Hey folks, Harry here. Recently I was allowed a peek at the SANDMAN script that Moriarty is about to delve into. I got about 20 pages in and... well, I just couldn't stand any more than that. I'm not a reader of the SANDMAN series sadly. By the time I heard about it, well... it be like starting to read THE GREEN MILE with the fourth book, but worse. And I've just never had the cash on me when I saw the trade paperbacks, so... I'm deprived of one of the 'Great' comic stories. A great myth. Looking at the script... well I figured... maybe I just don't get it because I'm not familiar with the books, so I searched through my spy portfolios and found that Moriarty was quite a dreamwalker, so... I sent Morpheus and... well after some massive weight loss and strange archaic make-up effects, I became Gaiman... and I gave the dear Professor a mission.... Here is what he came up with...
Hey, Head Geek...
Recently I hatched a new idea in my never-ending quest for world domination. It occurred to me that the easiest way to subjugate a population is by taking control of their dreams. Once you rule those, reality should be simple, right? After all, look at how much power George Lucas has now that he’s gotten back into the active dreams of geeks worldwide.
To this end, I was working on a device that would allow me to both see and alter the dreams of any person I chose. Considering how new the technology was, I chose to work alone for fear of industrial espionage. Yes, it’s true, there are even spies here in the house of Moriarty. My work kept me here, alone, until the wee hours of the morning. It was just after 3:00 when I heard a sound -- no, that’s not true. It was more that I felt a sound, a rushing of wind, deep inside myself and all around me at the same time. I turned from what I was doing, and the laser welder slipped from my hand, clattering uselessly on the floor at my feet.
Standing before me were two figures. One I recognized immediately. Tall, with piercing black eyes and skin as pale as porcelain, wrapped in black, his spiked hair standing up in all directions. It could be no one else but Morpheus, Lord of the Dream Realm. As I attempted to make sense of this seemingly impossible sight, I looked at his companion. Thin, with dark hair and a mischievious twinkle in his eyes, also dressed in black, this face didn’t seem familiar. He had a script clutched in his hands, and it was he who stepped forward first.
“I’m Neil Gaiman. I assume you know my friend.” And suddenly it made sense. Who else would Morpheus be traveling with than his official biographer, the only man with the skill to accurately record the deeds and feats of the Eternals?
“Well,” I stammered, “it’s nice to meet you.”
He held the script out to me, and I took it, glancing down at the Jon Peters Co. vanity logo on the front. “I need you to do something for me, Moriarty.”
“I need you to read this script and tell the world about it.”
“But... but why?”
Morpheus suddenly surged forward, and all I could see were his eyes, pools of endless black, and a chill ran through me. “You will do this thing, Moriarty, because it pleases me. You will do this because this script displeases me. Mainly, you will do it so that we do not meet in your dreams tonight. Understood?”
I think I managed to say yes. I know some sort of squeaky little sound must have escaped me because Morpheus nodded. Just like that, he was behind Neil again, silent, staring at me from the shadows.
“Sorry about that,” Neil said. “He’s a little edgy. We tried laying some bad mojo on Jon Peters in his dreams, but what kind of nightmares are you going to lay on a guy who thinks a gay R2D2 is a good idea?” He shook his head sadly. “The mind reels.”
Before I had a chance to say anything else, there was that same sound, more felt than heard, and Gaiman and Dream were gone. The only proof that their visit had been more than a passing fancy of mine was the script that I still held. Setting aside all thoughts of global havoc, I ran up to my study, settled into my most comfortable reading chair, and opened the script to the title page.
Hmmm... no sign of Roger Avery or Elliott and Rossio. This must be the newest draft that I’ve been hearing rumbles about. This second draft is credited to William Farmer, and is dated July of ‘98. Practically still warm.
To be honest, I’m scared to continue. Y’see, Neil Gaiman’s a genius. Being one myself, I don’t throw the word around lightly. Ask anyone who’s read all 75 issues of THE SANDMAN and they’ll tell you the same thing. This guy has won more major fiction awards than any other comics writer, and there’s a reason. He’s more than just a writer or even just a storyteller. He’s a weaver of modern mythology, and he’s one of the most intelligent, consistenly inventive authors of fantasy ever. Aside from JRR Tolkien and George Lucas (and, yes, he’s a fantasy author, not a SF one), there’s very few people who have ever created such a textured, powerful, persuasive fictional world. For those of you who have never encountered Gaiman’s work, get up, turn your computer off, and RUN to the comics store nearest you. You can pick up all 10 of the SANDMAN collections and catch up.
Go ahead. I’ll wait.
Okay, now, you see what I mean? The story of Morpheus, Lord of The Dreaming, one of the Eternals, is tragic, funny, horrifying, thrilling, moving, and utterly transcendent. The characters you’re introduced to are unforgettable and the stories we’re told (hundreds and hundreds of them, it seems) are riveting, each and every one. You could reread these books over and over, and each time you’d take something new away. They’re that rich. They’re that great.
