Mad God was directed by Phil Tippett, a legendary visual effects artist who worked on the original Star Wars trilogy, Jurassic Park, RoboCop, and Starship Troopers (as well as directing its TV-film sequel). You may not know his work by name, but you’ve seen loads of it—he’s an absolute master, who invented Go-Motion, his own version of stop-motion animation.
He had always wanted to direct a feature length stop-motion film, and the genesis of Mad God started around 1990, when he shot a few minutes of footage after finishing work on RoboCop 2. Every once in a while he would shoot a snippet or two, but he didn’t have the money to continue so dropped it, and was soon quite busy with Hollywood work. This all coincided with the decline of practical special effects in film. Tippett came back to the idea in 2010, and two years later he launched a Kickstarter project that raised over $100,000 to try to finish the project.
A year before its completion in 2021, Tippett had a mental breakdown and ended up needing psychiatric care. It was apparently an overwhelming project. The film is a nightmare future that literally looks like a Hieronymus Bosch painting brought to live in a science-fiction futuristic way. It is pretty much dialogue-free. One of the few actors is actually cult filmmaker Alex Cox, who plays “The Last Human.” There’s a human-like figure credited as “The Assassin” in a jacket and gas-mask who descends into this hellish world (Dante’s Inferno is another big influence) where he encounters monsters, witches and other strange things in a decaying world full of dread.
It’s a remarkable piece of work. The animation is out of this world, as is the cinematography of the animation, with lots of these really long takes that are truly breathtaking. Tippett’s determination to make a film that he’s had in his head for years and years is admirable. And it’s a beautiful film even in it’s own “ugliness”, with images that will never leave you—the mark of a really great film. For example, early on there is a moment where stick-figure-like humanoids are born then sent to fall into a sort of hellfire.
It doesn’t matter that it isn’t a plot-heavy film, in fact it’s proof that plot isn’t always required to make a great movie. Mad God is a sight to behold, and along with Tigers Are Not Afraid, the best film Shudder has had a hand in distribution-wise. It’s certainly not animation for kids—but if you appreciate real cinematic art, you will gain something from it. It’s nice to see that films like this, The House, and Guillermo del Toro’s Pinocchio and Wendall & Wild are driving a resurgence in stop-motion animation, which had been somewhat out of favour. Hopefully fans of Tibbett’s special effects work will seek this out and expand their cinematic palette.
There’s a lot of bonus stuff on the disc, starting with a commentary with Tippett and Guillermo del Toro, a cast and crew commentary, a couple of interviews with Tippett, and a fun segment where the director lists his influences—and forgets a couple until right at the end. Added to this are several making-of featurettes, including some showing the animation process, and a behind-the-scenes photo gallery.