Adapting To Death – Neil Gaiman Brings The Sandman To Netflix

In this age of “social” media, offering a review or opinion of just about anything creative can yield comments and responses supporting your take, but more often than not you’ll also generate opinions which are not only the polar opposite, but served up with a heaping side of snark and venom.

It is also a time that when creative works are adapted into different mediums, that fact alone can inspire an outpouring of fiery anger and hatred.

I find it ironic whenever a baby boomer guy like myself complains about something, we’re designated as “the old man on the porch,” supposedly resistant to change and complaining just for the sake of complaining. Yet, it seems to me people now learn at a very early age to come for and declare war on anyone who doesn’t completely agree with their views…or wants to mess with something they love.

When I was in college, I took a course on Film Criticism. One of the takeaways I still abide by is to not only be tolerant but inquisitive when someone views films/series/plays/books/art differently than I. My feeling is reviews and opinions of creative work are subjective in every way (unless or course the company that employs you also owns the creative property you’re reviewing but I digress). Further, you might actually learn something from differing viewpoints which could lead to your modifying or even changing your thoughts about the work. Finally, creative forms or mediums provide vastly different experiences, even if the subject matter is essentially the same.

I recently saw the movie “Where the Crawdads Sing,” based on a best-selling book by Delia Owens. I never read the novel, but was drawn to seeing the film because of the book’s overwhelming success. For a number of reasons, I did not enjoy the movie. However, in leaving the theatre with my wife I mentioned it probably made for a very good book. While I didn’t like the way it was portrayed on the big screen, I considered what I saw as it might have played out in written form – in other medium – and could see where it might well be a most compelling novel. In fact, my suspicion in the instance of “Where The Crawdads Sing” was and is the filmmakers stayed quite true to those written words…which may be why I felt it wasn’t a very good watch.

I later read reviews which highly praised the movie, but I didn’t feel there were any opinions or observations that altered my feelings about it. Yet, I did do that personal due diligence and seek out positive reviews to see what those folks had taken away from the film, what experiences they had. And in my comments back to those reviewers, I was respectful of their opinions while expressing mine.

The release of the Netflix series “The Sandman” has garnered much reaction on social media over the past couple of weeks. For decades, this distinguished work in the world of comics languished in development hell until its creator, Neil Gaiman, found just the right folks to help bring his adaptation to the screen. Yet, even though Gaiman was fully immersed in developing this project, there were those who began tirades the moment it came out saying the comic is still great, but the TV adaptation is rubbish, and don’t even give it a look. You would have thought they owned the property themselves and hadn’t gotten paid for it. Of course, there were others who absolutely loved the series and they raved about it, heaping over-the-top, God-like praise upon it. Indeed, yet another social media flexing of the extremes had broken out. People these days can’t just calmly state they like or dislike creative work, and sometimes can’t even remain civil when opposite opinions appear.

Fandom on social media seems to me to be fairly toxic most of the time. If you don’t like something someone else does, you’re right and they’re wrong. The actor and comedian Patton Oswalt, who lends his voice to the character Raven in “The Sandman,” had this to say to IndieWire regarding current fan culture:

“This happens with everything, including sports and music. There are fans out there who unfortunately look at everything they love as showing the person how much they love them by hating other things. If I express hatred toward the thing that’s not them, that shows them how much I love them. It’s a sad and ugly way to show how you love things, but unfortunately that’s how a lot of people are being taught and how people are being modeled by our leaders now, which sucks.”

Oswalt also had this to say regarding the priorities of people in our world today versus being opposed against any adaptation of “The Sandman”:

“If you can look out your window and this is what you’re mad about, then you have way bigger pathologies to deal with than I can handle. If you are looking at the headlines and going, “I am planting my flag on the hill of “don’t fuck with The Sandman” well then, you’ve got some really serious problems. You’ll love this show, especially Episode Six, “The Sound of Her Wings,” which is so goddamn beautiful.” (Do hold that thought about Episode Six…I’ll circle back to that in a moment…)

The following is an excerpt from The Nerdist where Michael Walsh wrote about why adaptations are done in the first place:

“Why does anyone bother making or watching adaptations of great stories? If we already love something, why do we need to experience it in a different medium? Especially, when adaptations so often disappoint the people who care about the source material the most. “The Sandman’s” sixth episode, “The Sound of Her Wings,” is why. The Netflix series did more than introduce new fans to the beauty of Neil Gaiman’s Death. “The Sandman” gave old fans new ways to appreciate a beloved character with an episode and performance that exemplifies the best of what adaptations can and should be.”

I thoroughly enjoyed Netflix’s “The Sandman.” I didn’t find it perfect in every way, but to me it’s a very high-quality production. I am only diving into the source material now, but I was already aware there were several significant changes from the comics which were made in bringing this to the screen. Why? Because it’s a completely different medium, designed for a global streaming audience.

And for fans of Gaiman’s original comics, considering they surely knew he was involved in every aspect of this television project, why would they not be thrilled which the fact millions of more folks now get exposure to his stories, his characters?

Since I recently asked readers to give “Evil” a watch, knowing everyone has thousands of entertainment options these days, it’s downright obscene of me so soon thereafter to now suggest you give this series a look if you weren’t otherwise inclined…but before I wrap this up I must give Episode Six of “The Sandman” its due.

It is one of the most moving episodes of television I have ever experienced. It’s about dying and Death, but equal measures of dignity, faith, and hope are baked in as well. Here’s another excerpt from Walsh regarding that particular episode, and how seeing scenes play out is such a different dynamic than reading them:

“Dying doesn’t seem as terrifying when you imagine this Death will be by your side. The act of dying on “The Sandman” – whether in old age doing what you love, or alone in an alleyway far too young – certainly wasn’t horrible, it wasn’t defined by sadness or anger, nor even by the finality of life. Instead, it was about the comfort of holding a hand and the soft sound of wings. And seeing and hearing all of that in “The Sandman” was powerful in a way than reading about them isn’t. Not better or worse, just different. Because while no TV show or movie can ever fully capture every aspect of what makes a book or comic great, live-action adaptations bring elements the written word or a static illustration inherently can’t.”

“The existence of Netflix’s “The Sandman” will never change the existence of Neil Gaiman’s comic book. Nor will Netflix’s Death change how you think about the version you first met on the page. All that’s changed is that we now have two versions of Death to appreciate, each in a different medium that offer elements the other one can’t. The two aren’t competing with each other or for our admiration, either. They complement one another, and in doing each elevates their counterpart. That’s the best you can hope from any adaptation of a great story. That’s the reason adaptations are worth attempting even if they so often disappoint us. When done right, they give us something new to love while reminding us why we loved the original in the first place. And you can’t do that better than “The Sound of Her Wings.”

We all die. We all have our own ideas about the moment life will end. One thought on that subject is offered in “The Sandman,” and it is one worth considering.

In any medium.

 

Picture Courtesy Netflix