If you still don’t believe me, just check out the introductions to the books by authors like Samuel R. Delany, Harlan Ellison, Mikal Gilmore, and Clive Barker, all of whom argue Gaiman’s case far more effectively than I do.
The reason I’m telling you all this is so that you understand that, yes, it’s true, I’m biased. I happen to think that any sane person could read these books and come up with at least one self-contained story that could be effectively told to fill a movie. You don’t have to start at the beginning necessarily, as long as the movie makes sense on its own.
All you really need to do is use the wonderful characters Gaiman created, the Eternals. Brothers and sisters, the Eternals are Death, Desire, Dream, Delirium, Despair, and Destiny. Well, that’s almost all of them, but you’ll have to read the books to know what that means. I’m not here to ruin those for you. With characters like that, you’re free to examine any story in the human experience, because it will likely intersect at least one of the siblings, if not more. Gaiman’s series, of course, follows Dream as its main character.
If one was looking for a simple story to tell that would effectively set up any future Sandman stories, the surest bet would be the material covered in the first two collections -- PRELUDES AND NOCTURNES and THE DOLL’S HOUSE -- with some judicious adapting bringing the whole story arc in under 2 1/2 hours. The first issue of the series concerns Dream being captured by a human being, a sort of Alastair Crowley wannabe who strips Dream of the three symbols of his office -- a ruby, a bag of sand, and his helmet. Each of these items contains some portion of Dream’s essence. When he finally frees himself after 100 years, he goes to reclaim the three items, each of which has fallen into wildly different hands.
The helmet was passed several times until finally ending up in the hands of a Demon in Hell itself. Dream goes there, powerless, and confronts the Demon, winning his helmet back in a clever battle of wits. The bag of sand has landed with a junkie girl who’s spent decades locked in a room, sniffing the sand like a drug, wrapped in a smothering womb of physical dreams. Finally, he finds his ruby has become the prize possession of a pathetic freak resident of none other than Arkham Asylum. Yes, that’s right -- Arkham Asylum. This is, after all, the DC Universe.
Once Dream has reclaimed his icons, he returns to The Dreaming, his home, his realm, only to find it atrophied and dying. Several of his major dream creatures have escaped, leading to another major arc as Dream hunts them down. At the same time, he becomes aware of a girl named Rose Walker who is a physical juncture for The Dreaming. The only way to prevent her from opening a rift in the dream kingdom is to kill her, something Dream does not want to do. One of the most terrifying of Gaiman’s creations is a creature that Dream has to hunt down called The Corinthian. Created as the ultimate nightmare, terror given physical form, The Corinthian is a serial killer with vicious razor-sharp teeth where his eyes should be. Along with several other dreams, he is hunted down and retrieved by Morpheus. There’s no real fights here because there’s no way for these creatures to resist. They don’t just belong to Dream... he made them, and he can simply unmake them if he chooses.
One of the things that makes this entire story arc so amazing is the way it deftly avoids all the conventions of “comic books.” There are no superhero antics, no 15 page fights to the death, and the resolutions of these stories aren’t conventional or expected in the least. I wish to god I could say the same for William Farmer’s script...
... but I can’t. Now, I don’t know Mr. Farmer, and I don’t know his other work, but I do know that he is unqualified to take even one more shot at this script. Remove him from the project, pay him off for any other contracted drafts, then burn this fucking rag before any real damage is done to the property.
Mistake number one: the whole thing is tied to the Millenium. That’s rapidly becoming one of the most heinous, preposterous cliches in film. Stop it. By the time you get this thing finished and in theaters, even if you started right now, the year 1999 will essentially be over. And if there’s a bump in the road (like, say, a script I wouldn’t wipe myself with), then the whole Millenium storyline will be dated, passe. The best quality of Gaiman’s work is its timelessness. Don’t make the mistake of grafting some momentary gimmick onto what’s already so good.
Mistake number two: did you actually read any issues of the book, Mr. Farmer, or were you doing the evil, semi-retarded bidding of Jon Peters himself? And if the answer is the latter, then tell me, does Mr. Peters in fact have horns and cloven hooves? The soft skull’s a given, but I’m trying to figure out if he has any real malice in his heart. After all, he’s currently working overtime to destroy one of America’s finest icons, Superman, and now he’s actively mauling one of the few examples of true graphic literature. This is one of those cases where changes are made for the sake of making changes, as a matter of ego, and not for any sort of sound dramatic reasons.
Which, I suppose, brings us to the storyline of this film. Normally I’m hesitant to spoil scripts that aren’t even yet in actual production, but the only way I can convey the wrongheadedness of the approach these people have taken is by discussing specifics. Sorry, Warners. Sorry, Jon “I Don’t Get It” Peters. Sorry, Mr. Farmer. I am but a humble servant to the Lord of Sleep. I do only what he asks.
