Dr. Strange

Dr. Strange (2007)
Lions Gate Home Entertainment
Cast: Bryce Johnson, Paul Nakauchi, Michael Yama
Extras: Video Game Cinematics, Featurettes, Concept Art, Trailers

Being a fan of Marvel comics I was quite excited when I discovered that "Dr. Strange" was being made. Granted, I also loved the two "Avenger" films and the "Iron Man" animated adventure also. But I was intrigued that they would give the same treatment to a character that is much loved in the comic universe, but also strangely forgotten in some ways by all but some die hard fans.

Well, prepare yourselves for "Dr. Strange", one of the more interesting superheroes to ever appear in comics, in my opinion. Originally appearing in "Strange Tales"#110 in 1963, Dr. Strange was created by Stan Lee and artist Steve Ditko. Quickly embraced by the counterculture (and even appearing in a song and gracing the album artwork of the band Pink Floyd), Dr. Strange had limitless potential for writers to get away from the standard type superhero comics of the day. The stories were often wild and sometimes psychedelic, and the creatures were Lovecraftian, other-worldly and sometimes downright terrifying. Often delving into uncharted territory like secret societies and mysticism, the series came and went over the years, and went through many transformations, but the writers and artists obviously had a lot of fun with this character and I for one would like to find some Dr. Strange comics and read them again, it has been awhile.

Obviously the superhero comics had certain rules and limitations back then and I feel when you entered into a Dr. Strange project, it must have been a relief to be able to let your imagination flow. Dealing with alternate realities and sorcery, this character was actually quite controversial, at the time at least. "Dr. Strange" without a doubt paved the way for some of the edgier and more adult comics that we still see being released, and it goes without saying that the entire concept was actually ahead of it's time and pushed the boundaries of what could be done in a comic book. And let's face it, it must be nice to have Dr. Strange pop up in an issue of "Spider Man" or "The Uncanny X-Men" and do some hocus pocus to fix some mess that couldn't be fixed without freezing time or doing some other type of incredible spell. When all else fails, bring in Dr. Strange!

I have always been surprised that a huge budget film has yet to appear for this comic, but perhaps I'm happy it hasn't. It was a TV movie in 1978 that probably could have become an interesting TV series, but there were some obvious complaints from the hard right. Either way, I had a lot of fun with this Blu-Ray Disc, so let me tell you about it.

The feature begins with a group of interdimensional spirit hunters from a secret society chasing a demon from an alternate universe through downtown. None of the citizens driving in their cars appear to be able to see into this parallel universe where the battle is taking place, none but Dr. Stephen Strange (Bryce Johnson) a talented and arrogant neurosurgeon on his way to the hospital. He shrugs off the baffling experience, but not before being noticed by the group of sorcerers who are shocked that he can actually see them. These action scenes are quite intense, really.

Meanwhile, an epidemic is spreading across the city that is making the children become comatose. Nobody knows the cause of this mysterious ailment, and when Dr. Strange is asked to help he is truly baffled as to the cause. In flashbacks we visit his memory of his sister and his failed attempts at curing her, it has left him somewhat cold and empty and void of real human emotion other than conceit. This is truly an unhappy character. His life takes a crucial turn when he is revisited by visions of demons and the ghosts of children as he drives home one evening, causing his vehicle to speed off of a cliff and leaving his talented hands useless. When he is awoken at the hospital, the reality soon sets in that his career may be over.

In a series of montages, we find our hero completely devastated, financially and professionally. He has spent his entire fortune on looking for a treatment that will renew his once vital hands, and finding none, he has become a shadow of his former self. Living in a flophouse and utterly without hope, he is approached by a mysterious stranger who we later learn is Wong (Paul Nagauchi), who offers hope, but with a catch.

First, Strange must find his way to Tibet, which is a trek he endures after borrowing some money. So completely broken he finds his way to the entrance of a fortress, what lies on the other side will change his life forever. Once inside he is trained extensively and tested seemingly beyond the limits of human physical and emotional endurance by an old and wise psychic warrior called The Ancient One (Michael Yuma) When questioning the purpose of the hard lessons, offers only, "It's not about your hands, it never was.", and other deep and philosophical type banter we are all familiar with from "Kung Fu" and "Kill Bill" and of course "The Matrix", while demonstrating superhuman strength and supernatural abilities.

Certain other spiritual superpowers in the fortress don't take kindly to our new visitor's arrival. Especially someone he is originally set to train with, Mordo (Kevin Michael Richardson), whose jealousy and rage seem quite apparent. In fact the true power of Dr. Strange's psychic and magical talents begins to be released upon defending himself from this angry warrior. And when his power finally is released, it is apparent to all that he is 'The One'.

