Tuesday, October 11, 2016

DOCTOR STRANGE (2016)
A PREview REview.
An 8th BLOGGIVERSARY SPECIAL EDITION!


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Today, October 11th (2016), being the 8th bloggiversary of this SANCTUM SANCTORUM COMIX Blog, I am pleased to be able to commemorate this occasion by giving a REview of the PREview Event shown last night (see my blog post yesterday [HERE]) for the DOCTOR STRANGE film, directed by Scott Derrickson and starring Benedict Cumberbatch.



As this IS my  “bloggiversary” for this DOCTOR STRANGE-centric blog, it is an especially touching event to share with something as momentous as a DOCTOR STRANGE movie, (well, a 15-minute Preview, anyway,)since being an avid Doctor Strange reader/ collector/ archivist/ activist/ pontificator/ blogger/twitterer for a continuous 40 years*.

That the character who used to be my “solitary” championing focus, is now being recognized by the world at large; and while, I obviously know that I was not the only Doctor Strange fan in existence, and that we are, in fact, many, it seemed, however, especially in the days before the internet, that I could not help to feel like a “lone voice in the wilderness”. Yes, we were many, but we were also a very tiny minority, and becoming more-so, as more and more of us walked away – were pushed away -  by the lack of care shown for nigh unto 20+ years, by Marvel, his publisher.

But the universes are separate. There is the Marvel COMICBOOK Universe, and there is the Marvel CINEMATIC Universe, and it is of THIS Universe that I am now going to discuss.

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The DOCTOR STRANGE IMAX 3D Footage Event was a 15-Minute (PG-13) viewing of select scenes from the upcoming film. And, while only 15 minutes… packed in an insane amount of awesomeness and spectacle!

Drama, mild comedy, phantasmagorical visuals and ACTION!

The SUPERMAN movie of 1978 had at its tagline, “You will believe a man can fly!”

For the DOCTOR STRANGE 2016 film, the tagline is “Infinite Impossibilities” (but it should be “You will believe a selfish jerk neurosurgeon can totally wreck himself in a horrific, high-speed car crash, fall to ruin, slowly try and fail to build himself back up, STILL be a jerk, meet a mystic guru, be a jerk to HER, get his head set straight, learn of a broader reality – realities… begin to think of others besides himself, and fight to defend our reality from those who would tear open the walls between dimensions by opposing them using his mystical abilities to harness the forces of creation to warp the very fabric of time and space (while wearing a semi-sentient Cloak of fabric, btw)” – but THAT would be a bit hard to fit onto the posters.

Having been in a state of mild urgent, near-panic all day (should I leave early from work?, should I even go in at all, and just camp out at the theatre? Will I get a seat?) I ended up going in to work super-early and leaving at 4pm, arriving at the theatre three hours early for the 7pm show time at the Regal UA Westbury Theatre Stadium 12 & IMAX at 7000 Brush Hollow Rd., Westbury, NY 11590.  I was the first on line (ok, tied for first with a mother and her teenage son) and I was joined before long with fans of varying age and experience. Most of us joined in conversation, ranging from the recent New York ComicCon, Doctor Strange merchandise and, of course, the comics.

Let me say that I wasn’t even supposed to BE at work that day. I normally telecommute on Monday’s from my home in PA, but I made sure to come in – not because I had a lot of work to get to, or meetings that I needed to attend (both were true, and, because I’m a professional, I made sure to be there to do those things as well, but). No. I made sure to come in to work PRIMARILY to attend this showing, as there were no theatres near my home that were screening this event.

Dedication, people. Dedication.

We filed into the theatre and a huge photo of Cumberbatch as Dr. Strange was looming large on the screen; an advertisement for a snapchat filter.


(This was pretty SUPREME sized, I must say.)
(or, as the kids say; "he big")

And for those who don't use snapchat (like me) here is the actual filter that would appear around your photo.

 (snapchat filter)


It wasn’t long before the entire theatre was filled and the lights went low…

At first, upon wearing the IMAX 3D glasses (that are extremely uncomfortable, btw, as they don’t really have a notch for the bridge of your nose,) I was not impressed with what I saw; various ad spots and lead-ins to the preview. I thought it not much of a 3D experience, and couldn’t understand what the big deal could be.
THEN the actual preview started and I realized that none of the previous stuff was even in 3D because the Preview IMMEDIATELTY leapt out and smacked me in the face. The 3D effect was mind-blowing.

What follows now are my recollections of the preview, and I will go into detail so from here on out SPOILER ALERT

I’ll first detail the events of the Preview and then will give my reactions to it.

