Where do I begin!? I mean, good god, it's the Balrog!
From the moment in Fellowship of the Ring when the sedimentary growl of a fiery beast scares off horde upon loathsome horde of goblins, I knew something cool was on its way. Little did I expect that getting a collectible of it would become one of the most pain-ridden, rueful banes of my existence (yes, I do have several - I'm looking at you, Mattel!).
The obvious choice was for ToyBiz to do a "deluxe" figure of this fearsome beast for its 6" line. But... well we all know how that turned out.
I have a big problem with Jesse "I rock it better than nerds" Falcon. He co-manages ToyBiz's LotR line and many other, like Marvel Legends. He's a dick and a liar, but he's also pretty funny (you should hear his H.R. Giger impression!) and butch enough to beat my ass, so lets hope he doesn't find out whom I am.
This is a man who says that he wants to make "as many LotR characters as is humanly possible" but chokes the line down to figure assortments of the same three characters and countless rehashes and re-releases. This is a man who says he can't do more villain figures while every major retailer is carrying TTT wave 5, which is not only ALL villains, but all re-releases (two of which are still pegwarmers in their original form!). This is a man who refuses to release a Balrog figure. One we know exists and even have pictures of.
At SDCC this year he said that it was simply lack of interest, citing that he was, yes, able to get the price point down to $15, but Wal*Mart wouldn't carry it, so it won't come out. Um, Mr. Falcon, is Wal*Mart the only retailer you have? Do you honestly believe that no retailer on this planet would want this thing, even as an exclusive? Now that Galadriel was sort of re-released the Balrog has got to be the single most req--
It's okay, it's okay. Breathe in, breathe out. Go to your happy place.
Moving on to the actual review of the product at hand. This set comes with an exclusive Moria Orc Archer with bow and arrow, and an exclusive Gandalf the Grey with Glamdrig and Staff. Both figures come with little mini-bases that help support them.
The Orc is a pretty cool little guy in a good kneeling position. I actually dig him more than the Archer that comes in the Moria Orc three-pack. Gandalf is really nice; he's in a wonderful pose and just looks flat out gorgeous on his side of the bridge.
Now, the only real problem with these is that they are essentially just tiny statues. They are sculpted into very specific, action-oriented poses and feature very limited articulation. The Orc has swivel cuts at the waist, right shoulder and neck while Gandalf only has waist articulation. I know this will bother some (my esteemed lesser, yo go re, for example), but with such highly dynamic poses, it really doesn't matter here (some of the other figures in the line are hurt by the lack of articulation, but we'll get to those in later reviews).
The paint is darn fine considering the 3" scale of this figures and the detail is impressive in the same vein. The faces do look a little cartoony, but not in any particular way that hurts the figure. But enough of that - let's get to the juice!
This playset is called "Bridge at Khazad Dum with Balrog," but we all know this thing only exists for that last word. And let me tell you, you will not be disappointed.
First the bad news, the Balrog has solid wings. For me, one of the coolest things of all time is that the Balrog in the film lacks bat-like skin webbing on his wings. Instead, the bony fingers of the wings are just barely visible in the smoke that seems to be pouring directly from them, making both factions of Tolkien geeks happy. For a beast "of shadow and flame," this is a very fitting, very awesome, very difficult to explain effectively. See the film. Subsequently, I am saddened to see that no one seems to be trying to figure out some way to pull that off in collectible form. But I find the wings on this figure to be just generally better all around than those on the Sideshow statue, so I'm really not complaining about them.
Secondly, I had really hoped that the Balrog would be cast in translucent orange plastic. Not only much more fitting aesthetically, I had harbored secret desires to get a second set and drill out a hole in the Balrog for a light to make this sucker glow, glow, glow with evil! Again, this is just a personal preference thing, but I think that the orange plastic ultimately used works just fine. Just like with the wings, I am more impressed by how much these two aspects worked out than my expectations of what they would be like.
Finally, we get to the most controversial aspect of this set: the Balrog in not a complete figure; it lacks a derrière, half its tail, and its right leg from the knee down. Why this was done is still a mystery to me - again, much to my surprise, it doesn't really hurt the set. As wonderful as a play-ready Balrog would be, the Armies of Middle Earth seems to be geared entirely with dioramists in mind. Seeing as I am one, I can't complain. This is a set you put together then admire, you don't continuously fondle the figures as you read the latest spoiler from Episode 3... or is that just me?
The Balrog is articulated at the neck, shoulders and v-crotched at the junk. His wings are separate pieces but not articulated and his "fire mane" is cast in translucent plastic, but is sadly under-detailed, at least in comparison to the rest of the figure. The Balrog has two pegs that jut out of his suddenly truncated body parts and plug/slide/lock into place in the black wall behind him. He is nicely framed by a dwarven arch and comes with a translucent whip. The whip, too, seems under-detailed and sags quickly. I would have really preferred the Balrog to have come with his flame-sword, but what're ya gonna do?
I must also admit he seems slightly out scale with the rest of the line, too small for some reason, but it could just be me. The detail, though, on his wings and body is gorgeous. This is definitely the best representation of the Balrog yet (counting the Sideshow statue and the NECA votive holder)!
The bridge is nice, too, but unfortunately the two sides don't match up flushly, and Gandalf's half is the "underbite" of the crack, which is not only movie inaccurate, but just unsightly. On the other hand, the Balrog side has the "overbite" and makes it look cooler. The Balrog side alone is well worth the $24.99 SRP, and I definitely plan on picking up a second one to display the Balrog side on its own. Of the entire first wave of Armies of Middle Earth, the Balrog is by far the coolest thing. If you buy one thing from this line, make it this. Hell, buy it even if you don't particularly like it; to show Jesse Falcon he's an idiot and an a-hole and to show the retailers that we want a large-scale Balrog!!!
It might read as though there are a lot of problems with this set, but that is by no means the truth. There are several nit-picky little problems (though a complete Balrog figure would have really been nice) but really don't hinder the coolness of this set! I simply cannot recommend it enough. This thing... once you open it and have it in front of you... pictures really don't do it justice. I'm obsessed with this line and have seen every picture of this set but was still blown away by it. Buy it!
How bad do you want a large-scale Balrog? Tell us on our message board, the Loafing Lounge.