What is the best way to explain “Mad God,” a stop-motion animated fantasy film that Phil Tippett, a pioneer in the field of special effects which also wrote and directed the film, created for around 30 years?
The film “Mad God” does not follow a typical narrative structure. It's more accurate to say that there are a few characters, such as the Assassin, the Surgeon, the Alchemist, and the Last Human, each of whom is credited to a different set of voice actors.
They are all either working in opposite directions or trying to find an exit strategy. Imagine, if you will, a nightmare straight out of a dystopian novel in a post-industrialized world that is always on the verge of collapsing but manages to stay upright.
The movie is less of a narrative-driven fable and more of a vivid and corrosively cynical image of a hyper-compartmentalized civilization striving to both die and reset. This description does not tell you much, but it does tell you that the movie is dazzling and corrosively cynical.
Tippett's harrowing journey into his id invariably brings to light that it is all about the miraculous act of its creation. It appears like more than one person had to be sacrificed to make “Mad God” look precisely as it now, which is both beautiful and revolting, cruel and remarkable.
“Mad God” is a microcosm of amoral scavengers who keep their motivations to themselves and are constantly only a few seconds away from being devoured and repurposed by the next deranged.
First, there's the Assassin, a humanoid soldier who journeys to a base of ticking bags to plant a bomb that never goes off. He wears a gas mask and a set of iron-clad armor in the manner of steampunk.
As he carefully navigates his way through enormous beasts and faceless homunculi, he uses a treasure map that crumbles to pieces in his hands as a compass. Everyone is stomped on, hacked to pieces, or otherwise pulverized, sometimes to obtain food and sometimes because they are in the way of oncoming cars.
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A rival sub-plot quickly takes precedence over the Assassin's story. It involves the Surgeon, the Nurse (Niketa Roman), and a tentacle-shaped monster that resembles the “Eraserhead” baby after it reaches adolescence.
Then there is another scenario that involves Cox's Last Human, who sends a different assassin on another journey. This Assassin is directed by a new and slimy map stitched together by a trio of witches that the Last Human keeps hidden under his desk.
Everyone is looking for something, but it's not always easy to determine what they're looking for until they either find it or set the next domino in motion toward finding it.
Many people will watch “Mad God” due to its visual appeal, and maybe they should do so. After all, this movie lets you know what it's about just by looking at the production design and listening to the intricately layered soundtrack.
Animated figurines made of slime and mulch trundle around a collection of model sets that have been dynamically shot and compulsively arranged. This model sets either explicitly pays homage to the stop-motion wonders of pioneering animators Ray Harryhausen, Willis Harold O'Brien, and Jan vankmajer.
They would sit comfortably alongside these works if they were shown together. What I'm getting at here is that the very fact that this movie was made is incredible. Tippett's characters behave in ways that, just due to the juxtaposition of their actions, adhere to character-revealing behavior patterns.
Peoploids constructed in the style of hoodoo dolls fumble around each other to complete their responsibilities in the manner of slave labor or to forcibly steal what they want. Everyone averts their gaze to maintain their survival.
Trailer of Mad God
In certain moments, the protagonists appear to either take pleasure in or accept that they are surveyed daily.
There is low confidence that whatever happens next won't be kind or necessarily sensible beyond its primary self-serving function. Everyone or anything else can go to hell if I can obtain what I want. This certainty permeates all of the moments in the story.
“Mad God” is similar to a Rabelaisian protest against modern society. Given how long it took to make “Mad God,” it's not surprising that there aren't any clear signposts of our specific present-day in the movie. It is only strange if you consider the present a particular time divorced from the history of our hopelessly polarised, war-ravaged, and ruinously self-absorbed civilization.
But there are a lot of clues that point to the fact that Tippett's film is, at its core, about how life clings on although it is surrounded by savage conditions and a predominant urge toward death.
Because everyone in the movie is only a split second away from being crushed to death by a big Gilliam-like foot, Tippett's film is also amusing. At the same time, the Assassin carries one of several explosives.
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The Alchemist's goal is to create a new universe, which, as we see in a prophetic montage, will most likely flourish for a while before disintegrating into nothingness. Because we are all bound by the same gruesome and revolting terms and conditions, anything goes in this game.
I'm not sure how Tippett and his co-workers pulled it off, but “Mad God” gives the impression of being a movie that was made despite the standard conditions under which modern filmmaking is carried out.
Tippett and the group have developed the kind of fantasy that often appears to reside in the mythical realm of unproduced dream projects, such as Alejandro Jodorowsky's “Dune” and George Lucas home movies.
Rather than rushing through a quick exercise in formal experimentation. Even if “Mad God” is not to everyone's taste, it will continue to endure long after most of us are gone.
On June 10, it will be shown in select theatres, and on June 16, it will debut on Shudder.