Attack Of the Colossal Monster Collection

The new release wave continues with an interesting little blu-ray set called The Monster Collection from Music Box Films.  It's a 3-disc set centered around two documentaries about horror/ sci-fi special effects and a whole lot of extras.  Specifically, we're talking about 2015's Creature Designers - The Frankenstein Complex and 2019's Phil Tippett: Mad Dreams and Monsters, both by Gilles Penso and Alexandre Poncet, the French filmmaking duo behind Ray Harryhausen: Special Effects Titan, among others that mostly don't seem to have made it into the English-language market.  But these are really good, perhaps especially that third bonus disc.
Let's start with the newer doc, Mad Dreams and Monsters, the superior of the two films.  As one of the key effects artists behind films like Robocop, Star Wars and Jurassic Park, Phil Tippett has naturally appeared in any number of documentaries and DVD extras.  But this is the first feature length documentary dedicated specifically to the man himself, and it's been a long time coming.  I mean, one, he's just a major artistic figure between some of the biggest and most beloved blockbuster films who's been a part of many stories, but never had his own story told.  Two, he's just a really interesting character.  You see all these other special effects artists, some major and some minor, and he's the one you'd immediately look at and ask, what's his story?  And three, Tippett has given our dutiful filmmakers seemingly unlimited access, to himself, his studio, his unseen works... and his friends and family (pretty much all noteworthy Hollywood players themselves) are all on hand, clearly giving multiple interviews.
There are great anecdotes, carefully composed moving images, rare unseen images... we see all the guys who created the original chess set scene from Star Wars reunite as they prepare to do it all again for the new Disney films.  The film's not afraid to get candid about the serious despair they felt went Hollywood effects went digital.  Even the soundtrack (composed by Poncet himself) is pretty great, breathing life into what could potentially be a pretty dry and technical look at tiny models.  In fact, one cool aspect is that they don't just give us a tour of the cool props in the studio, they get Tippett and co. to animate the maquettes for the doc itself.  So we don't just see the same old clips, but all new, fresh stop motion.  You're bound to come out of this an even bigger Tippett fan than you went in.  They probably got this level of access thanks to having interviewed Tippett about many of these subjects before on some of their previous films, especially including The Frankenstein Complex.  Yeah, repetition is the one Achilles' heel of the Monster Collection.
The Frankenstein Complex is a less focused film, purportedly about how/ why effects artists are compelled to make monster characters, but more like a history of how special effects technology evolved over the last several decades.  There's a bunch of interesting stories and anecdotes, but they cohere too much, like we're talking to who we're talking to based on who the filmmakers could get, not necessarily who'd make for the strongest narrative.  Like, clearly Kevin Smith is here because he was available, not because he has any particular insight into creature design.  And then there's an awful lot about how Rick Baker partially gave over the werewolf transformation technique he made for John Landis' American Werewolf to Joe Dante's The Howling, because this film interviews Baker, Dante and Landis (the latter two are even put in the same room together to hash it out).  But Planet Of the Apes or Tom Savini only get the briefest of mentions because they're not around.  No Screaming Mad George.  And there's lot about Tippett's stuff, including a great scene where he's put in the same room as the guy who sold Spielberg on going all digital in Jurassic Park, and there's real tension.  But most of the Tippett stuff is totally rehashed for Mad Dreams, so you're hearing stuff twice.
And usually I save the special features for the end, but I've got to get into some of it it now.  There's a whole bunch of 'making of' and more I'll save for later, but one really important aspect of the bonus disc is the hours and hours of extended scenes from the two docs.  There are also some deleted and extended scenes on the main films' discs, but tons more on the bonus disc.  And especially in The Frankenstein Complex's case, it's all the same stuff but more and better.  We see short clips of Landis and Dante sitting together in the doc, but on the bonus disc, we get a whole hour of them together, including the minute or so we saw in the documentary.  And that's just one example.  Mick Garris briefly appears in the film; he's got a whole half hour in the extras, again including the bits from the film itself.  And so on.  The point I'm driving at is this: this material is great, but it totally invalidates the documentary.  You can (and should!) watch the full bonus disc, and then you can just skip the film itself, because it's just shorter, less rewarding little trims of this footage stuck together.  ...The same can't be said for Mad Dreams and Monsters.  That one's a pretty tight little film that totally stands on its own.  But Frankenstein is, rather aptly, a hodge podge of collected parts that are better consumed in full on the bonus disc.
2021 Music Box BD Frankenstein top; Mad Dreams bottom.
Both films are presented in gorgeous HD on separate dual layer BD discs.  They're both presented in full 1.78:1, with the exception of some vintage material framed in its appropriate AR.  Colors and contrast levels are strong and attractive; real care was put into these images.  This is not quick and gritty filmmaking, and that's been carried over into the post-production and home video encoding.  They're in 1080p; everything's done right here.  Audio options for both films include the choice between stereo and 5.1 mixes, both in lossless DTS-HD with optional English subtitles, plus an isolated score track, also in DTS-HD.
Mutant Land, a short Tippett animated film included on the bonus disc.
A lot of love was poured into this package, including - as I've mentioned - the extras.  Besides the hours of extended and deleted interviews, both docs both have lengthy 'making of' docs.  The Mad Dreams one is longer than the film itself.  You really get the feeling these guys are giving you every conceivably relevant frame of footage they had on their cameras.  The Frankenstein 'making of' is more of an extended interview than the collection of candid behind-the-scenes footage of Mad Dreams', but it's no less interesting for it.  Mad Dreams has an audio commentary with the two directors and Tippett himself.  There are festival Q&As with Joe Dante and Guillermo del Toro, early stop motion test footage and additional featurettes on the music and post-production, even the creation of the documentaries' posters.  Surprisingly, there are interviews with a couple noteworthy gets that didn't even make it into the film: Bernard Rose, director of the 2015 Frankenstein, Paperhouse and Candyman, and one of the few female special make up artists, Ve Neill.  Of course there are stills galleries and individual video clips of every model in Tippett's studio, plus both trailers.  Oh, and two of Tippett's short films are included, with optional audio commentary by Tippett himself.  Seriously, buckle in for days and days worth of extended viewing here.
This is really an enjoyable and fully loaded set.  If you have any interest in special effects at all, this is a must see.  But perhaps keep your hand on the remote, because repetition is an issue.  Not just in the sense that the same film clips will repeat in multiple locations (footage from the 'making of's are also carried over into the bonus disc stuff, etc), but that a lot of these guys make the same points over and over.  Take a drink every time another effects guy says that physical effects are great, CGI is great, but the best is when they're used in conjunction.  You'll be under the table before you even reach disc 3.  But there is so much great stuff here, you'd really be missing out not to dig through this whole trove.  And you can't fault these guys for erring on inclusion; that is the right way to go.  So this set is fully recommended.

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