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[Fantasia 2021] The Sensory Experience that is Phil Tippett’s Mad God

Phil Tippett's 'Mad God' Finally Arrives | Animation World NetworkBy Ed Sum
(The Vintage Tempest)

Fantasia Film Festival 2021
Available to Stream On Demand

Encore performance Aug 24th 9:00 AM (EST)
Tickets can be purchased here

Also playing at other regional Film Festivals, please check listings.

At a cursory glance, Phil Tippett’s Mad God looks like a product spat out of many creative minds. There that genre fans can recognize from the movies he’s worked on, namely Dragonslayer. Indiana Jones and the Temple of Doom and Robocop, but as for who produced this wild trip, the concept is 100% Phil.

The story came from a cumulation of experiences from this special effects maker’s life ever since he thought of it 30 years ago, and it took many more to realize. On this list includes the advice he was given from fellow filmmakers and also him reading a lot of Milton and Dante. The visuals are comparable to that of splicing all that’s creative from Tim Burton, Clive Barker, H.P. Lovecraft, Jan Švankmajer, Guillermo del Toro and Guy Maddin’s into a huge melting pot, and it works. This master of stop-motion animation crafted a movie that would’ve been shelved for good had it not been for his fans and colleagues who said, you gotta finish it.

This film delves into the dark collective consciousness of a mad god, hence this film’s name. The fact begins with a few passages from the Old Testament, from Leviticus specifically, and the best lines from 20 to 28 are put together (they are taken out of context, and that’s okay!) to the fear of god unto everyone. Eternal torment is everywhere, and there’s a mad scientist in search of that alchemist’s stone to change the world. That’s what I read in my first viewing of this film.

This post-apocalyptic world may well be ours. One persistent image is that mushroom cloud which is very tell-tale about nuclear devastation. It can not only penetrate the past, present and future but also send shock waves throughout the galaxy. Perhaps Tippett is making a point at what can happen if we don’t respect our environment. 

Ultimately, I believe the juxtapositions are regarding World War I and 2001: A Space Odyssey. The costumes, sets and even vehicles are inspired by the former. Although we’re treated to masterpiece puppet theatre, there’s live-action to boot! It’s all done sparingly as this filmmaker is clearly pushing the limit of where stop-motion animation can continue to go. He adds practical effects because smoke is not an easy medium to animate. 

This mystery nightmare tour focuses on the descent through Hell–the ruins of Earth presumedly–with a nameless figure in search of something. All he has is a map. By the time we get to the climax, any storybook narrative is thrown out the window. We’re presented with the cosmic and allegorical. To say anymore will ruin the sensory experience Tippett’s going for. Considering he majored in the contemporary arts when studying at the University of California Irvine to dodge the draft, he got more than your standard education. I’m sure he traipsed through various departments too to fulfill the elective requirements and give him ideas when he first thought of this film.

A single watch is not enough to make sense of this piece of celluloid wonder. I can only imagine how difficult those early bits of production were before the computer revolution. Thankfully, he finished his magnum opus as reports are saying he’s ready to leave mainstream movie-making and focus as a true auteur for the visual sequential medium.

In his interview with Rupert Bottenberg of Fantasia Film Festival (YouTube link here), he confirmed he has ideas for a sequel to Mad God. Instead of the terrifying, it’ll be the opposite. This time, he’ll have to get investors so that production won’t be as slow. That‘ll be a bonus, so we’re not waiting decades to see it.

5 Stars out of 5

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