Mad God Movie Review: How do you summarize “Mad God,” a stop-motion animated adventure that took writer/director and special effects pioneer Phil Tippett, nearly 30 years to complete? The plot of “Mad God” isn’t exactly traditional. The Assassin (credited to three voice actors), the Surgeon (two voice actors), the Alchemist (three), and the Last Human are only a few of the characters (just British punk filmmaker Alex Cox). And they’re either at odds with one another or looking for a way out. Imagine a dystopian nightmare set in a post-industrialized world that’s always on the verge of collapsing, but never quite does.
This description doesn’t tell you much, but the film is more of a brilliant and corrosively caustic image of a hyper-compartmentalized civilization striving to both die and reset than a narrative-driven allegory. Tippett’s harrowing plunge into his own id is inexorably shown to be about its own miraculous creation. “Mad God” seems like numerous people died to make it exactly as you see it. It’s beautiful and horrible, mean and awe-inspiring.
“Mad God” is a microcosm of amoral scavengers that keep their motivations hidden and are constantly seconds away from being consumed and/or repurposed by the next deranged. The Assassin, for example, is a humanoid soldier who journeys to a base of ticking bags wearing a gas mask and a steampunk-style suit of iron-clad armor to plant a bomb that never detonates. As he tiptoes around enormous beasts and featureless homunculi, he’s guided by a treasure map that flakes apart in his hands. Everyone gets flattened, mutilated, or otherwise pulverized, sometimes for food, sometimes because they’re blocking incoming traffic.
The Assassin’s story is quickly overshadowed by a rival plotline involving the Surgeon, the Nurse (Niketa Roman), and a tentacle-shaped monster that resembles the “Eraserhead” baby after it has reached adolescence (hard). Then there’s Cox’s Last Human, who sends a fresh Assassin on a new mission, guided by a new and slimy map stitched together by a trio of witches kept under his desk. Everyone is looking for something, but it’s frequently difficult to discern what it is until they find it or the next domino falls.
Mad God Movie Review
Many people will view “Mad God” to see how it appears, and some may even recommend it. After all, this is a film whose production design and intricately layered soundtrack make it clear what it’s about. Animated slime and mulch miniatures trundle through a dynamically shot and meticulously constructed array of model sets that either pay express homage to or sit comfortably alongside the stop-motion miracles of pioneering animators Ray Harryhausen, Willis Harold O’Brien, and Jan vankmajer. What I’m trying to express is that it’s incredible that this film exists.
Tippett’s characters do, however, act in ways that adhere to character-revealing patterns of behavior by mere juxtaposition. People in the hoodoo-doll style stumble around each other, either completing their slave labor chores or forcibly taking what they want. To live, everyone turns a blind eye. Characters in several scenarios appear to relish or simply accept the daily reality of being polled. There’s melancholy confidence in every scenario that whatever comes next won’t be kind or logical beyond its core self-serving function: as long as I get mine, everyone/thing else can go to hell.
“Mad God” is a Rabelaisian protest against current civilization, which is only strange if you think of the present as a separate time from the history of our hopelessly polarised, war-torn, and ruinously self-absorbed society. Given how long it took to make “Mad God,” there are no clear signposts of our specific present-day—though if you squint, you could spot Putin and Trump dry-humping each other? However, there are numerous indications that Tippett’s film is, at its core, about how life goes on despite the cruel surroundings and prevalent death drive.
Tippett’s film is also quite amusing in a juvenile sense, as everyone is on the verge of being smashed by a big Gilliam-esque foot. The Assassin carries one of many explosives, whereas the Alchemist seeks to construct a new universe that will most likely develop and ultimately collapse, as we see in a prophetic montage. Because we’re all subject to the same gruesome and obscene terms and conditions, everyone is fair game.
I’m not sure how Tippett and his collaborators did it, but “Mad God” feels like a film that exists despite modern filmmaking’s general working conditions. Rather than rushing through a quick exercise in formal experimentation, Tippett and his crew have created the kind of fantasy that all too frequently appears in the magical realm of unproduced dream projects like Alejandro Jodorowsky’s “Dune” and George Lucas’ home movies. “Mad God” may not be to everyone’s taste, but it’ll outlast the majority of us.