Phil Tippet’s Mad God (2021) [Fantasia Film Festival 2021]

Phil Tippet’s animated love child has been a highly anticipated and much talked about project for years. Tippet is a man whose career is absolutely historic. He’s a two-time Oscar winner, and Ray Harryhausen disciple who’s been the special effects wizard behind films like Star Wars, Robocop, Jurassic Park, and Starship Troopers, respectively. And that’s just a fraction of his massive iconic career. So it is fascinating to see something so unique, bizarre, and yet absolutely engrossing as “Mad God” come from the man.

Under a barrage of enemy fire, an intrepid special agent in a suspended container is lowered steadily into an ominous shaft. Down, down, inexorably down, through the many ruins and residue, and bearing enigmatic witness to time’s passing. When the pod touches down on terra firma, the occupant emerges, map in hand and mission in mind. The surrounding landscape is a broken place of corruption and decay, of casual horror and degradation. Our hero ventures on, though, on a mission bearing witness to the endless torment that unfolds.

“Mad God” is a work of love and passion from Tippet that has been worked on, shelved, worked on, shelved again, and stalled for over thirty years. With the film landscape evolving, Tippet has finally been able to complete his vision, and it’s a gem. It might not work with everyone going in to “Mad God” expecting something as visually arresting but easy to digest as “Jurassic Park,” but Tippet is working on his own terms and it’s a marvelous at times. “Mad God” is a bold mix of stop motion, live action, rotoscoping, sheer effects wizardry that delves in to an ugly, dank apocalyptic landscape. Tippet draws obvious influences (and pays homage) from sources like Aardman, Harryhausen and even Adam Jones, to help create impressive dimension to his world building.

The majority of “Mad God” is dialogue free, working only around visuals that expound on the world that Tippet builds with his animation and VFX most of the time. The shifts from stop motion to live action are mind blowing as the sudden medium jumps provide a jarring vision of this world that seemingly drifts in and out of our perceived reality. Much of “Mad God” relies around symbolism and ideas that only Tippet really seems to know and understand. He paints the film with gore and brutal violence while injecting apparent subliminal ideas left and right. There’s a loud speaker that produces the babbling of a small baby, there’s a bipedal creature made literally of large breasts that produce milk.

And there are the faceless drones that toil away in the factory only to die without much fall out, and are scooped up and placed on to a landfill. Most of the film is seen through the eyes of our masked protagonist, a silent, asexual being covered head to toe in mining and biohazard equipment. They venture deep in to the pits of this apocalyptic hellscape that is never hopeful and filled with consistent misery and suffering. “Mad God” could have trimmed ten minutes from its (admittedly already lean) run time, all things considered, but overall, Tippet’s film is a raw, brilliant work of art that may just be the topic for analyses for years to come.

The Fantasia International Film Festival runs every year, and this year runs virtually from August 5th until August 25th.