With a new Marvel movie from their ever expanding cinematic universe every year, DC desperately trying to compete and tons of indie comics getting converted into features it may seem hard to imagine a time when comic book films where not around however let me tell you it was not that long ago.
Growing up in the 80’s I was a huge super hero fan and started collecting comics spurned on by my Dad who loved Marvel. I also desperately sort out any TV or film versions of my favorite hero’s but soon found there where very few around. I devoured every TV shows, cartoon and movie I could get my hands on and even though the quality varied greatly they all entertained me because I loved seeing the drawings on the pages brought to life.
A particular favorite character of mine and my Father’s was Dr. Strange the Sorcerer Supreme and master of the mystic arts who spends his time battling demons and warlocks across this world and many other realities probably displaying my early love of all things supernatural.
I was overjoyed when I discovered there was a Dr. Strange film and remember fondly watching it with my Dad on TV many, many moons ago when it was reshown. Coming out in the late 70’s and detailing the origin of the character as a pilot for a proposed TV series to play on CBS alongside the famous Incredible Hulk series that everyone knows and The Amazing Spider-Man show sadly it never got picked up and disappeared without a trace.
However with the new movie this year from horror director Scott Derrickson best known for Sinister 1 and 2 and staring the heavy weight cast of Chiwetel Ejiofor, Rachel McAdams, Mads Mikkelsen, Tilda Swinton and Benedict Cumberbatch as Dr. Stephen Strange Universal have finally released the 1978 version on DVD to the extreme excitement of all diehard fans and comic completists including myself.
Changing the origin drastically from the original comic created by artist Steve Ditko and first appearing in Strange Tales #110 in 1963 the TV movie tells the tale of Thomas Lindmer (John Mills) the current Sorcerer Supreme who lives in his Sanctum Sanatorium in Greenwich Village New York with his friend and magical disciple Wong (Clyde Kusatsu).
As he is nearing the end of his time as the magical protector of Earth the evil entity known as The Nameless One seizes the opportunity to strike and open a portal from Hell to suck the souls of all humanity starting with Lindmer. Dispatching his servant Morgan LeFay (Jessica Walter) the queen of the witches to kill the old wizard she possesses a young student called Clea (Anne-Marie Martin) and forces her to push him off a bridge.
Disturbed by the incident and haunted by LeFey’s face Clea ends up in hospital under the care of psychiatrist Dr. Strange (Peter Hooten) but little do they both know that their destinies are entwined with the ultimate battle between good and evil, a battle that will change both their lives forever more.
Re-watching Dr. Strange now it’s easy to laugh at the somewhat suspect 70’s special effects and lavish often ludicrous magical language however what works is that the script by writer and director Philip DeGuere Jr. takes itself seriously forcing the audience to do the same.
Taking its time to develop the characters and set the scene the film is a little low on action however it’s high on story packing a lot into its running time laying plenty of potential for the series which was unfortunately never commissioned.
That’s not to say nothing happens and the various scenes full of magic spells, fearsome demons, pagan symbols, supernatural entities and visitations to the astral plane makes Dr. Strange by far one of the most horror related hero’s around alongside the more famous Blade and Ghost Rider both of whom also featured in a number of comics, movies, TV shows and cartoons.
A must for Marvel fans and well worth a watch in preparation for the 2016 adaptation it’s a real shame that a series never got made as you can tell from the film how well it would have worked. Perhaps in 1978 magic was a step too far for the TV watching audiences after being asked to swallow arachnid teenagers and giant green monsters but at least we got a glimpse of what could have been.