How ‘Doctor Strange’ Is Handling Magic and How it Ties in with The Quantum Realm

     September 27, 2016

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The Marvel Cinematic Universe has transported audiences to all manner of wondrous worlds — Thor‘s realm of the Asgardians, the Guardians‘ corner of the galaxy, and Ant-Man‘s journey into the Quantum Realm — but so far we’ve only glimpsed the world of magic. That’s about to change. With Doctor Strange, audiences are set to take a head trip straight into the heart of the mystical via Benedict Cumberbatch‘s turn as the titular Sorcerer Supreme. But when the history of cinema has seen so many iconic iterations of on-screen magic that draw from the same imagery, most recently the mega-epics Harry Potter and Lord of the Rings, how do you create a visual language for sorcery that’s unlike any you’ve ever seen before?

That question was very much on the mind of director Scott Derrickson when I visited the London sets of Doctor Strange earlier this year. While Thor presented a version of magic that lay somewhere between the supernatural and the scientific, the mindset behind Doctor Strange is something very different. Namely, they don’t want to explain magic with real-world science.

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Image via Marvel

Derrickson explained,

Preserving the idea of magic was really important to me in that we didn’t try to explain it away or root it all in something scientific that, by definition, is not magic to me.  And there’s also the burden of popular magic movies, the Harry Potter series, the Lord of the Rings, which appropriate magic in a very familiar, traditional way.

In order to visualize a new incarnation of on-screen magic, there was a particular piece of imagery Derrickson specifically wanted to avoid — powerful sorcerers throwing beams of light at each other.

[I wanted] to avoid having fighting be the casting of bolts of light. I really feel like magic has been — we’ve been drawing on the Emperor in Star Wars for over 30 years, you know, and so we gotta start doing this some other way — the magic power, the utilization of magic power.  But yeah, there’s some good fighting in it.  But that fighting is again, always within a context of something I think more fantastical and more surreal and more mind-trippy than just the supernatural action of combat.  That’s I think that’s it’s always supernatural action, combat, fighting within a larger surreal canvas.  That was the thing I always wanted to preserve so that we’re never just watching fighting.  Yeah.

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Image via Marvel

For inspiration, Derrickson turned to the original comics and the artwork of Steve Ditko, rooted in the far out mindset of the time period, which introduced a number of mind-bending ideas and concepts of magical ability.

The comics had a few ideas in them that were to this day still very original.  Those ideas we’re using and the rest of it was also was very traditional in the use of spells and even some of the imagery.  So my, for me the starting point was what kind of things have we not seen in cinema?  That we could, was almost working backwards.  What kind of imagery, what kind of action could be created in cinema that we haven’t seen and I started from that place and looked for a way to tie that into magic.  And some of those ideas didn’t tie in well and some of those ideas tied in surprisingly well.  The ones that tied in really well, those became the major set pieces for the movie.

As Marvel Studios chief Kevin Feige explained on set, they found their entry point through the idea of alternate dimension — a huge part of what makes Doctor Strange‘s story so unique, and an opportunity to envision one-of-a-kind set-pieces unlike any we’ve seen in the MCU to date.

We wanted to do something different, and we wanted to tap into this notion of the multiverse, of dimensions right next to our own. And if you were able to tap into those dimensions, and those other powers, and what could you do if you pulled aspects of those other dimensions into our realm. All in the interest of creating a visual tapestry that is totally different in terms of an action scene we’ve seen in any other movies… And in doing so, giving a canvas for an action scene totally different than anything we’ve ever done before. So something that starts as a footchase becomes totally unrecognizable. Something that starts as we’ve got to stop the clicking clock before it goes off is completely turned on its head.

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Image via Marvel

But, if the MCU hasn’t yet delved into the many mysteries of interdimensional travel, they certainly scratched the surface with Ant-Man, which saw Scott Lang falling into the trippy landscape of the Quantum Realm — and according to Feige, Lang’s journey offers a mere glimpse at what Doctor Strange will “deep dive” into.

You’ve heard me talk about the quantum realm in Ant-Man which was certainly designed for that movie and for that story to take the notion of somebody who has the ability to shrink to another level we’ve never seen before, but as we were doing that, and studying it and talking to the science advisors who are always more than willing to spend an afternoon with us and talk about these amazing things – the quantum realm is another dimension. It tapped into what we had been working on with this movie as well, so that really became the notion that we’re scratching the surface of the quantum realm and then we just do a deep dive in this.

For all our coverage from the set of Doctor Strange, check out the links below, and stay tuned for more.

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