Thursday, May 31, 2012

Massive Helm's Deep

Via Lord of the Brick and Eurobricks, you simply have to check out this amazing Helm's Deep by a South Korean builder, I think named Tommy. Be sure to follow the link to his page for lots of close-ups, action shots, WIP shots, features, etc.

See this picture for scale:

Tuesday, May 29, 2012

Why I didn't want an official line

I've hinted at this before, but I wanted to put down a few thoughts on a heretical topic: why I never wanted an official Tolkien line. For many years in various forums, people would always call for LEGO to release an official Tolkien theme. I always argued against it. Some reasons:

Fleshies - Okay, this is probably minor, but I'm not a fan of the flesh-toned figs. I realize that this is a losing battle, but some years ago LEGO decided that all figs from licensed themes would be flesh-toned. I'm old school and prefer yellow figs.

Price point - Licensed themes are always more expensive.

Castle - As we've seen, the introduction of the Lord of the Rings theme seems to have killed for a time the unlicensed Castle line, in much the same way that for many years there was no Space line because of the Star Wars license.

Those are less important, though. The two most important reason are ...

Licenses kill creativity - As soon as LEGO comes up with an official version of a figure or location, everyone seems to fall into line. Back in the day, LEGO was about 'Just imagine ...' Now it is more and more about 'Here, recreate this 30 second scene from a movie.' When there's no official line, kids are encouraged to come up with their own ideas. Back in 2000 I started making my own Lord of the Rings story. After the first movie came out in 2001, you know what the most common comment I got was? 'You messed up, Legolas has long hair.' or 'Aragorn doesn't wear a hat.' The visuals of the movie made it impossible for some people to come up with their own ideas from the book descriptions (heck, I should admit that my own visual images of the characters are very dependent on the 1978 Bakshi animated movie). At least, though, since there were no 'official' fig versions of these characters, people still used their imaginations to come up with their own based on the existing LEGO elements. Just look on Brickshelf and you can find many different versions of these. Now that will all be swept aside.

No need This is closely related. IMO, a licensed theme should give us something that non-licensed themes do not. The Star Wars line, for instance, has introduced many new elements that did not exist before. It was certainly possible to make Star Wars MOCs before this line (for instance, see the masterful work by S. Fujita), but much harder. Super heroes are tough to do if you're not a master customizer, since they are so focused on specific looks for the figures. Tolkien, on the other hand, does not depend on specific new elements. Yes, they have come up with some very nice new figures, but as long as you're not convinced that Legolas has to be equal to Orlando Bloom, you could have already come up with your own Legolas or whoever very easily. Also, we've got some new elements like the orc weaponry, but there were already many different weapon elements, and these did not necessitate a new license. The new horse is awesome, but again not requiring a licensed theme (it's not like the new articulate bear is tied to a license). Otherwise, these sets are all about basic bricks. So why not just continue the fantasy era of Castle sets? That already had castles and orcs and wizards and dwarves, and they could have included the elf that was in the Collectible figs.

Just look through all of the MOCs that I've posted on this blog. Not a single one of them has been based on the licensed sets, which are only just now starting to appear. I think those are proof enough that we had no need of a Tolkien license. Yes, LEGO has done a good job with the license for the most part, and I will continue to cover it and MOCs based on it, but I hope that it doesn't affect the ability of AFOLs to continue to create great work independent of the official line.

BTW, I still have to write something about why I'm not a huge fan of Peter Jackson, but I've got to sit down and watch those movies again first.

Wednesday, May 23, 2012

Tuesday, May 22, 2012

Hobbit line: rampant set speculation

As we know, LEGO will be introducing a line of sets based on the first Hobbit movie this year, presumably just in time for the movie release and Christmas gift buying. So let's have some rampant speculation on what sets they might build. I should note that I haven't seen any leaks about this, so these are simply my guesses.

In addition to having no information from LEGO, this speculation is further complicated by precious little information about the movie. We've all seen the trailer, and I also highly suggest checking out the Riddles in the Dark podcast, in which the Tolkien Professor Corey Olsen and Dave Kale talk about what might be and some of the rumors. One huge question is where the first movie will even end. I guess there are production photos that suggest that the first movie will at least include the 'Barrels out of Bound' escape from the Elven-King, so many speculate that the movie will end somewhere around there, perhaps as Bilbo emerges from the forest and sees the Lonely Mountain in the distance, or maybe with the entrance into Lake Town with Thorin proclaiming his arrival.