Rose Kendall is the daughter of wealthy industrialist and all around Really Famous Wacko Harlan Kendall. When she was very young, her father used her in some nutty experiment in which he killed her, opened the Dream Gate, captured Dream, then brought her back to life. In doing so, he also managed to take the ruby, the bag of sand, and the helmet. So far -- well, it’s at least vaguely recognizable. The Kendalls are new, but at least we’ve got Morpheus imprisoned and the icons of his office being scattered.
Rose is afflicted with lifelong nightmares in which the man from her dreams asks to be released. Finally, just a few days before the Millenium, Rose is attacked by someone yelling about the Nightmare Man. She’s taken to a hospital where she has an encounter with someone vaguely like Gaiman’s Death (although with far more “zany” wisecracks) and an “Angel” appears, coming through from another world when Rose dies briefly on the table. Nice how she keeps doing that, eh? He takes away her nightmares and disappears.
Back at the building her father built, there’s some sort of construction going on and the secret magic chamber where Kendall stuck Morpheus is found and blown up, releasing Morpheus. And here’s where things really go wrong, since the character that is released is a fairly indiscriminate killer with no real power of any kind. He beats some people up, jumps off something, gets hurt, and gets taken to the hospital. Morpheus. Lord of Dreams. Gets taken to a hospital after yelling tripe like, “As though your puny weapons could harm Morpheus! The lord of sleep! The Sandman!”
Well, of course the hospital that Morpheus is brought to just happens to be the same one Rose is in, and suddenly we’re in lame T2 ripoff country, with Morpheus going to look for Rose, and the Angel appearing again to save her. The twist here is that Morpheus is trying to kill Rose to save the world, while the Angel is actually the Corinthian, Morpheus’ brother, who has bet Lucifer, Morpheus’ other brother, that he can find the icons of Dream’s office first. Whoever gets them before the year 2000 wins. If neither does, then Lucifer takes over the earth for torture, misery, sorrow, yadda, yadda, yadda.
Really. That’s really the story. And the rest of the film’s just a dumb action film with these two fighting over and over, and with them beating up people to get the various items. The ruby’s in a safe in a pawn shop. The sand’s in the study of Rose’s house. And The Helmet? Well... giggle, giggle... dare I say it? It’s hidden inside Rose!
Did I miss something?
WHAT THE HELL IS GOING ON HERE? Where did any of this crap come from? The Corinthian is Morpheus’ brother? Why? Lucifer is his other brother? How does this even begin to make any kind of sense? Farmer can’t even get the most basic motif of the books right. Scroll back up and check out the names of The Eternals. Notice a pattern involving the letter “D”? Well, Farmer evidently didn’t, since he’s changed the name of one of Dream’s sisters to “Love” when she shows up finally.
At the end, everything that happens in the book is just wiped away with that old familiar movie cop-out, “It was all just a dream.” Ugh. Gaiman never, never cheated us like that. Even if something happened in a dream, it mattered. It counted. That’s the whole point. Our dream lives and our waking lives are one and the same. One affects the other. Gaiman made the point over and over, and Farmer has ignored it utterly.
The script is devoid of imagination. Farmer has created a “Nightmare plague” that’s loosely based on a section of PRELUDES & NOCTURNES (the exceptional and unforgettable “24 Hours”), and it’s nothing but a bunch of pointless atrocities without moral heft or payoff. He misses everything that makes the original work so unique, so special, so brilliant.
I’m not going to rant like Mighty Joe Hallenbeck here, because it’s just not my style, but if I’ve ever wished for a ball bat and a drive-on at the studio, it’s this time. It’s really remarkable to me that Warner Bros. continues to throw such high-profile, potentially profitable franchises at Jon Peters, a con artist and hack of the highest degree. The man hasn’t had an original idea (or a hit) in a decade. He is poison. I can’t say this in strong enough terms. Take this project away from him. Eat whatever costs have already gone into development. Wait for Brad Bird and his team to finish IRON GIANT, then give them this property. Have Gaiman write the script for the animated film. He’s practicing right now with the American translation script for PRINCESS MONONOKE. Do the film right, and you will be rewarded.
Do it wrong, though, and I guarantee that Bob and Terry are going to be visited nightly by that same foreboding figure I was. And when he comes to see you, boys, maybe he’ll bring the real Corinthian by. Maybe he’ll just strip away the dreams in which you delude yourself into thinking that your studio is still doing fine. Maybe he’ll shine some light into those dark corners you’re so afraid of, and you’ll have to confront that creative bankruptcy that’s got you all so afraid over there. And maybe you’ll learn from it, and you’ll do something risky, or even something great. There’s still hope. You own some wonderful material. Respect it. Nurture it.
Of course, who am I, right? All I know is that tonight, when I’ve shut off the last light in the Moriarty labs, and I head upstairs to my bed, I’ll lay down and fall into the sleep of the just. And if I should meet Morpheus there, I have nothing to fear. I welcome the opportunity. Maybe one day, we’ll all have the opportunity. That’s the dream I treasure most.