Saturday, 31 August 2013

Action Figure Review - Jungle Encounter Dutch (NECA)

Figure: Jungle Encounter Dutch
Company: NECA
License: Predator (Series 9)
RRP: $24.95 -$29.95 AUD

The Background

Predator is a classic of the 1980s. Watching it more than a quarter-century after its release it’s easy to see that it’s not a perfect film, but it’s far more than the sum of its parts. It’s ridiculously silly, yet never falls into parody. And the Predator itself is a very frightening, yet very cool-looking Stan Winston creation.

But today, we’ll be looking at the other star of the film – Dutch, as portrayed by Arnold Schwarzenegger. Specifically, the Jungle Encounter Dutch action figure.
I’ve been spending a lot of time spent over at www.ItsAllTrue.Net, and I can’t deny that I’ve been heavily inspired by them to do this action figure review – and, I must admit, they were the inspiration for my more regular Lego reviews too. It was actually through them that I discovered NECA was releasing these 25th anniversary Predator action figures. The guys over have got their reviews down to a fine art, and if you’re remotely interested in action figures it’s well worth your time to check them out.
The NECA Predator series has been running since 2010, apparently  in tandem with the release of the film Predators (which I still haven't seen), There’s been a mix of original film, Predator 2, Predators and even a few “fanon” action figures released over this time, and the range is quite impressive for its attention to detail.
Series 8 and 9 are the most recent releases - though at least up until series 11 is planned - and they're both based on the original movie, to coincide with the film’s 25th anniversary. It's a nice touch, and it would be nice to see the second (admittedly inferior) film get some similar action figure love in the next couple of years.
The Packaging
The box (not pictured) is nice enough – it’s roughly in the shape of a Predator in profile. The copy on the back of the box does a good job of conveying the backstory , and all the photography for the figures themselves is excellent. However, I do tend to prefer NECA’s clamshell cases. This does become something of a moot point, as I’ve never been one to keep action figures in their packaging – I guess I just prefer them.  
The Figure Itself
The figure's front and back views  
I am yet to see a NECA figure that didn’t deliver the goods in terms of attention to detail, even if I didn’t particularly like the property it was based on, and this figure is no exception.
Across series 8-9 there are four different variations of Dutch, all of them good in their own way. But I chose this particular variant of him as it also looks quite a bit like Arnie’s character from Commando – Colonel John Matrix. I doubt we’ll see a Commando line anytime soon – but the idea of a matching Bennett figurine is certainly an entertaining one.
The likeness on the face sculpt is quite good overall. The original review I read over at noted the impressive detail on the stubble, and I’m inclined to agree. This is a level of detail that’s I’ve rarely seen on toys in this price range, and I’m also particularly impressed with the fact that they’ve managed to make him look sweaty, as though he’s actually been spending time in the jungle.
The only real problem with the likeness stems from a small paint issue on the lips. I ordered my figure online, so I wasn’t able to check the paint job before purchase. Not anything worth getting too upset about, but if you get yours in-store I’d suggest checking a couple of different figures first.
Dutch comes with three accessories – a rifle with grenade launcher attachment, a pistol and a knife. Nothing too complex, but I’ve never been a fan of toylines that give movie or TV-based characters a zillion different accessories that are never seen or mentioned in the original property.
The articulation is good, as well. You can get Dutch into a lot of different poses, and combined with the great sculpt, it’s pretty easy to get some good photos. I want to take him out to some bushland and do some location photos with him and the Predator, though that may have to wait for another day.
However, the figure isn’t perfect. The knife can’t really be held by either of its hands, so stick it in the holster if you don’t want to lose it. The pistol can also be a bit tricky to get into the right hand as well, as it’s made from somewhat harder plastic than you might normally expect. Additionally, the pistol holster does not seem to want to close properly – you can see it dangling in the photos.  
Still, these are relatively minor issues, and don’t spoil my enjoyment of the figure at all. I ordered the series 8 Jungle Hunter Predator too, and they work quite well together...but more on him in a future review, hopefully.
I am very, very pleased with this figure of Dutch. Though he’s quite basic, it works to his benefit, not his detriment. The great likeness of Arnie really elevates it above your average “adult collector” movie tie-in.
With that said, I’m not super-keen on the other figures in series 9. Though I might be sold on the Water Emergence Predator if he glowed in the dark (and the same goes for the upcoming Heat Vision Dutch from series 10), I don’t think there’s enough reason to purchase it if you’ve already got the Jungle Hunter Predator (i.e. the standard or “Classic Predator” from series 8).
Jungle Disguise Dutch looks kind of cool – and it’s a very cool part of the movie – but he does also look a bit like he’s a regular Dutch action figure who’s fallen into the toilet. So I’ll probably pass on that one too...
What I would have liked to have seen – and I know I’m not alone in this – is the other squad members from the film. I have read elsewhere that NECA have said that they will not be doing this, and I suppose I can understand why. I would imagine getting all of the likeness rights would be expensive, and I daresay that none of them would sell as well as Dutch. Nonetheless, the thought of a screaming one-armed Carl Weathers variant action figure is an intriguing one.
Still, the fact that NECA now have such a good sculpt of Arnie makes me hopeful that we’ll also see some other Arnie properties released by NECA. Conan the Barbarian had a small series few years ago – which is now reselling for a pretty penny on eBay – but they were more akin to statues than action figures. Time for a new one? Hopefully!
And of course, having Dutch means that you can have awesome  1980s team-ups which never happened, but would have been great. Here we see Nightfighter Robocop and Dutch teaming up to take on crime!

