For this Journey into Obscurity, I want to do something different and focus on the Doctor Strange movie you probably never knew existed.
And no, I’m not talking about the 1978 TV pilot that starred Peter Hooten.
In the early 90’s, Marvel almost went bankrupt. In order to stay afloat, they were selling the film rights to a lot of their properties. There was a Spider-Man movie that Cannon Films was attached to produce, as well as a Black Panther movie that Wesley Snipes had signed on to star in. Charles Band, and his company Full Moon Entertainment, had even acquired the option for a Doctor Strange adaptation. A script was written and the late Wes Craven was even attached to direct at one point. It was even said that Jack Kirby himself had done some concept art. However, by the time they were ready to start production, the option had expired. Band didn’t want the script and all of the pre-production work that they had done to go to waste.
So, instead of just scrapping everything, he had the script rewritten. The plot and all of the main characters names were changed and Doctor Strange – Master of The Mystical Arts was now Doctor Mordrid – Master of The Unknown. Yeah, I know, not much of a difference. Jeffrey Combs was cast to star, and does a great job. His approach to the character is very nuanced, and also has a few eccentricities. During the film, he mostly expresses his emotions through body language and slight inflections in his voice. Mordrid is portrayed as a very calm and warm person, and even though he is confident in his powers, is still very humble.
Though they only had a budget of two million dollars, they still managed to pull off some great special effects. The set design is also something worth mentioning, as Doctor Mordrid’s Manhattan apartment is one of the best sets I have ever seen. There’s a great contrast of old antiques alongside modern technology. Well, modern for the early Nineties, like the wall of TV monitors that display every news network in the world. There’s also a giant atlas in the middle of the room that opens a portal to other dimensions. Though his abode is not quite the Sanctum Sanctorum, Mordrid wears a pendant that is one Disney lawsuit away from being the eye of Agamotto. There are key plot differences though, such as Mordrid being born with magical powers and being trained to use them from childhood. Instead of him being a neurosurgeon, he’s a psychologist who specializes in criminology. Charles Band and C. Courtney Joyner both put in a decent amount effort to differentiate Mordrid from Strange when reworking the script. It seems like Band was still trying to make something original, despite the circumstances.
Also unlike Strange, Mordrid has pet raven named Edgar Allen. Birds are often used a familiars and companions in myth and fantasy, a popular example being Merlin and his pet owl Archimedes from The Once and Future King. Often in mythology, different birds imply different meanings. Ravens are often considered to be a bad omen, but can also represent a message from the divine. I’ve always thought that it was a really nice touch for Band to add this aspect while giving tribute to Edgar Allan Poe and his famous poem, The Raven.
As with any Full Moon production, the Bands still had to add a bit of cursing, violence, and even nudity. It doesn’t reach the levels of other Full Moon movies though, and never comes off as being gratuitous. Charles Band and his father Albert Band both direct and you can certainly tell that they care about what they’re doing. The movie has a lightheartedness to it, despite some of it’s macabre themes. That very much gives it the feel of a comic book movie. I would even go as far as to say that it feels like the precursor to the modern Marvel Cinematic Universe. I consider Doctor Mordrid to be an important part of Marvel’s history. If they did get to make the Doctor Strange movie, I have to wonder if other Full Moon/Marvel projects would have followed.
Doctor Mordrid is available on DVD and Blu-Ray from Full Moon. If you are a Marvel fan, I feel like you owe it to yourself to see this movie at least once.