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Points of Articulation

Monkey Boy
What's happened to NECA?

Let me start with an indisputable fact: NECA is at the top of the action figure food chain when it comes to movie figures in the 7" scale. McFarlane gave up long ago, surviving currently on nothing but sports and video game properties. Mezco still trudges on, but they can't seem to escape the cartoony look and they don't really have much in the way of properties. And SOTA... I'm not even sure they're a company anymore.

Make no mistake, NECA has released some great product in recent years. However, as of this writing, there appears to be something a little fishy going on with the National Entertainment Collectibles... Association... is that even what NECA stands for? Just kidding, of course it is. Anyway, their MySpace page used to be a surefire way to get your questions answered, often straight from Randy Falk himself. Their website used to showcase new product pretty regularly. Nowadays, their MySpace page is full of nothing but posts from NECA fans who don't know why the hell there hasn't been an update in ages (Their last blog post? March 2008. Their last login? October.) and the website has likewise slid off the map, with sporadic and damn near useless updates. Customer service seems nonexistent (just ask Shocka). Certain figures are announced that never show up at all (Zombie Ed, anyone?). Other figures come out, but for the life of me I never see them announced.

Case in point: the two figures serving as the subject of this review. You have the original Alien from the film Alien, which was released with much fanfare from the website and lots and lots of promotion. Then you've got its follow-up, the Alien warrior from the sequel Aliens. I saw almost no promotion of this figure online, and maybe one or two photos in toy magazines (do people still even read toy magazines? Apparently I do...).

So what gives? Why has NECA fallen off the map? Who knows? They're still releasing product at a pretty steady rate, so maybe there's nothing to worry about. Right?

But hmmm... what about that product? Let's take a look at NECA's figure of the original xenomorph from Ridley Scott's space suspense film, Alien. This figure was released in both 7" scale and 18" scale, although the figures are closer to 9" and 24", respectively, due to the imposing height of the source material. The big and small versions of the figure are pretty interchangeable in terms of sculpt, as one is just a shrunken version of the two-up, and both are handled by Kyle "No Longer Known As Tankman" Windrix. This guy was Windrix's baby apparently, and he knocks it out of the park. The figure differs from most versions of the xenomorph in that it's almost an exact translation of the creature from the film. Most figures of the film's creature offer a stylized example, far too thin and, well, "alien" looking. Part of what made the creature so spooky was the dated quality of the costume: it was so human-like. The NECA figure preserves this well, with human-like proportions, glove-like hands, and a sculpted surface that's high on detail, but not overly detailed. Plain and simple, the sculpt just captures the Alien as it looked on the film, something no other toy has quite managed to do.

The paint is done up well, for the most part. Remember, if you dare, the strangely translucent, orange-flecked McFarlane alien. This is not that. Most of the figure is black, with some dull silver thinly overlaid. The teeth and nails are brought out with a thicker coat of silver, and the inner mouth is a creamy off-white, as is the head under its clear plastic "dome." Unfortunately, much of the detail under the dome is actually painted, rather than sculpted. The central ridge is sculpted, as are the weird humanoid skull eyeholes, but a lot of the veins and ridges on the side are merely painted. This is more a problem with the 18" figure, where the detail is much clearer, and it also depends on how foggy the dome is on your figure (this actually varies quite a bit from figure to figure).

The articulation is plentiful, and mostly well hidden, with a few ugly cuts here and there. The jaw is hinged, and the inner jaw extends. The neck is balljointed, as are the shoulders and torso below the "ribs". There are really ugly bicep peg joints, and similar ugly swivels above the knees. These are essential for posing, but could have been integrated much better and have a tendency to show the gap between the sculpted parts very obviously. The elbows, knees, ankles are hinged, the wrists are peg joints, and the hips get a v-crotch, which works rather well if you don't mind the break up in the sculpt. Oh, and the tail's bendy... but it actually manages to hold its shape pretty well, unlike a lot of previous attempts at bendy tails.

One thing that sucks: my original Alien figure featured two left upper knee joints, with the right three nodules on the inside instead of the outside. This causes a bit of a break up in sculpt. It was a while before I found another figure, and this one strangely broke right out of the package...at the right knee joint. So I couldn't even swap parts. Ugh. I still have the original double-left-knee figure, which is very solid and durable despite its error. The second figure was absolutely terrible, all stuck joints and sticky plastic. Perhaps these figures came from two different factories or were shipped under different conditions...I have no idea, but it just goes to show you how different two individual figures can be.

