Tuesday 20 May 2014

Holy Cow !

For me, the LEGO Movie has been a revelation, serving up up one surprise after another. The first surprise was that LEGO should dive into the murky world of Hollywood and get behind a big-budget movie at all; the next surprise was that the movie turned out to be actually rather good, and that was followed by amazement that it did so well at the box office (not far short of half a billion dollars worldwide so far, according to Variety). Then there was surprise that many of the first wave of LEGO Movie tie-in sets were genuinely worth buying. But perhaps the biggest surprise of all was the news that LEGO were planning to release a huge and expensive reproduction of MetalBeard's bonkers Steampunk-inspired Sea Cow galleon from the LEGO Movie. My immediate reaction was to wonder who on earth the target market was supposed to be, but once I'd seen the publicity photographs, learned that the set would contain over 2,700 parts, and started to drool, I realised that the target market was presumably me.... I splashed the cash soon after the set's release, bringing home a copy following a trip to the Sheffield LEGO brand store. I tend to sit on sets for ages before building them (metaphorically, of course - I hate to damage the boxes), but in this case I was compelled to crack on and build it without delay.

I initially intended this review to be just one post, but it soon became clear that there would be too much to squeeze into a single post so I decided to split it - packaging, minifigures, brick-built characters and accessory models in this instalment, and the Sea Cow herself next time. My review may contain spoilers, so if you've not seen the LEGO Movie yet then you might want to consider watching it before reading this....

The box is big and heavy - the same width and height as the massive Sydney Opera House box but not as deep. The front of the box (above - click to enlarge) carries the standard LEGO Movie branding and features an exciting action shot of the Sea Cow model pitching on a stormy sea with all the other components of the set (characters and models) posed on and around it. There's also a triangular boxout in the bottom right corner which highlights the six minifigures and brick-built characters contained within the set, and text reminding us that "The ship does not float".... The back of the box (below) shows the Sea Cow from behind; there's also a small boxout revealing that the completed Sea Cow model is 58 cm long and 61 cm high, and a series of pictures highlighting a selection of the set's play features.

Having taken a close look at the box it was time to dive in and inspect the contents, so I cut the three tape seals which keep the end flap closed and peered inside. The box contains a whopping 17 bags of elements; all but one of the bags is printed with a number between 1 and 9, and most of the bags contain at least one smaller bag of elements. In addition to all the bags of parts there are five large dark brown hull pieces floating around loose inside the box. There's only one instruction booklet, but it's huge, sealed in a bag with a cardboard backing to keep it flat and neat. There's a single DSS (below); it's fairly small but still manages to accommodate 23 stickers.

The instruction booklet (cover below) is a veritable brick; not since building Set 10179 Ultimate Collector's Millennium Falcon and Set 10188 Death Star do I recall an instruction booklet of such heft. It's close to A4 sized, and contains 292 pages from cover to cover. The booklet uses a similar style of binding to the Ghostbusters 30th Anniversary set that I recently reviewed over at Brickset, and I'm sorry to report that I experienced exactly the same problem with it as I did with the Ghostbusters booklet, namely pages falling out after minimal use. As a collector as well as a builder, instruction booklets falling to pieces after minimal use is unacceptable to me; I'll be informing LEGO Customer Service, and if anyone else is similarly affected then I'd urge you to do the same so that LEGO realise there's a potential issue with their new binding method.

The build is broken into nine stages, and the numbering on the bags of parts shows which stage the contents are needed for. The first 3 pages of the instruction booklet (example page below - click to enlarge) show what you'll be building at each stage and also indicate how many bags of parts there are for each stage - the first time I've noticed this in an instruction booklet. A total of 282 pages are dedicated to the building instructions themselves, with the rest of the booklet taken up by a 4-page inventory of parts, a couple of pages of advertising for other LEGO Movie sets and the LEGO Movie video game, and the customary call on the back cover for feedback via an online LEGO survey.

As you might expect with a recently-released set of this size there's a generous selection of relatively uncommon parts included, although outside of the minifigures there are only a few actually unique to the set - a reddish brown 1 x 12 x 3 raised arch, a flat silver curved 2 x 1 slope with no studs, and a pearl gold unprinted minifigure head. I'll flag some of the other less common parts as we go along.

There's only a single bag numbered with a '1', and it contains the parts needed to build Emmet, Wyldstyle, Queasy Kitty and MetalBeard. The version of Emmet in this set has only previously appeared in polybag Set 30280 The Piece of Resistance, although that having been said, the torso, legs and hair are common to all versions of Emmet and this version only differs from most others by virtue of his front and back-printed facial expressions which you can see in the pictures below. Emmet comes complete with a light bley neck bracket, to which his Piece of Resistance attaches; I've photographed him without his neck bracket or Piece of Resistance in the second picture below so his torso backprint is visible.

The set includes Wyldstyle with her hood down (below); this variant has appeared in a total of three sets to date including this one.