Friday, 30 August 2013

Lego Review - Legends of Chima - CHI Worriz

Set: 70204 CHI Worriz

RRP: $22.99

Pieces: 55

Build Time: around 15 min

Package photo courtesy of Brickipedia

The Background

I haven’t been particularly interested in the Legends of Chima theme so far. Debuted earlier this year, the storyline centres around several groups of anthropomorphic animals battling one another for control of “Chi”, a mystical energy source that borrows a little (but not too much, from what I can tell) from its martial arts namesake.
Package photo courtesy of Brickipedia (

It’s not a bad premise, but the creatures look a little too cartoony for my tastes, and it annoys me that the Wolves are one of villainous factions (though I do like that the Lions are good guys). Also, I wasn’t really sold on the ripcord racer gimmick.

Nonetheless, some of the sets have been quite impressive, particularly after the first wave. The Lion CHI Temple (70010) is exceptionally striking. Still, it wasn’t until I saw that a series of Ultrabuild figures had been released, that I got interested. A giant wolfman? It would be pretty difficult for this to go wrong.   

Friends who know me will attest to my obsessive love of wolves and wolf-related merchandise – in fact, I’d say at least 90% of the appeal of this set lies in the fact that he looks much like a gigantic werewolf warrior. 


The Werewolf Warrior strikes a majestic pose atop the iPad
Naturally, werewolves are my favourite monster from folklore. Traditionally they tend to be depicted as evil, though I tend to think of them in a different fashion, typically as good guys, rather than villains of the night. Zombies and skeletons, though? Generally, not so much…
Officially, this guy’s name is “Worriz”, but I don’t much care for it. He looks too tough to have a name that rhymes with “Morris.” Nonetheless, I don’t think I’ll call him “Grimripper” or anything else that sounds like it could have come out of a 90s Image Comic (as entertaining as some of them were). Though it’s not particularly creative, I think “Werewolf” will do sufficiently well for the time.
The Build
I haven’t previously owned any Ultrabuild figurines. I remember the original Bionicle series impressing me all the way back in 2001 on first release, but of course I was in high school then and owning something like that would have been ridiculously “uncool.” More than a decade later, I don’t feel the same kind of concern. As C.S. Lewis once said, “When I became a man, I put away childish things, including the fear of childishness and the desire to be very grown up.” Whether the creator of Narnia and famous Christian apologist would have approved of adult collections of Lego is of course open for debate.    
I digress. I was pleased at how quickly I built him, considering I hadn’t built one of these before, but also a little disappointed that it was as easy as it was. Nonetheless, I like the concept of a DIY action figure, which is essentially what these Ultrabuild figures are.
Werewolf’s articulation is pretty good; the balljoints at each point of articulation allow a good range of motion, and it’s pretty easy to get him into some cool poses. However, I did find that his shoulder spikes do interfere a little with certain arm movements, as do the size of his paws.  While these might be more serious issues for those looking to play with their figures, if you’re looking at him as more of a display piece, it’s usually pretty easy to find a workaround.
Werewolf and Nightfighter Robocop duel! (later becoming friends, of course)
In terms of accessories, Werewolf is armed with a two-bladed sword and defends himself with a shield in the shape of a buzzsaw blade. The build does a nice job of making it look like his gigantic paw is holding the sword, but it’s actually connected by balljoint. The shield can also be mounted on his back, via a hole.