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THE PREVIEW:

The trailer begins with Benedict Cumberbatch (as Doctor Strange) speaking with Rachel McAdams (portraying ER Doctor Christine Palmer). They have polite, friendly banter and definitely give a feeling as having once had a relationship.
Stephen asks her to attend some kind of medical symposium or speaking engagement with him and she declines. He says; “You used to enjoy coming to those with me.” She replies, still friendly, “No. YOU enjoyed them. It’s always about you, Stephen.”

We then cut to Stephen driving in his Lamborghini. He’s driving away from NYC and over what appears to be the George Washington Bridge to head out of Manhattan to some location out on the Hudson River. He’s driving on wet, slick roads, and he is driving like an entitled jackass; weaving around cars, using the opposing lane, and speeding way too fast.

He’s also committing the grievous sin of being a “distracted driver”, looking at his cell-phone digital display to see medical scan photos sent to him by someone at the hospital, with whom he is also speaking, discussing potential next-clients.

A few hints to the timeline are dropped here, as one of the cases is of a Marine Colonel who had been crushed inside some experimental exo-suit. This seems to refer to the events of IRON MAN 2, and placed Strange accident at that time, because Strange is about to have a Very. Serious. Accident.

Driving at top speed across a dangerous mountainside roadway that winds and twists like a fun-house slide, with a rock-face to his right and an abyss to his left, he once again takes his eyes off the road and he clips another car and spins out, his car losing all traction on the slick roadway. Spinning like a top, it is then jettisoned out over the guardrail like a projectile, to spin and crash, over and over, end-over-end, like a child’s toy thrown away in anger. The sports car’s engine whines as it races with nothing to hold it in check, its metal screaming and groaning with each successive twisting strike of an outcropping of rock or a tree. At this point we see inside the car and Strange’s hands lose their grip of the wheel and strike forward to then be enveloped and crushed within the dashboard, which has folded, sickeningly around them. Striking multiple times as it careens outward and downward, along the mountainside the car finally comes to a sickening crunch, inverted in what looks like a building site. Stephen Strange is bloody, pulped and barely alive.


Scenes follow, with a voice over by the Ancient One (played by Tilda Swinton), that portray a montage of events; a barely conscious Strange on a hospital gurney being wheeled into the O.R. by Palmer, a recuperating Strange in a hospital bed, his scarred hands held still by cables and clamps, Christine Palmer, again by his side, a wandering, destitute Strange journeying to far off Nepal.

Here the preview once again shows dialogue, as Strange meets the Ancient One in a lamasery retreat in an area known as Kamar-Taj.

She speaks to him and calls him “MISTER Strange”, to which he replies, curtly, “DOCTOR, actually.” And she retorts, “Not any more.”

She shows him pictures in books that show the body’s chakra points and one of an M.R.I., all the while, speaking of non-surgical cures and remedies and practices.
At this, Strange loses his composure; “I’ve spent my last dollar to come here and your showing me images from a new age gift shop.”

The Ancient One tries to assure him that there ARE means and ways and methods and energies that lie beyond what conventional “wisdom” say are the limits.
Strange won’t hear any more and bursts out; “…I don’t believe in chakras and the healing power of belief! We are matter and nothing more. There is no spirit! You think you can see through me, but I see through YOU!”
At this last word he pokes an angry finger at the Ancient One’s sternum and she grasps his arm, and then punches him in the chest, sending his astral form out of his body!

Strange’s astral self looks astounded at his hands, and then at his body below, which, now without animus, is only held upright by Mordo’s caring hands (Karl Mordo being played by Chiwetel Ejiofor). Mordo continues to hold him as the Ancient One makes a mystical pass and pulls Strange’s astral form back down into his body.

Strange, aghast and disbelieving accuses them of lacing his tea with some kind of hallucinogen. “What was in that tea?” “Just tea. With a bit of honey.” Comes the just-as-sweet reply.

The Ancient One is now beyond coddling him and she grasps his arm, placed her thumb upon his brow (where the 3rd eye chakra is) and commands him “Open. Your. Eye!” This sends Strange jettisoned out backwards through the lamasery, and then out through the walls of reality.

“This isn’t real, this isn’t real, this isn’t real!” he tries to repeat to himself, as if repetition will make it true.

