Tuesday, October 23, 2012

'The Hobbit" Action Figures

For a couple of years now I have been following the development of Peter Jackson's cinematic production of J. R. R. Tolkien's The Hobbit. The comments I have made about it have been few and far between, mostly because what has been revealed about the movies was adequately covered by TheOneRing.Net, but also because I didn't want to obsess too much over what, after all, remains a work in progress. The direction passed from Guillermo del Toro to Peter Jackson; the movies went from two to three in number; the buzz over added characters and content has hummed along with the excitement of little kids before Christmas, stretched out over an almost intolerable length of time. But in the final analysis the proof of this pudding will be in the eating.

But with the month of October the first wave of merchandising and movie tie-ins have finally hit the stores, and even quite ordinary people are starting to ask me, "Hey, did you know that Peter Jackson guy is making another Hobbit movie?" I already have a copy of the book with a picture from the first movie on it, and last week a got a sixteen month calendar featuring most of the major characters. The girl at Hastings, where I bought my first releases in the six inch action figure line-up, asked me if I had collected them all, and I had to answer, "I'm working on it." At $16.95 a pop it is not easy, and I had to get all five figures in two batches, but now that I have them I have a few things to say about them.

The company that makes them is called Bridge Direct; their main products before now have been Justin Bieber dolls and Annoying Orange figures. Figures released (so far) in six inch scale are Bilbo Baggins, Gandalf the Grey, Thorin Oakenshield, Legolas Greenleaf (imported from LOTR, on the assumption he would be there with his father the Elf King in Mirkwood), and Tauriel, a female Elf character invented for the movies. The scale of the action figures from The Hobbit is compatible with the old The Lord of the Rings action figures by Toy Biz, and I appreciate that, but there are still differences apparent between them when set together that seem odd to the eyes of a niggler like myself.

I think it comes down mainly to the details of the sculpt. While the Toy Biz figures were produced (as I understand it) by a special scan of actual actors in costume, allowing for incredible details and amazing likenesses of characters, the Bridge Direct figures appear to be a smoother sculpt, less detail, a little blander. The faces are close approximations rather than exact replicas of the actors. The hands seem clumsy and simple. The clothes have less texture or character. If I had to guess, I would say Bridge Direct used actual human artists to make their prototypes--talented and dedicated artisans, no doubt, the figures are far from sloppy or clumsy--but a shade less satisfactory when put next to the old line.

I also have to mention the weapons and accessories. While the swords and what-not supplied by Toy Biz for their figures were often bendy and flexible, making for accessories that sometimes came out looking like a wavy stick of chewing gum, the swords, arrows, bows, and staff made by Bridge Direct are rather brittle, and seem likely to break easily if they get the sort of play you could expect from action/adventure toys. I wish some sort of compromise construction could be developed for the future: flexible yet firm, and not likely to snap when you just put them in the figure's hand. The bows of Legolas and Tauriel do not include strings.

As much as I have criticized them, I am, on the whole, pleased with the line so far, and look forward to getting more, less familiar characters (such as Radagast the Brown) as the movie draws closer and then passes its release date. I even have a few of the three-and-three-quarters scale figures: Grinnah the Goblin, and Balin and Dwalin. Balin has always been one of my favorite characters in the book, and so I had to have him: I hope all thirteen Dwarves get a figure in the six inch scale!

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