The film industry has been intent on making an adaptation of Neil Gaiman's acclaimed The Sandman comic book series since the '90s, but Joseph Gordon-Levitt's recent departure from the project has now thrown it into doubt; with a warranted yet disconcerting tag of "unfilmable," will the movie ever get made?
Gaiman's vibrant exploration of the world of the unconscious is led by an unlikely antihero in the form of Morpheus — the personification of dreams — and the challenge he faces as he tries to rebuild his failed kingdom following 70 years of imprisonment.
A Bestselling Graphic Novel
The series was published from January 1989 to March 1996 on DC's imprint Vertigo. Unlike many comics that had come before it, The Sandman won legions of fans who weren't typical of the audience landscape; many were female and in their 20s, a deviation from a majority male readership.
Such was its popularity, the dark fantasy became one of the first graphic novels to make it onto The New York Times Best Sellers list. By the end of its run in 1996, it was outselling DC stalwarts Superman and Batman. Morpheus had become an unlikely hero.
Unsurprisingly, the narrative caught the imagination of Hollywood, with Warner Bros. (the parent company of DC Comics) planning a big-screen adaptation. But these were murky waters. Since the 1990s, many writers, producers and directors have come and gone.
No Sandman Rather Than Bad Sandman
In 1996, Pulp Fiction screenwriter Roger Avary was linked to the project but eventually absconded, citing the dreaded "creative differences." A later revised draft by William Farmer received a scathing response from Gaiman, who claimed it was the "worst script I've ever seen."
By 2001, the project was in the dreaded production underworld of development hell. Years passed, and still nothing had moved forward. At the 2007 Comic-Con, Gaiman said:
"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.'"
Fast-forward six years to 2013, and Warner Bros. announced the project had been picked up by Gordon-Levitt, who would star, produce and direct. Alongside the Don Jon director was heavyweight DC screenwriter David S. Goyer, plus Gaiman himself. Suddenly, it looked as if the movie could finally come to fruition.
A Movie That Might Or Might Not Happen?
Unfortunately, despite a clear passion for the source material, a shift from Warner Bros. to its subsidiary New Line Cinema resulted in a fallout between Gordon-Levitt and the film's new producers, with the former claiming that they "don't see eye to eye on what makes Sandman special."
In March this year, Gordon-Levitt announced he was going to leave the project behind. Gaiman, who had been closely working with him, followed the news with a despondent tweet:
Although it's not the final nail in The Sandman coffin, it's a huge sucker punch that certainly leaves the prospect of a movie winded and gasping for air. As Gaiman himself believes, it'll take a visionary with a passion for the story to bring this particular dream to life.
But who could take the reins? Here are some names who might be more than apt at dealing with the world of the Endless:
1. Darren Aronofsky
The director is a visionary of dark, hallucinogenic hybrids of reality and dreamland, as evidenced by Requiem For A Dream (2000), Black Swan (2010) and the underrated, transcendental The Fountain (2006).
2. Charlie Kaufman
Kaufman began his career in Hollywood as a screenwriter, writing mind-bending cult classics Being John Malkovich (1999) and Eternal Sunshine Of The Spotless Mind (2004).
His directorial work carried on in the same whimsical vein, with Synecdoche, New York (2008) and Anomalisa (2015) rich with just the creative eye required for Sandman.
3. Alejandro G. Iñárritu
A pure genius of his craft, the two-time Oscar winner has a varied résumé, having tackled different beasts across his range of feature films. With the mixture of fantasy and serious moral messages, he could be just the man to take the helm.
The dark and dreamy tone of Academy Award-winning Birdman (2015) is a good example of how Iñárritu works his magic to create an unreality.
4. Guillermo del Toro
The 51-year-old Mexican director is experienced in the dark fantasy genre. The eccentric, otherworldly feel of Pan's Labyrinth (2006) would lend itself well to Gaiman's source material.
5. Lars von Trier
Often shrouded in controversy, the Danish filmmaker's visual style is sometimes underappreciated due to his films' often provocative nature.
Melancholia (2011) is an apt film that springs to mind to showcase his Sandman credentials. On an even darker note, Antichrist (2009), the sadistic tale of a woman battling the harrowing mental challenge of losing her son, shows how von Trier can create gloomy worlds.