From dimension to dimension, we see Strange hurtling, buffeted by forces beyond understanding, with the voice of the Ancient One ringing around him. “There are other realities, other worlds, other dimensions…” “Some are good, some exist just next to our own, and others are Dark Dimensions with entities that only seek to do us harm…”

Strange is then flailing, screaming, through alien landscapes and cosmic vistas, at one point to see a monstrous façade, the size of a hillside, which has bands of flame and what appear to be two… searing… eyes…

Being turned inside out, having himself attacked by an endless multitude of grasping hands – each one growing from his own body and then the landscape around him, he is drown down into darkness, to emerge inside his own eye! Before falling down in its darkened recesses again.

We hear the voice of Mordo saying; “His heart rate is getting critical.” And soon we see Strange back at the lamasery, seated next to the Ancient One, who smiles and says, “He seems fine to me” and sends Strange BACK out into the void.

More otherworldly scenes await us and some of these phantasmagorical scenes are obvious homage to Steve Ditko’s early portrayals of otherworldly dimensions.

When Strange finally returns to earth, it is in a heap, tumbling across the floor, where he looks up, shaking, and says to the Ancient One, while on bended knee… his voice hoarse from his helpless screaming, no more than a whisper; “teach me.”

Next are a series of montages showing Stephen Strange training with other students at Kamar-Taj. While their gestures and strikes produce mystical formations, his do not. But still he seeks to catch up to them. At one point he asks the Ancient One, “How do I get from here to there?” (asking about how to bridge the gap from broken, mortal man to wizened sorcerer.) And the Ancient One relies with a question of her own; “How did you become a doctor?” Strange realizes the answer to her question is the answer to his own as he states; “Study and practice.” And then with a weight of realization, “…YEARS of it.”

Strange now meets (Benedict Wong, playing appropriately enough..) Wong: the keeper of the mystical library. Asking his name, the stoic Wong merely states “Wong”. Strange can’t help but let some of his jerk-humor escape as he chides; “Wong? That’s it? Like Adele?” Wong is still unresponsive to Strange’s “charm”. “Or… Aristotle?” Strange says trying to save face. Stephen also rattles off a few other mononymous individuals of note; including Bono and Eminem. All in an attempt to be “funny”.
“Hmmm…” Strange muses, “People usually think that I’m funny.”
“Do those people work for you?” Wong’s reply is pointed.
“Ookay… thanks for the books.” Strange is about to go, but is stopped by Wong.

Strange holds a book and Wong reproaches him that if any attempt to take a book from that library, they would be dead before they made it to the door.
“What about if they’re just late? Any late fees that I should know about, that perhaps are a bit less lethal?”

More montages follow. Now with Strange gaining ability and dressed in his sorcerer’s garb. Attempting spells and learning.
Wong and Mordo meet, “There is a strength to him.” “But is he ready?”

More montages show Strange opening the glass door in an antechamber to reveal a roiling sea/ he walks by the Cloak of Levitation, which reacts to his presence, as if aware and beseeching/ Strange is floating through another dimension to alight upon an alien landscape/ the flaming “face” appears yet again, looming before him…

Now we see the forces that Strange must face as Kaecilius is revealed (as played by Mads Mikkelson), a dangerous zealot who, with his followers, is out to destroy our reality by harnessing the mystical forces for his own ends.

A quick return to normalcy as we see a wounded Doctor Strange being administered to, once again, by Christine Palmer who thinks he has been drafted into a cult.
“It’s not a cult. I’ve been taught secrets of the universe.” Strange attempts to explain.
“So… a cult.” Palmer retorts. “No, it’s not a cult.” Strange laughingly replies. To which Christine smugly says, “Which is exactly what someone in a cult would say.”

And at this point the preview turns to all-out action, as Strange and Kaecilius battle, in alternating scenes; a hospital, an Asian city (or at least a “Chinatown”), as Kaecilius uses the mystic arts to cause wanton destruction, and to create weapons out of the very air and smoke. Once while his foe lunges at his throat with a conjured, glass-shard javelin, Strange is forced to halt – and reverse – the flow of time itself, casting his foeman away, and rebuilding the devastation to its previous state of being.

Kaecilius and his minions chase Strange and Mordo throughout an ever tilting, changing, warping cityscape.
Up the sides of buildings, across suspension scaffolding, through city streets; a dogged pursuit of a stronger malevolent force, chasing after the hero and his teacher, Kaecilius chases after Strange and Mordo.
Time and again Strange attempts to cast a spell to create a mystical portal, a swirling, golden disc through which to escape, and time and again he is hindered by the interference of his enemy.
Landscapes fold in upon themselves and alternate angles of reality are colliding and gliding past one another, as Strange and Mordo must jump (and fly!) and fall(!) between them, until finally, while running up the side of a building Kaecilius causes it to split, and bend as if tearing apart the double-helix of reality itself.

