think she’s a fairly obvious and natural choice for the part, and that’s why I went with her.
Now, there are a few other members of The Endless that I haven’t bothered to cast. Despair is generally portrayed as a crawling, naked, dwarf like woman, and I don’t know what to do with that. There’s Destiny, who is this kind of generic monk type guy in a robe who doesn’t say much and you don’t ever see his face, so whatever. Then there’s Destruction, who I remember as being mostly absent in the first book. So I didn’t bother with him either.
Anyway, it’s getting late and this is about as much energy as I want to put into this. So yeah. That’s what I’d do.