While I was fairly hard on the The Hobbit: An Unexpected Journey in my review of the movie, and wasn't particularly nice to the the last set I reviewed, Escape from the Mirkwood Spiders... An Unexpected Gathering and it's feature of Bag End wowed me when I first saw pictures of the set from Toy Fair early last year.
More than that, this scene, along with the interaction between Bilbo and Gollum, that actually felt like Hobbit movie should feel. Instead of wide-eyed adventure and way too much action, we have a hobbit that's turned upside down trying to figure out why a bunch of dwarves are eating all his food and playing with his knives. It was a good enough that a mini version was turned in to a San Diego Comic Con exclusive this year, for people with more money than good sense.
Make no mistake, the bar was set extremely high for The Hobbit sets when this set was first revealed. It's visually striking, has a bevy of unique parts, and finally gives us something other than a mess of light grey or black parts. It's not a cheap set, coming in $69.99, the second highest in the line.
So the question remains, does it live up to its promise?
In a lot of ways yes. The last set I felt lived up to its initial promise was the Podracer set back in 2011 (I know, there is something positive to be found in an Episode I set... even if I hated the scene it came from). There have been more than a few reveals that failed to live up to their promise (looking at you, Super Star Destroyer), and some that exceeded my expectations and then some (showing you some more love, Republic Gunship).
We get six minifigs in this set, four of which are completely exclusive to this set (the Dwarves), one that's a unique look (Bilbo), and one that's pretty much the same as what we've gotten elsewhere (Gandalf). This set is just another war in the continuing war against your disposable income, since you have to pick it up to get all of the dwarf company. You are trying to get the whole company, aren't you?
Before I jump into the dwarves... one of my (many) complaints about The Hobbit: An Unexpected Journey was that so many of the dwarves were basically just "fillers," with very little personality of their own. Even those who had some personality were pretty basic. Bombur was a glutton, Kili and Fili were inexperienced, Thorin was basically a short "broody leader type," and about half of them you could only identify if you were on the movie's Wikipedia page.
There are basically four dwarves of note, a couple of supporting characters, and then some extras. That being said, there were similar problems in the books...
First up for the dwarves is Bofur, who I pretty much know as "The Dwarf with the Hat." In the movie, he was the one that was basically encouraging of Bilbo, but otherwise, was mostly just "another dwarf." He carries a mining pick (or mattock, if you feel so inclined), which does match the movie. He matches the character well enough, I suppose, but that's more to do with the hat (which was visually distinctive in the movie).
He's got an alt-face that's quite similar to his regular face. It actually makes a difference on this particular dwarf, because his head isn't hidden by a beard. There's also some nice printing on his back that's covered up entirely by his little cloak.
I do love those little cloaks that these guys have, but I'm not sure what I'd ever do with extras...
Next up in our dwarf menagerie we get Bombur, who in the films has been reduced to a walking fat joke. In the book, he was still a fat joke, but had more lines and was basically the dumb, fat dwarf. LEGO kind of cheated to make him look "bigger" by extending the torso around his beard, making him the first "fat" minifig that I'm aware of. Sure, we've gotten the big figures like trolls and the like, or the occasional one-off like Hagrid, but this is the first time LEGO has done something other than just print fat lines on a regular minifig.
I like this figure, even if I'm not a fan of the character. It's also interesting that his mouth is covered by the beard/hairpiece, but they didn't bother to paint lips on it. The head underneath does have them, so kind of a gap on the design, but kind of a minor one. He does have an alt-face, but with the beard, I question why...
Next up is Dwalin, a dwarf so forgettable in the movie I can't even muster up a joke about him. Seriously, I'd have to put back on the movie (which, despite being hard on, I do own on BluRay... cursed limited edition minifigs), and I'd be hard pressed to remember him even then. And before the torches and pitchforks come out, a quick glance at The Middle Earth wiki, and the fact that this guy was so unimportant that Tolkein didn't even include additional background about him, seems to say I'm not alone in that fact.
It's a shame, because this is actually a pretty nice minifigure. The beard is detailed and unique, the printing is a good barbarian look, and that headpiece has a lot of promise. Good minifigure, forgettable character.
