Tuesday, December 10, 2013

The Hobbit: The Desolation of Smaug Action Figures

It has been quite a while since I wrote about any action figures (which, when I started this blog, was the main focus of what I was rambling on). Indeed, it may not have been since the last release by Bridge Direct of their action figures connected with Peter Jackson's Hobbit movies. This has not been because I haven't been getting any more figures (an Adventure Time Ice King, a smattering of the old Jeff Smith's Bone characters, one or two pieces from The Walking Dead come to mind); I just haven't felt compelled to write about them. But this line touches two of my hobby-horses, Middle-Earth and action figures, and I feel moved by the god within me to speak once more, so hark as I start up my rant, which is no rave.

First of all, right now I am focusing on getting the 6 inch scale figures. This is, of course, because they are compatible with the dozens of Toy Biz LOTR figures that already exist. And, as you can see, the first wave consists of Legolas Greenleaf, Azog, and Radagast the Brown. Of these, I now have Azog and Radagast; they are figures of characters that have never been made yet, and appear in both Hobbit films, and make perfect sense. But another Legolas? There was a Legolas in the last wave, and he didn't even appear in the first movie. I get it: that was Peter Jackson's fault, with his last minute decision to make The Hobbit into three films. But given the elf's already established presence in the line, couldn't his place have been taken by a new character? I, for one, would have loved a Balin, but if you had to have a matinee idol hero type, surely they could have had Bard (another archer appearing in DOS), or failing that at least one of the "heart-throb" dwarves, Fili or Kili? I get it, though. Legolas, Legolas, oh lovely Legolas, swoon swoon swoon. Plus, how economic to simply run it again! Just like the 3 3/4 inch scale Action Pack has only one new figure, Thranduil, in it. Anyone (like me) who have been collecting LOTR action figures for years already has a dozen variants of Legolas, and anyone new to the scene probably already has one from last year. Could we please just move on?

Okay, to focus on what we have been given. The figure of Azog the Defiler is a good sculpt, about seven inches tall, and nicely rendered, from his mass of scars to his kilt of tanned dwarf faces. He comes with his bone mace. The elbow and knee joints are rather stiff, and give the impression that if you tried to force a bend they might break. Neck, shoulder, wrist, and ankle joints are fine; the waist joint appears non-existent. So, posability limited, playability adequate, looks great.

I have written elsewhere in this blog that I love wizard action figures, so I am of course most excited about having Radagast the Brown at last in action figure form. This is a very nice sculpt, the face looks exactly like Sylvester McCoy's make-up (except he doesn't have one eyebrow up and one down). But the asymmetry extends through the rest of the figure: two different sleeves, two different shoes, show the patchwork indifference of the wizard, as does the bird's nest in his hair and the bird poop down his face. Details of hair, beard, and clothes are good, except if you look under his cloak, where it seems he is clothed in a featureless plastic onesie. Comes with his eccentric hat and gnarled staff. As with Azog, elbows and knees a little stiff, and no head turning on this figure, but he has a waist joint. So, once more, posability limited, playability adequate, looks great.

What is it with Bridge Direct? They have this great franchise, and I can't help but feel they've dropped the ball, somehow. This is how one representative described their policy decisions as reported at TheOneRing.net:

“We know many fans would like to see a wider range of characters offered for DOS, however this is the complete line for this film. We are huge fans of LOTR and Hobbit, and would like nothing more than to release figures of every character, but there are many factors that determine how many we can effectively produce.

For example, retailers have specific dates when new product goes into stores. To meet those dates, our development process starts 18 months before figures are in stores. This provides time for sculpting, painting, revisions, studio approval, manufacturing time, shipping, etc.

Therefore, if character appearance is not finalized that far in advance (particularly for digitally generated/animated characters), we cannot make them in time for retail launch. There is also the matter of minimum order quantities in manufacturing: we have to make 10s of thousands of pieces of each character! So if we include 10 characters in the 6″ figure assortment, that’s over 100k pieces of product, minimum. If our retailers can’t commit to buying that many pieces, we have to cut down the number of characters in the assortment to make the order quantity viable.

It was always our goal to offer the widest variety of characters possible in both scales, within the parameters of how much our retailers can sell. Based on sales of product from Unexpected Journey, we found that there was a larger market for the 6″ figures and therefore have been able to offer more characters in that scale.

We know the Tolkien fan base is passionate and appreciate their continued interest in our line. We also hope that the fans can appreciate our passion and commitment to quality, as well as the conditions that make it impossible to offer every character in every scale. Looking forward to the film and a successful sell-through of the figures at retail so we can offer more cool stuff for part 3!”

Anyone could have foreseen the popularity of the 6 inch line, and now hindsight can wonder whether it might not have been better to concentrate on that line and make a more diverse cast that would broaden its appeal. I know I would have bought more--if there had been more to buy. As it is, they seem to fall between two stools with their two scales. I hope they haven't self-destructed on the deal; I would like to buy more Hobbit action figures--more diverse action figures--for more years to come.

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