THE FRANKENSTEIN COMPLEX and PHIL TIPPETT: MAD DREAMS AND MONSTERS arrive on Blu-ray in a combined collection
The Monster Collection, new on Blu-ray from Doppelgänger Releasing, is an astounding collection of films and supplemental materials which will be very exciting for fans of special effects. The two main entities here are The Frankenstein Complex (2015) and Phil Tippett: Mad Dreams and Monsters (2019), from the makers of Ray Harryhausen: Special Effects Titan, each an absolute treat for the monster kid in you.
The Frankenstein Complex
The Frankenstein Complex features interviews with an all-star assemblage of effects legends and filmmakers discussing the craft of bringing monsters to life. It’s a joy to see them in their workspace, listen to their expertise, and watch them make movie magic.
The range of these artists covers a wide range of disciplines which work together to make movie magic: character design, sculpture, stop motion animation, animatronics, suit performance, motion capture, puppetry, and digital design, to list just a few. That’s in addition to traditional filmmaking work like writing, cinematography, and direction.
The documentary is packed with stories, tours and demonstrations of props and creatures, and lots of real archival behind the scenes footage from your favorite movies like Jurassic Park, Terminator 2, Gremlins, Robocop, the Star Wars series, The Thing, The Abyss, Starship Troopers, The Howling, and An American Werewolf in London.
While the film mostly covers living artists whose work has taken place in the modern age of effects which arguably started with Star Wars, it also honors the past, touching on the historical contributions of Georges Méliès, Lon Chaney, King Kong, the Universal Monsters, Ray Harryhausen, Planet of the Apes, and Stan Winston.
I realize this review reads more like “list of lists” than a thoughtful analysis, but therein lies the point: this is a huge assemblage of the greatest people in the biz given the chance to talk about the work they’re deeply passionate about, and it will resonate with any fan of genre cinema.
Phil Tippett: Mad Dreams and Monsters
Whereas The Frankenstein Complex covers a ton of filmmakers in an approach to the craft as a whole, Mad Dreams and Monsters slows down to focus on one particular effects master’s story.
The film follows Phil Tippett’s career journey from a fan and experimenter to becoming one of the most respected legends in effects.
Naturally it covers major highlights of Tippet’s career: Coming to prominence with the Star Wars films, crafting the look of Robocop and eventually performing second unit direction on Robocop 2, engineering new digital input technology in Jurassic Park, and creating armies of bugs in Starship Troopers, which led to directing its sequel Starship Troopers 2.
The film also draws references to Piranha, Dragonslayer, Evolution, Hellboy, The Spiderwick Chronicles, Cloverfield, Ted, and his own short films Prehistoric Beast, MutantLand, and Mad God.
It’s quickly evident that a major contributor to his success is longtime collaborator and life partner Jules Roman, who is the President and cofounder of Tippett Studios — and Phil’s wife. Jules shares the lovely story of how they met and is one of the many voices who share in Phil’s story.
Others include Denis Muren, Paul Verhoeven, Jon Berg, Joe Dante, Joe Johnston, Chris Walas, Alec Gillis, Jon Davison, and Craig Hayes.
Through this constant evolution of Phil’s story, we learn how his role has grown and changed from an effects craftsman to chief creative officer of Tippett Studios, working in supervision and direction of the studio’s efforts and leading, guiding and training the next generations of effects experts who will carry on his work.
The Monster Collection, collecting both The Frankenstein Complex and Mad Dreams and Monsters along with a staggering wealth of extras, is new on Blu-ray from Doppelgänger Releasing. It’s a very handsome and “art-directed” package, incorporating the beautiful poster art from both films into its gatefold design, with an eye-catching front cover that assembles references to many iconic props and effects from beloved films.
I have just one complaint of the packaging, which it gorgeous — the design packs the discs in a fashion such that they’re “facing in” toward the folds in the packaging rather than outward. This makes them more secure, but also rather difficult to extricate. (It looks so nice that it’s kind of worth the hassle).
But let’s be very clear: this is one of the most insanely packed, feature filled, impossible-to-watch-it-all Blu-ray packages I’ve ever encountered. Even at its $49.95 SRP, it would be a solid investment for anyone interested in this subject matter. At the current $30ish asking price it’s an absolute steal.
Each of the two movie discs would be a completely respectable standalone release on their own, with feature commentary (which, considering that this is a documentary, is almost like having a second film layered in), feature-length making of documentary, trailer, outtakes, and still galleries.
On top of that, there’s a monster-sized bonus disc with extensive extras for both films. The filmmakers shot many hours upon hours of footage, picking choicest bits to assemble the films as they were eventually edited and finalized. But for those who want to dive deeper, the bonus disc has a treasure trove of extended interviews from the cutting room floor, extensive feature-length making of documentaries, explorations of special effects archives, and even a couple of Phil Tippett short films. The amount of extra content here is extremely generous and fans will be unpacking these discs for a very, very long time.
Special Features and Extras — Disc 1: The Frankenstein Complex
- “The Frankenstein Odyssey” Making of Documentary (57:23) — an hourlong exploration of the film’s interesting production with directors Alexandro Poncet and Gilles Penso (and many others)
- Deleted and Alternate Scenes (17:56)
- “Digital Craftsmanship” Post-Production Featurette (15:38) — the post-production was outsourced to another team, who share the process of editing and adding animations and transitions.
