Phil Tippett’s name might not be recognised by the general, but his art will strike a chord; remember the chess game from Star Wars? The AT-AT’s from The Empire Strikes Back? The dragon from Dragonslayer? Influenced by the storied work of the great Ray Harryhausen, Tippett’s incredible gifts for stop-motion and behind led to him having a key influence on effects house Industrial Light and Magic, helping make the transition from stop-motion to digital effects, and making him a formative influence on much of today’s cinema and television. But having helped realise so many memorable worlds for other people, what, if given the chance, would Tippett make a film about?
Mad God gives us a chance to find out. Having spent nearly 30 years in various stages of development, it’s perhaps not surprising that there’s a few rough edges; some chapters of the story have a different look or feel to the others as technology rose to the challenge of realising the dark fantasy world here. A masked figure named the Assassin strides through a hellish landscape where body-parts are cannibalised and life and death seems to be blended together into one horrid stew. Where is he going? What is his purpose? Can he survive?
Mad God never really aims to offer a conventional narrative; it’s an immersive animated world that invites us to be tourists in an environment that offers dystopian horror as a norm, even though there is an unexpectedly colourful finale. Tippett has a gift for making models move like people, and notions of conflict between creator and creation abound. The result is definitely not for the little ones, but certainly reflects many of the dreams and nightmares that Tippett has revealed in his cinematic work to date, and there’s lots of fun of cineastes to spot the connections.
Mad God doesn’t tell a tight narrative, but meanders into sub-chapters and wormholes that may frustrate casual viewers. But the detail is utterly fascinating, and even though it’ll demand several watches to get the hang of the arcane world presented, Mad God is a success in providing a platform for Tippett’s prodigious talents. Whether you know his work from Star Wars, Starship Troopers or Jurassic Park, Tippett is a seminal figure in cinema history, and Mad God may well be his essential magnum opus. You certainly won’t forget it in a hurry.
Mad God screened at the 2021 Edinburgh International Film Festival.
Thanks to EIFF for access to this film.