Adam Frank Brings Science to “Doctor Strange”


Marvel’s latest comic adaptation stars Academy Award nominee Benedict Cumberbatch as the title character. (COURTESY OF TOM SIMPSON/FLICKR)


Marvel’s latest comic adaptation stars Academy Award nominee Benedict Cumberbatch as the title character. (COURTESY OF TOM SIMPSON/FLICKR)
Marvel’s latest comic adaptation stars Academy Award nominee Benedict Cumberbatch as the title character. (COURTESY OF TOM SIMPSON/FLICKR)

Over the past few years, Marvel Studios has released some of the most popular films in box office history. The studio’s newest film, “Doctor Strange,” introduces audiences to ex-super-surgeon Steven Strange and his incredible mental abilities that bend the walls between worlds and time itself. A film focusing this heavily on science and philosophy required an expert to help explain the truth behind the concepts, and Adam Frank, an acclaimed astrophysicist, fit the bill perfectly.  I had the opportunity to speak with Frank via conference call, where he provided insight on what it was like working on “Doctor Strange” and the science behind the film.

Frank, a lifelong Marvel and science fiction fan, was contacted early in the filmmaking process by Scott Derrikson, the film’s director, who asked if he would like to work with them as a science consultant. Frank agreed, and six months later he received the “best email ever” that Marvel wanted to work with him.

“My main job was really spending a day out there talking with filmmakers,” Frank said. “It was all of us in a room: Scott Derrikson and a writer John Space, Kevin Fiege [the President of Marvel Studios] and executive producer Stephen Broussard. We just spent the whole day [together] and had an amazing conversation, talking about certain scenes and ideas about consciousness and philosophy.”

Frank was hired to help the “Doctor Strange” team find a balance between incorporating science and philosophy into the film while preserving the essence of the hero’s character. He decided to tackle this issue by introducing Marvel to a prevalent philosophical principle— the nature of consciousness, otherwise known as the mind-body problem. Basically, the mind-body dilemma is the question of how the physical human body and the non-physical mind interact with each other.

“Our discussions were about how to ground Doctor Strange’s powers in the open question about consciousness. The fact that there is no scientific theory for that means that it could be where the source of his powers emanate from,” he explained. “We often talk about science in the Marvel Universe, but here is the place where we could explicitly discuss philosophy.”

In terms of scientific principle, “Doctor Strange” highlights the idea of the multiverse. Throughout the film, Doctor Strange travels in and out of different universes, each one containing unique sets of scientific law. While we have yet to discover these universes, Frank believes there is scientific evidence supporting their existence, and that was enough fact to integrate the concept into the film.

However, Frank is not looking for movies that are completely accurate to science. Part of the fun of making science fiction films is crafting unique universes and adding scientific elements to them. Depending on the world, things may not be too accurate—but that is the joy of the movies.

“People go to movies because they want good stories. What I really want for a movie is that they have respect for science—that they have respect for the scientific process and they represent it in a way that pays homage to what science is giving us. I want a good story where the science is incorporated in a way that is thoughtful.”

But what made working on “Doctor Strange” so fun for Frank was not seeing his name in the credits—it was being in the same room with people who are responsible for the comic world he grew up with as a child.

“Marvel has been my hero for the stuff they have done. The Marvel Cinematic Universe has been sheer genius with how, step by step, they have built this coherent and consistent virtual world. Being part of that process, to be in that room talking about the movie and its ideas, was just a highlight of my life.”

With Frank’s assistance, “Doctor Strange” merges real philosophy and science with a fantastical world where sorcerers have the ability to travel between dimensions, live outside of their bodies and stop time. Frank’s work does not go unnoticed, and the passion put into the film by all those involved is definitely evident while watching.