Friday, April 13, 2012

Official line: What might have been, and what may yet be

Okay, I've gone through all of the sets now (finally) from wave 1 of the Lord of the Rings sets. While I'm not completely thrilled by the existence of a license at all, I'll leave that for a separate editorial. Given the existence of a license, there are good and bad things about the line as we've seen it.

First off, this first wave of sets goes through the end of the Two Towers, with the battle of Helm's Deep and the pass of Cirith Ungol. That seems like a very odd choice to me. It's like they were following along with the 1978 Ralph Bakshi animated movie, rather than the 2001, 2002, 2003 Peter Jackson films. If I were to design a line for LEGO, I would have released it in three waves, one for each volume. So here are my suggestions for what they should have had for official sets (IMO, of course). While it would be easy to ask for sets of every possible location, will every possible character, I'm trying to keep in mind some of LEGO's requirements for a line - a range of price points, relatively simple construction, emphasis on 'conflict' (sigh on this last one).

One other note of concern with wave 1 is the total lack of female characters. Not that there are many in Tolkien, but Peter Jackson made a point of expanding the role of Arwen to work against just this problem. If wave 1 goes through the Two Towers, we should already have Arwen, Galadriel and Eowyn (surely we'll get an Eowyn in some upcoming Battle of the Pelannor Fields set).

Fellowship of the Ring - Following through the book there are several key locations for action - the Shire, the Old Forest/Barrow Downs (okay, this is obviously out), Bree, the wilderness between Bree and Rivendell, Rivendell, Moria, Lorien, and the River Anduin/Amon Hen.
ShireWe've already got one from the Shire in the Gandalf Arrives set. I do think Bag End would be a nice set, but it might make more sense to have a set for that in the first wave of Hobbit sets, so if I were designing sets I'd put that aside. The only other Shire thing I might expect would be something like "Nazgul Pursuit" - a cheap set with a hobbit or two, some trees (or maybe the Buckleberry Ferry), and a Nazgul with his horse. This would be a pretty popular set - I know I'd buy 9 of these.
Bree - Here I think they missed an opportunity. A good sized set for the Inn of the Prancing Pony would be hugely popular with castle fans - think something like the Medieval Marketplace set. You could limit the figs to keep price down, with a minimum of one of the Hobbits, Strider, maybe Butterbur, and a Nazgul (remember, conflict is key).
Wilderness - They pretty much got it with the Weathertop set. I suppose the flight to the ford might be there, especially to introduce an Arwen fig, but there's no real build potential.
Rivendell - As much as I'd love a big elvish settlement, there's just no action. Rivendell is all about exposition, so would not have the action needed for a set. Of course, if there were a set in Rivendell it would give the opportunity for Elrond and Arwen figs (others as well, but those are the most important missing characters that were there).
Moria - This is the other real missed opportunity I see in LEGO releasing one wave that covers FotR and the TT. There are main actions in Moria, and I think each of them would be a great set- one for the Doors of Durin, one for the Chamber of Mazarbul, and one for the Bridge of Khazad-Dum.
Lorien - Again, I'd love to get something here, including yellow foliage, and also the key Galadriel fig, but there's not much build potential. Yes, you could do a set along the lines of the old Dark Forest Fortress set, but I doubt it. The one thing I could really see as a set is Galadriel's swan boat, which set could also include a canoe with a couple of members of the company of the Ring.
River Anduin/Amon Hen Aside from maybe the set just mentioned, I don't really see any potential here. Yes, a full scale Argonath would be great, but they'd never do it. Also, I don't see much potential in Amon Hen. With the Weathertop set we already get something similar - some ruins, a couple of our heroes, and some enemies. And the Two Towers sets are already going to be Uruk/orc heavy.
My sets Okay, so for wave one I would suggest a run of six sets, with a variety of price points. I'd make Moria the focus, in much the same way that Helm's Deep is the focus of the existing line (3 sets if you count the Orc Forge set):
Gandalf Arrives - pretty much the existing set
Inn of the Prancing Pony - relatively large set with some advanced construction for the inn, Strider, some hobbit (maybe Sam), Butterbur and a Nazgul.
Doors of Durin - The doors in cliff, with some interior, a couple of members of the company, tentacled monster.
Chamber of Mazarbul - Essentially the existing set.
Bridge of Khazad Dum - Gandalf and the Balrog - sort of a mecha construction, maybe with some Bionicle techniques.
Some additional small set - either a Nazgul pursuit set (hobbit, Nazgul, horse, minor setting construction), or Galadriel's boat (Galadriel, 2 members of the company, swan boat, canoe)

