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The Hobbit
by yo go re

Wait - who's this guy, again?

Thought to have been destroyed in the great battle between Orcs and Dwarves that was once fought many years ago, Azog the Deflier has come forth once more, leading a lethal pack of killer-Orcs. One thing becomes clear, Azog will stop at nothing to hunt down and destroy every last member of the Company of Thorin Oakenshield.

Azog's role in the movie(s) is much more substantial than it was in the book - there, he (spoiler) died in the same battle where Thorin got his oaken shield. Why did Peter Jackson change it? Well how should I know, I'm not best friends with the guy! But we can guess. In the book, he's just another name, killed in the past by Thorin's cousin Dain. By keeping him alive, he becomes a personal adversary and gives us somebody to root against. It's like putting Crossbones on the Thunderbolts team: the way JRR Tolkien wrote him, Thorin Oakenshield is an utter pantload; by giving the character a villain to personally struggle against, Peter Jackson makes us like him.

Azog is portrayed in the film by Manu Bennet, the same guy who plays Slade Wilson on CW's Arrow. It's a fully digital performance (like Gollum), rather than a bunch of prosthetics (like Lurtz), and yet nobody is complaining about the overuse of CGI in his case. Why? Because it's so well done, you can't really tell. Complaining about "too much CGI" is as idiotic as complaining about "too much color photography" or "too much sound" - it's a technology, that's all. It can be used well or used badly, but saying it's used too much is pretentious and shallow. It's like a child trying to give an adult opinion, hoping to sound smart when they say it.

[Funnily enough, "a child trying to give an adult opinion, hoping to sound smart when they say it" is how the rest of us describe yo's reviews --ed.]

The figure has a very simple design: he wears metal boots, a complicated gauntlet on his right arm, and a leather skirt that seems to be made from the stitched-together faces. Eww! There are bands wrapped around his abdomen that appear to be bolted into his skin to keep them up. Azog is hardcore! His skin has a subtle texture to bring it to life and keep him from looking like a big lump of plastic. His scars are sculpted into the body, and they're even and symmetrical enough to suggest that they're intentional, not just the result of random chance. The detailing on the skirt is rather soft by comparison - everything else is so crisp, it looks slightly out of place.

The reason Azog has such a simple design is also related to the reason he's fully CGI: they decided to redo him from scratch right before the movie came out. As in "work was still going on four weeks before the premiere."

Through most of the filming, Azog was portrayed (in makeup) by actor John Rawls, but Jackson wasn't happy with how the character looked. So that orc was renamed "Yazneg," and Manu Bennet was brought in to mo-cap his way through every scene, allowing Weta to replace the old Azog with the new one. Yazneg is still in a few scenes, and his design is still used for Azog in a few places (the Lego Attack of the Wargs set and the Hobbit HeroClix, for instance).

Azog stands more than 7⅜" tall, and most of his joints are of the swivel/hinge variety: ankles, knees, hips, elbows and shoulders. The waist and wrists are plain swivels, and his head is one of those double-barbell joints, but it sits so close to his thick neck that the range is rather limited. His skin is a pale gray, while his clothes are mostly a dark brown. There's a bit thin line of pink paint to bring out the details of his scars, but it doesn't line up very well - if this was a figure available in stores, I'd have put this one back on the shelf and looked for another. That said, being slightly misaligned gives the scars the illusion of greater depth, so it's not impossible to live with. His arms were assembled backwards, though: it's super easy to fix with a quick boil and pop, but you can see the way he originally looked in Rustin's photo.

His accessories include an orcish scimitar, with a wicked-looking metal blade tied to a bone handle, as well as his fearsome mace, with its five "blades" carved from either rock or bone. Either weapon can fit in either hand - as long as he has a hand, anyway. The truly distinctive thing about the character's design is the terrifying, pronged metal spear that's been jammed lengthwise through his arm to serve as a prosthetic hand. And the toy delivers that, in the form of an alternate forearm. The arm pulls out easily at the elbow, allowing you to switch them whenever you please. I can't confirm it, but Rustin insists the hook is cast is firm enough plastic and sculpted wide enough it can grab characters by the neck and hold them up!

But the coolest accessory of all is the alternate right hand. In both the book and the film, Azog's big claim to fame was killing the dwarven king Thrór (Thorin's grandfather), so the alternate hand is sculpted holding Thror's severed head. It's a great sculpt and get's equally good paint - it even has visible neck meat and bone under the beard and hair! The likeness on this head is just as good as the likeness on Azog himself, with the huge mustache, the single thick braid dropping down from below his lip, and the king's distinctive gold and black crown. The bit of hair poking out of the top of Azog's hand even flops apart realistically. It's a terrific piece.

Like last year's Clear Bilbo, Azog comes packaged in a big brown book - and since he's a much larger figure, the book is much larger as well. It measures 12" tall, 8" wide and 3" deep. Like last year's box, it has a band holding it closed, but instead of a wax seal, it has a jagged metal clasp - something suitably "orcish." In actuality, it's a mirrored version of the axehead on "Yazneg's" signature weapon (as you can see in the photo of Yazzy a couple paragraphs up), adding even more evidence that he used to be Azog.

The cover is held closed by a bit of velcro. The interior is designed to look like the stony ground in front of the Mines of Moria, where the great Battle of Azanulbizar took place. There's a large oval cutout that lets us see Azog, and more scenery printed behind him for a cheap and easy 3D look. It's easy to take the figure in and out, making for an ideal collector's display.

At one point during production, Peter Jackson had switched the names of Azog and Bolg: nobody's really sure why, and they got changed back before release. But it was the "Yazneg" redesign that kept Azog out of the first movie's toyline, because Bridge Direct didn't know what he was going to look like. The design wasn't even finalized by the time of SDCC last year! This is a nice figure and a good exclusive, but at $40, he's slightly more expensive than he should be - even if his accessories are awesome.

-- 08/18/13

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