Dr. Strange (Blu-ray + DVD-Video/Animated/Lionsgate)
Picture: C+/B Sound:
B+/B Extras: C Film: B
The latest installment in the Lionsgate/Marvel series of
"Animated Marvel Features," Doctor
Strange is something of an anomaly. Marvel has never quite known what
to do with the Sorcerer Supreme, the treatment of whom over the years has
resulted in many an indignity, not the least of which was the 1978 TV
adaptation of Dr. Strange, which Stan Lee justifiably disowned. For some,
the good news is that this isn't your grandpaps Dr. Strange; for others, the
bad news is, well, this isn't your grandpaps Dr. Strange.
Most of the familiar elements of the Strange mythos are here, if shuffled about
like some errant tarot. Some new elements have been grafted on to the
core story, not the least objectionable being martial arts sword play to match
the all-important sorcery story line. For the novice, the origin of Dr.
Strange is revisited and left relatively intact, with the unnecessary addition
of a sister, whose unknown brain illness and subsequent death provide
motivation for the young Stephen's desire to become a surgeon.
The story kicks into high gear, however, once these preliminary details are out
of the way and Strange heads for Tibet in search of a cure for his hands,
damaged in an auto accident and leaving him incapable of performing surgery.
In Tibet, we meet Strange's mentor, the Ancient One, and his
nemesis-to-be, Baron Mordo, and learn of the dreaded Dormamu's plot to invade
our dimension. The action moves along at a quick pace and an early
plotline about Shadowhounds battling a team of mystic warriors (including the
ever-faithful Wong) is woven nicely into the main story, leading to an exciting
culminating battle between dimensions. Though there is some slight
deviation from the original, Dormamu's dark dimension is portrayed in all of
its nefarious glory, the animation of which will appeal to hardcore fans as
well as those along for the initial ride.
In another effective subplot, sick children that fill
hospitals throughout the city turn out to be Dormamu's zombie-like minions,
helping earn the PG-13 rating for "Some
Frightening Images." The otherworldly, psychedelic essence of
the work of original Strange artist Steve Ditko is paid homage to here and is
done decently. The dreaded Dormamu gets a full 3.0 upgrade, his
appearance a not so subtle blend of Disney's Satan from "Night on Bald Mountain" in
Fantasia, the Lord of Darkness of Legend, Sauron from The Ring films and the
original Dormamu himself. The action is driven by a Hollywood summer
blockbuster-like soundtrack by Guy Michelmore and it would be hard to
overestimate its contribution to the film's overall success.
The 1080p 1.78 X 1 digital High Definition image on the
Blu-ray is problematic, even more so than on the Ultimate Avengers set, with color and detail issues throughout that
ruin the picture. Why? Someone is taking liberties with the HD
master, the transfer to Blu-ray or the compression of all the extras are
cutting into the picture. The
anamorphically enhanced 1.78 X 1 DVD version is cleaner and clearer by default,
with the low def covering up for some minor flaws in the production you can see
on the Blu-ray, despite its problems.
Still, the DVD is truer to the original production, unfortunately.
Both discs have pretty rich, full, Dolby Digital 5.1 EX
sound with fine surrounds and play fine in both versions, but the Blu-ray has
an even better DTS 7.1 HD mix. We could
only play 5.1 of it as of this posting and this is the first DTS 7.1 release,
but it is even better than the Dolby as expected and is a soundtrack the DVD
could never handle. The Blu-ray is the
clear cut audio winner no matter how you cut it.
Among the commercial like bonus features for video games
and other Marvel feature films is a very good featurette entitled "Who is Doctor Strange" (hopefully
viewed before the film for those not in the know) and an all too brief
"Doctor Strange Concept Art,"
clocking in at under 2 and half minutes. Grandpap may nod off grumpily
and the kids may get itchy X-Box fingers but, all in all, the power of the
story shines through the compromise for an interesting viewing experience.
- Don Wentworth