The Two Towers - Again, an analysis starts with a walk through the major settings in the book. The action, of course, breaks down between east and west. In the east, Frodo and Sam go through the Emyn Muil, the Dead Marshes, past the Black Gate, down through Ithilien, via Hennuth Annun (Faramir's stronghold), past Minis Ithil, and into the pass of Cirith Ungol. Unfortunately there's not a lot of build potential here. It's mostly a bunch of rocks, or else things that are too massive to make in a realistic set. The Shelob set is a pretty obvious one, as it allows for the construction of a creature, which is always good. The other good possibility along these lines would be an oliphant. In the west the action takes us across a lot of grassy plains, into the forest of Fangorn, down to Meduseld, over to Helm's Deep, and up to Orthanc.
Plains of Rohan - No build potential here, maybe an army builder set for Eomer and his men
Fangorn - A real missed opportunity here so far to make a Treebeard set.
Edoras - It would be cool to have a set of Meduseld, but probably not realistic. If they did have this set it would give the opportunity to include Eowyn in a dress (we'll surely get her in armor later)
Helm's Deep - This is obviously the center point for the line, as they've already made two great sets.
Orthanc - The whole fortress is unrealistic as a set, but I guess the Orc Forge set is supposed to be there. I really think they should have included Saruman.
My sets - Again, I'd suggest six sets, two from the east and four from the west:
Oliphant Ambush - Brick-built creature for the oliphant, Sam, Faramir, 2 Haradrim
Shelob's Lair - Pretty much the existing set
Treebeard - Brick built creature for Treebeard, Merry and Pippin
Helm's Deep - Pretty much the two existing sets
Orthanc - The Orc Forge set, but replace one of the figs with Saruman

Return of the King - In the east we pretty much get a long slog through Mordor and then the Cracks of Doom. In the west all of the action is around Minas Tirith, and then the last stand at the Black Gate.
Mordor - Really the only good point for a set here is the Cracks of Doom. There's just not a lot of build potential for all else. If they wanted to do another brick-built creature, there could be a set for a giant eagle, but I doubt they'd do that.
Minas Tirith - I predict that there will basically be a series of interlocking sets showing different aspects, all centered around the Battle of the Pellanor Fields.
My sets - I'll suggest a run of five sets, but in actuality I predict that there will be an additional set to make an oliphant (and include Legolas), since they didn't do so already for their Two Towers sets.
Cracks of Doom - Frodo, Sam, Gollum, Ring, rocks and fire
Minas Tirith Gate - with Grond
Minas Tirith Siege - section of wall, a catapult
Minas Tirith Battle - section of wall, a ballista
-These three sets would fit together to make a larger overall scene. The various figures of Aragorn, Legolas, Gimli, Gandalf, Faramir, Pippin, Eomer and a couple of Gondor and Rohan soldiers would be evenly distributed, as would some orcs
Witch King Attack - The build here would be a brick-built monster of the Fell Beast. Figs would be Eowyn, Merry, Theoden and the Witch King.

So those are my suggestions. If the line continued past three runs there are a bunch of other locations, plus other characters to include. The Star Wars line has shown that fans will be excited about all kinds of minor figures, so if the Tolkien line were similarly popular we'd get all of those others. I could also imagine a series of microscale sets like Minas Tirth, Orthanc, Barad Dur, the Black Gate, etc.

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