“Imagination will find a way”. As Phil Tippett would say time and time again throughout his career.
And there will never be a better way to describe the man himself.
Because, for a man whose career in visual effects spans everything from the first Star Wars movies, Robocop, Jurassic Park, Starship Troopers, and The Twilight Saga all he’s wanted to do with his life was create and tell stories.
This is the theme behind French filmmakers, Alexandre Poncet and Gilles Penso new documentary Phil Tippett: Mad Dreams and Monsters. Following up on their previous docs about Ray Harryhausen and the creature artists behind Hollywood’s biggest films, the duo takes us on a trip through the life of a man that has inspired thousands of cinephiles, including myself in an indirect way) to follow embrace their creative.
Poncet and Penso create one of the most personal docs that I’ve seen in a long time simply by having Tippett himself describing and narrating his own life. It’s because of this that Mad Dreams and Monsters has a respectfully sad subtext to it. Because Tippett is a man who’s dedicated his entire life, having been sparked into puppets in 1951 when he watched his first Harryhausen movie at the age of 7 and you hear the pain in his voice as Tippett doesn’t shy away from his struggles of adapting to the changing industry. That change came in 1993 with Jurassic Park with the advent of digital technology.
The film industries need for stop motion puppet monsters was coming to an end and Tippett, as he always says had to find a way to adapt.
Alexandre Poncet is a journalist who wrote for the French equivalent of Fangoria and truly brings those skills to play with some passionate interviews with Tippett’s family and his peers like the equally as legendary Dennis Muren, Paul Verhoeven, and Joe Dante. Again, making the conscious choice not to shy away and focus on even the most difficult aspects of Tippett’s life with his peers.
Juxtaposed against the story Mad Dreams and Monsters is telling his some terrific visuals as Penso and Poncet takes us through Tippett’s life, through his workshop, some of the greatest creatures in film history, the T-Rex, ED209, collecting dust on shelf, that you can’t help but look at in wonder as much as it is these almost feel like Tippett himself at some times in his life.
As imagination always finds a way, they close out Mad Dreams and Monsters with the realization that Tippett is still making his stop motion films in between running his studio. Crowdfunded, bringing in his friends, whatever he can do. For as sad as this documentary can be perceived, at its core, is a story that imagination will always find a way. This being their third documentary together, Penso and Poncet have long proven to be knowledgeable fans of films and hopefully, this will have the same effect on an audience member as much as Harryhausen had on a seven-year-old Phil Tippett.
Mad Dreams and Monsters was unexpected, heartwarming, and emotional well worth four out of five stars.