Creator of The Sandman Neil Gaiman had chances to adapt the spooky comic before Netflix came calling but he was very choosy about the hands he’d allow to touch his characters.
He revealed to Rolling Stone that his protectiveness got to the extreme of outright sabotaging production, which is what happened when a proposed adaptation entered development hell two decades ago.
The sabotage began when the author leaked the script — which he hated — to the once-popular outlet Ain’t It Cool News. “I sent the script to Ain’t It Cool News, which back then was read by people,” he said.
“And I thought, I wonder what Ain’t It Cool News will think of the script that they’re going to receive anonymously,” Gaiman continued. “And they wrote a fabulous article about how it was the worst script they’d ever been sent. And suddenly the prospect of that film happening went away.”
Gaiman had reason to breathe a sigh of relief. The film was being produced by one of the most notorious names in Hollywood, Jon Peters – the man behind Tango & Cash, Wild Wild West, and the abandoned Superman Lives.
Essential elements of the story were there, such as Morpheus seeking his gas mask-looking helm, his ruby, and a bag of sand. Lucifer and The Corinthian were in it too and they were also after the magical objects that were lost and scattered.
Ain’t It Cool and Gaiman agreed these pieces didn’t come together and weren’t afraid to let everyone know the script wasn’t any good, even people at the studio.
“It was the worst script that I’ve ever read by anybody,” Gaiman said, recalling a conversation he had with Peters’ office. “A guy in Jon Peters’ office phoned me up and he said, ‘So Neil, have you had a chance to read the script we sent you?’ And I said, ‘Well, yes. Yes, I did. I haven’t read all of it, but I’ve read enough.’”
Gaiman adds, “He says, ‘So, pretty good. Huh?’ And I said, ‘Well, no. It really isn’t.’ He said, ‘Oh, come on. There must have been stuff in there you loved.’ I said, ‘There was nothing in there I loved. There was nothing in there I liked.”
He would emphatically clarify, “It was the worst script that I’ve ever read by anybody. It’s not just the worst Sandman script. That was the worst script I’ve ever been sent.’”
Gaiman explained the plot for Peters’ Sandman which has more in common with the Arnold Schwarzenegger supernatural actioner End of Days and the Y2K scare.
“They were a family of identical brothers, and it was all a race to see who could get the ruby, the helm, and the bag of sand before midnight in 1999, before the new millennium started, because whoever got it would be the winner,” he revealed. “That was the plot.”
In another humorous twist, there happened to be a giant mechanical spider like the one in Wild Wild West. Peters infamously pushed for the same thing to be in Superman Lives, inspiring the picture’s initial director Kevin Smith to make an early example of a meme out of this request by telling and retelling his story of making the film.
Before the sands of the hourglass trickled down to Netflix, other adaptations of The Sandman were in the works over the years — one of which was set to star Joseph Gordon-Levitt as Morpheus. Nothing came of that, clearly, although Gaiman did get behind it.