A Strange Journey

A Look at Doctor Strange's Trip To The Silver Screen
November 02, 2016
Marvel Studio’s newest, and, quite frankly, best looking cinematic masterpiece since 2014’s Ant-Man, Doctor Strange, opens everywhere this Friday, November 4th, with special late showings on Thursday, November 5th. Starring Benedict Cumberbacht, of Star Trek Into Darkness, where he played Kahn, and BBC’s Sherlock, where he plays a present day incarnation of Sir Arthur Conan Doyle’s legendary detective. Yet, the Sorcerer Supreme’s journey has not been one without an interesting past.

If you grew up watching shows like The Incredible Hulk on CBS and later NBC, or The Amazing Spider-Man on CBS in the 1970s, then you’re already pretty familiar with the low budget nature of these two shows. In the late 70s, director Philip DeGuere wrote and directed a two hour film called Doctor Strange, starring Peter Hooten as the titular doctor, and was based on the comic book character, and the film served as a pilot for an eventual TV series, just like The Incredible Hulk and The Amazing Spider-Man. It aired on September 6th, 1978 from 8pm to 10pm on CBS. Alas, the series was not picked up. The film did see two different VHS releases in the US, one in 1987, and one later in 1995, as well as multiple foreign releases. It finally made its DVD appearance on November 1st, 2016, four days before the release of the 2016 film.

A 1985 interview with Marvel’s creator Stan Lee revealed that he actually enjoyed the production of Doctor Strange. He also commented that his experiences on The Incredible Hulk were fine as well, but the two Captain America films and The Amazing Spider-Man were “a total nightmare.” Lee also gave the most input into the film and he became close friends with director DeGuere. Had the film not aired against Roots, Doctor Strange most likely would have become a series.
There were several differences between the source material and the actual film itself. The costume Doctor Strange wears has a star burst on it that is not found in the comic book. It bears some similarities on the one worn by Captain Mar-Vell, the star burst in Doctor Strange actually comes from the film’s costume designer and former Doctor Strange comic book artist, Frank Brunner. Brunner had actually used the design in different projects and felt that it was more TV friendly than the demonic symbol worn by Strange in the comic books.

Doctor Strange's ever present foe, Dormammu, visually inspired the unamed creature that Morgan Le Fay, the movie's villainess, serves and you may interpet Le Fay as Umar, Dormammu's sister and Strange's foe as well. Regarding Le Fay's appearance in this film, she was introduced to the Marvel Comics world a mere few months before the film would air and she actually wouldn't even battle Doctor Strange until 1984, six whole years after the debut of the movie! She was also the first Marvel villian to brought into the live action world. Kingpin from The Trial of the Incredible Hulk and the Red Skull from the 1990 Captain America, would eventually join her.

Which brings us into the 1980s. While an exact date is unknown, Charles Band, the former head of Empire Pictures (Ghoulies, From Beyond, Re-Animator) held the rights to make a Doctor Strange movie, which was lost after Band didn't make the film. His Doctor Strange film eventually became a project known as Doctor Mortalis, which he had been working with legendary comic book artist Jack Kirby one. And, like with a lot of movies that Band comes up with, Doctor Mortalis also ceased to exist. Instead, what we got was in 1992, Band's current company, Full Moon, released the Jeffery Combs starring Doctor Mordrid, which was Doctor Strange without the name.

After a few appearances on the 90s Spider Man cartoon, Doctor Strange would resurface in 2007 in a direct to DVD animated feature, titled simply Doctor Strange. This animated film told Doctor Strange's origins, much like the eventual 2016 film would. In 2013, the movie and comic book world clashed as rumors of a Doctor Strange film came to light with two, in my opinion, unusual casting choices for the titular character. Johnny Depp and Joaquin Phoenix were listed as the forerunners for the character and fans were not happy about this whatsoever. Tempers were extinguished when it was announced that Benedict Cumberbacht, who does resemble the good Doctor, was announced to play the role.

How will the new Doctor Strange film fare? Only time and box office receipts will tell, but expect to see or only hear a reference to him in 2017's Thor: Ragnorok, and he will be in the Infinity War films as well. And it's almost a guarantee that we will see him in Doctor Strange 2 in the near future.
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