Mad God (2021) poster

Mad God (2021)


USA. 2021.


Director/Screenplay/Producer/Production Design – Phil Tippett, Photography – Chris Morley & Phil Tippett, Music – Dan Wool, Animators – Webster Colcord, Ri Crawford, Chuck Duke, Tom Gibbons, Arne Hain, Justin Kohen, David Lauer, Eric Leighton, Randy Link, Phil Tippett & Don Waller, Visual Effects Supervisors – Chris Morley, Ken Rogerson & Phil Tippett, Zombie Makeup – Jason Barnett. Production Company – Tippett Studio.


Alex Cox (Last Man), Hans Brekke, Jake Freytag & David Lauer (Assassin), Niketa Roman (Nurse), Arne Hain & Satish Ratakonda (Surgeon), Tom Gibbons, Arne Hain & David Lauer (Alchemist)


An assassin descends in a diving bell into a nightmarish industrial world. He passes through the landscape filled with organic grotesqueries and armies of disposable humanoid drone creatures that are created to operate the vast machinery. The assassin follows a crumbling map to the place where he can plant a bomb that will destroy the world.

Phil Tippett is a stop-motion animator. Tippett gained attention after he was hired by George Lucas to create the 3D chess game in Star Wars (1977). From there, Tippett went on to create a number of effects in high-profile films including the Walkers and Tauntauns in The Empire Strikes Back (1980), the dragon in Dragonslaver (1981), the Overlords in Howard the Duck (1986), the ED-209 in RoboCop (1987) and RoboCop 2 (1990), the two-headed dragon in Willow (1988), the ant in Honey, I Shrunk the Kids (1989) and work on other films like Coneheads (1993), DragonHeart (1996), Starship Troopers (1997), Evolution (2001) and The Spiderwick Chronicles (2008), while he was credited as ‘dinosaur supervisor’ on Jurassic Park (1993) and visual effects supervisor on all of the Twilight sequels. He headed the Lucasfilm creature workshop in Return of the Jedi (1983), for which he won an Academy Award. He had previously made his directorial with Starship Troopers 2: Hero of the Federation (2004).

Mad God is a feature-length Stop-Motion Animated film. Not all of the film is stop-motion animated and there are some live-action scenes – most notedly, Alex Cox, the director of Repo Man (1984), as a character called Last Man, while some of the scenes with the assassin are played by actor but it is impossible to tell which scenes are live and which animated.

Tippett began shooting Mad God in 1987 in a studio he originally started in his garage. However, while working on Jurassic Park, he came to the realisation that the CGI spelled the death of stop-motion as an art form and shelved the project. Tippet did not touch the film again until the early 2000s with the support and help of co-workers and student volunteers eager for a film credit. In 2012, Tippett launched a Kickstarter campaign to raise funds to complete the film, earning $124,000. In the midst of this, it is reported that Tippett also had a nervous breakdown and was admitted to a hospital in 2020. As the film credits’ end credits note, it was not completed until 2020 – a period of 33 years, making it one of the longest production histories on record. (The actual record is held by Orson Welles’s The Other Side of the Wind (2018), which was begun in 1970 and not released until 48 years later).

The Assassin in Mad God (2021)
The Assassin makes his way through the subterranean world
The drone workers on the factory floor in Mad God (2021)
The drone workers on the factory floor

Mad God is an utterly unique and bewildering experience. There is no other film that comes anywhere near it in terms of comparison. The nearest work I might point to is to the little-seen British film The Secret Adventures of Tom Thumb (1993), or some of the stop-motion work that turns up in the films of Jan Svankmajer, in particular Alice (1988). In terms of a single film that had such massive ambition in terms of its creator’s single-minded dedication to completing the work, the nearest work you could point to is Richard Williams’ The Thief and the Cobbler (1994).

The film lacks any real plot. There is sort of one if you follow what is happening closely but it is not something particularly important to Tippett. Instead, the film works more as a piece of Surrealism – an invented Fantasy Otherworld that the central character makes their way through. The background and things going on there are the whole of the film. My viewing companion felt puzzled because she was struggling to make sense of why things were happening and what the plot was about. However, this is a film where you have to look at it more like a surrealist work of art where you switch off the logical part of your brain that is seeking rational explanations and look at the strange juxtapositions and plays of symbolism.

The world seems to be part-industrial wasteland, part vast factory of unknown purpose. It is filled with all manner of creatures ranging from giant slugs, big dinosaur-like things with boobs, creatures that are giant swivelling hands with a single red eyeball at their fingertips. The assassin walks through an area where he is dwarfed by giants who are hooked up to vast arcing electrodes like a row of people seated on electric chairs. The factory floor is run by small humanoid creatures that are constantly being crushed by steamrollers, hit by flying or toppling obelisks, or throw themselves into furnaces. There are often exaggeratedly copious degrees of gore as creatures are killed.

At one point, the assassin is captured and a zombified surgeon and nurse operate on him, tearing out handfuls of guts and innards from his chest, followed by books, trinkets and even handfuls of jewellery and then a baby creature. The nurse carries the baby through the complex and hands it to another creature that looks like it has a merry-go-round carousel for a head and a plague doctor mask for a face with sweeps drifting up in the air as it moves through the complex carrying the baby. This is given to a gnarled creature known as The Alchemist who puts the baby in a blender and grinds it up in a pestle to make a powder. This is thrown into the furnace where it seems to create another entire world where civilisation rises and quickly collapses back into another world resembling the same industrial nightmare-scape.

Trailer here

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