Saturday, July 7, 2012

9471 Uruk-hai Army

Although my lovely wife declined the suggestion that we spend all the gift money for our wedding on LEGO, in favour of things like cars and rent (which, I suppose, serve the LEGO collection in their own special way), I did get to pick up a little bit of new LEGO once we got back from our honeymoon. My priorities were quite clear: I need to expand my Lord of the Rings collection while they're still available in stores. To that end, while we were at a Target, I picked up 9471 Uruk-hai Army for $30 USD. My alternatives there were Shelob Attacks ($20) or Attack on Weathertop (which I already own). If Gandalf Arrives had been there, I probably would have picked it up too, but, alas, this Target lacked it.
The building centerpiece of the set is a wall-section, presumably a part of the Deeping Wall from Helm's Deep, guarded by Éomer on horseback and an Eorling archer with an (ubiquitous) catapult. (Fun fact: the Rohirrim don't actually call themselves Rohirrim or their land Rohan--those names are given to them by the Elvish-speaking Men of Gondor. The Rohirrim themselves call their land "the Mark" and their people "the Eorlings," people of Eorl--their first king.) The design of the wall is nothing spectacular, but LEGO didn't skimp with it either. Rather than being built with large 1x6x5s or other large panel pieces, it's made up of basic-sized bricks. Also impressive, design-wise, is the fact that it actually has a staircase built into the back; as a general rule, LEGO castles are notorious for leaving to the imagination how one ascends to the battlements. The bricks themselves include a fair number of the new "etched-in brick" 1x2s (all in light new-grey) and a number of sand-green bricks (mostly--but not completely--1x1s). LEGO also took the time to design a very respectable arrow-slit at the centre of the wall, and finer crenelations than any non-licenced LEGO castle I've ever seen.
Besides the wall-section, the building aspect of the set is concentrated on the siege engine for the opposing side. This a "giant crossbow" of sorts, which out-rigs a couple of flick-fire missiles as grappling hooks (presumably we are to imagine ropes behind them for the Uruk-hai to scale the walls with). As a general rule, I am not a fan of LEGO siege engines. I never found them as fun to play with as a kid as cavalry and infantry and I never had enough figs to man them properly anyway. As an adult, I generally find them to be overly "Technicky" and not a good source of great pieces. That caveat aside, I like this one about as well as I like any LEGO siege engine. The flick-fire missiles are well-used (something I would not say about 80% of the sets they come in) here (which also means "well-disguised"). Although it isn't a functional crossbow, it has the appearance of one, and there are few nice pieces here (mostly I'm thinking about the 1x4 printed tiles). Although I don't know that this engine will stay together as long as the wall--and certainly not as long as Weathertop--once I refit it with wider wheels, it should have a long life for a siege engine. Although the 4x4 round brick wheels used by the Knight's Kingdom (both I and II) are not always perfect, they are preferable, in my opinion, to the too-narrow 4x4 round plates used here (even capped with the 2x2 round plates).
And that brings us to the minifigs... Prior to this purchase, I have to admit that the vague sense I had of this set was that it was the "Helm's Deep Expansion" pack with a couple more orks, a couple more good guys, and a bit more wall--a résumé that didn't excite me much. If I thought about it, I would have probably assumed that it was overpriced and unexciting. What I didn't realise, since I don't really pay deep attention to the specs of sets I haven't purchased, was that it comes with six minifigs. That's one more minifig than Attack on Weathertop, and that set is twice the price!
Like the Rohirrim in this set, the Uruk-hai are a faithful and aesthetically pleasing adaptation of the characters from the movies. In neither case do I have any particular beef with these designs (though I don't think they are the only possible interpretations). My only real concern is that the humans are, as always in licensed themes, flesh-toned rather than yellow. Unlike Attack on Weathertop, however, this set makes the conversion easy, since neither of the Rohirrim have exposed skin on their torsos, which means a simple swap of hands and heads, and you have yellow-fig Rohirrim. Here they are pre-conversion. Note the excellent new helms (with printing for Éomer), excellent new shield, and excellent torso/leg printing.
Also note the sword the archer is carrying. In the instructions this belongs on Éomer's saddle (presumably this is his sword, which the books call Gúthwinë). I mentioned before that I like this new sword design--it is, to pun, quite sharp--but I'm not sure I like it for the Riders. LEGO sword design is, in any case, not an exactly replicating science, but this strikes me as more "hero-sword" (think Aragorn or Boromir) and less "Rider-sword." The classic "short sword" (in distinction to the chromed "great sword") is a better fit, but it belongs to a different aesthetic of minifig, and in any case is close to the same size as the new swords anyway. The "gladius" (it first came out with the Gladiator) is the best fit to my taste. That creates problems too, however, because that's the sword that Pippin (I refuse to call him Merry) carries in Attack on Weathertop. In addition to not wanting my Riders to carry mere Hobbit-swords, the gladius is just a touch too short for my taste--and extra 3 millimeters would have been perfect. Still, for the time being anyway, that's probably what I'll make do with--and I'll probably steal Pippin's sword to do it. I might give the Hobbit one of the Heroica swords from the Blacksmith set.
I'm quite pleased with the replacement faces I found. Éomer now sports a "Thresher" face from the Aquasharks line. It gives him a slightly darker hair colour, but I think the effect still works and it's light enough I could still give him blond hair and have it work. The other fig has a "Col. Colt Carson" head from the Wild West line, which ages him a little. That works me, though. He can be Gamling the Old, who, in the Books, was left in charge of the defense of Helm's Deep by Erkenbrand (whose army Gandalf goes to find since, in the Books, Éomer was never banished). You can also see that I've added another Eorling to the wall. Sporting a Bull Knight torso and classic "conical" helm, this new rider has stolen the head, spear, and shield off the Legionnaire and Highlander I recently acquired, making him fit in well with the two pre-existing Rohirrim. Note also the gladii they are carrying. All told, I was immensely impressed with this set--all the more so because I did not expect to be. I expected a decent set--all told, it's a great one.

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