The film version of DC Comics’ seminal series Sandman will have to find a new prince of stories, as Joseph Gordon-Levitt announced today that he has left the project over creative differences with New Line. Gordon-Levitt cited the film changing hands from Warner Bros to its subsidiary New Line Cinema as part of the problem, saying “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.” He added that “I wish nothing but the best for the team moving forward.”
Gordon-Levitt had been with the project from its inception and was set to direct and star in the film, based on the classic Neil Gaiman-created comic that ran on DC’s Vertigo imprint from 1988 to 1996. What specific differences came between him and the studio were not revealed, but this announcement comes one day after it was disclosed that Final Destination 5 scribe Eric Heisserer had come aboard as screenwriter. He replaced Jack Thorne, who had been attached to write the film since 2014 and was Gordon-Levitt’s choice for the job. Indeed, Gordon-Levitt mentioned Thorne in his statement, saying “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.” What this means for the film’s future is anyone’s guess as New Line seeks out a new director.
Sandman Creator Neil Gaiman later weighed in on Twitter, saying that his respect for Gordon-Levitt, who he said is “special,” is “undiminished.”
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Gaiman doesn’t own the rights to the Sandman or the characters he created for it, and as such has no power over how the Sandman movie may or may not proceed, but DC Comics has long given him the courtesy of asking for final approval on any use of his characters in other DC Comics titles.
Sandman charted a long, poetic story arc over its original 75-issue run that followed the adventures of Morpheus, lord of dreams and member of a pantheon of immortal beings called The Endless who personify certain universal concepts that, along with dream, includes death, desire, destiny, delirium, despair, and destruction. Short stories within the series were common and many of them only had significance later in the series’ run. Sandman was also responsible for developing the character of Lucifer – aka the Devil – a version of which is currently featured in the Fox television procedural starring Tom Ellis in the title role that premiered January 25.
Here’s Gordon-Levitt’s full statement:
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.
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