Wednesday 28 March 2012


After gorging myself on a diet of licensed sets (particularly Star Wars), with their inflated prices and highly specialised parts, there's something very satisfying about picking up and building a Creator set. Maybe it's the more generic parts that Creator sets contain, or perhaps the fact that Creator sets typically contain instructions for building three models rather than just the one, or possibly even just the lack of fuss and hype, but building Creator sets takes me back to my youth

Nostalgia aside, I think that Creator sets have a tendency to be underrated, presumably slipping under the radar in the face of all the noise and advertising that comes with the licensed sets. It's a shame, because there have been some absolute cracking Creator sets over the past few years. with buildings such as Set 4954 Model Town House (below) and Set 5891 Apple Tree House ranking among my personal favourites.

The Creator theme has also featured some superb vehicles, including Set 5892 Sonic Boom which is still currently available, and Set 4896 Roaring Roadsters (below). Thinking about it, we've probably had at least one or two excellent Creator vehicles every year for the past 5 or 6 years, and I think it's telling that many of those sets can still be obtained relatively cheaply and easily from eBay - like I said, underrated and under-appreciated....
If you look back at the Creator line up down the years, one recurring focus is animal sets, with dinosaurs seemingly being a particular inspiration for the Creator design team. King of the dinosaur sets was probably Set 4958 Monster Dino (below), a 792-piece beast boasting Power Functions which enabled it to move its arms and mouth, not to mention a sound brick to make it roar. We've also had other interesting reptilian sets such as 2010's Ferocious Creatures, 2008's Stegosaurus, Prehistoric Power from 2006, and 2009's Fiery Legend to name just a few.

Creator Set 6914 T-Rex continues this lineage, and was one of the 2012 sets I was most looking forward to. I was surprised to briefly find it at 30% off on Amazon's UK site so soon after release, and quickly snapped up a copy before the price went back up again.

The box is typical Creator fare, with the primary model taking up most of the space on the front (above - click on pictures to enlarge) while the primary, secondary and tertiary models get equal billing on the back (below). There's also a handy parts inventory on one side of the box so you can see what you're getting before you buy.

The set comes with two instruction manuals (below), one for the primary model and the second for the other two; every year I half expect LEGO to dispense with paper instructions for the subsidiary models and instead provide a link to download them from the internet, similar to some of the Technic sets, but thankfully this isn't the case yet.

In addition to the building instructions themselves, the instruction booklets contain advertising for some of the other 2012 Creator sets and an inventory of parts.

I have to confess that I generally dive straight into the main model and often don't get round to constructing the alternative builds in these 3-in-1 sets. Not this time, however - I was determined to take a look at all three of them 'in the flesh' for once. I therefore started out by building the brachiosaurus. What immediately struck me is the sheer number of articulation points in the finished model, which of course allows it to be posed in multiple positions. You can see it in both the "all fours" pose and also the "rearing up on hind legs" position in the pictures below. I felt that the brachiosaurus looked decidedly average in the official box art and publicity shots, and those pictures don't lie - I gave it all of 24 hours sitting on my desk before I moved on to the next model, so it's clearly not exactly a winner in the eye candy stakes...

After 5-10 minutes spent dissembling the brachiosaurus, I was ready to get started on the pterodactyl. On the basis of the box art I wasn't particularly looking forward to building this one - to be frank, it looks absolutely rubbish in the pictures. The reality ? Thankfully not quite so bad. Once again, the liberal use of hinges and Technic ball and socket joints allow a fair range of movement. The pterodactyl can open its mouth, move its wings, flex and extend its tail, and retract its legs for flight. Tellingly, it stayed built for a few days prior to dissassembly, swooping over my modulars and terrorising my minifigures. Hardly an oil painting, but better than I expected.

And so on to the main event - T-Rex himself. I'll come clean straightaway - I think he looks excellent, with the highlight being his fierce-looking head and huge teeth. The mouth opens and the limbs can be positioned in such a way as to enable some seriously aggressive poses. This guy will stay built and on display for a while yet I think - an excellent rendition, particularly given the relatively small piece count.

My only real criticism is the colour scheme; while I'm not sure anybody REALLY knows what colour T-Rex was in life, I suspect it wasn't red and dark red, otherwise the tyrant lizard would have stuck out like a sore thumb and died of starvation within days.... No doubt those planning to use T-Rex as a parts pack will be thankful for the selection of dark red pieces, but I'd personally rather he'd been green & dark green, or even tan & dark tan.

Creator Set 6914 T-Rex contains 191 pieces and retails at £12.99 / $17.99. While it's nice to have instructions for three models in one set, the alternate builds are really nothing to write home about, and T-Rex himself is the undoubted star of the show; on the basis of T-Rex alone, if you or someone close to you is a fan of dinosaurs then you really can't go far wrong with this one. At the time of writing, UK-based readers can click here to pick the set up from Amazon for about a quid off RRP and free postage; those based in the US can buy T-Rex here, although you'll only save a few cents off the RRP.

