Every filmmaker probably has their dream project. However, the financing part of it all can be a hassle. Some projects end up in limbo, like Lynne Ramsay’s Moby Dick-inspired space film; sometimes they escape, sometimes not. And those that do, take years to create, and it’s probably in a way that didn’t expect it (Terry Gilliam’s Don Quixote). One of those creators envisioning his dream film is visual effects artist Phil Tippett. You might not know his name, but I am sure that you have seen his work in Star Wars, Drangoslayer, and Indiana Jones. Despite his acclaimed work in films like Jurassic Park, he struggled to get a project called Mad God off the ground.
He started shooting it back in the late 80s while working on RoboCop 2, but no studio wanted to help fund the film or even distribute it. After having helped multiple directors create and enhance their cinematic worlds and dreams, what happens to his own? Finally, thanks to Kickstarter, he got to do so after decades of trying to pursue his enduring dream. And after all of this time, was it worth the wait? Hell yes! In fact, Mad God is like nothing else I can name, complete with fever-dream-like imagery and sound design.
The film begins with an operatic chanting score, a fiery background, and the biblical quote of Leviticus 26:27-33 scrolling down like the opening crawl of Star Wars. “If in spite of this you still do not listen to me but continue to be hostile toward me, then in my anger I will be hostile toward you, and I myself will punish you for your sins seven times over,” it quotes. It puts you into the right mindset. This provides us a clue that the world crafted by Tippett will definitely be an enraged one. It’s a descent into hell and all of his evils. Nearwordless, except for a few babbles by an unseen creature with a baby voice and some incomprehensible murmurs. We follow The Assassin as he goes through a world of tortured souls and wretched monstrosities crafted from the bowels of the subconscious mind.
It’s an unsettling dystopia where you can’t escape it once one enters. Mad scientists and plague doctors cannibalize body parts from the different creatures. These creatures may range from monkey-like beings to giant blobs of gloop. There is a sensation that life and death are one in all the deeper one goes into the unearthly rabbit hole. “Ready your eyes. Ready your spirit. Prepare to meet your maker”, quotes the film. It comes as a warning sign for what you are about to watch. It reminded me of Alan Parker and Gerald Scarfe’s The Wall, the companion piece to the critically acclaimed Pink Floyd record. It’s not thematically or narratively similar, but you can find some comparisons in the imagery and look. If it was drenched in black and bathed in blood and ooze, then you have Phil Tippett’s work.
You can see why it took Tippett all of this time to craft it. His blood, sweat, and tears are all over Mad God. He described it as “everything but the kitchen sink that I’ve been thinking about for the last 60 years, all rolled into one”. To be completely honest, it is the perfect description. It is hard to describe what exactly you are seeing or happening since it doesn’t have a conventional three-act narrative. Instead, you are traveling along. You’re slowly exploring the crazy world along with The Assassin, who plays the role of the tour guide. You might be questioning the meaning of it all during its entire runtime. Nonetheless, the visuals and aesthetics carry the narrative.
It does feel weird that after 30-plus minutes of seeing stop-motion animation wonders, it then adds live-action parts into the narrative. In some moments, you don’t notice it as much (the bloody and outstanding operation sequence). But for the ones where you do detect it, it takes you out. Granting its narrative issues and some questionable decisions in the latter half, Tippett’s Mad God is a project that one watches in pure awe if you know its background. It took him all of these years to try and pull it from the grave. Nevertheless, he managed to do it in a spine-chilling and hallucinating fashion. It deserves an art installation to see a showcase of all of these deranged creations. – Hector Gonzalez
Mad God will be available to stream on Shudder on June 16th, 2022.