The balljoint holding the sword.

The shield, mounted on Werewolf's back
My only real complaint is that it would be nice if Werewolf came with an alternate head, too. His angry face is great, but it would be nice to have something a little more neutral too. Still, on the whole there’s a lot more to like than there is to dislike.
Big Werewolf meets minifig Werewolf
Although I don’t think I’ll pick up any of the regular Legends of Chima sets, I’m very impressed with the Ultrabuild figures. I could see myself picking up a couple more of these guys, particularly the Raven and Crocodile. Alternatively, I could also see myself getting a Hero Factory mech or two and staging Pacific Rim-style battles in the loungeroom. There could be some good photo ops in that.
But for the time being, Werewolf is something of an anomaly in my collection – though as you’ll see below, he does look good attacking the treehouse.
Attack taking place in kid's imagination only, of course. The mess this would leave in real life would be difficult to explain to the kid's parents
Overall, I’m giving Werewolf an 8/10.
The set in its entirety

Saturday, 24 August 2013

Lego Review - 9461 – The Swamp Creature

Set: 9461 – The Swamp Creature

RRP: $12

Pieces: 70

Build Time: 10-15 minutes

The Background

I’m more than a little late reviewing this particular set; Brickipedia tells me it was originally released back in May 2012, though I don’t recall ever seeing it until closer to September/October 2012. Just in time for Halloween, I suspect.
The backstory to Monster Fighters is something to do with a whole bunch of classic horror monsters in Lego form (vampires, werewolves, Frankenstein’s Monster, mummies, ghosts etc.) each owning a piece of a “moonstone”, which I believe is some kind of magic rock. When Lord Vampyre (the main villain) collects them all, the world will be drawn into a state of permanent lunar eclipse, and the monsters will invade the land of the minifigures.

The "human" minifigure characters are less than pleased with this state of affairs and are looking to stop this evil occurrence. From a story point of view, it’s then up to the individual purchaser to decide which side emerges victorious. One might reasonably ask why they can’t just sort out some sort of mutual agreement, I suppose, but let’s not dwell on the details.

I don’t know that I rate Monster Fighters as a theme all that highly; a number of the main monsters have already appeared in various collectable Minifigures series over the last couple of years, and a lot of them looked better there, in my opinion – though granted, some of the Monster Fighters versions do glow in the dark. As I’ve mentioned elsewhere, that can be a real clincher for me (and by the way, I did end up buying the glow in the dark Robocop recently).
The Minifigures
Given my generally unimpressed demeanour, you’re probably wondering why I bought this kit at all. Well, the minifigures were definitely the main reason behind this purchase – the “Swamp Creature” minifigure specifically. He’s not officially Gillman (of Creature from the Black Lagoon fame), but he’s about as close as we’re probably going to get.
He comes with a standard wooden spear, a piece that’s most frequently been seen in Castle sets. It’s good that he’s got an accessory, but I think it would have been cooler if he had one of the golden tridents that were featured in Atlantis (though I suppose it would have been less “swampy”). I think I’ve got some lying around somewhere, so I may substitute this in future.

