Dir. Phil Tippett (2021)
A creature known only as The Assassin explores a hellish landscape filled with bizarre and grotesque creatures.
CAUTION: MAY CONTAIN SPOILERS
There’s something incredibly awe-inspiring about watching someone who is indisputably the best at something. Michael Jordan dunking a basketball. Wayne Gretzky scoring a goal. Me eating sandwiches and watching horror movies. Phil Tippett adds to this experience with Mad God, his first attempt as a director and his labor of love almost three decades in the making. Tippett is the best stop-motion animator of all time, full stop. Harrhausen may come close, but the depth, length, and scale of Mad God removes all question that Tippett is the master of his craft. Not that there should have been anyway: Tippett’s contribution to film practically created my childhood. He created the Rancor from Return of the Jedi, the ED-209 from Robocop, and was the fucking dinosaur supervisor for Jurassic Park, adding his technical expertise at showing living creatures who are not, in fact, living to the CGI work of the creators who brough the prehistoric creatures to life. In Mad God, however, he definitively opens up the Pandora’s Box of his subconscious, showing us things that previously only lived in the darkest recesses of our minds.
And trust me, it is dark.
Mad God isn’t a movie, it’s a showcase. It is a difficult film to review from a plot-driven, narrative perspective because there basically isn’t one. It’s a dark, hellish imagining of the underworld, where we are guided through the most horrific scenes imaginable by a humanoid creature known as The Assassin. Filled with disgustingly gorgeous visuals, as well as horrific sound design that is not for the squeamish, Mad God is not some half-hearted Paradise Lost. No, it is as if Trent Reznor created Dante’s Inferno. It’s truly mind-blowing, in the “how were they even able to accomplish this?” kinda way.
This is a film to be appreciated more than enjoyed. More art than narrative tale, it delivers a grotesque punch in the face to those who overly rely on CGI (which is seemingly every horror film nowadays.) Tippett is old-school, and while it would be easy to dismiss it as the navel-gazing of an (apparent) psychopath, it has so much more value than that to anyone who appreciates stop-motion animation. So many of the things within look incredibly realistic, and the viewer is left more with the feeling that we hope it’s not realistic, because it’s horrifyingly disturbing.
The real Temple of Doom.
Knowing that Tippett has been working on this film since the 80’s, and that every frame of this film took hours and hours (if not days or months) of work, only increases the value of what we see on screen. One scene actually took six people almost three years to make. That’s fucking nuts. Most every reviewer you read will talk about how this is “a movie 30 years in the making!”, but really, think about that for a second. Most people don’t have careers that are 30 years long anymore. Most movies are produced over a year at most, and there are countless actors who appear in a half dozen films a year. Even big-name, Hollywood stars will often be in 2-3 films in a given year. Phil Tippett dedicated almost 30 years of his life to thinking about, designing, and creating the things that you see on-screen in Mad God. It’s a lifetime of work from someone who was already the best in his field. Add onto that the fact that it’s an impressive piece of work and you have the makings of a true masterpiece, a Renaissance painting clothed in horror.
Who this movie is for: Stop-motion fans, Disgusting horror aficionados, Hard-to-impress art critics
Bottom line: Phil Tippett is truly the master, and Mad God ends the argument. It’s an incredible take on Hell done through puppetry and stop-motion, a hideously effective masterpiece. For anyone who has appreciate Phil’s work throughout his career (and believe me, you have whether you know it or not), you owe it to him to give Mad God a try. Filled with insane and gruesome scenes of carnage, along with shockingly vile creature effects, Mad God is a masterwork of meandering fiction, straight from the bowels of Hell itself.