Nightstream 2021: Mad God – Practically Perfect

“I’ve just become extinct,” Phil Tippett said, learning that Jurassic Park (1993) would use computer generated dinosaurs. He is the master of stop motion, the creator of some of the most beloved movie effects. Think of those monstrous AT-ATs in Star Wars, the fantastic animated robots of Robocop (1987), the highly effective aliens of Starship Troopers (1997). Some of your favorite designs from your favorite science fiction movies, can be accredited to Tippett’s design genius. And he never did go extinct. He adapted and created fantastical digital creations. And for the last thirty-some years, he has been working diligently at creating the perfect stop motion movie. Mad God is a work of inspiring ingenuity, of understanding the real impact that only practical tools and effects can have, how the tangible world, in all its gooey, gory glory, can have an outsized impact, and make us viscerally feel the assets used in their creation.

Mad God. Dir. Phil Tippett.

Making the grotesque tangible is a demanding job. Making stop motion under such a perfectionist mindset, is possibly the hardest job of all in the movies. What’s so awe-inspiring about Mad God is the utter perfectionism on display. Tippett and his dedicated team worked harder than anyone and made a movie that looks like incredibly hard work. Sometimes great effect work is great because of its invisibility, the lack of evident process, the melding of the vision to the screen and our natural experience of it. This is not that. This is the extreme opposite. This is craft for craft’s sake. Because the work is hard, because the work is beautiful, because the work is self-evident in its worth and value. Mad God looks like the hardest modern movie to make and like it took the longest to create, because it is and it has. It’s astonishing, both in the spirit of its creation, the endlessly inspiring meticulous creation of this hellish world, and the perfectly accomplished creation of the task itself.

Realizing the shift in animation culture that came with Jurassic Park, after several years of work, Tippett shelved Mad God for twenty years. Stop motion was done for. He had a lot of good work to do in the computer animated field. The long-gestating project came back, eventually Kickstarted, releasing in fragments, and now, shipping as a complete beast, a project that singularly redefines what stop motion can do, and the complete potential of this kind of cinema. Phil Tippett may not have become extinct but has instead made the ultimate model of human extinction, a hellish portal to the end of the world, where the very visibility of his craft, is the key to why it all works.

Mad God. Dir. Phil Tippett.

An assassin rides a diving bell down into the underworld. He has a map and is following it to set off a bomb and rid the hellish world of all its population. The design of the place is immediately striking, it feels like exploring the inner bowels of a god forsaken world. Sludgy fluid pours like an enema. There is a grotesque textural reality coating the entire space. It’s made of distinctive goo and overflows with toxic sludge. You can almost smell the putrid sights. The film follows our fated explorer on his quest, until he is apprehended, and the film bends its reality, between live action and meticulously crafted model work. It is an innovative and exceptional approach. It pays off one hundred percent of the time.

There is no other movie quite like Mad God. It is distinct unto itself. The creation of one of the cinema’s leading experts in animated craft. It must be seen. There is no other way about it. The greatest movies just have to be seen. They will express their entire value in watching them. That’s how Mad God plays. It needs to be witnessed, as a declaration of practical magic. It ought to be witnessed because it is so profoundly original, so new, so creative, that there is no reference point. There is only Phil Tippett and Mad God, the creator who has never been more alive, and his gorgeously maladjusted Frankenstein of a movie. It’s practically perfect.


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