This two-figure disparity would continue with NECA's follow-up, the Alien warrior as seen in Aliens. Apparently I'm made of money. But really, as a huge fan of these two films, if it took buying two of each of these figures to be satisfied, then so be it... wait, my original Alien still has two left knees. Dammit. Anyway, the Alien warrior was released with little fanfare, and the first one I found seemed all right at first, but once it was out of the package it was all stuck joints. I got most of 'em moving after some freezer time, but this guy also had some absolutely terrible paint.

I knew that under that paint was a terrific sculpt, which is why I eventually broke down and bought a second figure (after going over the paint inch by inch, practically under a microscope). As you might expect, the sculpt is handled by Windrix again, and as you also might expect, there's quite a bit of re-use. However, since the Alien design was only tweaked in fairly minor ways between films, the re-use makes sense. The sculpt maintains the "guy in a suit" look, which even the 1/6 Hot Toys Alien failed to do. Sculpturally, I find myself much more attracted to NECA's figure (from a movie-accuracy standpoint... as far as sexual attraction, I'll just say that the Hot Toys version is practically covered with female genitalia). This figure really recalls the second film's creatures, particularly in the new face and ridged dome. Some parts of the skull, like the sides, appear to be straight re-uses, but as far as I can tell that's accurate to the film.

The neck gets a thicker retool, but otherwise the torso seems largely untouched. The legs, too, are re-used, up until the feet.

The arms feature a lot of the same sculpt, but there's a bit of a retool to include the weird bony projections that connect to the figure's elbow and wrist. This causes a bit of an issue with the figure's articulation, but I'll touch on that a little later. The hands and feet are new, and while the feet are kind of funky with a perpendicularly outstretched inner toe, I'll wager that's probably movie accurate. You never really see the feet clearly in the film, so I'm guessing NECA is using some kind of reference for such oddly aligned toes. The hands are five-fingered (with the main fingers on each hand fused together in pairs) rather than six-fingered like the original, and in my eyes a little too thin to have human fingers filling the gloves, although a re-watch of the movie confirms that these guys indeed had very thin digits, at least in certain shots where a life sized prop might have been used rather than an actor.

The paint varies wildly from figure to figure. The entire figure seems a lot glossier than the original NECA Alien. The black body is covered with random airbrushing of drab orange and dull blue, and some figures seem to heavily favor one color over the other (apparently, according to Poe's review, this is a "variant" confirmed by Tankman himself, although the paint scheme seems random enough that to the uninformed consumer it really just looks like unintentional inconsistency). Again, the teeth and nails are silver, but this time the figure's gums are a light blue. On my original figure, the silver from the teeth bled all the way over much of the gums and almost into the figure's "forehead". For the life of my I don't know how I missed that in the package, but I really thought I had inspected the figure well. After scrutinizing several other figures, I found a suitable replacement, but you'll want to really look hard.

The articulation is mostly similar to the original Alien, but as I mentioned, my first figure had a lot of stuck joints, while my second figure was just fine (though I have a sneaking suspicion his jaw hinge is just twisting the peg, rather than actual turning...guess I'll find out when it breaks). Like the figure's paint job, the articulation quality seems to vary wildly from figure to figure. There are some issues that are constant, though, as I mentioned above. The retool of the arms includes a projection that begins at the elbow, above the elbow joint, and connects at the wrist, below the wrist joint. This means that bending the elbow and twisting the wrist puts strain on the elbow projections and wrist connections. This was the same thing that happened with Hasbro's Wraith in their GI Joe line, and I can't for the life of me understand why toy companies would include articulation that inherently damages the figure.

In the end, both of these figures are pretty great in their own right. The sculpts alone are enough to blow other offerings by the likes of McFarlane, Aoshima, hell even Hot Toys out of the water (yes, even the uber-expensive Hot Toys takes some severe liberties with their xenomorphs). If not for issues like wildly varying paint, stuck and broken joints, and mis-assembled parts, I'd have almost no qualms with these figures. They are two of the best representations of two of my favorite creature designs ever, and they're the closest any company has come to my dream Alien figures. Still, with a little more quality control, they could have been damn near perfect, and one has to wonder just what is going on these days at the ol' NECA house.

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