The newest addition to Marvel Studios’ ever-expanding film universe is Doctor Strange, a former neurosurgeon turned magical sorcerer. Adam Frank, a professor of physics and astronomy at University of Rochester and science consultant on the film, talked to the DePaulia about his experience working behind the scenes of “Doctor Strange.”
Frank’s work on the film began with a call from director Scott Derrickson, who was interested in making a film involving magic and fantasy but still be grounded in some form of reality.
“After Scott Derrickson was tapped to be the director, he contacted me. I’m not sure what the timeline was but he contacted me and asked whether I’d be interested in being a consultant,” Frank said. “He had to clear it with them but said, ‘hey I know this guy who’s an astrophysicist.’ It must have been almost six months later when I got the email that changed my life that said ‘Marvel wants to talk with you.’”
Frank’s most difficult challenge beyond grounding scientific properties within these fantastical elements of Dr. Strange was exploring the philosophy of the superhero himself. With superhero abilities to bend reality, travel between dimensions, teleport and other magical skills, Frank thought “Doctor Strange” was not only a perfect addition to the Marvel superhero films but one that could bring something new to the table.
“That’s the whole thing with Doctor Strange, all the other Marvel movies are very scientific. You couldn’t do that with Doctor Strange without doing too much damage to the character,” Frank said. “That’s why I was brought in, but I’m an atheist and an astrophysicist. My first book was about that and what I was advocating; the perspective I took was the nature of consciousness and the mind body problem. We talk about science in the Marvel universe but this was a place where we could talk about philosophy in the Marvel universe.”
While Frank’s title on the film was that of science consultant, he was never too worried about having the film be portrayed as scientifically accurate.
“When you’re making a movie, it depends what kind of movie you’re making. People go to movies and they want good stories. I’m not one of those people that says ‘oh my god, they didn’t accurately reflect the shape of the moon,’” Frank said. “For example, in “The Martian” you want that to accurately reflect the science but in something like “Star Trek” you can take what you know about science and extend it. What matters most in science fiction is building the universe. You give yourself a coherent sense of rules.”
For Frank, the film not only served his love and experience within physics and astronomy but it also fulfilled his love for superheroes and his dream of working with Marvel Studios.
“I was often inspired as a kid to go to the movies and the comic books. I was a huge Marvel fan and started reading Marvel when I was 11 years old,” Frank said. “My dad’s covers of his pulp science fiction magazines fueled my desire to be an astronomer. Movies like this have that ability.”