As I did with my consideration of sets from the Lord of the Rings, any speculation should start with an analysis of the key settings of the book:
Shire - The story sets off from Bag End. Given the significance of this scene for setting the stage, and also the fact that LEGO did not include a Bag End in the initial Lord of the Rings sets, I think they'll have to include this here.
Eriador - Travel, travel, travel, TROLLS! From the trailer it looks like Peter Jackson is turning the whole troll episode into an action sequence, which makes it perfect for a LEGO set. They've also already got that troll mold from the Moria set.
Rivendell - Sadly, as with the Fellowship of the Rings, I don't really see the set potential here. What are they going to base this on? Elrond reading a map? Now, from the trailer, we do get the hint that Peter Jackson is building up the tension at Rivendell, and also we see Galadriel there, since he is probably bringing in some of the external material on the White Council at this point. So maybe we'll see a set with cool elf-architecture, and that missing Galadriel fig, but I'm not holding my breath.
Misty Mountains - Okay, here we get conflict, conflict, conflict, so surely the basis for some set designs. Really there are four notes here - initial conflict with the orcs, Bilbo's encounter with Gollum, chased by orcs and wargs, and rescue by the eagles. I think we'll get two sets out of this.
Mirkwood - Four main items here - visit to Beorn, battle with the spiders, capture by the elves, and escape from the elves. Beorn's house would be cool, but LEGO probably wouldn't make a set due to the lack of conflict (unless Peter Jackson has orcs chase them to Beorn's house or something, skipping the eagles altogether). Spider battle is the obvious one here, something along the lines of the Shelob set from the Lord of the Rings, but maybe with two or three smaller spiders rather than the one huge spider. They could (sigh) include Legolas in this set, since there are reports of images of Legolas and web-covered dwarves. It may be that in the movie Legolas will be the one to capture the dwarves right at the conclusion of the spider battle (or, sigh, he'll be the one fighting the spiders) (oh, and Evangeline Lily as well, sigh again). Escape from the elves probably wouldn't make a really exciting set.
Dol Guldur - This is the real wild card. In the book we only get Gandalf's second hand mention that he met Thrain while investigating Dol Guldur, and some further mention in the Lord of the Rings appendixes. From the trailer, and from some clips recently shown to theater owners at a convention, we will definitely see some screen time devoted to this investigation. Apparently in the film version of the history of Middle Earth, after the Last Alliance, the Nazgul were trapped in tombs bound with many spells, but Gandalf finds that these were broken open. He also runs into Radagast during this investigation.

My predictions
Unexpected Party Bag End (at least the front door and the sitting room), Bilbo, Gandalf, a dwarf or two.
Troll Battle - Cave, tree, fire, troll, dwarf.
Orc Encounter - A portion of an orc-cavern, two orcs, dwarf, warg.
Riddles in the Dark - Bilbo, Gollum, Ring, small boat, some rocks.
Spider Attack - Two spiders, tree with webs, Bilbo, dwarf, Legolas.
Gandalf's Investigation - Gandalf, creepy ruins, maybe an orc?
One thing we saw in the first Lord of the Rings sets, you pretty much had to buy almost all of the sets to get the full company of nine walkers. We can expect in a similar way that the different sets will have different dwarves. I don't know if we'll set all twelve, though. Maybe to get them all you'll have to get all of the sets from both lines. I won't even start to speculate on what sets we'll get with the second movie at this point, but expect to see Lake Town, Smaug, and the Battle of Five Armies as the focuses. Also, maybe, the assault of the White Council on Dol Guldur.

Monday, May 21, 2012

Clone brand Lord of the Rings

Builders today may or may not be aware that the new LEGO Tolkien sets are not the first building block toys tied to the movie franchise. Back in 2001 when the first film opened, LEGO did not obtain a license. The official statement given by LEGO representatives (I believe Jake McKee addressed this at the BrickFest convention, for instance) was the the Lord of the Rings was too dark and grown up for the core LEGO audience. Instead, Playmates Toys released a series of six Intelliblox sets. As you can see, these were heavily reliant on large single-use pieces, and the figures were essentially action figures stuck to the top of a 2x4 brick.

One interesting aspect was that when you stick these figures into a sound element, you would hear movie lines specific to that character. Unfortunately, the sound element was only in the most expensive set. That seems pretty lame, IMO, given that we regularly get happy meal toys with sound elements, so its not like this is expensive technology. A few AFOLs did like the fact that these did have a fair amount of bricks for the price, and there were some specialized elements that some complemented, but AFOLs tend to be very brand-loyal and the opinion on various LEGO forums was generally negative. It's interesting to note that they seem to have planned additional sets that never saw the light of day, presumably telling us that these did not sell well. IMO this is probably because they sort of fell between the cracks, being not quite action figures and not quite building sets, so they didn't attract the interest of the action figure market (since there were already Tolkien action figures released in connection to the films) or the building set market, since these are so far from our normal LEGO aesthetic. It's also interesting to compare the choices for sets to the LEGO line. There is a fundamental difference in that the Intelliblox sets were based on the first movie, while the first run of the LEGO line goes through the second movie. The Intelliblox sets have a couple of the ones that I had suggested - the Prancing Pony and an encounter with the Nazgul (at the Ferry). They have a set comparable to the Orc Forge, but they include Saruman and Gandalf, so they are tying this directly to that confrontation, rather than being simply a random set with Uruk-hai. I think those are good choices that I wish LEGO would have made.