The biggest moment of the preview was when, attacked by Kaecilious, inside the Sanctum Sanctorum (the very home of the Sorcerer Supreme), Stephen is pushed over the railing of a third-floor balcony to his…apparent death, when, in a flurry of motion, a streak of scarlet is seen to rush past the villain and down, over the railing to follow the fallen hero…
Only to show Stephen Strange slowly arise, the CLOAK of LEVITATION draped about his shoulders, bringing him back into the fray.
While floating aloft, Strange conjures a fiery whip and uses it to strike at his enemy.

The world is besieged. It is being killed. And it needs a Doctor to save it.
DOCTOR STRANGE!


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The RE-VIEW:

While I MAY have forgot (or omitted) some scenes from the preview, I have to say, I am fairly sure that I have accurately described well over 95+%.

But that was just a description of the events that occurred on-screen. A play-by-play;
fleshed-out bullet-points, at best.

What is my intent NOW is to give some perspective, from a fan’s p.o.v. of what was seen, and how faithfully (or even how unique) the vision presented to us may be.
Here, there shall be 
SPOILERS APLENTY.
You have been warned.

It is obvious that Strange and Palmer once had some kind of romantic relationship, perhaps if only at its beginnings, but a relationship that now has cooled, obviously because Stephen Strange is an egotistical man.
It seems to me, that the film-makers opted to have Strange be merely a selfish egotist, and perhaps not a greedy, uncaring bastard (as he was portrayed, while still a surgeon, in the comics)

If Strange were a completely reprehensible person, it is highly unlikely that he would still retain the friendship of a former lover. It wouldn’t preclude him from retaining some kind of physical “love”-life with any number of women, but the fact that Christine Palmer still interacts with him on a one-to-one basis (even taking their professional co-worker relationship into account) means that he can not be beyond hope. So it is with this tie to another decent human being that we can safely conclude that this version of Stephen Strange isn’t an utter bastard.

I should say, the IMAX 3D, even in the most mundane scene, is stellar. Figures leap forth from the background and certain elements streak towards you with alarming virtual-proximity. Just watching Stephen and Christine walking through the hospital hallways is a wealth of 3D riches, as perspective and depth-of-field are in full heightened display.
Later, when we get to the point of Strange’s astral journeys through other dimensions, other realities, the 3D effect, at this point, is unbearable, as we, in the audience, are immersed in that unreal landscape and are in danger of falling headlong into worlds within worlds.

Speaking of those other dimensions, those other worlds; when we see that flaming façade the size of a hillside, it looks like a most familiar… face(?).
I’m only mildly holding back the reveal, but this was most assuredly the large and looming face of the despot of the Dark Dimension; the Dread Dormammu!

This is to be expected as, even the most casual research into the history of the characters in the film would show, Baron Karl Mordo is typically a thrall of Dormammu and can not be trusted for long. Kaecilius, who is the lead villain in this first film, was almost always a mere pawn of Mordo’s. So, it would stand to reason that while they are endeavoring to make Mordo a more well-rounded human character from his very 2-dimensional comicbook counterpart (with the same care going to transform Kaecilius from his ONE-dimensional comic appearances), that it won’t be long before Dormammu is revealed as being a source of power and temptation to Mordo as well as a source of power behind Kaecilius all the while.

Speaking of power sources, there is a book that is shown in the preview (and hinted at in many trailers and online interviews) and that is the Book of Cagliostro. The book of Cagliostro was indeed featured in the comics, but unfortunately for a portion of one classic 1970’s storyline (and then hinted at in an aborted 1990’s sub-plot). In the comics it was merely the book of spells and magic of the famed sorcerer; Cagliostro (who, in fact was a real historical person, albeit not quite the level of mystic that lore would have you believe). Caliostro, in the comics anyway, was a master of sorcery and possessed the secret of immortality. However, in the classic story told in the old Marvel Premiere series, Cagliostro was, at one point, impersonated by a time-traveling sorcerer named Sise-Neg. Since the manipulation of time seems to be a heavy aspect of this film (with the “Time” Infinity Stone seemingly at the heart of the Eye of Agamotto) it may be that the Sise-Neg/ Cagliostro time-manipulation aspect has been merged for the sake of the film, as Kaecilius definitely desires the ability to affect time.

While that was mostly a bit of conjecture on my part, so is this; the fact that in the preview and trailers, we don’t really see many instances of the classic spell-casting hand & finger position that closely resembles the “American Sign Language” formation for “I love you”, with the index and pinkie fingers extended, the middle and “ring” finger folded down and the thumb usually out to the side. 

