Mad God - New Release Review
Director: Phil Tippett
Starring: Alex Cox, Niketa Roman, Satish Ratakonda
Written by: Phil Tippett
Produced by: Phil Tippett, Jack Morrissey
Cinematography by: Phil Tippett, Chris Morley
Original Score by: Dan Wool
A corroded diving bell descends amidst a ruined city and the Assassin emerges from it to explore a labyrinth of bizarre landscapes inhabited by freakish denizens.
From the mind of legendary visual effects wizard and stop motion pioneer Phil Tippett, 'Mad God' is a wonderous amalgamation of creativity, art and philosophy that actually transcends cinema. It's Tippett's conveyor belt of curiosities and a masterpiece 30 years in the making.
Beginning with a lengthy, thought provoking quote from Leviticus that essentially sets up the entire tone of the film and ends with the line "Your land shall become a desolation and your cities a ruin.", 'Mad God' follows a steampunk miner (credited as The Assassin) who descends into cruel worlds, each more nightmarish than the last, full of weird and wonderful and feral creatures. Apocalyptic labyrinths and caves controlled by monstrous inhabitants with devilish intent and mad scientists and experimental creations from the unknown. Some of these worlds are dark and greasy and malevolent and others are hallucinogenic and hypnotic and corrupt. Nobody speaks, they only howl and grunt like tormented souls.
There really is no narrative here, with the only story being the journey of our silent miner into the bowels of hell, or somewhere even worse. Tunnels of torture. Hallways of hatred. Industrial epicentres of eccentricity and subterranean cities of incivility. 'Mad God' is a sensory overload of imaginative dystopian landscapes and horror fuelled vignettes bursting with haunting soundscapes and chimerical images. It's an absolute mind fuck.
Each scene introduces fascinating new characters and disturbingly cruel ways to kill them. In fact it's a very cruel film altogether with some intense and violent sequences. It's a film that lacks any real existence of hope but despite this, it's gorgeous visuals and insanely original imagery, while harrowing at times, is an inspiration to anyone who wakes up every morning with the incessant urge to be a creator. Every inch of this vivid universe was created using stop motion animation and puppetry with miniature set pieces, matte paintings, forced perspectives and a whole host of classic old school filming techniques. This really is Tippett's reminder to today's film fans that practical effects very much still have a place in cinema.
Phil Tippett wrote, directed, produced and co-animated 'Mad God' over the course of three decades. The original idea was conceived during his tenure on 'RoboCop 2' where he and his team began the slow process of creature design. They filmed some early concept scenes but had to put the project on the back burner after Phil was hired to work on 'Jurassic Park'. Over time Tippett and his studio team gradually filmed more and more scenes and a feature film was beginning to come together. Tippett shot lots of it himself, teaming up with Chris Morley to create an impressive odyssey of tracking cinematography, migrating in and out, left and right, up and down, exploring almost every nook and cranny and helping to showcase the vast dominions in this hellish underworld.
'Mad God' certainly won't be for everyone, and that's fine. Some may even shun it completely claiming it's a pretentious, overly arty, style over substance, nonsensical mess. And that's fine too but it's impossible not to be in awe of Tippett's genius and his unwavering determination to nurture his baby from the spark of an idea through artistic conception and production to the end product that he has presented to the world.
'Mad God' is a one of a kind, bonkers adventure of biblical proportions that might just give you nightmares for days. You'll have to go in with an open mind to truly enjoy it. To steal a line from iconic filmmaker Martin Scorsese "This is cinema".
- Gavin Logan
'Mad God' is available to stream exclusively on Shudder from June 16th