Wednesday 21 March 2012

Sneak Peek part 2 : Star Wars Miniland

OK, so when we last met I was waxing lyrical about the new hotel at LEGOLAND Windsor, which I visited while attending a preview of the Star Wars Miniland Experience. If you missed my account then you can read all about it here.

Anyway, after exploring the hotel and filling our faces with refreshments courtesy of LEGOLAND, it was time for the main event - our tour of the Star Wars exhibit. It was a pleasant 10-15 minute walk from the back entrance of the hotel to the old LEGOLAND Creation Center which now hosts the Star Wars Miniland Experience. The outside of the building has been suitably revamped as you can see below; please note that you can enlarge all the pictures by clicking on them.

If you pause before entering the Star Wars exhibit and look to your left you can see the LEGOLAND hotel peeking out from down below.

While the models on display in the Star Wars exhibit are the same as those at LEGOLAND California and elsewhere, one aspect of the UK experience is unique - it's indoors. Cynics might argue that this decision was likely driven by our miserable UK weather as much as anything, although ironically enough it was pleasant and sunny on preview day.

I don't mind admitting that I was quite excited as I waited to go in, and after a few minutes of loitering around the entrance we were ushered inside... The first thing that struck me was the noise. A loud female voice blares out over the speakers informing visitors about security breaches, there are alarms going off, the sound of blasters and explosions can be heard, and of course the dramatic strains of the Star Wars soundtrack provide a suitable backdrop. When coupled with the low lighting, punctuated by bright flashes, the overall effect is certainly dramatic and atmospheric, albeit also a bit disorienting.

The exhibit is basically split into seven distinct zones linked by walkways; it's very linear, with no way of doubling back to revisit previous areas via a different path - you need to go back the way you came if you want to do that, against the flow of people moving through the exhibit. While it's clearly the most efficient way of getting people through quickly and efficiently, you might end up feeling like you've been whisked through and missed half of it.

Surprisingly, the first zone you arrive at is Christophsis, where the Clone Army of the Republic is battling against Separatist forces. It's surprising because it's out of sequence - the battle apparently takes place sometime between Star Wars Episodes 2 and 3. It's by some margin the smallest part of the display, however, so perhaps it was just a matter of using the available space most efficiently. The Christophsis display (below) consists of three Republic gun emplacements seemingly about to be overrun by a droid army backed up by blue and grey AATs.

Further along is the next zone, an Episode I diorama based around the Battle of Naboo. This contains a sizeable starfighter hangar, Theed Palace, and an impressive battle scene which runs for perhaps 6 or 7 metres alongside the walkway. The hanger features internal lighting and a starfighter which rises, rotates and moves towards the hanger entrance prior to returning to its starting position. The huge and impressive Theed Palace model is lit from inside. The battle scene is suitably chaotic, with a couple of huge MTT's, some tan AATs and lots of Battle Droids and Droidekas facing off against a sizeable Gungan Army including a couple of Fambaas carrying deflector shield generators. Excellent, although hard to photograph well....

The next zone represents Episode II and Geonosis, consisting of two separate scenes - the execution arena and a larger battle scene. The arena scene features an impressively detailed section of wall at the back, Padme, Obi-Wan and Anakin figures, and three beasts including a suitably fearsome acklay and a nexu which scurries backwards and forwards on the arena floor. 

The Geonosis battle scene features a variety of machines as well as clone troopers and a sprinkling of Jedi fighting hand to hand against battle droids and super battle droids. On the Republic side there are a couple of AT-TE's, an AT-OT and a couple of gunships, while the Separatists are supported by OM-9 homing spider droids and hailfire droids.

After Geonosis it's on to the next zone -  Kashyyyk and Mustafar - for a couple of Episode III scenes. According to the LEGOLAND description, "The Battle of Kashyyyk depicts the Droid Army's amphibious assault on the home planet of Chewbacca and the Wookiees". The centrepiece is an enormous and spectacular Clone Turbo Tank made of over 10,000 bricks. There are also a couple of AT-AP's and other craft such as droid gunships, with spider droids and Wookiees fighting at ground level.

The Mustafar scene predictably chronicles the lightsaber duel between Obi-Wan and Anakin amid the lava. Amidala's Nubian Royal Starship sits on a landing pad overlooking the battle; I have to confess I was disappointed that LEGOLAND didn't push the boat out and get the pieces for this ship chromed as it looks distinctly ordinary in plain old light bley....

