Oscar-winning effects and stop-motion animation master Phil Tippett helped get “Star Wars” off the ground and won an Oscar for bringing dinosaurs back to life in “Jurassic Park.”
But for 30 years, in between “Robocop” sequels and installments in the “Twilight Saga,” he’s been working on this dense, gooey Big Statement on his art and perhaps his philosophy of life. And now “Mad God” is done and coming to the general public via Shudder.
It’s a sunglasses-at-night dark-and darker-blend of stop motion animation with bits of actors in live action scenes, with nobody talking in anything other than gibberish.
Take the title as a face-value pun and it’s a commentary on religion and life in general, as we follow a WWI gas-masked figure into an industrial wasteland underworld only a “Mad God” could conceive, where everything and everyone is consumed, chewed-up or merely randomly snuffed-out, with no sound effect spared to heighten the ickiness.
Primitive faceless slaves service — and self-sacrifice into — all-consuming steam punk furnaces. Doll-girls in chains hang from cages and grotesque monsters cast-off from “Ghostbusters” menace one and all in this Hell of Forever War, where everything and everyone is just fodder — fuel — with little clear idea who’s at the top of this nauseating “food chain.”
Maybe the doctor/mad scientist “God” of it all? He’s played by director turned actor Alex Cox (“Sid & Nancy”), the bug-eyed embodiment of “madman” or “Mad God.”
Strip away the honored credentials of the filmmaker and the tortured back story of this passion-project — something virtually no critics seem willing to do — and what we’re left with is an artist’s descent into obsession, crawling so far up his arse that nobody but him can see the light.
I’m reminded of the similarly-obsessive “The Thief and the Cobbler,” a 28-years-in-the-making hand-animated mess that grew more confused and more baroque the longer it stayed in production. The obscurant rag-doll-after-the-apocalypse animated “9” is another ready comparison here, although it made sense and was easier to follow and didn’t gestate for a third of a century.
“Incoherence” wasn’t necessarily the goal. But if it’s worth reciting the decades it took to pack all this imagery into sets so dark that much of it doesn’t register, it’s also worth noting that effects folk are, by definition, masters of making the trees. Whether or not they grasp the “forest” and can tell a compelling, coherent story about it isn’t exactly a given.
Rating: unrated, gross.
Cast: Alex Cox, Niketa Roman, Satish Ratakonda, Harper Taylor, Brynn Taylor
Credits: Scripted and directed by Phil Tippett. A Shudder release.
Running time: 1:23