Queasy Kitty is unique to this set and contains a whole bunch of uncommon elements, some of which have never previously appeared elsewhere. The sand green 1 x 3 brick with the printed queasy cat face pattern is predictably unique to this set, as is the sand green 1 x 3 arch, the sand green unicorn horn, the white tail with yellowish green printing on the sides, and the yellowish green 1 x 1 and 1 x 3 plates. While not unique to the set, the yellowish green 1 x 1 round plate, the olive green 1 x 1 plate, and the sand green 1 x 3 plate have only previously featured in 2, 3 and 5 sets respectively. Good luck trying to build Queasy Kitty out of your existing elements, therefore, or even trying to source the parts from Bricklink....

MetalBeard (below) is also a veritable treat for afficionados of uncommon elements, being made up of a host of new and/or hard to find parts. These include a few dark brown 1 x 2 plates, a light bley 1 x 1 tile with keyhole pattern, MetalBeard's pearl dark grey minifig head holder, and a couple of dark orange 18 degree 2 x 1 x 2/3 slopes with 4 Slots, all of which have only appeared in one other set to date.  In addition to these, there are further elements which have only previously appeared in a handful of sets at most. These include a dark bley grappling hook, a couple of dark orange 45 degree 2 x 1 slopes, reddish brown 1 x 1 bricks with studs on two sides, reddish brown left and right 3 x 2 wedge plates, some of the new modified 1 x 2 plates with ball/receptable, and a flat silver 10L propeller blade used for MetalBeard's sword, to mention just a few. To describe MetalBeard as utterly bizarre would be a gross understatement, but it'll have to do in the absence of anything better; my personal highlight is the brick-built shark attached to his right wrist ! This version of MetalBeard is probably a little more than half the height of the more detailed version to be found in Set 70807 MetalBeard's Duel, although there are a number of common features such as his head, the dark bley parrot, and the treasure chest affixed to his torso complete with 1 x 1 tile printed with a keyhole pattern.

There are two bags numbered with a '2'. These contain the parts needed to build Benny and Vitruvius plus Emmet's double decker couch and a couple of Micro Managers. As a very long-time fan of LEGO's Classic Space sets of the late 1970's and early 1980's I was looking forward to getting my hands on Benny and you can see him below. Benny is currently unique to this set, although he'll be appearing in some form in Set 70816 Benny's Spaceship, Spaceship, SPACESHIP! which is starting to appear at retail even as I type this. The character of Benny is of course based upon the spaceman minifigures which accompanied LEGO's Classic Space sets of the late 70's and 80's; Broken chin straps on their helmets and faded torso prints were a common problem back in the day, and LEGO have cleverly simulated these defects in Benny's design, thus guaranteeing to win the hearts of anyone who owned any of those original Classic Space sets. Benny's helmet, torso and reversible headprint have yet to appear elsewhere, although his airtanks are the same as those which used to grace the Spacemen of old.

Vitruvius has only previously appeared in Set 70809 Lord Business' Evil Lair, another LEGO Movie offering that I reviewed over at Brickset; a different version of the minifigure will apparently accompany the upcoming Blu-Ray release of The LEGO Movie in some geographies. I commented in my Brickset review that Vitruvius looks like "an old hippy in a tie-dye T-shirt and jeans wearing a white bathrobe" and I still think that's pretty much spot on. Those ghostly eyes still give me the creeps, although I do love his sparkly cloak which is thus far unique to Vitruvius.

Once the minifigures and brick-built characters have been assembled it's time to get to work on Emmet's double decker couch. It's a pretty safe bet that if you haven't seen the movie you'll be scratching your head at this point wondering what the hell a double decker couch is doing in this set, but then if you haven't seen the movie then you'll probably be scratching your head at pretty much everything else as well I guess.... The couch (below - click to enlarge) is a fairly simple build; it utilises a couple of reddish brown 7 x 3 ladders in its construction, previously only available in three sets, but otherwise avoids the use of any particularly uncommon parts. I did wonder whether I'd built it wrong as once completed it's not possible to position the ladders fully vertically, but seemingly not.

There are two Micro Managers included with the set, and you can see them below (click picture to enlarge). I've photographed the bigger one on a display stand (not included in the set) as it can't be posed upright otherwise. They look decidedly menacing despite being in essence just a couple of black boxes; this is in large part down to their articulated forward-facing arms, which in the case of the larger Micro Manager in particular look pretty lethal. The smaller Micro Manager just about accommodates a black 10 x 10 string net; this is fired forwards by a simple mechanism consisting of a Technic axle protruding from the rear which you push vigorously to launch the net. The larger Micro Manager features retractable side panels, attached to which are a pair of flick-fire missiles, and a radar dish which can be rotated upwards and backwards.

With all the minifigures, brick-built characters and accessory models completed, only the Sea Cow remains. I'll review the Sea Cow in my next posting, as well as providing my overall verdict on the set, so farewell until then.