                        The Swamp Creature, with his portion of swamp and Moonstone
Speaking of Atlantis, I think he fits in quite well with the sea monsters that came with the Atlantis sets that were released a couple of years ago. When I finally get around to setting up my City of Atlantis set again, he may pay a visit to the underwater denizens of that legendary city.
You’ll recall I mentioned earlier that I liked the fact that some of the monsters in this theme glow in the dark. Well, this is one of only two sets in the theme that don’t feature glow in the dark pieces. It’s a shame, because Swamp Creature has some green highlights on his scales that would have looked great if they glowed. Nonetheless, this is a minor quibble, and on the whole I’m very pleased with him. $12 purchase price justified right there, for me. 
In contrast, I wasn’t particularly interested in the minifigure of the actual Monster Fighter – Frank Rock. In monster-oriented media, the humans tend to pale in comparison to the monsters themselves. They’re just not as visually interesting, and tend to be fairly thinly drawn as characters. At first glance, Frank Rock was no exception. With his large Polaroid-style sunglasses and greaser hairstyle, I initially thought he looked just like Elvis, sans-sequinned bodysuit. An Elvis minifigure would be cool in many other settings, but not this one, and his smirky expression makes him look kind of like a jerk. However, closer inspection reveals him to be a little cooler than I first thought. He’s got impressive little details all over his face, including stubble and little bruises/scars.
                                                      Frank Rock? Or Elvis sighting?
Best of all, the reverse of his head is also printed, sans-sunglasses. With this expression, he looks a little more hardened and serious – like someone who’s actually spent some time battling the creatures of the night. He also looks more than a little like the legendary Bruce Campbell, which does tie in well with the Monster Fighters theme. Give him a Lego chainsaw instead of a hand and a sawn off-shotgun, and he'd pretty much be Ash in Army of Darkness.
He’ll probably never be my favourite minifigure, but he was a pleasant surprise especially considering that I thought he would be nothing more than a Mr Generic McBoring monster prey.
                                                          Frank Rock with his swamp boat.
The Build
There are two builds in the kit – the piece of swampland and a swamp boat.
The swamp section takes all of a couple of minutes – it’s a brown base with some stones, some swamp weeds, a fish and the Swamp Creature Moonstone piece. There’s also a frog, which is a neat little touch. Small as it is, it’s surprisingly effective at conveying the required swampy atmosphere. It could also be repurposed as part of an Atlantis diorama, or even with the Treehouse’s (set 31010) water area.
On to the swamp boat – like its driver, the swamp boat ended up being much cooler than I expected. It’s like a mini-hovercraft, though this one shoots flick-missiles, and is also armed with two pistols mounted to the front. It too was quite simple to build, but it demonstrates an effective use of minimal pieces in its construction. It’s also a nice middle ground between the extremes of the implausible (but awesome) science-fiction Galaxy Squad vehicles, without moving into the “impressively-realistic-but-a-little-boring” territory that City often veers into. An interesting novelty - there's not a lot of Lego vehicles that look like this one.
I don’t see myself picking up any of the other Monster Fighter sets - though the werewolf does intrigue me - but I am glad that I got this one. $12 for one great (and one good) minifigure, as well as a cool vehicle is hard to argue with.
Though the kit itself will not grab the more dedicated builder, the Swamp Creature minifigure alone was worth the price of admission for me – everything else was a bonus. I’m giving it a 7.5/10 for minifigures, but in building terms it’s more like a 5 or 6/10. 
And as for who won? Well, I don't think of the Swamp Creature as evil, more misunderstood. So after a hard-fought battle, Frank and Swampy became good friends.
                                                        The set in its entirety

Monday, 12 August 2013

Lego Treehouse Review

Set: 31010 3-in-1 Treehouse

RRP: $49

Pieces: 356

Build time: 1 hour or so for the Treehouse

Released: mid-2013

My Lego purchases tend to be very minifigure driven. As a result, I don’t pay much attention to the Creator theme. The miscellaneous mini-vehicles they produce are quite impressive to look at, but aren’t really within my spheres of interest. However, every now and then they’ll produce a more typical Lego set that could fit comfortably within the City theme, and some of the ones released this year have really grabbed me.  

