Doctor Strange Blu-ray Review
PictureWell, it's nice and colourful, all right. The previous Marvel/Lionsgate features have been quite problematic with regards to their transfers, the higher resolution showing up both the limited range of the animation and adding a few little unpleasant quirks of their own. Sadly, Doctor Strange is cut from the same cloth, but - and here's the crucial thing - to nowhere near as drastic a degree. For one thing the animation is much smoother and doesn't present any trace-lines or jaggies like the earlier entries did with abundance. In fact, there are moments when the 1080p AVC MPEG-4image here looks simply gorgeous. Presented with a 1.78:1 aspect, the film employs some terrific backgrounds that are richly drawn and full of detail and texture - something that The Ultimate Avengers sorely lacked, for instance. Detail on the Tibetan monastery, for example, is amazing. Look at the fantastically drawn architecture and the highly finite work done on the wall that the trainee Strange has to demolish. Cityscapes, too, have a wide and visually-inspired look that the transfer exhibits with alacrity. The dreamy-surreal vistas in the voids and rifts in time and space look spectacular and, even if I wish there had been more of this type of setting, they do, at least, evoke memories of the comics.
Fast action is terrifically presented, with little or none of the stuttering that plagued the earlier films. The anime-quality is respectfully treated by an image that clings to its whirling, spinning, running and flying subjects without losing definition or leaving vapour trails of motion-drag. But, just like the previous releases, the animation becomes glaringly shoddy when characters are merely walking towards us and the high definition transfer seems to magnify this. Mind you, edges are locked-in fairly well and there is, naturally given the source, nothing in the way of grain, dirt or damage.
Where the disc goes awry, though, is with the colours. Don't get me wrong, the fidelity and depth of the spectrum is top-notch, with some truly luxurious purples and blues and reds, but the evidence of banding within some of the deeper hues may well prove an annoyance. The skies are overly prone to it, even when they only appear through little windows in the corner of the screen. Wisps of ethereal smoke and vapour also reveal little steps of gradation. I've seen this reported with vehemence elsewhere but, to be honest, if you could put up with the often quite horrific image on the Ultimate Avengers BD, then Doctor Strange will come as a welcome surprise. That said, there is a definite lack of quality control with these animated releases that kind of flies in the face of presenting them on such a high-quality, high resolution platform as this.
SoundOnce again, Marvel and Lionsgate have upped the audio ante for Blu-ray. After their truly astounding PCM 7.1 tracks for The Ultimate Avengers 1 & 2, they have now supplied a whopping DTS-HD Master 7.1 Audio track that sure as hell packs a punch. Sadly, I am still unable to hear this in its full capacity, but the DTS signal that my system extracts is still pretty impressive. Clearly these films are produced with exciting split-channel, wraparound sound in mind right from the start and they certainly deliver incredibly active and aggressive audio environments that are a joy to listen to. Bass is satisfyingly heavy although it is not as constant or as overwhelming a fixture as can be heard on the Avengers. Dialogue experiences no problems or errors with the transfer, coming across clearly amid the various thunderous activities. Michelmore's score is well presented too, sounding rich and layered and warmly spread across the front.
Steerage is good. Voices and effects are clearly channelled around the set-up. The wolf-beasts offer some nice snarling and growling as they circle around the characters on-screen, their noises accurately steered around the speakers. The rears are engaged often and produce effects and ambience with ease and quality throughout.Explosions and deep impacts sound great, although this track is certainly not as bombastic as the PCM 7.1 on Avengers - but then, not much is. Smaller, more subtle effects are also crisply rendered, such as footfalls in a corridor, wind rustling and rocks and pebbles slipping and crumbling.
Also provided is a decent DD 5.1 EX track in English and Spanish. To my ears, though, there was no contest between the DD and DTS mixes. The DTS carries deeper oomph and the directionality seemed a little smoother, voices sounded clearer and the score comes over more warmly. All in all, both tracks are terrifically entertaining, but my vote would go to the DTS. It is a shame that they did not include a full uncompressed PCM track, but one day when I can hear the full benefits of HD Master Audio, I'll return to this and probably realise that this is just as wild and dynamic.
ExtrasDoctor Strange receives a few extras but there is nothing to get really excited about.
There is a collection of CG animated shorts that were created for Marvel's videogames. Running for around 20 mins in all, this montage of clips from X-Men Legends and Marvel Ultimate Alliance offer some really cool animation, and there is a sort of highlights montage of the best bits that can be accessed separately.
Who Is Doctor Strange? is a brief, but good, look at how the character came into being and how he has evolved under the auspices of different artists and writers over the years. There is a lot of talk about the great Steve Ditko from the likes of co-creator Stan Lee, who is on fine, forgetfully fun form, and various other comic-book Marvel mainstays. Lots of glorious artwork is on display and look at those fantastic covers! There are even a few panels from that one double-edition about Dormammu that I've got, too. At the end of the piece we hear from the makers of the film, but we really could have done with a lot more on the entire saga, if you ask me. Good, but only scratches the surface of one of Marvel's most interesting and left-field characters.
The Avengers Reborn is a brief feature on the evolution of Marvel's primary animated source, namely the “next step” for the franchise. This first-look gives us an overview of what the new movie will be about and why the writers have chosen to go in this radical new direction. Basically, I think it sound awful. The Avengers are either killed off or permanently disbanded and Tony Stark, aka Iron Man, whisks all their super-powered offspring off to the jungle to train and supervise them before they go on there own adventures. Hip, skewed more towards the younger generation and packed full of annoying angsty-cum-courageous teens, this sounds like a right clunker. Conceptual artwork is showcased and there is a fair bit of gushing writer/animator tall talk about how different and cool it is all going to be. I don't believe them.
Then, besides trailers for Ultimate Avengers 2 and The Invincible Iron Man, we get Doctor Strange Concept Art. Set to film's score, this shows off some of the design work that went into the production. And, apart a nifty and atmospheric (music and effects filled) menu system, that's your lot.
VerdictI enjoyed this quite a lot. It may not be as immediately accessible or as exciting as The Ultimate Avengers but Doctor Strange benefits from the relative lack of exposure that its main character has had. Somehow this frees the film up from treading on too many toes in the effort to introduce him, set up his persona and his powers and provide him with a mission and some serious villainy to overcome. It also makes a change to have a hero who is not encased in spandex and constantly engaging in pulverising punch-ups (although I do normally prefer that brand of crime-fighting). Strange lives up to his name and the universe created here is one that is unpredictable, dangerous and fantastical. This instalment may appear to reek of boring “introduction”, but, even as such, it is solid and entertaining and does its clichéd thing with plentiful action and atmosphere.
This disc is a step up from The Ultimate Avengers 1&2, featuring smoother and more audacious animation and a transfer that copes a little bit better with the image. The audio is not to be sniffed at either. Whilst we may not yet be equipped to enjoy the full delights of DTS-HD, the boiled-down DTS mix is still very enjoyable indeed. Overall, Doctor Strange is in the house and well worth making an appointment with.
Suggested retail price when reviewed: £18.57
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