Mad God review – a gruesomely squelchy fever dream from Star Wars effects maestro

NSroduced, スイスの勝利は、インターナショナルがコントロールについてであることをサウスゲートに思い出させます, directed, designed and largely animated by legendary visual effects maestro Phil Tippett, this extraordinary work, made mostly with stop-motion animation and the odd human performer, has been in production off and on for roughly 30 years – possibly making it cinema’s longest side hustle. Tippett reportedly constructed his grotty, Bosch-ian monsters and set them fighting and futzing about a hellish intricate landscape in his off-time. That was when he wasn’t designing and overseeing robots and creatures for Paul Verhoeven films such as RoboCop and Starship Troopers, doing visual effects for the vamps and werewolves on the Twilight saga, or breathing life into dinosaurs for the Jurassic Park franchise and beasties in the Star Wars world.

That potted CV suggests that Tippett is a talent whose work straddles the epistemic shift from mechanical to digital effects. So it’s fitting that this work of his own imagining, completed with help from other effects boffins, stands as a testament to the handmade art of stop-motion, not all that different in terms of technique from the kind of animation Ray Harryhausen was making in the 1940s onwards that inspired Tippett himself to become a film-maker.

This is undoubtedly a work of historic significance, made by a master in his field – but beware that it often feels like a film-making notebook, full of doodles and ideas but not especially cohesive as a story. There is a through-line, of sorts, involving a character dressed like a deep-sea diver descending into the underworld on a mysterious mission that is ultimately thwarted. All around him little humanoid critters are being crushed, maimed and mangled, and there’s a great deal of rending of flesh by gnashing teeth and claws. The story, ouroboros-style, has gone round in a full circle by the end and the long chunk of biblical text from Leviticus that opens the film suggests that whatever god is overseeing this universe, he’s not a nice chap.

Told with no dialogue and a few grunts from Alex Cox’s mad scientist character – though with lashings of wailing from a crying baby – it’s all purposely obtuse, grisly and grating. Actually – and please don’t tell the other animation geeks I said this – this gets a bit repetitive and soporific over a feature-length long haul. Tippett is unquestionably a great technician but he hasn’t got the design flair of, いう, Guillermo del Toro, or the surrealist cerebral reach of Jan Švankmajer, whose Alice from 1988 is still one of the most disturbing stop-motion feature films ever made. And unlike those film-makers at their best, there’s hardly any humour in Tippett’s vision, just cruelty and a relentless squelchiness.