MutantLand is a short four minute 3D animation that begins with a praying mantis taking down a rabbit with a boomerang. If that isn’t the greatest way to start a horror/sci-fi short, I don’t know what is. It should start porn movies too, but only in Japan. We’re either in a post apocalyptic scenario or on a bizarre alien planet, but it really doesn’t matter because this is about theme not plot. 'Welcome to dinner,’ says some monstrous butcher, 'and you are it.’ The monsters are a diverse and wildly imaginative bunch and they quickly find themselves in something of a feeding frenzy. Everyone’s a predator and everyone is prey, even the steampunk ninja dude. Who cares about a storyline when we can revel in dark imagination like this for a few short minutes? It’s a gem that knows precisely what it needs to do and how long it can get away with it. Then again, while I didn’t realise it at the time, it was written and directed by one of the masters.
Phil Tippett has been there and done that, with emphasis. Sure, he started out on something as eminently forgettable as The Crater Lake Monster but he followed it up with a little picture called Star Wars and hasn’t looked back since. George Lucas hired him when he shifted Industrial Light and Magic to San Francisco and he created the chess scene inStar Wars, animated the AT-ATs and Tauntaun in The Empire Strikes Back and won his first Oscar for Return of the Jedi. He even got to play one of the band members in the Star Wars Cantina, which may be the most amazing thing anyone can put on their resume. After Lucas’s last good film, he left ILM to found Tippett Studio, which went digital in 1991 when Steven Spielberg hired him to do the dinosaur animation in Jurassic Park. He was an obvious choice, an old school stop motion animator inspired by Willis O’Brien and Ray Harryhausen, but he quickly realised that old school wasn’t enough.
This short film may owe its roots to that moment. 'I think I’m extinct,’ he said, in a line that was promptly spoofed in the Jurassic Park script and he immediately began the switch to CGI. Given that his digital work runs the gamut from the enemy bugs in Starship Troopers through the crazy critters of Evolution to the wolves in the last two Twilightmovies, he and his studio have been pretty successful. Yet there’s a place called Phil’s Attic, where he plays around with all the little ideas he has that aren’t likely to be seen in a big budget blockbuster. It looks to me like the films he really cares about are things likePrehistoric Beast, Mad God and MutantLand that thrive on a very dark imagination. Maybe one day he’ll retire and spend a few decades concentrating on this sort of material in Phil’s Attic and we’ll be treated to more short films like this, that aren’t going to make any money but will make festival viewers like me very happy indeed.