Most famous for Jurassic Park, Phil Tippett‘s stop-motion magnum opus Mad God is one of those films that needs to be experienced, rather than explained. But as my editor probably wants me to write a bit more than that I’m going to try to explain it as best I can.
The film opens with a figure clad in a heavy leather jacket and gas mask descending from the lands above into a twisted hellscape of a world. This is the Assassin, and he has only two things to his name – a map of the world which gradually falls to pieces every time he looks at it, and a suitcase filled with dynamite. Someone known only as The Last Man has dispatched the Assassin to this strange place. His mission is to make his way through the many layers of this horrible version of reality and blow it up. Standing in the Assassin’s way are a multitude of nameless, perverted horrors, occasional acts of random and unspeakable violence, angry mutants with whips, sadistic surgeons, and the occasional china doll masturbating in a puddle of filth.
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Honestly, the plot of Mad God doesn’t make a massive amount of sense and that’s fine. This is a movie that’s all about the visuals, heavy on symbolism rather than attempting to tell a traditional narrative. There’s not even any traditional spoken dialogue, save for animal noises and the baby-like babbling from the ruler of one of the areas the Assassin passes through. It doesn’t really matter, though. You don’t watch a film like this for the story as much as you do to marvel at the sheer amount of work that’s gone into it.
Mad God took over thirty years to complete, and it shows. To describe the sets as lavish just doesn’t cover it, with virtually every shot being filled with an astounding level of detail put into both the background and the foreground. There is literal decades of work in this film, every shot filled with layer upon layer of design and effort and love and care that went into bringing Phil’s vision to life. Mad God is both the story of, and a product of, a passion that some might say borders on insanity.
People sometimes don’t really grasp the amount of work that stop-motion requires, so for context, there’s a scene with a mountain of dead soldiers. This was accomplished through melting thousands of plastic army figures on wire. It took six people three years to complete. Now this is taking it to extremes. I’m sure Laika doesn’t take quite as long to produce movies like Kubo and the Two Strings or The Box Trolls but it’s a perfect microcosm of the amount of effort and love and skill that’s gone into this film.
The music is provided by composer Dan Wool (Tombstone-Rashomon, Your Story Was This) and it’s as dense and confusing and beautiful and discordant as the movie it soundtracks. You can check it out for yourself over on Dan Wool’s Bandcamp page and I can highly recommend giving it a listen. Like the film itself, it weaves in all manner of different musical sounds and styles, including what I would swear is the sound effect of a proton pack powering up from the Ghostbusters movies.
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Mad God is a divisive film. For everyone who praises it as bold, experimental and daring, you have someone claiming it’s the kind of unfocused mess you might expect to see from a journeyman film student. I’ve watched the film three times now, and I’m still unsure what to make of it. It’s a hard watch, challenging both visually and intellectually. The story is a confusing mess, but the art and love that’s gone into it can’t be denied. Phil had a vision, and Mad God is the thirty-year realisation of that vision and I have nothing but respect for that.
I would much rather a film is divisive, that the writer and director have truly tried to say something as opposed to going through the motions to fulfil a contract or earn a paycheck. Mad God is not a film for everyone, and that’s why you should watch it.
Mad God premieres on Shudder on 16th June.