Production Company: Tippett Studio
Streaming Service: Shudder
Release Date: June 16th, 2022
Rating: Not Rated (If it was, it would likely be R)
There’s a pretty high chance you have not heard of this movie, which is truly unfortunate. Phil Tippett’s Mad God, while being an insurmountable technical achievement within animation and filmmaking as a whole, released to general audiences with little fanfare and promotion. Tippett, a staple of modern visual art, created and animated the walking AT-ATs and the hairy Wampa from The Empire Strikes Back, as well as the dinosaurs in Jurassic Park. The only theaters who would play Mad God were arthouse theaters like The Loft, and only for about two weeks, three at most. Its box office performance was pitiful, and the only streaming service that would throw money at the project was the niche horror service Shudder. The movie by all definitions is a flop.
But it shouldn’t have been, and let me tell you why.
First a disclaimer. This movie is truly disgusting. The film takes place in some ruined world that is likely our own into the far future where some unnamed disaster has occurred. This world is deep fried in layers of mud, urine, feces, and in many cases, blood. If you happen to be squeamish about any of these grossities, then you will probably not enjoy this film. Granted, the film isn’t constant urine and feces thrown in your face over the 83 minute runtime, but the bodily fluids do have their place in the film.
With that out of the way, let’s get to the meat of the movie. Mad God has at best a barebones plot, with characters that do not speak, who walk around a world that is full of odd and dangerous creatures and the aforementioned pee and poop. With all of this, you may be inclined to think that this movie is nothing more than a nightmare that is excruciating to sit through and watch. For my money, nothing could be further from the truth. While there is no dialogue, every character design is so wholly unique not in its conception (soldiers in gas masks and weird plague doctor-adjacent characters have been done to death), but in its execution, that dialogue isn’t particularly missed, at least in my opinion.
So how is any of that not part of the excruciating nightmare that this movie seems to be? Because there is beauty in the singular twisted creativity on display. The plot of some weird looking guys walking around in the world is just a vehicle to show us this world, and all of the odd creatures within. And what wonderful creatures there are! The closest comparison I could make would be if creatures from Jim Henson’s The Dark Crystal were more animalistic and slightly more violent. But that only covers a portion of the weird guys in this film, and there are many others, whose elegant designs I will not spoil for you. And it goes without saying that these creatures, and the world in which they inhabit, would be far less compelling if not for the buttery smooth stop-motion animation that brings them to life. I have always been a sucker for stop-motion animation since I was a kid, but this brings a level of scale that I have never seen in any stop motion project ever. The film is structured as multiple vignettes strung together, each vignette taking place in a different location. This reconstructed structure is likely due to the production of the film taking over 30 years, reflected in the ruin of a world we get to see. Every location has a stunning level of detail, the amount of care put into each strange land is inspiring. I know I said it already, but I must reiterate that the animation here is flawless. Smoke from explosions and industrial factories looks just as fluid as the real thing. Ribbons on a creature’s hat twist and float as if they are adrift on the wind. And those final eight minutes are transcendent, just pure abstract creativity a la other titans of cinema like 2001 A Space Odyssey. With this film being described as “industrial,” “putrid,” and “grotesque,” I was expecting an exceptionally heavy score bearing down on you the entire time. However, this was yet another subversion, since Mad God’s score is actually pretty laid back. Old timey pianos plink out chords that sound right out of some shantytown saloon, while acoustic guitars strum softly. More modern pianos roll like a slightly faster Moonlight Sonata, weaving into a gorgeous song that almost calms you. This film is not trying to destroy your mind or scare you for any reason, it just wants you to take in this world as the creatures do as they walk across its oozing lands.
Mad God feels like you stumbled onto a hidden channel to some industrial circus-esque freakshow on a TV you fixed up in a junkyard. The fact that it was released at all is a privilege, though it is a shame that it made basically no money. Its artistry is sublime and well worth the price of admission. I highly recommend it to anyone not easily grossed out, and especially if you love stop-motion animation, a medium that has been consistently undervalued by general audiences and undercut by the industry as a whole. Shudder has a 7-day free trial, and this film is absolutely worth seeing at least once. And who knows, you may come away with a new favorite. At the very least, you’ll get to see the passion project of one of the greatest visual effects artists of the 20th century, and those don’t come around all too often.
If, for whatever reason, you don’t want to watch this film (and I totally get it if you don’t), at least check out the song “War Tourist” by Dan Wool. It is fantastic.
Reviewer’s Name: Liam Larkin-Smith
Date of Review: 9/12/22