Phil Tippett

7.5 Mad God (2021)

Phil Tippett (USA, 1951) was the visual-effects guru on George Lucas' Star Wars trilogy, Steven Spielberg's Jurassic Park, Ivan Reitman's Evolution, Paul Verhoeven's RoboCop and Starship Troopers, and many other movies.

Tippett's debut as a director came in the old-fashioned field of stop-motion animation, with Mad God (2021), originally conceived 30 years earlier, and funded via Internet-based crowdfunding. The eerie soundtrack was composed by Dan Wool. The film is a wild, cryptic, surrealistic, post-apocalypric, horror movie, a phenomenal catalogue of impossible visions, a blend of Jean-Pierre Jeunet's City of Lost Children, Alejandro Jodorowsky's Dance of Reality, Dusan Makavejev's W.R.- Mysteries of the Organism, Terrence Malick's The Tree of Life and any number of apocalyptic sci-fi movies. Each second of it is a painting worthy of Dali and Ernst.

The film opens with a curse of the "Leuticus" written on an ancient parchment. a cannon shooting at a rudimentary spacecraft that is approaching in the sky. The spacecraft survives and slowly descends into a snail-like landscape and then into a dark cavern-like underworld. A giant wearing a gas mask and a helmet walks out of the spacecraft amid smoking ruins. Three tiny human-like creatures are arguing. His shoe crushes them. He looks at a map. He then looks into his binoculars and sees a building on top of a hill and through the windows sees a man stabbing a woman. Strange creatures crawl in and out of the ruins. A dinosaur-like monster captures a skeletal human and cuts him in small pieces using a butcher's knife. The giant, indifferent, checks his map again. A rope helps him to lower himself to a lower level, amid a jungle of pipes and cables. He passes by a room where he glimpses an agonizing monkey, animals in cages and a broken wooden doll, and reaches a room where a line of men in working suits are being electrocuted nonstop. He passes by pulsing organic entrails and reaches a furnace that is making human-like figures that then walk like weak zombies in two long lines towards a boiling pit in which they dive. Others are run over and crushed by a steamroller. Others work on monoliths that rise and float in the air while a mechanism carries colossal chrysalises to a machine that squashes them into pulp. Trains come and go in the dark. Monsters are sedated and packaged by another machine to be transported by trains. A loudspeaker emits weird vocal sounds and some helpless zombies are being flogged. Screens hanging from the ceiling show a mouth uttering those weird sounds. The alien is carrying a suitcase and searching for something. He reaches an extremely dark cave full of suitcases like his own. He opens his suitcase which contains a time bomb and sets the timer. As the timer starts ticking, a creeping monster grabs him and takes him away. We then see the scene from behind a screen: the alien is strapped to a bed and a human doctor comes with a syringe while a group of spectators watches silently. Two giants proceed to strip his flesh apart. The spectators clap. We see a multi-storey building with no walls: in each room there's a bandaged body attached to tubes that appear to be sucking its blood away. We see a desperate, terrified eye. A surgeon and a nurse enter the room. The eye seems to explode in terror and pain as the surgeon cuts the body's belly and opens it apart, splashing blood and flesh all over the place. The doctor finds jewelry inside the belly but throws it to the floor. He stops only when he finds a twitching animal that cries like a newborn baby. The nurse carries it away. The surgeon activates a machine that bores a hole in the head of the body (which seems to be still alive) and inserts an electric cable with a camera into the hole. The surgeon then watches the brain on a television set: millions of dots moving chaotically. Then we see a spectacled man watching with binoculars. The camera zooms back and we see that he's hiding inside a bunker-like structure. An army of aliens (wearing helmets and gas masks) tries to break in but are stopped by the screams of witches. The spectacled man removes his hat and we see that he is old. He has claws on his fingers. He wears a priest-like dress and gestures to three witches who are sewing something. It's a parchment with a map. He walks through an army of still aliens and hands the map to one of them. He locks him inside a rudimentary spacecraft and activates a machine that sends the spacecraft into space. Again, the spacecraft descends into the underworld and the alien walks out with a map and a suitcase. He sees a big incandescent octobus killing helpless zombies. He finds a motorcycle and rides through the ruins, witnessing countless scenes of torture. He keeps looking at the map. He finds a derelict car and manages to get it started. He drives through the apocalyptic landscape: thousands of skulls on pikes, incendiary warfare with military tanks shooting at each other, the mushrooms of atomic bombs in the background, massive craters, ... He finally drives through a gate into a road that descends slowly into the underworld. It gets darker and darker. Meanwhile the nurse takes the crying newborn to a giant room where a gate opens revealing a ghostly monster. The nurse surrenders the baby to the tentacles and the gate closes again. The nurse goes to sleep while on the other side of the gate the ghostly monster moves through a fantastical landscape: giant stone statues, two giant bulls with phosphorescent eyes, a child-like figure crying "mama", two tree-like hands holding eyes, a disfigured hunchback who electrocutes two fighting monsters who then start shoveling slimy black mud, a colorful world of worms and anthropomorphic mushrooms, etc. The hunchback tidies up a room of dusty clocks and briefly watches an old video of atomic explosions. It looks like a laboratory. The ghostly monster enters carrying the crying and twitching baby. The hunchback readies a charred book on a table which the ghostly monster opens. A machine pulverizes and liquefies the baby and turns it into sparkling gold, which the hunchback collects and hands over to the ghost on a silver platter. The black ghost throws it into a furnace which ignites a "big bang" event. A new colorful universe is created. Out of chaos, cities emerge. War erupts, conflagrations destroy the cities. Monoliths fly in the sky. All the clocks in the room of dusty clocks start ticking frantically. We are taken back to the ticking bomb. We expect an explosion but instead we see a cuckoo clock striking the hour. And then we see the man, the only man of the film, in his warehouse of aliens.

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