Neil Gaiman has arguably been one the greatest names in fantasy literature for some decades now. A master of creating highly visual and atmospheric worlds that capture our imagination, Gaiman has always enjoyed the process of adapting his work to film or television.
Neil Gaiman´s creations
Known for being an active collaborator, Neil Gaiman always makes sure that his creations are portrayed in a way that respects the original text. Don’t get me wrong, Gaiman is not a stickler to the original story as explained by Allan Heinberg (Gaiman’s most recent partnership in adapting the classic series Sandman). In an interview with Paul McGuire Grimes from “Twin Cities Live” on KSTP, Neil was open to revising scenes and plot lines from the original story to better adapt it to suit the format of television.
This adaptation of Sandman has long been talked about with several previous attempts having been scrapped by Neil himself. In the same interview, he claims these attempts were “bad things”.
Now, thirty-three years after its initial release the comic series is finally arriving on Netflix this Friday 5th of August. The hype and anticipation for the show are real with Neil Gaiman constantly having to defend or clarify apparent decisions about the show on Twitter. It is no denying that fans and other curious people are buzzing with anticipation for this new audiovisual endeavour from the author. Will it be good or bad, incredible or boring? While we wait for an answer, we might as well indulge in some of Gaiman’s previous screen adaptations.
So here we go. Here are five Neil Gaiman adaptations from worst to best.
You could claim this is a proto-Sandman adaptation. Wait, don’t be mad at me! Let me explain. Essentially, Lucifer is a Sandman spin-off, the reason being that the show is based on a character from the comics.
Based on the character of Lucifer, the show follows the fallen angel who got bored in his life as the Prince of Evil and decided to come to earth and start a new life. Initially, these earthly adventures work: he opens a nightclub and has some wholesome fun with his clients. However, this life of partying and sin soon turns, once again, into a boring routine.
It is only when Lucifer finds himself in a criminal investigation that he feels life is worth living.
The show then outlines a police procedural format and follows Lucifer and his partner Chloe around as they solve crimes and exchange sexy moments.
The show places last on this list not because it’s not fun and an entraining piece of television, but because it is the one that wastes many opportunities to explore some more interesting topics provided by the original text. It ends up just being a typical cop drama.
I would still recommend it though, it’s available on Netflix!
N#4 – American Gods
I have to admit, American Gods is one of my favourite Neil Gaiman books so it is no surprise that I have placed it so low in the ranking. Before I start complaining about it, let’s go back to the beginning and explain what the story is about.
The narrative follows Shadow Moon, a man recently released from prison who on his way home meets an eccentric stranger named Mr Wednesday. Presented with a job offer from Mr Wednesday to drive him around the country, Shadow soon realises that this man is much more than a con artist. He holds far more power than that.
Enticing, right? It sets up the characters for a whole plethora of adventures and mysteries. However, this is where I feel the problem lies. American Gods is a book indeed filled with adventure and strange character shenanigans, but it is also a deeply atmospheric and self-reflective book. It is a story that analyses the identity of a country through its former and current idols.
I felt like the first season had more of this atmosphere and reflective sense but it soon got lost to a second season much more worried about spectacular VFX moments and action sequences. There is nothing inherently wrong with these things, they just failed to capture what was so compelling about the original text.
N#3 – Good Omens
If you are a newbie to Neil Gaiman and don’t know where to start with his work, I must recommend that you check out Good Omens. The show follows the angel Aziraphale and the demon Crowly.
They have known each other for some millennia now, an acquaintanceship that seems to keep bringing them together again and again throughout human history. When they discover that the Antichrist has already been born and is ready to create Armageddon, the unlikely duo of angel and demon unite to save the earth, a place they have grown to love.
Blessed by the almost constant presence of David Tennant and Michael Sheen on screen, the show is one of the most fun adaptations Gaiman has ever had. That is not a surprise though. After all, Neil Gaiman is a writer on the show himself and makes sure that not only is the original story preserved, but the essence of these wacky, yet lovable, characters remain intact!
N#2 – Stardust
I can already hear all the Good Omen stans coming after me. All I have to say is that you are right, Good Omen is a great series. However, I plea that you allow me to make a case for Stardust.
For the youngsters out there who have never heard of this masterpiece, here follows a summary of the story. After the King of Stormhold throws a ruby into the sky before he dies, he proclaims that his successor will be the first of his sons to recover it. However, the gemstone hits a star when going up, and both come crashing back down to the ground.
Our main character, Tristan, a simple shop boy from a village witnesses the falling star and vows to retrieve it to win Victoria’s hand in marriage. However, he’s unprepared when he meets the star and, surprise, she is a person! Together with Yvaine, the star, they get into trouble as he tries to take her back to his home.
Now you tell me this is not fantasy storytelling gold! It might be nostalgia and the fact that this movie was on TV all the time when I was a kid back in Brazil. However, even after watching this movie as an adult, the story holds up incredibly well. The world Gaiman created for Stardust is so full of adventure and life and the filmmakers were able to capture the nuances this magical world has to offer to its fans.
N#1 – Coraline
Again, this might be nostalgia speaking, but I could not put any other Neil Gaiman adaptation as the number one other than Coraline!
The story follows Coraline, a young girl who moves to a new house. She hates the place and her parents are not around much and leave Coraline to her imagination. One day Coraline discovers an alternative and magical world where her parents give her all she wants and she can have fun all the time! However, pretty soon she realises that this other world is not all fun and games like she thought it was. Now she has to fight to save herself and her family from the Other Mother.
Admittedly, Gaiman has talked about the fact that he doesn’t enjoy some of the changes made to the story, especially the addition of Wybie Lovat – voiced by Robert Bailey Jr. – Coraline’s new (and annoying) neighbour. The character does not exist in the book and a lot of readers and Neil himself did not approve of the fact that Wybie seemed to take the place of the hero in the story by saving Coraline when in the book our protagonist saves herself.
However, I must say that I understand the reasoning behind the filmmaker’s decision to add a character to the story. It allowed Coraline to give a literal voice to her thoughts, something very present in the book, but very difficult to pull off in a movie.
Regardless of its changes, Coraline was one of the first films that kept me up at night. I remember the first time I watched it, on a windy summer night and how my nightmares were terrifyingly colourful that evening.
What do you think of the list? Do you agree or disagree with the order I presented here? Let me know what your favourite Neil Gaiman adaptations are!