In the next zone is the first of the scenes from the original trilogy - a Tatooine diorama mostly based around Mos Eisley Spaceport. This scene is dominated by an absolutely humungous model of the Millennium Falcon - if you thought that the retail Ultimate Collector Series version of this ship was big then you ain't seen nothing yet... Despite its prodigious bulk, the Falcon still manages to take off from Docking Bay 94 and then land again every few minutes - some feat of engineering, that, as it must weigh a ton.

Apart from the Falcon there's a lot of other really neat stuff to see in this scene; I love the Cantina Bar, complete with band and assorted clientelle. There are also some Sandpeople and their bantha, a couple of dewbacks, landspeeders, and various Tatooine-styled buildings. Another cool feature is the perspex viewing bubble in the middle of the display, which enables kids to get a close-up view of the scene.

After Tatooine we move on to Episode V and perhaps my favourite scene of the whole Star Wars Miniland Experience - a recreation of the Battle of Hoth, where the Rebel base and main power generator are under attack from an Imperial Attack Force. The Rebel base features a hangar complete with an X-Wing Fighter and tauntauns, a control room and a medical centre.

In addition to the Rebel structures there are also a number of beautifully-realised vehicles including AT-ATs, Snowspeeders and AT-STs. The models are arranged against a painted backdrop to confer a feeling of depth, and the whole thing looks fantastic. There's even a Wampa cave....

The final zone is Endor, the centerpiece of which is a skillfully lit forest landing platform upon which sits a huge Imperial Shuttle - I just love the lighting in this scene.

Other elements of the Endor display include the huge shield generator dish and supporting structure, and the bunker which provides the 'back door' into the complex. It's at the entrance ot the bunker that Miniland-scale figures of Leia, Han Solo, Artoo and Threepio battle alongside Ewoks against Imperial troops.

There's an Ewok village up in the trees, and a battle rages on the ground below; if you look closely you'll see that Chewbacca has captured an AT-ST, while elsewhere the Ewoks attack the Imperials with their primitive weapons. The scene is animated - a couple of speeder bikes zoom around a large tree trunk, while logs swing down to try and crush an unsuspecting AT-ST...

A nice and unexpected touch was the presence of people dressed up as characters from the Star Wars films - a particularly imposing and quite convincing Darth Vader figure menaced visitors with his lightsaber, and Stormtroopers and Obi-Wan Kenobi amongst others also made an appearance. I'm not sure if this was just for the benefit of those attending the preview, or whether they'll also be in attendance when the exhibit opens to the public - hopefully the latter.

Just to put the icing on the cake, on exiting Star Wars miniland you walk into a well-stocked shop containing a large range of LEGO Star Wars sets and gear, not to mention a brick-built Vader and Threepio.

In summary, the new Star Wars Miniland Experience is a serious treat for any Star Wars fan, and obviously even better if you love LEGO as well. There are some superb models on display, with the Clone Turbo Tank, the collossal Millennium Falcon, and the AT-AT just three of my favourtes. In addition, it's worth mentioning that some serious effort has been expended in trying to make it a true experience rather than just a collection of models, with carefully thought out displays full of interesting and/or amusing touches, and complemented by sound and lighting effects, not to mention a stirring soundtrack.

Any room for improvement ? Well, I can fully understand the reasons for implementing a strictly linear route through the exhibit, but it's a bit restricting from my perspective - I'd prefer multiple paths round the various scenes so that they can be viewed from different angles and maybe even in a different order. I thought the sound effects were probably too loud, although they say that if it's too loud then you're too old, so make of that what you will.... I also thought that some of the scenes were too dimly lit - much of the detail gets completely lost in the gloom, which is a real shame due to the wealth of detail on show. A few iconic locations such the the Death Star, Jabba's Palace and Cloud City were sadly missing, as were a few key characters such as Jabba the Hutt and Boba Fett, although I guess they had to draw the line somewhere. But no Death Star, though ? No Boba Fett ? For shame ! Finally, I was dismayed and surprised to see a thick layer of dust on the models at such an early stage; I wouldn't fancy dusting that lot, but someone's going to have to bite the bullet and clean the models regularly otherwise they'll look very shabby before long.

Overall, I think the exhibit is superb and well worth a visit. Encouragingly, I've been told by folks who have been back again since the official opening that some of the lighting issues have already been fixed - great that LEGOLAND have been paying attention to feedback provided by preview attendees. I'll certainly be back there at some point in the future for another look.

If you're hungry for more pictures and opinions on the Star Wars Miniland Experience you can find them over at Brickset and FBTB amongst others. Also, Brickset member flump6523 has posted some pretty respectable HD video of each of the zones which you can find here - thanks, James ! Anyway, that's more than enough from me for another week, so bye bye for now.

<-- Sneak Peek part 1 - LEGOLAND Hotel