By Mónica Delgado
We are facing a work of epic nature in every sense. It took Phil Tippett thirty years to materialize this almost hour and a half of purgatory, dystopian nightmare, putrid fantasy made of flesh and impossible alchemy. Presented out of competition at the recent Locarno film festival, Mad God (2021) fulfills a long dream in stop motion and becomes the “garden of delights” of the 21st century in steamgoth and, above all, steampunk.
Tippett, who was the head of special effects in famous films such as Star Wars: Return of the Jedi, Robocop, Starship Troopers, or Jurassic Park, and father of the go motion technique, brings out his best talents to bring life (or give movement to death) to a series of characters under the yoke of an evil entelechy, the result of hyperindustrialization, capitalist alienation, exploitation and nuclear destruction. Everything happens in this dark and degrading universe, where beings survive blind, mutilated, deformed, mutated; in environments designed to transmit chaos, decadence, conformity to an overwhelming post-nuclear system, under the logic of the underworld. The “plot” begins with the arrival of some spies, or “cleaners” from outer space (a classic argumentative axis of certain literary or film science fiction), led by a priest or insane physicist who seeks to end this freewill kingdom of of monsters and other mutants. However, beyond this story that can be felt in some scenes, what Tippett is interested in generating are sensations around the very carnal materiality of this underworld. Killer surgeons in experiments with demihuman and animal bodies, alchemist witches who turn fetuses into gold, automatic workers who die every ten seconds, mutant women who play with the virile member of an ogre, are populating this universe that could be a Bosch’s nightmare in acid. A radioactive and anarchic Metropolis.
Tippett was the creator of Jabba the Hutt, Rancor, the Caravan of Valor, or the giant insects of Starship Troopers, and there is enough of that in this universe without humans, full of deformities and experiments. It is as if from each working period in different films throughout his career, Tippett had nurtured these monster designs that seem to have echoes or similarities with his previous creative works. It is worth affirming that Tippett here shows an exuberant mastery: there is an overflow in the need to create a unique world, which could evoke references of a different kind, however it seems that he was seeking to go beyond any gesture that related him to apocalyptic fictions. of the cinema. His animation style is not that of a Jan Svanmajer, since he has his own particular brand, and although we can associate some scenes with Terry Gilliam’s imaginary in 12 monkeys or Brazil, what this filmmaker and VXF expert proposes is to generate a universe between the grotesque and the visceral, between the pessimistic and the decadent, which embodies an idea of ??divine punishment from an insane god.
Mad God (2021) begins with a quote from Leviticus: “Those who remain, I shall instill panic in the hearts, in the country of their enemies; the noise of a falling leaf will make them flee like someone fleeing from the sword and they will fall without anyone chasing them”, and these verses are already the prelude to the world of chaos that we will see, from the gaze of a foreigner on a special mission , as from this vision that governs and orders everything. Without dialogue, Tippett is shaping this climate of smells, flows, explosions, in an eternal purgatory of punishments and challenges.
An important aspect of this animated film is the sound design, of hyperbolic noises and movements, spiced with the sonic delicacies of Dan Wool, a Missouri musician and sound designer. He accompanies visual feats from atmospheres that do not seek convention, but rather appeal to a use of “foley”, where noises acquire an unusual materiality.
Tippett, with this “mad god”, gives us a great sensory experience: an extraordinary work of animation with overwhelming ambition, and with a highly poetic and suggestive ending.
Director: Phil Tippett
Screenplay: Phil Tippett
Editing: Ken Rogerson
Photography: Phil Tippett, Chris Morley
Special Effects: Phil Tippett, Ken Rogerson, Chris Morley
Animation: Tom Gibbons, Chuck Duke, Ri Crawford, David Lauer
Music: Dan Wool
Photography: Animation, Chris Morley, Phil Tippett
Cast: Alex Cox, Niketa Roman, Satish Ratakonda, Harper Taylor, Brynn Taylor
Production Company: Tippett Studio
USA, 83 min., 2021