Over the years, many classic Marvel characters have had their moment to shine, starting with success in animation and then moving onto big screen glory, such as Spider-Man and The X-Men. Now, it would seem, another classic Marvel character is about to get his due: the magical sorcerer Doctor Strange. On August 14th, Lionsgate will release a full length animated "Doctor Strange" film on both DVD and Blu-Ray.
In anticipation of the release, Comics2Film got the opportunity to participate in a roundtable discussion at Comic-Con with three key players on the film's creative team: Craig Kyle, Marvel's Senior VP of Development who also served as a Producer on this film; Greg Johnson, a Producer who also wrote the screenplay for the film; and Frank Paur, the Supervising Director.
Q: Talk about the challenge of modernizing Doctor Strange for a new audience.
Craig Kyle: With the story itself, we just boiled it down to the very basics. You have an egocentric doctor who is full of himself, gets in an accident, hits rock bottom, and then has to climb back up. That's the story that we focused on telling.
Greg Johnson: So as far as the classic story elements go, that's what we took from it, but we didn't borrow anything necessarily from a specific era - that would have dated it.
Q: So is this a reboot, or an origin story?
Kyle: We're not rebooting it, this is version 1. It's an origin story. Strange was on a TV Show, but he has never had his own movie before.
Johnson: This is Spider-Man 1, or X-Men 1. For Strange, this is the first time we're really showing who he is - before, he only had guest appearances. And we get to show the world of Magic, and another side of Marvel that we don't focus on with the majority of stuff that's out there.
Q: Tell us about the process of developing this story.
Kyle: When we were first approached by Avi Arad to do this - this has been like a passion project for him for years - the first thing we did was change everything in the story and present it to him, and he was like, "Well, it's a good story, but it's not Doctor Strange. I want to tell an origin." So we went back and we reformulated it, and came up with something that takes the origin and turns it into a feature length story, because by itself, it didn't have that kind of scope that it needed.
Q: Does this story feel connected to the Marvel Universe, or is it solely about Dr. Strange.
Frank Paur: Well, this is Doctor Strange's movie, and for Doctor Strange to work in the magic arts, it might be a little distracting to have someone swinging from a web in the background. But having said that, if you pay attention, you might notice little vignettes or clips that go by that give an idea of a wider world, without infringing upon the story itself.
Kyle: We've created a world that is kind of beneath the world that everybody's living in. There's an entire universe of magic and wonder that nobody knows about unless they're looking for it - and that's where he lives. And usually in these types of stories, the hero has to be the only guy who can save us, and if there are other superheroes out there, then you wonder, "Where's the team, man? Bring 'em all in!" But in this movie, Strange is it.
Q: What supporting characters will we see?
Kyle: Well, with Wong, who was traditionally the manservant, we found an exciting new way of bringing him into this. It still strikes to who the original character was, as far as him being somebody who helps to facilitate things for others, but he's very much his own character.
Johnson: Wong is a character that we can very quickly lose respect for if he's forced to wash your feet from scene to scene, and I know he can be very sweet, but he shouldn't be Alfred - he shouldn't be, "Let me get your slippers Master." So for us, we found that approach of Yes, he is in that role in that he takes care of Strange, but Wong is someone who can fight right alongside Strange.
Frank Paur: He's more of a mentor to Strange.
Johnson: He doesn't need to show you what he can do. His role in the order to sorcery is to train people and guide them. So he knows his place, and is very comfortable with it. He doesn't need to show off, like a character like Mordo does.
Paur: When we were designing these characters, we tried very hard to avoid the temptation to go directly from the original in terms of designs, and tried to avoid anything that was stereotyped. We felt that the characters were strong enough that we could address Strange on Strange's own plane, basically. You have to imagine backstory for each of these characters in order to come up with a design for them. Mordo, for instance in my mind, is very Slavic. He's descended from the Huns, and he still kind of feels that way about himself - as the ultimate warrior. Whereas Wong is very different - he's a teacher, he's a master, and he's very comfortable with his job of teaching others to come to their potential, and he's at peace with his place in the universe; Mordo, on the other hand, is not - he's somebody who wants everything. So with the designs for all the characters, even the ones that you don't really get to know, we really tried to come up with a design that says something about each of the individuals - so that just by looking at them you can get a feel of who they are, and from where they're from so that they feel real to a degree. So we were very conscious of that as we tried to update them to a more modern setting, in terms of fashion - what's acceptable, what's not.
Q: In the process of updating them, do you think you'll put off the hardcore Doctor Strange fans?
Kyle: I don't think so... There's always bound to be a few people who are very die hard that are upset, but also we have enough of the original designs in there that they'll be happy. And also, it's updated enough to where we want to bring in a whole new slew of fans for this character, and by staying completely consistent with the old stuff, I think you can have a tendency to where you can put off some of the newer fans. So we definitely put a lot of thought into it.
Johnson: If you look at how we approach these films, both in the story and from a visual standpoint, we come to these characters in the comics, and everyone always brings their own stamp, and you want to make sure that you're always bringing the characters to title that people expect, but in ways that they haven't seen yet, or plussing what they've already seen. So the way 10 guys draw Spidey is different from each other, and it springs new life and new looks, and that's how fans pick their favorite teams, and their favorite look for the story. So that's what we need to do here. But the goal is always to bring the spirit of what's in the comic to the screen, and I think both of these guys have done that beautifully. This whole team was really passionate about this movie, and I'm really proud of the finished film.
Kyle: We'll see some of the Ancient One, and Dormammu. It's really Doctor Strange's story, though, and everybody plays a part in it. In a movie of this scale, anyway, you have to be careful about how many fan favorite characters that you put in it before you start dividing the focus - we want to make sure that we're following his story.
Johnson: If we're doing our jobs right, you should be at the beginning of a journey for these characters - this should be issue 1, this should be movie 1. So if it does well, then we can come back and bring more of these characters in, but to put it all in there now would jeopardize everything we've worked towards. And I think this one takes the best advantage of the time and space we were given to tell a story. I think that if a film has a shot for a sequel, this is definitely one.
Q: Do you think this could develop into a live action adaptation some day?
Johnson: I hope so. But we don't look at these as stepping stones for anyone - when we come to the office, we're doing the best work that we can put out there. There's time and money and all kinds of limitations put on us that some of the live action guys don't have, or what they do is much more luxurious. But we put in our time to put out the best project we can. And I think that a piece like this could definitely inspire those who love Marvel but don't know this character to do something in live action. Animation has done a lot for Marvel in the past. The X-Men cartoon series in the 90's was so successful that that's what made the live action films possible. So in Marvel's history, animation has a lot of power.
Q: Have you already thought about potential follow ups?
Paur: When you watch the film, there's a line at the end of it that implies there could be more.
Kyle: This story definitely concludes, but it also sets the stage for a franchise - you definitely feel like this could be the first in a series. There's actually a little easter egg in the film that Frank put in there, that if you've seen the Iron Man movie and then watched this one-
Paur: There'll be some continuity there - you'll get it immediately.