When practical effects ruled the world: VFX legend gets his due in new doc

The trailer for Phil Tippett—Mad Dreams and Monsters

No matter what the Criterion collector in your life says, DVDs have been slowly fading away from our lives these last few years. Losing films as a self-contained thing you can acquire has many ramifications, but chief among them for film nerds is the transformation of “extras.” Where should things like deleted scenes, director’s commentary, bloopers, or behind-the-scenes vignettes exist if they can no longer be packaged right alongside the film? Maybe today’s YouTube videos, oral histories, or podcasts work well enough in many situations, but frankly, some innovators in film history deserve more.

Luckily, this type of content in 2019 has increasingly found a new streaming-era-friendly home: the standalone documentary. From Hayao Miyazaki: Never-Ending Man (essentially extras for Boro the Caterpillar) to The Director and The Jedi (that’s The Last Jedi), these projects show that what would’ve been extras in the past can work as their own feature-length entities able to play to crowds of film lovers at festivals or exist as algorithmic suggestions alongside original films on Netflix, Amazon Prime, et al.

At the 2019 Fantastic Fest, this budding format proved to be just right for Phil Tippett, a film effects legend whose work you’ve seen even if his name doesn’t ring any bells. From Star Wars to Jurassic Park with Robocop in between, Tippett is the stop-motion savant behind so many landmark “effects” films from the era before CGI took over. And the long time industry hero finally has the spotlight on him in Phil Tippett—Mad Dreams and Monsters, a new documentary delivering that familiar behind-the-scenes feeling in the best way possible.

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