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I have a confession to make: I had a complete geek tantrum over the news that Joseph Gordon-Levitt is finalizing a deal to produce, and possibly star in and direct, a feature adaptation of Neil Gaiman and company’s The Sandman. I actually blurted out, “Who asked for this?!” Quite loudly. In a well-populated room.
I’m not proud; I should be above such pettiness. In fact, I should be thrilled because we all know what this means: DC Comics’ recently remastered collections of The Sandman are going to get a nice sales boost from the movie promotion (see Watchmen, 300, Scott Pilgrim, Hellboy, et al).
That’s nothing but good news for the creators, retailers and DC. It’s also good news for a new generation of readers that will likely be introduced to the landmark Vertigo series. More people being exposed to such an excellent example of comics is great, and when it comes down to it, I just want comics to succeed. So my feelings should be put aside, and I should be trumpet the adaptation as good news. But …
I don’t wanna. I really don’t wanna.
The whole thing just seems completely unnecessary. I get the sense from some fans that a movie “legitimizes” comics, that the stories aren’t fully realized until they’re on the big screen. I’ve never subscribed to that. Comic-book movies have been an excellent PR vehicle for comics, but most fall short in capturing what made the stories special. A similar thing usually happens with movies based on novels, so I don’t think this is anything unique. Still, it annoys me when I see comic fans desperately asking creators whether their favorite story will ever become a movie because that would just be oh so awesome. I’ve gotten a thrill out of seeing Spider-Man web-slinging through New York City or Thor swinging his hammer and flying off, so I can’t say movies aren’t capable of representing or recreating a cool visual from comics, but they have never matched the storytelling experience. A movie has yet to capture what Steve Ditko did in The Amazing Spider-Man #33. It can’t, because they are two different forms of communication.
The Sandman is probably one of the best examples of this. With the many world-class artists who contributed to the series, there’s such a stunning array of visuals presenting people, settings and situations that are weird, creepy, moody, scary, trippy, funny and just plain not right. The very way the stories are told is so unique to comics, I can’t can’t imagine how one would translate that into a live-action movie that wouldn’t be a dull recreation. Obviously, film is capable of odd visuals — I’m trying not to cut short an entire medium — but modern Hollywood blockbusters can’t always attain what’s presented in the pages, no matter how much CGI they throw at it. Even if they do get the visuals right, it often seems like all of the budget was used up on visual effects, and then the story suffers.
As an example, let’s look at The Sandman, Vol. 1: Preludes & Nocturnes: We don’t know anything about the movie’s plot yet (if it even ends up getting made), but it’s a safe bet that at least some part of this first story will be used to explain how Morpheus ends up in our world. General consensus is that the series doesn’t find its footing until Issue 8, but Sam Kieth and Malcolm Jones III establish a lot of the world’s visuals: Morpheus’ eyes, at times beady black orbs with pinpricks of white in the center, other times solid black; his trip to Hell with all of the absolutely crazy demons; mystical battles, traveling through dreams; the corpse-like Doctor Destiny; decapitated dogs, drug use, nudity, self-mutilation, basically the entirety of “24 Hours.” Sure, a lot of this could be changed for film, or avoided entirely so it’s still rated PG-13 for maximum commercial appeal. Recreating Preludes & Nocturnes or any other Sandman story shot-for-shot is redundant, but enough of the haunted spirit of the comics needs to remain. It it becomes so bland, safe and moderated by committee, the entire exercise becomes pointless beyond cranking out product to be consumed.
It’s still very early, so there could be plenty of smart moves and surprises. David Goyer’s treatment is reportedly what led Warner Bros. to move forward with the project, but it remains to be seen who will write the script. I’ll hold out hope for Gaiman himself; that could make things more interesting.
It turns out there are people that want to see this, or if not specifically this, some kind of Sandman movie. So for their sake, I hope it’s good. For the sake of more buzz and more sales for comics, I hope it’s good. Regardless, The Sandman comics will remain unscathed.