Joseph Gordon-Levitt on the Challenges of Adapting 'Sandman'

Joseph Gordon-Levitt explains that the episodic nature of the 'Sandman' source material makes it a challenge to adapt it for film.

Sandman overture helmet

Fans of DC Comics have a bevy of adaptations to look forward to in the coming years, but it's not just the members of the Justice League that will be heading to theaters. Looking to expand their comic book movie output, the studio is going deeper into the vault and is developing various Vertigo titles to feature films, and chief among them is Sandman, which has Joseph Gordon-Levitt set to direct and Jack Thorne writing a screenplay from Neil Gaiman's iconic book series.

While many are excited to see the project come to fruition, development on it is taking quite a long time. Last week, Gordon-Levitt explained that part of the reason for that is the creative team trying to craft a grand action film that remains true to the beloved source material. Now, he has elaborated on that, highlighting that the nature in which the comic was written makes it a challenge to adapt for the screen.

In an interview with IGN, Gordon-Levitt said that the script was still being worked on, and the primary hold up is that Sandman is not, in his words, "an obvious adaptation." The actor stated that the episodic format of Gaiman's work is the most difficult aspect to overcome:

“Each issue is 24 pages and it’s written that way. As a serial, kind of more episodic thing. If you examine it from the broad strokes, there is sort of a beginning, middle and end, but it was written in such this episodic way. It’s not like adapting a graphic novel. Like 'Watchmen' is a book. This isn’t that, so it really takes quite a bit of creativity and ingenuity to figure out, okay, how can we take all these kind of disparate episodes and make them congeal into a movie – a feature film that’s got a beginning, middle and end.”

JGL talks Sandman adaptation challenges

There's certainly a lot of material for Gordon-Levitt and his crew to sift through, as the original series began its run in 1989 and went 75 issues through 1996. Unlike most comic book characters (which have film-ready standalone arcs and mini events), Sandman is very much one continuous saga. The story is noteworthy for being so long and sprawling that the trick Gordon-Levitt has to pull off is finding a way to keep the main crux of the narrative intact within the confines of a feature film. Which episodes does the film pull from? Which aspects does it cut? And does the story still make sense if certain elements are not present? That's quite an undertaking for someone with one directorial feature (Don Jon) to his name.

In a way, the task is similar to adapting any previously published material for the big screen, but even epic stories like Watchmen or Lord of the Rings provided their directors with a clear template to work from. Sandman doesn't have that, and it's one of the reasons so many of the previously attempted film and TV projects have failed. Much like Stephen King's The Stand, this is a tough nut to crack due to how the literature was written. Obviously, there's enough material in Sandman lore to support multiple films, but this is one of the few instances where a sequel is not guaranteed, and Gordon-Levitt wants to get it right in case this is his only shot.

Though the latest developments on Sandman may not have been what fans wanted to hear, they can take solace in the fact that the production team isn't going to rush anything just to get the film out there. Gordon-Levitt first became attached to the project in 2013 and has slowly and steadily seen it to this point, trying to find the right way to tell the story. Hopefully, he and Thorne can figure it out, since Sandman has the potential to be a game changer for comic book movies.

We'll keep you updated on Sandman as more information becomes available.

Source: IGN

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