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Tilda Swinton & Benedict Cumberbatch in Doctor Strange

by Cassie Ochoa

The Marvel Cinematic Universe continues its growth with Doctor Strange, a standalone film about a doctor’s quest to heal his hands that takes a turn to the…well strange. With Tilda Swinton, Benedict Cumberbatch, Mads Mikkelsen, and Chiwetel Ejiofor, Doctor Strange is packing a fantastic cast to balance out the difficulties of integrating a truly magical man into the otherwise slightly more realist Marvel Universe. The trailer bodes well for the film overall, but pure comic book fandom is what really sells it. So let’s look into one of the less talked about aspects of Doctor Strange, director Scott Derrickson.

Doctor Strange Director Scott Derrickson and Benedict Cumberbatch

Scott Derrickson very rarely directs things he didn’t have a hand in writing. The main exception in his filmography is the remake of The Day the Earth Stood Still, which was critically panned and largely forgotten about. He got his start in horror, directing Hellraiser: Inferno, then working his way up. He’s worked primarily in the horror genre, with his films praised more for inventiveness than for technical talent. The decision to put him on Doctor Strange isn’t particularly unusual, as he’s an up-and-coming talent who works well with lower budget films, but filming the origin story of an obscure hero is a risky move. However, Derrickson does very well with performances from actors and exposition, bringing a slight comedy to even the most intense situations.


Sinister is what put Scott Derrickson on the map. The independent horror film, written by him and Doctor Strange co-writer C. Robert Cargill, stars Ethan Hawke as a crime writer who chases after his next big story by moving his family into a potentially haunted house. The film itself uses typical horror clichés to allow the audience to feel as trapped and compelled as Ethan Hawke’s character. Working with cinematographer Christopher Norr (Invitation to a Suicide), Derrickson manages to convey the feelings of anxiety in the house as the tension grows and more shocking information is discovered on the Super 8 tapes found in the attic. This clip, is nothing more than Ellison (Hawke) beginning his quest to find out what happened to the family that previously lived in the house, but the thrill of discovery is palpable. All of the information is highly expositional, but it’s conveyed in a way that isn’t completely overt. The audience is unravelling information as Ellison does about the girl, the tapes, and soon the horror that is just a tape away.

Doctor Strange Cinematographer Ben Davis

Ben Davis is a very busy cinematographer with two films under his belt every year, since 2005. His work doesn’t stay within any particular genre, from the dramatic films such as The Debt and Genius to the more box office standard fare of Wrath of the Titans and Avengers: Age of Ultron. There’s no indication that any of his films that were released in 3D were filmed in native 3D, which only becomes a problem if the films were never intended to be in 3D.

Doctor Strange was always going to test the limits of 3D, so the film should be a visual feast. The decision to bring Davis on was definitely a high mark for the production, as he’s worked within the Marvel wheelhouse once before, in the stunning Guardians of the Galaxy. However, let’s examine his 2D filmography for an example of a blend of action, comedy and emotion.


Seven Psychopaths is one of those hard sell films. A dark comedy about a writer (Colin Farrell) embroiled in a dognapping plot in the L.A. underground, and his friends are Christopher Walken and Sam Rockwell? Slightly meta, funny as hell, and shockingly violent at times, Seven Psychopaths is an under appreciated gem. In this clip, which is NSFW, a vignette from Marty’s (Colin Farrell) upcoming screenplay about seven psychopaths is shown. The story of The Quaker is emotionally devastating, which the film has in spades, and while some of that is conveyed through the voice over, it’s the cinematography that does the heavy lifting. Showing the quaker’s stalking against the killer, from his indictment to his final moments, is a silent hell for the killer and the audience’s eyes scan the frame to find exactly where the quaker will appear next. Even completely on mute, the horror of the situation still rings true.

Doctor Strange film still

So what are we expecting with Doctor Strange? While the cinematography will be on par, or even better than most of Marvel’s Cinematic Universe, we know that there will be tons of non-stop action. With an A-list cast and a more obscure origin story to tell, it’s safe to say Doctor Strange will follow Guardians of the Galaxy’s model of showcasing new characters and new talent for the Marvel Universe.

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