What differentiates Creator from other Lego themes is that the pieces included in each Creator set can be built in not one, but three ways. Cool as this is, it’s also where my main gripe with Creator stems from. Readers of my age will probably recall that once upon a time, most Lego sets functioned as a 2-in-1 or 3-in-1 kit. As I recall – and anyone is welcome to correct me on this, as I’m doing my best to recall a period going back 20 years or more – most Lego kits would depict the primary build on the front of the box, and then 1 or 2 other builds on the back of the box. You’d only receive instructions for the “main” build, but the others tended to be sufficiently simple that you could work them out just via looking at the pictures.

Of course, one can certainly argue that the kits and minifigures are frequently of a higher quality than those of 20 years ago. But it still annoys me a little sometimes, particularly when I’m looking at kits that go for $50+.

But I don’t like complaining and I’m getting well off track. So today we’re going to look at the Lego Treehouse – my first Creator kit.
The Minifigure
The minifigure that comes with the set is okay; it’s a little boy in a red cap, with a plain blue shirt. He does the job, but I’m a little disappointed with him. He just seems a little bit too generic. Maybe a print on the front of the shirt or something would have been good?
Nonetheless, I’ve given him a name – Adam Brickston – and Adam’s accessories do give him an edge he wouldn’t otherwise have. The treasure map is great, and the walkie talkie is pretty cool. The wagon is nice, but I can’t help but think it’s a little unsanitary to carry around a pizza in it, without a box, plate or any other form of container.
There’s also a buildable dog. It’s a nice touch, but I think I would have preferred one of the German Shepherd-style dogs that appear in some of the police sets. The upside is that this one does look less intimidating than your average police dog.
The Build
I have been a fairly anxious person for most of my life, though this has begun to change within the last couple of years. So it was with some interest that I read this article on Surfing Pizza a couple of months ago. Among a number of other things, it mentions that Lego can be a great structured activity for those who experience anxiety disorders.
Reading this got me thinking, and made me reflect on how much I had enjoyed Lego as a child, and still do as an adult. Indeed, building Lego is a process that does help me relax and unwind - even though I don't think I have a full-blown anxiety disorder. I think I also like Lego because I know that – unlike many other areas of life – if I follow the instructions as outlined I will get the desired result, regardless of any other problems in my life. It may sound simple, but this is actually very soothing. Certain sets may be challenging for my skill level, but I am yet to meet any that have come close to defeating me.
In general, I tend to prefer the more fantasy-oriented Lego to their more “realistic” counterparts.  However, I felt that this particular set straddled the two realms nicely; it’s realistic enough that it could sit out the back of one the Creator houses, but it’s also something of a kid’s dream treehouse – the sheer size of it, coupled with extra features like the telescope and the treasure map hiding spot, make it an ideal base for hours of shenanigans.
There’s three different builds to this kit, but the treehouse itself is the one I bought it for. The other two are perfectly fine – and I’ll probably get to building them eventually – but they just don’t grab me in the same way. They also look a little more like adult’s buildings, which don’t sit as well with the included minifig. I don’t know if they have official names, but they appear to be something like a two-storey playhouse and a waterfront shack.
If/when I get around to building them, I’d like to review them too – so stay tuned on this page.


When I first saw this set, I liked the story possibilities of it – specifically, that it’s a hub world for the other Lego I own. Galaxy Squad, Atlantis, Batman, etc – it’s all a product of this particular kid’s imagination. This sets up some intriguing possibilities for zany crossovers in the future, so keep your eye out for photos. I know I had very little respect for licensing rights in my own childhood playtime – Adam may be much the same. 

(I’m well aware, of course, that this is a bizarre reason to buy a Lego set - but there's few sets that lend themselves to photos like the one above.)



The minifigure gets a 5/10. He does the job, but he’s a little bland. The build I give an 8/10. It was very enjoyable to see it all come together, and it also leaves more possibilities for the other two, should Adam ever need to take his imagination on vacation. I’m exceptionally pleased with this new treehouse.