- Photo Gallery (8:13)
- Theatrical Trailer (2:11)
- The Frankenstein Complex Musical Score (1:08:54) — having the musical score on video format isn’t the most convenient way to listen, but it’s a welcome inclusion, and a surprisingly robust score, moody and melodic. The main theme kicks off with a pensive tone that immediately reminded me of Wojciech Kilar’s Dracula score.
- Easter Egg — “The Goldblouche — A Lesson in Editing” (4:10)
Special Features and Extras — Disc 2: Mad Dreams and Monsters
- Feature Commentary with Phil Tippett and directors Alexandro Poncet and Gilles Penso
- Meeting the Monsters: The Making of Mad Dreams and Monsters (1:41:04) — Feature-length making-of documentary. Whereas the film is edited in such a way that’s just stream of thought without a “Q&A” interview format or attention to the documentary’s filmmakers, this more relaxed and candid look at the process of setups, interviews, post-production, and most interestingly to me, creating the new stop-motion animations seen in the film.
- Deleted and Alternate Scenes (12:00)
- Photo Gallery (9:44)
- Theatrical Trailer (2:15)
- Easter Egg — “Tauntaun: Birth of an Icon” (4:16)
Special Features and Extras — Disc 3: Bonus Content
The Frankenstein Complex Conversations and Interviews
- Master Class with Guillermo del Toro (23:22)
– GdT’s Master Class discussion from Fantasia 2016
- Extended Conversation with John Landis and Joe Dante (58:58)
– Spend an hour with these horror/comedy masters.
- Extended Conversation with Mick Garris (26:51)
- Extended Conversation with Steve Johnson and John Vulich (28:49)
- Q&A with Joe Dante, Alexandre Poncet and Gilles Penso (19:51)
- The Lair of Rick Baker (9:26)
– The effects master shares his space and some of his work
- The Lair of Alec Gillis and Tom Woodruff, Jr (13:45)
— An incredible look at the space of Amalgamated Dynamics
- Paper Monsters: The Art of Charles Chiodo (12:51)
— Tour Charles Chido’s sketches and watch him draw a Crite (Critter)
- Living with Monsters: The Art of Kevin Yagher (14:48)
— Fans of Freddy and Chucky are gonna dig this one.
- Sympathy for the Devil: Interview with Bernard Rose (9:41)
- The Gremlins Pool: Interview with Sacha Feiner (10:29)
— a very fun look at a collection of Gremlins memorabilia and props
- From Latex to Pixels: the Art of Gino Acevedo (8:57)
- The Beauty and the Beasts: The Art of Ve Neill (14:01)
Mad Dreams and Monsters Interviews
- The Joy of Working with Phil: Interview with Paul Verhoeven ()5:52
- Phil Will Fix This! Interview with Joe Johnston (15:16)
- Animating with Phil: Interview with Tom St. Amand (5:47)
- Phil’s Vision: Interview with Chris Walas (9:03)
- Friendship, Robots, and Dinosaurs: Interview with Dennis Muren (14:27)
- From Stop-Motion to Computer: Interview with Craig Hayes (4:58)
- Memories and Archives with Phil Tippett (11:31)
- Dinosaur Supervisor with Phil Tippett (4:42)
- Starship Troopers 2 with Phil Tippett and Jon Davison (3:17)
- “Dinosaur!” with Paul Verhoeven and Jon Davison (4:44)
- Mutant Fish with Joe Dante (4:20)
- Modern Craftsmanship with Alec Gillis (7:37)
- Robot Design with Craig Hayes (15:34)
- Musical Storytelling with Alexandre Poncet (14:54)
- Easter Egg: The Birth of a Poster with Paul Wee (4:18)
Phil Tippett Short Films
Prehistoric Beast (9:50)
Tippett’s lauded 1985 stop motion pet project is included along with an audio commentary option. Very cool.
Also with an audio commentary option, MutantLand is a pretty dark animated film which takes place in a post-apocalyptic world. Tippett calls it a prototype, which makes sense: it feels like a short proof of concept teasing a larger story and world. The commentary is perhaps more interesting than the film itself, as Tippet describes the difficulty of selling Hollywood on his own ideas and odd personal taste.
Phil Tippett’s Early Animation Tests (14:50)
Virtual Museum of Phil Tippett Creations
In these short videos, showcase pieces are placed on a rotating platform to offer a full view.
- Star Wars & The Empire Strikes Back Models, Armatures, and Props (1:19)
- Dragonslayer Original Stop Motion Puppet (1:04)
- The Golden Child Original Sculpture (:28)
- Howard the Duck Original Stop Motion Puppet (:37)
- Robocop Original Sculptures, Models and Puppets (2:40)
- Willow Original Sculptures and Props (1:24)
- Honey, I Shrunk the Kids Original Stop Motion Puppet (:31)
- Aborted Projects: Pinocchio and Gargoyles (1:07)
- Coneheads Original Stop Motion Puppet (:57)
- Jurassic Park Original Puppet and DID (1:28)
- Dragonheart Original Sculptures (1:43)
- Starship Troopers Original Models, Puppets, DID (1:57)
- Evolution Original Sculptures (2:17)
- Blade 2 Fake Head (:49)
- The League of Extraordinary Gentlemen Original Sculpture (:45)
- Hellboy Fake Head (:46)
- Cloverfield Creature Model (:56)
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Except where noted, all 16:9 screen images in this review are direct captures from the disc(s) in question with no editing applied, but may have compression or resizing inherent to file formats and Medium’s image system. All package photography was taken by the reviewer.