Buckleberry Ferry Escape

Encounter at Prancing Pony Inn

Battle at Weathertop

The Mines of Moria

Isengard Caverns

Orc Attack at Amon Hen

Wednesday, May 16, 2012

Official site content

I'm not sure when this went up, but there's new content at the official site It looks like there is only one set included at this point, Gandalf Arrives. I assume that the other sets will be added over the next several days.

At first you see a map of Middle Earth, with a tiny icon of the set.

When you click on the icon you get a cute little animation.

Various clicks give you a description of the scene depicted by the set and mini biographies of the characters.

There's also a video with the lead set designer showing features of the set. Probably not such a big deal with this set, but with the more detailed sets this will be nice, especially to show the different features like the exploding Helm's Deep wall.

I do have one gripe. I know, I know, we're all supposed to be illiterate these days. Everyone watched the movie and no one could be bothered to read the book. But, even though I understand that they take details from the Peter Jackson movie and not from the book, couldn't they at least get the map right? The route they trace has the company turn south at the Hoarwell, skipping the confrontation at the ford of the Bruinen, and no Rivendell whatsoever. Then, after leaving Moria, instead of taking boats from Lorien down to Amon Hen, at which point the company breaks into three different threads, the big red line has them going overland, through Fangorn straight to Isengard (no stopping by Edoras), then down to Helm's Deep, then straight past Minas Tirith to the Pass of Cirith Ungol. Actually, the path from Lorien straight to Fangorn could arguably be Gandalf, but it's hard to give them that much credit. I don't think I'm just being a fanboy here who can't abide them having anything different from the books - I'm not complaining over the lack of Tom Bombadil or the inclusion of Moria orcs at Isengard or something. This just seems like sloppy work by someone who couldn't be bothered to draw the little red line along the proper route.

Now would this have been so tough? I realize that I'm cutting corners here, since Merry and Pippin went through Fangorn to Isengard while Aragorn, Legolas and Gimli turned at the borders of Fangorn and then went down to Edoras, then Helm's Deep. Not to mention Gandalf's journeys from Moria to Fangorn.

Saturday, May 12, 2012

In the forest singing sorrowless

Alright, I'm tired of all of this official product news. Let's get back to MOCs.

The leaves were long, the grass was green,
The hemlock-umbels tall and fair,
And in the glade a light was seen
Of stars in shadow shimmering.
TinĂºviel was dancing there
To music of a pipe unseen,
And light of stars was in her hair,
And in her raiment glimmering.

Lay of Leithian by Bradlee Hall. (BTW, we need more Silmarillion MOCs.)

Friday, May 11, 2012

Set reviews coming up at Brickset, here are the figs

The sets were unveiled this past weekend at AFOLCON in the UK and some were auctioned off. Huw has them and will be posting reviews soon, so watch Brickset for those. In the meantime, he's shared the minifig insert.

Toys R out

I should have emphasized with yesterday's post that the sets are starting to appear. Some people have reported them in Toys R Us stores (but selling out quickly), and they show up as available on the Toys R Us website and with a release date of May 16 on the Target website. Will at Lord of the Brick notes that the German Amazon site gives a release date of June 23. You can pretty much expect that these will be available at a store near you anywhere in the world within the next couple of weeks.

Video game update

FBTB reports a release date of October 10 for the Lord of the Rings video game. Lord of the Brick shares this ad, which I assume will be the cover art for the game.

Thursday, May 10, 2012

Lord of the Rings video game

This is probably no surprise to anyone, but it is nice to get confirmation. Will over at Brick Heroes notes that the back of the Shelob Attacks box confirms an upcoming Lord of the Rings video game by Travelers Tales (the same people who brought us the Star Wars/Batman/Indiana Jones/Harry Potter games). Actually, it was commenter Sub533 who saw this 25 seconds into this video review by DoctorBrikDaddy. BTW, one other cool thing from that video review is that you get three Rings (for Elven kings?) in the set. That's nice to know since that is a cool new piece that I can see being useful for all kinds of different things in addition to Lord of the Rings.

Thursday, May 3, 2012

The Hobbit

Michael Kringe has an ongoing project to illustrate The Hobbit. The first six episodes take Bilbo from his cozy hobbit-hole past the encounter with the trolls.

Here we see the dwarves' tale of how Smaug drove them from the Lonely Mountain:

Here Bilbo goes running from his home without so much as a pocket handkerchief: