Doctor Strange (4K Blu-ray) (2017)

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Released 2-Oct-2019

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Details At A Glance

General Extras
Category Action Adventure None
Rating Rated M
Year Of Production 2017
Running Time 114:58
RSDL / Flipper Dual Layered Cast & Crew
Start Up Language Select Then Menu
Region Coding 1,2,3,4,5,6 Directed By Scott Derrickson
Studio
Distributor
Marvel
Walt Disney Studios Home Ent.
Starring Benedict Cumberbatch
Chiwetel Ejiofor
Benedict Wong
Rachel McAdams
Mads Mikkelsen
Tilda Swinton
Michael Stuhlbarg
Benjamin Bratt
Scott Adkins
Zara Phythian
Alaa Safi
Case Standard Blu-ray
RPI $29.95 Music Michael Giacchino


Video Audio
Pan & Scan/Full Frame None English Dolby Atmos
English Descriptive Audio
French Dolby Digital 5.1
French Dolby Digital Plus 7.1
Spanish Dolby Digital Plus 7.1
German Dolby Digital Plus 7.1
Italian Dolby Digital Plus 7.1
Japanese Dolby Digital Plus 7.1
Widescreen Aspect Ratio 2.40:1
16x9 Enhancement
16x9 Enhanced
Video Format 2160p
Original Aspect Ratio 2.40:1 Miscellaneous
Jacket Pictures No
Subtitles English for the Hearing Impaired
French
German
Italian
Japanese
Spanish
Norwegian
Swedish
Smoking No
Annoying Product Placement No
Action In or After Credits Yes, Mid and post credits scenes

NOTE: The Profanity Filter is ON. Turn it off here.

Plot Synopsis

    At this point in the Marvel Cinematic Universe a certain degree of competency is expected and it seems impossible for the studio to produce an outright bad motion picture. With this in mind, although the productions can be somewhat let down by imperfections or nit-picky things, you can always rest assured that the movies are at least good and still stand above most other blockbusters in a given year. Therefore, while 2016’s Doctor Strange does fall short of the brilliance of Iron Man and The Avengers, it is a competent way to establish and introduce a new comic book superhero to the ever-expanding MCU. And with its emphasis on magic and alternate dimensions, it's a refreshing change from the norm. It's just disappointing that Doctor Strange feels so...by-the-numbers. Oh sure, it's well-made from top to bottom and the actors are superb, but the narrative structure is pure cliché and it's produced like any other superhero blockbuster when an experimental style would be more suitable considering the source.

    A hotshot New York-based neurosurgeon, Stephen Strange (Benedict Cumberbatch) maintains a remarkable perfect record, consistently performing miracles in operating theatres. Strange has one hell of an ego to boot, too cocky and self-absorbed to have a relationship with sweet fellow surgeon Christine (Rachel McAdams). But Strange is taught a painful lesson in humility when a horrendous car accident leaves him with severe nerve damage, rendering him no longer able to use his hands to perform surgeries. Desperate for a solution, Strange is led to Nepal in pursuit of a rumoured miracle breakthrough, finding his way to the secret compound Kamar-Taj where he meets the Ancient One (Tilda Swinton). Although Strange outright rejects the possibility of other dimensions, the Ancient One opens his eyes to the powers within him far greater than the mere physical. Accepted into the compound as a student, Strange also becomes acquainted with his mentor Mordo (Chiwetel Ejiofor) and librarian Wong (Benedict Wong). As Strange hones his skills in the Mystic Arts, former student Kaecilius (Mads Mikkelsen) goes against the Ancient One's teachings, stealing pages from a sacred text to contact Dormammu of the Dark Dimension, putting Earth in immediate peril.

    Refreshingly, Doctor Strange actually feels closer to a standalone Phase One Marvel movie as it's welcomely unburdened of obligatory MCU connections. Additional scenes in the credits do set up future Marvel movies, and there's a subtle reference to Captain America: Civil War, but that's about it, making this one ideal for more casual viewers as well as the uninitiated. Written by Jon Spaihts (Prometheus), C. Robert Cargill (Sinister), and director Scott Derrickson, Doctor Strange adopts the time-honoured "origins story" format that's unfortunately been done to death this century alone - it's hard to shake the feeling that you've seen this narrative before. As the movie works through its familiar origins routine, it feels like homework, as there isn't enough to sufficiently enliven the material. Especially in the shadow of Deadpool, this formula is all the more rote and stale. Dialogue is not exactly a strong suit either, but at least the movie is peppered with amusing moments, and the soundtrack features a couple of catchy songs.

    Even though Doctor Strange was advertised as a mind-bending, surreal extravaganza, it still plays out with an action/blockbuster sensibility due to the apparently unwritten rule that every superhero movie must be action-oriented. But here's the thing - trippy, psychedelic, colourful visuals are best appreciated when you can sit back, relax, soak in it, and properly take it all in. Thus, Derrickson concentrates on delivering large-scale, kinetic action set-pieces as opposed to deliberately-paced, surrealistic immersion and esoteric cerebral exploration that might have made for a more interesting movie, especially in the context of the MCU which is already in danger of feeling too "factory made." After all, Doctor Strange was presented as "the weird Marvel movie."

    With that said, however, once you can accept that it kind of had to be an action movie, there is plenty to enjoy. The set-pieces are genuinely enthralling, observing these talented characters conjuring up weapons out of thin air, manipulating gravity, and even battling it out in the astral dimension. Doctor Strange is one of the most visually intriguing and breathtaking offerings in the MCU (next to the Guardians of the Galaxy pictures), and the $165 million budget is put to good use to create stunning battlefields of folding cities and brilliant displays of light, earning the visual effects team a well-deserved Oscar nomination. Commendably, the movie builds to a satisfying climax which allows Strange to use both his physical skills as well as his intellectual prowess as he endeavours to vanquish the powerful Dormammu. Horror maestro Scott Derrickson's last blockbuster attempt was the 2008 underperformer The Day the Earth Stood Still, and luckily he shows much better command of the material here.

    Espousing a convincing enough American accent, Cumberbatch is ideal in the role of Stephen Strange, suiting the character to a tee. He convincingly conveys the various aspects of Strange - from his self-inflated cockiness to his psychological breakdown and subsequent rebuilding, Cumberbatch never sets a wrong foot. Alongside him, Ejiofor is instantly likeable, while Wong is a downright standout. Swinton chooses to portray the Ancient One as androgynous, and she easily impresses in the role, while McAdams is her usual appealing self. Showing up as the primary villain is Mikkelsen, an immensely talented performer who made a huge impression in the television show Hannibal, and who has also appeared in the likes of Rogue One: A Star Wars Story and The Salvation. He's reliably terrific as Kaecilius, sinister whilst simultaneously displaying his trademark charm. Also keep a lookout for action star Scott Adkins in a small role which nevertheless gives him the chance to show off his insane fighting abilities.

    This review may seem overly negative in some respects, but that is certainly not my intention. For all intents and purposes, Doctor Strange is a very good, often great addition to the Marvel franchise, but its rote construction does let it down to a certain degree. Happily, however, there is still much to admire - it looks amazing, the magical powers are fascinating, and it lovingly inaugurates a new Marvel franchise that promises to be something different. With the obligatory origins story out of the way, fingers crossed that the upcoming Doctor Strange in the Multiverse of Madness is an improvement - it certainly left me hungry to see a sequel. It should go without saying by now, but be sure to stick around until the end of the credits.

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Transfer Quality

Video

    I mentioned several times in my review of the standard 1080p Blu-ray that Doctor Strange is a perfect fit for 4K Ultra HD Blu-ray and now, two years later, the Disney overlords hath delivered. For its 4K debut, Doctor Strange is presented in 2160p, framed at 2.39:1 (there is no aspect ratio expansion for the IMAX scenes) and making use of the HEVC/H.265 video codec. This particular instalment in the MCU was mostly shot digitally with Arri Alexa cameras, though some scenes in Nepal were captured on 35mm film using the Arriflex 235, and the movie was (unsurprisingly) finished with a 2K digital intermediate. Therefore, this 4K UHD presentation represents an upscale of the DI, complemented with a High Dynamic Range grade that's only encoded in HDR10, as opposed to Dolby Vision. (Doctor Strange is currently streaming on Disney+ with Dolby Vision, for those interested.) This 115-minute movie is placed on a dual-layered BD-66, with a few additional audio tracks competing for disc space, resulting in a middling but still adequate video bitrate throughout, which is no match for the best 4K discs on the market.

    The improvements of this 4K presentation are evident from the beginning, with superior shadow detail and object delineation in darker scenes, while the orange sparks positively leap off the screen with the benefit of HDR and Wide Colour Gamut. A close-up of the Ancient One at 34:40 reveals exceptional highlights and textures on Swinton's skin, while medium shots and close-ups of Cumberbatch frequently reveal exceptional facial hair delineation. Also see a close-up of Kaecilius at 63:40, which really brings out the intricacies of the meticulous make-up effects. And speaking of skin and make-up, skin tones look more balanced and accurate here. Additionally, shots of book pages also get a huge boost in 2160p, looking sharper and better refined than ever. However, the limitations of the 2K digital intermediate are evident, as the textures don't pop as much as the format's best offerings (more on that later), and I noticed some very minor banding on the left of the screen at 9:03, on a wall next to Christine. This extended shot throughout the hospital corridor exhibits a couple more only-just-noticeable instances of banding, but as far as I can tell, no other anomalies occur throughout the remainder of the transfer.

    Unfortunately, Disney's remastering team are known for applying digital noise reduction to titles whilst bringing them to 4K, and DNR is evident in Doctor Strange's 4K presentation. The majority of the movie takes on a slightly de-noised appearance, with its severity differing from scene to scene. I noted in my review of the Blu-ray that Christine visiting Strange at the 18-minute mark looks smooth and de-noised, and that remains true for this 4K presentation, though the superior video codec, boost in resolution, higher bitrate, and use of HDR nevertheless brings out more specular detail and textures. The scenes shot on 35mm film, meanwhile, have been pretty much scrubbed of all grain, and some shots look noticeably smeary and indistinct as a result. One must assume that the remastering team decided to demolish the grain so the 35mm scenes look more in keeping with the digital photography, but it's a huge misstep all the same. Grain and noise is good!

    As stated previously, Doctor Strange's HDR is encoded in HDR10, though I can't say I have any complaints that would be rectified with Dolby Vision. The application of HDR and WCG is a huge asset here, since the movie contains colourful, psychedelic visuals and use of magic - it's really hard to imagine watching this flick in 1080p SDR ever again. The transfer is noticeably dimmer than the Blu-ray, but in comparison, the Blu-ray now looks too boosted while the 4K looks "correct." When Strange drives crazily through the mountains prior to his car accident, the darkness of the night is inkier and deeper, while the presentation brings out more shadow detail, and the headlights are more impactful. When the Ancient One first shows Strange the possibilities of the astral plane and Mirror Dimension, the vivid colours pop in every frame. Other colours get a noticeable boost as well, including Strange's cloak, which looks more vivid and lifelike. There's so much more specular detail to all of the orange sparks, portals, explosions, flames, the Eye of Agamotto, and other uses of magic, which look positively blown out on the Blu-ray in comparison. The HDR application also benefits the Hong Kong sequence during the movie's climax, with the colourful neon street lighting looking truer and bolder. But that's nothing compared to the thoroughly jaw-dropping impact of the outstanding visuals when Strange confronts Dormammu, which really shows what HDR and WCG can offer. From a textural standpoint, Doctor Strange is not one of the best 4K discs on the market, but its use of HDR and WCG is truly a sight to behold. This is a satisfying and welcome upgrade, all things considered.

    English subtitles (for the hearing impaired) are available. I had no issues with the well-formatted, easy to read track.

