Dr. Strange 1978
One thing that I find somewhat interesting when comparing this film to the Marvel animated film that came out almost 30 years later is that this film is almost always referred to by the abbreviation Dr. Strange. Meanwhile, the animated version and the upcoming live action film are both referred to in the long form Doctor Strange. I mainly reference this random fact because there is not really a whole lot to discuss when it comes to this failed pilot turned made-for-TV movie. It was produced a year after the successful Incredible Hulk pilot films which went to series and the limited series The Amazing Spider-Man. But when this pilot movie aired, it didn’t get nearly enough ratings for it to transition to a full series. Watching it now, the biggest problem seems like during the entire run time of the movie, nothing really happened. It’s extremely slow and very boring. I watched it over two sittings and found it hard to pay attention it was so dull, though I did happen to catch a little Easter egg where at one point Dr. Strange pulls out an Incredible Hulk comic. I would easily say that this is the worst movie based on a Marvel property that I’ve seen so far.
The major conflict of this film is that the current Sorcerer Supreme is about to pass on his title to a successor which makes him vulnerable. Morgan Le Fay failed in her attempt to destroy the last Sorcerer Supreme five hundred years ago and is apparently getting a second chance from the wooden looking puppet demon to try again. Also, Morgan Le Fay is played by Jessica Walter who is probably best known now as Lucille Bluth from Arrested Development. She tries several different ways to defeat the Sorcerer starting off with possessing some random woman on the street and throwing him off a bridge. That woman then just so happens to have a psychotic break and end up at the hospital ward that Steven Strange works at where they have a shared dream of the event.
One of the most ridiculous concepts surrounding this film is that when it ends, the old sorcerer basically says “I planned everything to go exactly the way it did.” which included him getting thrown off a bridge, and later captured. It felt a little bit like when Maxwell Smart would say “I meant to do that!” even though everything that happened around him was pure luck, only here there is no hint of a joke, instead it’s being presented as completely serious. It’s also very difficult for the technology at the time to represent all of the magic. Strange seems to use his latent magical abilities by scratching the back of his neck which is one of the oddest choices they could have used. It’s such a random and nondescript choice that most people likely wouldn’t even make the connection that every time he has an itch on the back of his neck, he ends up doing something magic related. There’s also this overly dark and psychedelic trip to the astral plane that looks like a much cheaper version of the boat ride from Willy Wonka. There’s also plenty of glowing hands and a couple animated laser beams, none of it is very impressive, and most of the time it’s difficult to understand exactly what’s supposed to be happening anyway.
The pacing of this film is also incredibly slow and dull. There are long stretches of time where absolutely nothing is happening. We get to see Strange go through his nightly round, shut off the lights to several rooms, shut off the television that’s playing an Abbott and Costello movie, and by the time he finally gets to his home and lays down to have that shared dream, it’s been well over five minutes of absolutely nothing. And similar stretches of nothing happen frequently throughout this hour and a half film. It’s also an odd choice that the actor who looks most like the traditional comic book version of Dr. Strange is the older Sorcerer Supreme who has the same hairstyle with the white streaks at the bottom, while the actual Steven Strange has a blonde head of short, curly hair. It’s like a mini white guy afro, and to top it off he’s got a great 70’s stash. It’s just hard to really go on any further about this film. There’s the weak romantic sub plot between Strange and the girl that was possessed by Le Fay, there’s even a bit of romantic tension between Strange and Le Fay herself. But the sets were bland, the acting was dull, there were way too many moments of nothing happening, and it was just plain boring through and through. Not worth recommending to anyone except for other die-hard Marvel or superhero movie completists like me out there. Until next time, this has been Bubbawheat for Flights, Tights, and Movie Nights.