                                                                                               Sea Cow review, Part 2 --->

Tuesday 6 May 2014

ANDER CONstruction

Regular readers will know of my longstanding love of all things Gerry Anderson. Gerry, who passed away in 2012, was a UK-born producer, writer and director of TV and film, and was the driving force behind a number of beloved TV series such as Thunderbirds, Captain Scarlet, Joe 90, Stingray and Space 1999. These formed the backdrop to my childhood, and my love for them has endured into adulthood.

Given this, I was delighted to learn last year that in 2014 we'd be getting ANDERCON, billed as the first ever official Gerry Anderson event which would be "dedicated to celebrating the worlds and characters created by the legendary television producer". Better still, I subsequently discovered that the Brickish Association's resident chief Anderson acolyte Gary Davis (Bricks for Brains) had secured space at the event for a LEGO display, and I therefore quickly signed up as an attendee.

In the months that followed it became evident that the ANDERCON organisers had underestimated the level of exhibitor interest in the event. The Brickish display space allocation was cut and then cut again as the organisers, overwhelmed by offers of interesting Anderson-related memorabilia, reduced our display space so as to accommodate more exhibits. As a consequence, a number of Brickish members including myself who had signed up as exhibitors were apologetically informed by Gary that there simply wouldn't be room for our creations. I have to admit that I was secretly quite relieved that my planned exhibit would have to be shelved, for 2014 at least; it was becoming clear that I had probably bitten off more than I could chew with my plans for the event and it would have been a serious race against time to get my exhibit finished, so I was almost certainly saved from a world of pain.... While I was no longer going to be an exhibitor, Gary was still looking for people to help supervise the Brickish display so I was happy to volunteer for that at least.

Brickish Display at Andercon (c) Gary Davis
ANDERCON 2014 took place on Easter weekend (19th and 20th April) in a hotel conference centre on the outskirts of London's Heathrow Airport. This was a fitting event location given that the acclaimed first ever episode of Thunderbirds (Trapped in the Sky) involved the audacious rescue of the crew and passengers of the stricken hypersonic Fireflash airliner at the fictional London Airport which was clearly based on Heathrow. On arrival at the event venue it was immediately evident that the level of exhibitor enthusiasm for the event was matched by that of the general public; the event was totally sold out, and large numbers of people were queuing to get in.

The Brickish display was a mixture of the old and the new. Some of the models, such as Gary's Thunderbird 2 and Thunderbird 3, and Andrew Walker's FAB 1 Rolls Royce, I've featured previously on Gimme LEGO. Others such as Gary's Thunderbird 1 (picture above - click to enlarge) and Naomi Farr's Spectrum Hovercraft (picture below) are more recently completed and I hadn't seen them before. Thunderbird 1 stands at just under 1.3 metres tall and is made up of an estimated 10,000 pieces.

Pretty much every square inch of the limited Brickish display space was filled so as to squeeze in as many models as possible; the display spanned a variety of Gerry Anderson productions, including Thunderbirds, Stingray, Captain Scarlet, Terrahawks and Space 1999, and featured contributions from a number of different builders - Gary, Naomi and Andrew as above, plus Stuart Crawshaw, Andrew Danielli, Tim Goddard and Warren Elsmore. The icing on the cake was an excellent mosaic of Gerry Anderson himself (picture below - click to enlarge), another of Gary's creations.

As a long-time fan of the likes of Thunderbirds, Captain Scarlet and Space 1999, my interest in ANDERCON extended beyond the Brickish display. Non-LEGO exhibits including props, costumes and models from the original productions plus a large number of spectacular replicas made by some seriously dedicated modellers made up the majority of the displays, and I spent a blissful couple of hours wandering around and taking in the sights. You can see a selection of my favourites below (click on pictures to enlarge them); those with an aversion to anything non-LEGO should look away for a minute, but hopefully at least some of you will appreciate the nostalgic diversion.

As well as the static displays there were a number of other attractions over the course of the weekend. These included presentations and screenings of archive material and never-before-seen HD transfers of classic episodes of Gerry Anderson productions on the main stage and in the cinema, opportunities to buy merchandise from a variety of traders, and the presence of a numerous special guests - voice actors, writers, modelmakers and others - who had worked on Anderson productions over the years. The event layout below (click to enlarge) hopefully provides a taste of the variety of activities on offer.

Prior to my departure on the Sunday I was delighted to briefly chat to Jamie Anderson, Gerry's son. I'd previously corresponded with him in the context of his Kickstarter Campaign which successfully raised funds to continue his father's work on a new science fiction story, Gemini Force One, and it was nice to be able to introduce myself and let him know how much I'd enjoyed ANDERCON.

Given the success of the event, it seems likely that ANDERCON will return in 2015 in a larger venue; that'll hopefully mean more display space for Brickish next year, so I guess I'd better get building if I want to get my model finished in time....