By Scott A. Cupp
This is the 142nd my series of Forgotten, Obscure or Neglected Films
This week, I am looking at a movie based on a comic book. Comic book movies have been around a long time. And Doctor Strange was one of my favorite books when I was growing up. I had the early issues as they appeared in Strange Tales. First it was the art of Steve Ditko over Stan Lee’s stories. Then the art went through Bill Everett, Marie Severin, Dan Adkins, Frank Brunner, Gene Colon, Marshall Rogers and others. They were all interesting artists. The writers, including Roy Thomas, Denny O’Neill and Steve Englehart, had fun too dealing with weird and alien dimensions.
As many of you know, a live action Doctor Strange film is in production with Benedict Cumberbatch in the title role. And there was a CBS series pilot in 1978 starring Peter Hooten as Dr. Stephen Strange, a psychiatrist turned sorcerer. But, to date, the 2007 animated Doctor Strange film with Bryce Johnson stands as the most recent adaptation available.
For this film, they go back to address the origin of Dr. Strange as presented by Lee and Ditko, with Stephen Strange as a brain surgeon with great skills and a materialistic ego. When a traffic accident damages his hands to the point he can longer handle a scalpel, he begins searching for a second or third or fiftieth opinion that his hands can be repaired and his life regained.
He eventually finds himself in Tiber searching for “the Ancient One” (voiced by Michael Yama) who accepts him as a pupil and assigns him menial tasks. And, as clichés go, it is the usual one. Strange’s attitude is “I want the world and I want it now,” which does not fit well with mystic instruction. Aiding the Ancient One are Wong, a magician and servant (voiced by Paul Nakauchi), and Mordo, second only to the Ancient One in power (voiced by Kevin Michael Richardson). Mordo is a mighty mystic and powerful warrior, but the Ancient One seeks someone who wants peace not war.
Menacing Earth is the Dread Dormammu (Jonathan Adams), a being of pure evil magic from another dimension trying to break into our own. He is using the dreams of children to break through the magic bonds binding him away from our world.
The mystic elements are well portrayed in the film, which is why animation was an ideal medium for this version. The 1978 TV version lacked somewhat in the special effects budget. This version has a good sense of it, though not nearly as wild and amazing as Steve Ditko’s comic versions of the 1960’s. Those comic pages had an almost psychedelic tinge to them. And Stan Lee was never more bombastic than when writing of the Eye of Agamotto or the Hoary Hosts of Hoggoth. It made his work on Thor seem like a Weekly Reader title.
The choice of the Dread Dormammu was an expected one, though I might have preferred some other characters like Nightmare and then move to Dormammu. But, since Dormammu is to Doctor Strange like Doctor Doom is to the Fantastic Four, this was not going to happen.
All in all, I liked the film. It ran about 76 minutes, which I liked. I would have liked to have seen another film in this series. This was from the period that gave us two Iron Man and two Avengers made-for-video films in the mid 2000s. They all have their moments and are worth searching out. Copies of the DVD and Blu-Ray are readily available online for less than $10, new or used. So, if you are interested, check it out. And be ready for the 2016 live action one next year. I’ll be there early.
Series organizer Todd Mason hosts more Tuesday Forgotten Film reviews at his own blog and posts a complete list of participating blogs.