Instead, (quite possibly because most people take the general hand-position as being the stereotypical, allegedly blasphemous, “devil horns” gesture, with the thumb tucked in and crossed over the two middle fingers,) the filmmakers have the sorcerers holding their hands either with open palm with fingers splayed, or in a position that is more known to be used by those in the Martial Arts, with the index and middle finger extended and the “ring” and pinkie finger tucked. The cheat here, is that the hands are held in the position with the two main fingers extended by the use of a magic ring, which aids the wielder to create golden portals of swirling energy.

That's not to say that Strange and the others WON'T make the classic Ditko-finger-pose, but it was sorely missing in the Preview and any teasers.
As for the “magic” shown, I am very grateful that there were other dimensional landscapes and surreal perspectives shown, as thus far, only the kaleidoscopic affect was ever really shown in the trailers, and that, I found to be sorely lacking.

Even the bending, folding cityscape (which many had likened to the effect seen earlier in the movie “Inception”) was not quite up to snuff.

None of these things spoke to me of the Doctor Strange that I had read for the past near-40-years. Doctor Strange has very little ability to affect the physical plane; his abilities being more attuned for the other realms beyond our own.

With each teaser-trailer that I saw, the more disinterested I became with this film, and more convinced that it was far from even coming close to capturing the otherness of the abilities and realities that ARE Doctor Strange.


However, aside from the reality-bending and building-warping effects shown in this 15-minute preview, there was also, thankfully, enough other-dimensional interplay that I feel that maybe – maybe – like the fact that there was ever only ONE hint at an Astral Form scene, that perhaps much of the weirder stuff is still being kept from us until we see that actual film.

So it is, while I believe, from what I’ve seen within this 15-minute glimpse, this is not quite the DOCTOR STRANGE from the comics of my youth, with not quite the same power-set of abilities as from those stories, I do believe that this is a DOCTOR STRANGE that I can willingly accept. I would prefer more of his persona and abilities to be directly ported from the 1960’s and 1970’s era stories, and even some from the 1980’s (and possibly a few from after that point), but this is the Marvel CINEMATIC Universe, and this is the DOCTOR STRANGE that many, if not most, new fans will consider to be ‘THE” definitive article.

At the VERY least, Benedict Cumberbatch is a better choice then Cammeron Powell; HIS mustache is too short. **


I have been told that I will be seeing the full film at a Disney/Marvel “friends and family” event on November 1st in NYC. I will hopefully share more with you after then (but keeping a respectful silence until the 4th, and with HEAVY “Spoiler” Warnings at the top of the page).


BONUS CONTENT:
HEAR myself, Dee and Howard Hallis all discussing this preview in EPISODE 11 of our DOCTOR STRANGECAST podcast [HERE].

Tamam Shud!





*(ok, in the interest of transparency, while I was reading comics since, at least, 1976, and MAY have seen him in one of those earlier comics, I only recognize having discovered Doctor Strange in late-1979/early-1980. I have been an avid fan ever since, having long gone back and not only reading every past issue, but having collected them as well – thus cramming 53 years of Doctor Strange into 36 years of Doctor Strange-specific time. /LegalDisclaimer)

** If you don't get THIS reference, then hang up your cloak and hit the books. You're not yet ready to call yourself a true Doctor Strange fan.




4 comments:

Dex said...

I guess I'm going to have to come back in a couple weeks to read the whole post to see what you thought of the preview :D

Staying away from anything I can until the movie...only because I couldn't go to the preview near me.

Sean Aaron said...

Just saw it Saturday (being in the UK) and I'm planning to take my kid next week. I'll be curious to see your full review when it releases stateside. Without spoilers it's an origin story and any issues it has stem largely from that. I think not doing that - as it did with the comic - would have served Strange better. It will be interesting to see this character develop as he's not like the other Marvel cinematic characters we've seen thus far.

Having said that seeing Dr. Strange on the big screen wasn't something I ever expected to see so it would have been cool regardless and they did a pretty good job.

Ivannah Cabrel said...

Going to see the movie for sure.. I'm a Marvel fan.

Anonymous said...

I finally saw Doctor Strange. It was awesome!!! The
visuals were great and I liked the cast in their roles. However there was one scene. . .well, it could have been shorter. . .that was my issue with it. The origin of the good doctor is told like it is in the comics(well, the basics!). The comics multiverse and the Marvel movie multiverse are different universes so it's like you're watching a What If story on the screen. Money well spent!

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