Neil Gaiman’s Sandman is one of the great fantasy epics of all time and it’s almost impossible to imagine a film adaptation capturing what makes it so special. A 75-issue comic book series has the time and space to explore obscure nooks and crannies of its world and break into tangents that comment on the greater whole. It’s not a typical story of heroes and villains and there is almost no traditional action. That’s why Joseph Gordon-Levitt, who is producing, directing and possibly starring in the film version, has his work cut out for him. At least he’s currently saying the right things.

In an interview with MTV, Gordon-Levitt acknowledged the difficulties in adapting the series, which follows Morpheus, the living personification of dreams, on his adventures across the universe and through various dimensions. Fans can’t seem to agree on which storyline would make for the best cinematic introduction to this story and its characters and Gordon-Levitt seems to agree. The sprawling nature of the series, he says, is the trickiest part of the adaptation:

It’s really good, man. It’s slow but steady. It’s a really complicated adaptation because those comics, they’re brilliant. But they’re not written as a whole. It’s not like ‘Watchmen,’ which is a graphic novel that has a beginning, middle, and end. ‘Sandman’ was written over the course of whatever — I forget exactly, six or seven years. One at a time. One little 20-page issue at a time. And to try to take that and make it into something that’s a feature film — a movie that has a beginning, middle, and end — is complicated.

More importantly, Gordon-Levitt acknowledged that Sandman isn’t a traditional comic book series and shouldn’t be treated like a typical superhero movie. Like any big movie, Sandman is going to have its fair share of action, but at least he’s promising something unique. In fact, he’s promising a movie that’s totally free of punching:

Big spectacular action movies are generally about crime fighters fighting crime and blowing sh-t up. This has nothing to do with that. And it was actually one of the things that Neil Gaiman said to me, he said ‘Don’t have any punching.’ Because he never does. If you read the comics, Morpheus doesn’t punch anybody. That’s not what he does. It’s going to be like a grand spectacular action film, but that relies on none of those same old ordinary cliches. So, that’s why it’s taking a lot time to write, but it’s going to be really good.

Morpheus may not punch anyone, but he does journey into Hell and confront Lucifer himself, so it’s not like Sandman is lacking in incident. Longtime fans may remember that the series almost got made into a movie over a decade ago with a screenplay that essentially transformed Morpheus into The Terminator. Fans were aghast and Gaiman moreso. The fact that Gordon-Levitt is taking the time to consult with him on this adaptation is hopeful news. If the whole thing fails, at least it will fail from an honorable direction.

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