Doctor Strange (US - DVD R1)
Doctor Jerk is more like it. Gabe sits through more Marvel animation malaise
Dr. Stephen Strange is one of the best doctors in medicine. He's so good he doesn't even have to be nice to his staff, nor does he have to care for patients he'd rather not. But the night Strange's hands are crushed in a freak auto accident he falls from his high horse. While searching for a way to fix his livelihood, Stange is taken into a monastery, and trained in the ways of sorcery and magic. Meanwhile, a malevolent force threatens to destroy our world.
The Invincible Iron Man sucked, and Marvel Animation's two Avengers films were barely average. I wasn't very excited at the prospect of sitting through another Marvel Animation movie, even if it was featuring Dr. Strange. Though Doctor Strange is a solid improvement on the poopy missed opportunity that was Iron Man, it's still wrought with problems.
Like Iron Man and Ultimate Avengers, Doctor Strange is an origin story. It's understandable that the good doctor isn't an ace magician right off the bat, and a dark past is inevitable (though flirting with one's own sister on every occasion of flashback is a little too dark for me), but his constantly bitchy and frustrating attitude is so obnoxious that even his heroic turn is hard to care about. The film's attempts at adult drama are genuine, and more successful than Iron Man's, but still below that of the best aimed at children’s animated entertainment.
Like the other Marvel cartoons, and most origin stories on film, Doctor Strange has difficulty balancing our hero's back story and an interesting adventure for him to take. In the comic book and television mediums writers can take their time to work a back story issue by issue, but filmmakers (animated or live action) usually don't have the option of taking more than two hours to set up a hero and his adventure. This story (despite the 95 minutes dictated by the box art) is haphazardly crammed into only about an hour and a quarter of runtime, leaving no time for the emotional depth the creators want to achieve.
I'm not all that clear on the specifics of Dr. Strange's original origin story, but it seems to have been updated quite a bit. The story elements are pretty darn similar to stuff already seen on Justice League, the original X-Mencartoon, and of all things, Nightmare on Elm Street. Not really the backbone the creators needed.
The character has been updated from his origin, but only up to about the '90s. Again, just like the other Marvel Animation releases, Doctor Strange is oddly dated, from plot, to character design and animation. Even the acting is particularly broad. This strange anachronistic nature renders the film irrelevant in the face of emotionally complex modern animated series. This is an action film with dreams of something deeper. Non-combative conflict quickly gives way to sword fights and explosions on every occasion.
The story stilting action is pretty weak, unfortunately, though there are glimmers of colourful eye candy. Most battles carry little or no weight, physically or emotionally. Things fly around, fires blaze, characters no one cares about are killed, it all gets pretty boring pretty quickly.
Well, I may not like the character designs, the rough animation, the soft edges, and lumpy shadows, but on this DVD they look fabulous. LionsGate has released a Blu-ray version simultaneously, but those of us still unable to afford the HD revolution will have little to nothing to complain about here.
Animation should always look good on DVD, but often is the victim of edge enhancement and interlacing effects. This appears to be a progressive transfer ( Iron Man was not[/i]), and is awesome all around. Colours are bright, details are sharp (to a fault, one can see inconstancies in the animation), and I didn't notice any noise or artefacts the entire show.
This disc has not one, not five, but six point one channels of audio surround. I admit I'm impressed by the tracks surround effects, even if the film's sound design is a bit lacking. Movement throughout the channels is smooth and convincing (even without that sixth channel), and sound levels are even. The film's score is a little thin due most likely to the budget, but is an improvement on the other Marvel animated movies, and often carries the emotional weight of the film when the animation, acting, and storytelling fail.
The first extra is the most random, a collection of cinematics from two Marvel themed video games, X-Men Legends 2 and Marvel Ultimate Alliance. Now I don't feel like I have to finish Ultimate Alliance because I know how it ends. The cinematics are pretty impressive, especially Ultimate Alliance, but unfortunately aren't anamorphically enhanced. They can be watched one scene at a time, or in a mash-up.
Next is a fifteen minute look at the origins of Dr. Strange, which is about half actual character history, and half sales pitch. The film's producers make it clear that the character's flaws (re: he's an asshole) were part of the original character, and imply that they're staying true to his origins, but later admit that there's only about three panels of back-story in the original comic. Everyone's favourite senile comic book creator Stan Lee is in attendance, and manages to forget several of his stories while telling them. It's cute.
The Iron Man DVD featured the first five minutes of this film as an extra, this time we aren't quite so lucky. We do get some character sketches and behind the scenes info on Avengers Reborn, running only a few minutes. The new film looks like a big departure for the Marvel Animation team. Think Cartoon Network's Teen Titans series. I think this can only be a good thing.
The extras are completed with a series of motion story boards and character sketches set to music from the film, and a small collection of LionsGate trailers, including the new Larry the Cable Guy movie, which looks worse than cancer.
It's not as blah as The Invincible Iron Man, but Doctor Strange is still pretty bland. The animation is a little wonky, the backgrounds and digital elements don't blend with the hand drawn stuff, the storyline is slim, and the action is rather generic. Fans of the two Ultimate Avengers releases might enjoy themselves, but fans of Justice League will be disappointed. The footage from the teams next release does look promising, but until that time, I'll be happy watching reruns of Dr. Orpheus on my Venture Bros. DVDs, because a failed Necromancer with a teenage daughter is far more entertaining than a jerk-face magician getting his start.
Review by Gabriel Powers
Some material may be inappropriate for children under 13
Release Date: 14th August 2007
Disc Type: Single side, dual layer
Audio: Dolby Digital 5.1 English, Dolby Digital 5.1 Spanish
Subtitles: English, Spanish
Extras: Marvel Video Game Cinematics, Featurette, First Look at Avenger Reborn, Concept Art, Trailers
Easter Egg: No
Director: Frank Paur
Cast: Michael Yama, Paul Nakauchi, Bryce JohnsonMichael Yama, Paul Nakauchi, Bryce Johnson
Genre: Action and Animation
Length: 75 minutes
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