Mad God (2021)
Director: Phil Tippett
Screenwriter: Phil Tippett
Starring: Alex Cox, Niketa Roman, Satish Ratakonda
Phil Tippett is a name that may not be instantly recognisable to some, but his roles in the visual effects departments of the Star Wars and Twilight franchises, as well as movies such as Jurassic Park and RoboCop, mean that many will know his work. Having been in the background of movies for over 40 years, Tippett has brought himself to the forefront with a feature length passion project: 2021’s Mad God, a post-apocalyptic nightmare-fuel stop motion animation.
In the 21st century, the stop motion form of animation has come to be considered as either the home of child-friendly animated fare, such as the films made by Aardman and Laika, or has been a source of expression for filmmakers looking to tackle deep and often dark themes, such as in Coraline and Anomalisa. In Mad God, Tippett leans fully into the latter, the jarring motion of the form helping to create an off-kilter atmosphere that is instantly creepier than any 2D or 3D presentation.
Mad God follows an unnamed figure covered head to toe in steampunk attire – a gas mask, a trench coat, and all – as they make their way through a hellish world filled with cruelty and (of course) monsters.
The world that the film’s protagonist explores is filled to the brim with detail. As they fall deeper and deeper into the depths of hell, there are new atrocities taking place in front of our very eyes, every tiny detail hinting at an unseen history within this world, with each likely to unveil even more atrocities.
Mad God doesn’t just stick with stop motion, however, and at times includes some live action footage. Admittedly, the cross between the live action and the stop motion is jarring, and the editing of the two together leaves a lot to be desired – it doesn’t look very good at all – but Tippett’s ambition must be admired given that the film does experiment and doesn’t rely solely upon one mode of filmmaking to tell its story.
The Mad God project has taken up most of Tippet’s career, having began during the filming of RoboCop 2 in 1989 (released in 1990). Given how detailed the world is, and how much time and effort has been dedicated towards bringing it to life (Tippett shelving it throughout the 1990s and picking it back up again in the early 2000s), each frame carries thirty-plus years of painstaking craft, making for an epic production.
Mad God isn’t a film with much of a story to tell however – not in the traditional narrative sense, anyway. With no lines of dialogue and told instead through multiple vignettes within the same universe, Mad God seeks to speak exclusively through visual storytelling, illustrating the true scope of Tippett’s imagination as an artist.
As impressive as Tippett’s world is, Mad God disappointingly fails to remain engaging throughout its short runtime (83 minutes). The message that the film is trying to tell is presented effectively through the visuals – and the imagery will certainly stick with you – but it is also a message that has been done many times before. Of course, in a medium that is over 100 years old it is difficult to say something original, and hence this can be forgiven, but the poor pacing of the film and its somewhat repetitive nature mean that Mad God’s message is simply not told in an effective manner, therefore losing much of its impact.
Mad God will be remembered for its flawless and beautiful (yet messed up) animation, and there won’t be a single person who sees this film and doesn’t recognise the time and passion that has been dedicated towards bringing it to life, but this Phil Tippett movie is a frustrating experience – a stop motion animation of extreme highs and lows; one to be appreciated but not so much enjoyed.