Video Ratings Summary
Sharpness
Shadow Detail
Colour
Grain/Pixelization
Film-To-Video Artefacts
Film Artefacts
Overall

Audio

   Disney audio has been of a mixed bag lately, but their local release of Doctor Strange on Blu-ray took it one step further by downgrading the audio to a lossy track, and it was a painful experience that made me want to snap the disc in half. Luckily, Disney's 4K Blu-ray takes things up a notch with a lossless Dolby Atmos mix that has a Dolby TrueHD 7.1 core. Well, I say a notch, but the improvements across the board in terms of volume, dynamics, subwoofer and clarity are frankly astounding compared to the lossy Australian Blu-ray. It is worth pointing out that I don't have an Atmos set-up and cannot fully judge the track in terms of its overhead activity, but it nevertheless sounds spectacular on my Samsung 7.1 surround sound set-up. The disc also contains additional language options, most of which are encoded in Dolby Digital Plus 7.1. For the purposes of this review, I solely concentrated on the primary English Atmos track.

    As with practically every Disney-authored Atmos mix, you will need to crank the volume a little higher than usual, but once you're there, there's very little to complain about. Environmental atmospherics are more appreciable in the opening sequence, while dialogue is cleaner and there's plenty of satisfying subwoofer impact during the Ancient One's initial battle with Kaecilius and his minions. Strange's car crash is heart-stopping, with impactful sound effects that place you in the middle of the mayhem. When Kaecilius performs a ritual at 39:30, the subsequent music and sound effects are positively deafening. The atmospherics when Strange is left on Everest at the 42-minute mark are superb, with the wind sounds coming from all the surround channels for maximum immersion. Michael Giacchino's original score comes through cleanly and precisely, while spot-on prioritisation ensures that dialogue is comprehensible amid the sound effects and music.

    There's superb separation and panning at play, as well. When Strange gets his first tour of the astral plane and Mirror Dimension, the Ancient One's voice shifts between speakers. When Strange opens a portal to the hospital at the 66-minute mark, the position of the sound effects change depending on the shot. These qualities are thankfully evident throughout, with ample surround activity and separation during the big battle sequences. Meanwhile, subwoofer effectively accentuates every rumble and explosion, and low-frequency noise is evident during the cityscape-bending sequences. Perhaps there could be a bit more subwoofer use, but this is a minor quibble. Additionally, I detected no encoding anomalies to speak of - no sync issues, pops, clicks, drop-outs, or anything else to spoil this clear, bombastic audio track.

    So... Yeah. All things considered, as long as you're willing to crank up the audio a bit higher than usual, there's a lot to like about this Dolby Atmos mix.

Audio Ratings Summary
Dialogue
Audio Sync
Clicks/Pops/Dropouts
Surround Channel Use
Subwoofer
Overall

Extras

    This is a single disc, 4K-only release. No Blu-ray is included with any extras. It's barebones.

R4 vs R1

NOTE: To view non-R4 releases, your equipment needs to be multi-zone compatible and usually also NTSC compatible.

    4K discs worldwide appear virtually identical. However, overseas releases have a standard Blu-ray included in the set which contains extras, which I suppose is the way to go if you care about extras and don't own the standard Blu-ray already.

Summary

    Doctor Strange is another "daring" entry to the Marvel Cinematic Universe, but it ultimately comes off like a standard blockbuster as opposed to something more surrealistic. It delivers like gangbusters from an action standpoint for sure, leaving you to decide if that's enough or not. I still very much enjoy the movie, however, and would like to see a more audacious sequel.

    As predicted, this 4K Ultra HD Blu-ray renders the Aussie Blu-ray redundant. The 2160p video presentation is a huge improvement across the board in terms of colours and textures, with the psychedelic visuals looking positively drool-worthy. The lossless Dolby Atmos mix, meanwhile, easily bests the Blu-ray's dismal lossy track, and although you need to crank the volume up higher than normal (which has become customary for Disney audio), it's still a spectacular listen. Even though the 4K discs has no extras, this one is a worthy upgrade. Recommended.

Ratings (out of 5)

Video
Audio
Extras
Plot
Overall

© Callum Knox (I studied biology)
Tuesday, November 26, 2019
Review Equipment
DVDSony UBP-X700 4K Ultra HD Blu-ray Player, using HDMI output
DisplayLG OLED65E6T. This display device is 16x9 capable. This display device has a maximum native resolution of 2160p.
Audio DecoderBuilt in to amplifier/receiver. This audio decoder/receiver has not been calibrated.
AmplificationSamsung Series 7 HT-J7750W
SpeakersSamsung Tall Boy speakers, 7.1 set-up

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