Phil Tippett’s has cast us into a bizarre trek through hell without the benefit of Virgil to provide us with any description or context for understanding what we’re seeing. Instead, we’re provided with an atmospheric soundtrack by Dan Wool urging us to sit back and let the film unfold.
Tippett is best known for his stop-motion additions to The Empire Strikes Back, Jurassic Park, and RoboCop, where he brought unreal images to life using stop-motion techniques. Watching his creation, I was reminded of the 1987 french animation, Gandahar (Light Years), Heavy Metal (1981), Jan Švankmajer’s Alice(1981), and the animations of the Brothers Quay (you can get an impression of their work from this clip from Street of Crocodiles).
Below are some spoilers, which I honestly don’t think spoil anything, but read no further if you want to watch uninfluenced. It might actually be better under any influence though.
As a prelude, we see the tower of Babel rise up to spite God, only to get destroyed in a rage. Is this an opening? A prophecy of what is to come? I have no idea.
We see Tippett’s world through the lens of one of a very small number of characters referred to in the credits as ‘The Assassin.’ The Assassin descends by means of some sort of diving bell into a wasteland of senseless violence and chaos with creatures being born and torn apart with complete disinterest. Dusty, hairball men rise and are crushed in almost every scene as The Assassin follows a crumbling map to an unknown destination. He nearly makes it too, but eventually gets caught up in the lunacy as he is captured, cruelly disrobed, and taken into an operating theater for what can only be described as vivisection.
The Assassin goes no further, except in the form of a toothy worm of a baby who is whisked away and given to a ‘nanny’ to deliver to an extraction site, where it is transformed into a plate of silvery dust that appears to get spilled and scattered to somehow reforge a new world.
But, never fear, in the meantime, a second life is granted in the form of a clone Assassin (brought in by another diving bell) to pick up where his predecessor left off – just like a video game.
The new Assassin makes better time using a motorcycle and VW Thing to find and descend into what I can only describe as an inverse tower of Babel / Mohole and disappear.
Would I recommend this film? Maybe- to the right person. Someone who doesn’t mind spending time admiring surrealist art and enjoying atmospheric music – yes. To someone who wants clarity, a plot, or a tidy ending- no. I’m glad I watched it like I’m glad I ran a marathon. Neither is likely to be repeated anytime soon or without a significant amount of preparation.