Just kidding, they don't call him that, but you get the point. Mordo is actually more dangerous than he appears, he has teamed up with an extremely evil entity known as Dormammu (Jonathon Adams) who is trying to slip into our reality using the comatose childrens' subconscious as a bridge. Either way, if this story seems familiar, that's probably because it has been told before in many different incarnations. It becomes apparent as the plot moves along that there is much more at stake other than the egos of two mystical beings, but the very fabric of the universe is about to become ripped apart by demonic forces, and guess who is the chosen one who can possibly fight such evil energy. You guessed it.

This is a highly entertaining and well-told story. You actually get drawn into the characters, and the action can get seriously intense. Although it is an origin story, it doesn't fall into the same pitfalls as so many others have before it, because I found it not only entertaining and action packed throughout it's entirety, but also quite thought provoking. It's rare that an animated feature (especially in the superhero genre) can be emotionally effective, but that is the case here.

Although some have complained about the animation style, I loved it and wouldn't have it any other way. People these days think everything should start and end at the computer, but I find this style of animation very comic book like and an excellent medium to tell stories from the Marvel Universe. Altogether, I loved this movie and hope we get to revisit this character in the future, as I found the story fascinating.

Now, I have read a couple of negative reviews of not only the animation style, but also of the video quality of this release and also the other Marvel animated release ("The Avengers" 1 & 2) and I must say, I disagree. I think this Blu-Ray Disc looks great. The colors are extremely vibrant and the detail is very nice.
I mean, this is how animation should look like, and it is truly awesome to behold. Maybe I was too wrapped up in the story, but I didn't seem to notice anything to complain about at all, to be quite honest.
The picture fills the entire screen at 1.78:1, and this is truly a very colorful movie. I was thrilled to have the disc on Blu-Ray and it really delivered. I get a real kick out of watching these types of animated comic book movies in high definition. And also, the menu is truly a work of art in itself and very easy to navigate, unlike some other Blu-Ray Discs.

In the audio department things sound quite nice, but sadly, they chose to go with a 7.1 DTS HD Master Audio (doesn't that sound cool?) track that my system is currently incapable of delivering, so it was downsized to regular Dolby Digital, but let me tell you, it still sounded great, and the surrounds are constantly active. This is a very dynamic movie, so a couple of times it went from very quiet to very loud, creating a bit of an unbalanced mix, but that is my only real complaint. The subwoofer gets a decent workout also as a result of the good bass extension.

Of course I truly wish they would have stuck with the "Ultimate Avengers" recipe that was so impressive; the uncompressed 7.1 PCM track on those two is simply mind blowing. Since they are all lossless and thus sonically identical, in the long run it won't make a difference, provided you have the proper equipment. But until we have such players and receivers capable of DTS HD this will have to do.

I must say I bet it will sound great, when that day comes, though. Also, the voice acting has gotten some bad reviews, but I thought it worked great, the style of animation and voice acting will often remind you of certain Saturday morning cartoons and I'm sure this was completely intentional. The music score in this film is also quite well composed by Guy Michelmore and fits the pacing of the film quite nicely.

The special features are a little slim, but guess what, they are presented in 1080i, which is quite impressive and surprising even. The real standout is the short featurette 'Who Is Dr. Strange?' as it is billed on the back of the case, it is actually called 'The Origins Of Dr. Strange', though. It features the now super-wealthy Stan Lee, and he fondly remembers the beginnings of Dr. Strange and talks about his many different incarnations. This is a wonderful feature, but isn't near long enough.

We also have 'The Best Of Marvel Video Game Cinematics' which is really cool, especially if you love video games, as I do. You have three choices, one is a music video like montage that lasts about three minutes, or you can watch 9 minutes of segments from "X-Men Legends 2" or 9 minutes of cinematics from "Marvel Ultimate Alliance". They look great in high def and this is a pretty cool feature even if a bit fanboyish.

We also have a really cool 'Dr. Strange Concept Art' feature. I say that because different artists deal with this character in so many different ways, and the artwork is really mindbending. It will make you want to get on eBay and seek out some Dr. Strange comics. It runs about two minutes.

I wish they would have had a feature of Dr. Strange covers, I remember that as being the coolest feature ever from the "Heavy Metal" DVD. That would have been very nice. Also, let's not forget the 'First Look At Avengers Reborn', it's just what it says. This upcoming project looks to hook a younger audience, but looks interesting nonethless. This feature is about six minutes, and it's great to see the passion in the artists' faces and see that these projects are being handled by the best in the business.

We also have a few trailers, one for "Ultimate Avengers 1 & 2", which is a bestselling combo on Blu-Ray, while the other is for "The Invincible Iron Man" which isn't on Blu-Ray yet, but I'm sure is forthcoming.

So, this wraps up a very nicely done Marvel Animated Feature, one that truly shines on Blu-Ray Disc and one I highly recommend, even if you don't love comics as much as I do. I am happy they went out of their way to rejuvenate Dr. Strange, he has been sorely missed, and this project was a labor of love to begin with. Definitely the best of the Marvel Animated Features, and easily accessible for fans and newbies alike, because the origin story has been watered down somewhat. An excellent addition to anyone's collection.