When it was announced that Joseph Gordon-Levitt was the one who might finally succeed in adapting Neil Gaiman’s critically acclaimed genre-bending masterpiece that was The Sandman, which has had a number of false starts and kinda-pickups, I was over the moon. You often hear a favorite work of yours lands in the hands of someone who wants to turn philosophy into doofus action and thin out thoughtful dialogue so it becomes a hokey collection of snarky quips and easy jokes—and I have a feeling that’s what’s happening now to our beloved Sandman adaptation.
Gordon-Levitt has left the project as director and star, due to creative differences with New Line Cinema, which is a key drag because of how closely he was working with Gaiman, the seemingly endless imagination behind the source material. For those who haven’t read the series, which originally ran from 1989 to 1996 with several spin-offs and a sequel that followed many years later, The Sandman tells the dark fantastical story of Dream/Morpheus, a godlike ruler of all that is dreaming as well as a member of the Endless, a sorta-family of entities that also includes Destiny, Death, Destruction, Desire, Despair, and Delirium. It bounces from old-world fables to contemporary horror, once described as “a comic strip for intellectuals” by Norman Mailer.
It deserves a whimsical mind that can delve into the destruction of the metaphysical, and Gordon-Levitt, who’s killed it in Brick, Hesher, Inception, Looper, and his own Don Juan, was perfect for that. In Gordon-Levitt’s exit, Gaiman agrees.
And, for the record, my respect for @hitRECordJoe, is undiminished. Getting to know him was the best bit of the last round. He’s special.— Neil Gaiman (@neilhimself) March 5, 2016
In a singular explanation (a combination of tweets), he explains that who comes and goes isn’t necessarily up to him.
GAIMAN: Reminder for the curious: I don’t own SANDMAN. @DCComics does. I don’t choose who writes scripts, the director, producer or cast. I didn’t lose them: I never owned them. The deal was done when I was 26, long ago, & I figured it was worth it. For me, what’s important is the 2,500 pages of SANDMAN, not a movie that may or may not ever happen.“
But Gaiman certainly still cares about the ultimate outcome.
If it was bad enough, yes. Howard the Duck was once a critically acclaimed comic, then it became a bad movie… https://t.co/h3tyG5dVsX— Neil Gaiman (@neilhimself) March 6, 2016
Gordon-Levitt appreciated the work and from everything he ever offered up about his hopeful direction of the adaptation, the comic’s fans (a difficult crowd to please, for sure) were pretty stoked on what he wanted to do, because Sandman is a tricky balance. It has everything from a retelling of A Midsummer Night’s Dream origin to a vengeful warpath of witches over spilt family blood. Hell, Constantine’s even in there at some point. Alas, we’ve lost Gordon-Levitt as well as, from the sound of it, the adaptation we all hoped for too.
I’m not saying it won’t be good—though, hey, I"m part of that hard to please crowd—but it will be a heavy challenge to find someone as well-suited for material as Gordon-Levitt. It certainly doesn’t help that rumor has it New Line’s planning to bring on Eric Heisserer, who wrote Final Destination 5.
Read Joseph Gordon-Levitt’s statement below.
So, as you might know if you like to follow these sorts of things, a while back, David Goyer and I made a producing deal with Warner Brothers to develop a movie adaptation of Neil Gaiman’s SANDMAN. Neil himself came on as an executive producer, we hired the excellent screenwriter, Jack Thorne, and we started in on the ambitious task of adapting one of the most beloved and boundary-pushing titles in the world of comics. I was pleased with the progress we were making, even though we still had quite a ways to go.
Recently, as you also might know if you like to follow these sorts of things, the sorta “ownership” (for lack of a better term) of the Sandman material changed hands when Warner Brothers shifted the entire catalogue of Vertigo comics (an imprint of DC) to their subsidiary, New Line. And a few months ago, I came to realize that the folks at New Line and I just don’t see eye to eye on what makes Sandman special, and what a film adaptation could/should be. So unfortunately, I decided to remove myself from the project. I wish nothing but the best for the team moving forward.
I’d like to thank all the great people I’ve had the opportunity to work with on this one. I’ve had a blast with and learned a ton from David and Jack. Niija Kuykendall, Greg Silverman, and everyone at Warner Brothers have been fantastic, as have Geoff Johns and everyone at DC. And it’s been a particular privilege as well as a rocking good time getting to know Mr. Gaiman, whose generous insights and masterful work have certainly convinced me that the Lord of Dreams and the Prince of Stories are one and the same Endless pattern.
See, this is why we can’t have nice things.