Release Date(s)2016 (October 1, 2019)
Studio(s)Marvel Studios (Walt Disney Studios)
- Film/Program Grade: A-
- Video Grade: A
- Audio Grade: A
- Extras Grade: B-
When a car crash robs the world’s greatest neurosurgeon of the ability to do his job, Dr. Stephen Strange (Benedict Cumberbatch) gives up on life. But life hasn’t given up on him yet, for Strange finds new purpose in an unlikely place—the temple of Kamar-Taj in Nepal. The monks there are led by the Ancient One (Tilda Swinton), a Celtic mystic who instructs Strange in the “mystical arts” and reveals that what we know as reality is but one layer of a larger multiverse. The Ancient One is reluctant to trust Strange at first. But from ancient books in the library of Master Wong (Benedict Wong) he learns how to bend time and cast spells with the Eye of Agamotto. He learns too that Earth is guarded from the evil of the Dark Dimension by a trio of Sanctums, one located in his own New York City. And when the sorcerer Kaecilius (Mads Mikkelsen) strikes at the heart of these Sanctums, intending to release that evil upon the Earth, only Strange and Wong stand in his way.
One of the things that’s been most refreshing about the Marvel Cinematic Universe’s approach to the superhero genre is the way it continues to find new wrinkles and corners to explore and new colors with which to paint its canvas. We’ve seen the traditional stories, sure, but also the mythic, the cosmic, and now—with Doctor Strange—the mystic. But that’s just part of what makes this film so good. Cumberbatch is perfect as the title character, but equally good is the supporting cast. Swinton was a controversial choice as the Ancient One, but she is lovely in the role. Wong and Mikkelsen are strong too, as are Rachel McAdams (as Strange’s friend and fellow surgeon) and Chiwetel Ejiofor (as a fellow disciple of the Ancient One). But Doctor Strange also lets Marvel unleash a stunning and psychedelic palette of mind-bending visual imagery, subverting the real with… well, the truly strange. Another terrific Michael Giacchino adds the icing on a truly rich and deeply layered cake.
Doctor Strange was shot digitally in the ARRIRAW codec (at 3.4K and 6.5K) using mostly Arri Alexa cameras, though there’s a bit of 35 mm film in there too shot using the Arriflex 235, all with Panavision Primo lenses. It was finished as a 2K Digital Intermediate at the 2.39:1 scope ratio for its theatrical release (with some scenes formatted in 1.90:1 for its IMAX release). That DI was upsampled for its release on Ultra HD and graded for high dynamic range (HDR10 only is available on the UHD disc, though Dolby Vision is available on the 4K Digital version). First things first: The UHD offers only the 2.39 presentation—there are no shifting ratios (those are only available on the Blu-ray 3D version which is not included here). As for resolution, this presentation is quite good overall, with a modest but notable increase in fine detail over the Blu-ray image. Skin, fabrics, scenery, and other antiquity (brickwork, wood, metal) all show added refinement. Scenes shot for IMAX in 6.5K show a stronger bump in detail, as you’d expect. But here’s the key: The HDR grade for this film is really aggressive. That’s as it should be, given the nature and themes of the film, but it means the dark scenes (Strange’s nighttime drive and crash, the interiors of Kamar-Taj, etc) are much darker. And the highlights are almost eye-reactive, allowing the film’s magical and fractal visual enchantments to really pop and sizzle. Colors are absolutely gorgeous, richer and more natural looking. I really love this presentation. But it shines best on a bright display or projector, in a viewing space where you can control room light as much as possible. And those with less capable displays (but equipped with Dolby Vision) might actually prefer the Digital 4K.
The English Dolby Atmos mix delivers an appropriately large soundstage—once you dial up the volume—but it’s the smoothness here that impresses the most. Dynamic range is terrific, with robust low end, excellent clarity, and plenty of bluster, but panning and movement have an organic quality that’s pleasing without sounding cluttered. This matters especially during the battle in “mirror dimension” Manhattan. With so much going on visually, an overly busy soundfield would actually work against the intended effect. But there are just enough cues in the overheads and surrounds, and they move around the listening space so effortlessly, that the mix enhances the visuals perfectly. The atmospherics create unique sonic spaces from scene to scene, but it’s rarely flashy. Workmanlike is a word I would use to describe this Atmos mix. Additional audio options include English 2.0 Descriptive Audio, Quebec French in 5.1 Dolby Digital, and 7.1 Dolby Digital Plus in French, Spanish, German, Italian, and Japanese. Optional subtitles include English for the Hearing Impaired, Quebec French, French, Spanish, German, Italian, Japanese, Norwegian, and Swedish.
There are no extras on the UHD disc itself, but you do get the film on Blu-ray. That disc includes the following extras (in HD):
- Audio Commentary by Scott Derrickson
- A Strange Transformation (9:42)
- Strange Company (12:37)
- The Fabric of Reality (12:32)
- Across Time and Space (13:21)
- The Score-cerer Supreme (9:51)
- Marvel Studios Phase 3 Exclusive Look (7:28)
- Team Thor: Part 2 (4:38)
- Deleted & Extended Scenes (5 scenes – 7:52 in all)
- Gag Reel (4:12)
The audio commentary is terrific. It’s just Derrickson, recorded the day before the film’s premiere, offering his insights on the story, the production, and the mythology. It’s thoughtful, comprehensive, and will add to your appreciation of Doctor Strange. The featurettes are solid, offering looks at the approach to the film, the artistic design, the supporting cast, the character’s history, and other aspects of the production. There’s a great piece on the film’s unique, multi-axis fight choreography. A look at Michael Giacchino’s process in writing and recording the score is welcome too. There are a few interesting deleted scenes, including one (set in a church) that was clearly too dark and sinister to include in the final film. There’s also a nice moment in Kathmandu where Strange helps an injured dog, before being approached by Karl Mordo (Ejiofor). Finally, you get part two of Taika Waititi’s Team Thor mockumentary trilogy. Sadly, there’s no Blu-ray 3D version of the film included, but you do get a Movies Anywhere Digital code.
Of all the titles in the Marvel catalog, none is more suited to its 4K Ultra HD upgrade than Doctor Strange. This already dazzling film shines even brighter with HDR and the Atmos mix kicks the sonic experience up a notch or too as well. If you pick up no other MCU title in UHD, pick up this one. Highly recommended.
- Bill Hunt