Last up is Balin, the mentor / old-guy dwarf. He played a role in the scene in question, giving advice to Thorin Oakenshield about the sorry state of his party. Sadly, that was about as far as the characterization took him. He stuck up for Bilbo, and called him out other times, but mostly he was just there. He has, sort of, appeared in another Lord of the Rings set... but mostly as a skeleton and a book (Mines of Moria).
While in the movie, the dwarves may be forgettable, their minifigs are all quite nice. The detail on the back of Balin's torso is nice, with the etched pattern that is hidden entirely by his cloak. In short, all of the dwarves are best considered in how else you can use their parts once you don't want any more dwarves...
Gandalf is in the set, who set up the whole "Unexpected" gathering by carving the rune on the door. The figure is unchanged from the other versions we get.
Last up, we get the the namesake of our story, Mr. Bilbo Baggins. The figure is a great representation of his character in Bag End, and different from the versions we got in Riddles for the Ring and Barrel Escape. Even the face is unique... the only thing that's the same is the hair.
Maybe it's me, but I look at this figure... I see a tan shirt and suspenders and I think "wow, that would make a good torso for a Malcolm Reynolds figure." Yes, he never wore a striped shirt (but did wear a tan one in Our Mrs. Reynolds)... but seriously, I want to go make that minifigure now! What head would work best for that?
It's always nice to see a set where the minifigs are the supporting cast, and not the purpose of the whole set. This set is all about giving you Bag End, in green LEGO glory. In the grand scheme of things, Bag End was a fairly minor stop in the movies, showing up at the start of Fellowship of the Ring and The Hobbit, as well as in seventeen of the eighty-six endings featured in Return of the King (the Extended Edition had an even two-hundred endings, and Bag End was in forty of them).
Despite only being featured in the movie for a comparatively short time, a lot of important things happen there. In An Unexpected Journey, this is where we first meet up the dwarf company, where Bilbo is content to live out his days, and where Gandalf does a little bit of magic graffiti. We get two musical numbers, some thrown plates, and a spine-tingly dwarf song. In short, this is where everything sort of comes together and the tone is set for the rest of the movie.
Outside of the hut, we're given all sorts of details, from plants, to flowers, to buckets, to flowers... there's just a lot. The yellow flowers are especially exciting to the castle builder in me. While not as rare as the blue variety, yellow has historically been very hard to get in the US (since the only stuff I've ever found on the PaB wall is pink, light pink, white, and red). It's always nice to be able to put those tiny color splashes around the ground.
The entire front is outlined with the small fence that staggers stickered tiles with a simple gate. While it looks nice, the big problem with this setup is that it's very fragile. Most of these are only held on by one or two studs, and it doesn't take much to take them off.
The entire build of Bag End flows well between the "grass" and outside to build the hobbit hole, with only a bit of the walls exposed on the outside. It all works quite well, and makes a good little display. We're also treated to a lot of colors and slopes we don't normally get (seriously, look at all that green), and this is a set that just looks nice sitting on a shelf.
My favorite detail on the front is something simple, yet a great touch for the set, in the placement of a "garden" just outside the door. It's a little touch, but one that made me smile. I had to resist the urge to grab my Samwise figure and put him under the window, not dropping any eaves.
This set also introduced several new brick types (which have since appeared elsewhere, but were cool at the time), such as the hollow circle plate pictured around the windows and the circular plate for the door. The windows and door are some fascinating things to build, especially how the lattice work was achieved on the big window to the left. Those are just four spinner bases without the spinner part, held together by some trans-clear boat bottoms. It works out great, and really strikes a unique look.
Okay, so it looks really nice "from the outside." Inside, there's a lot of scenery to work with... it's just a shame that the door is so ugly in comparison. We do get the area with the maps and contracts spread out for bilbo to look at. Part of me wishes that they would have worked in a way to get the contract joke for the set, but I suppose you take what you can get.
We get the dinner table where the dwarves are going to blunt the knives and clean out Bilbo's larder. There's a huge variety of food parts here, which I always love to see in a set. We get a couple of trans-smoke wine bottles, some pots and pans, and a book copy of "There and Back Again."
We also get a shelf for Sting, which is as strange as getting a copy of the book. If this is Bag End that's left to Frodo, it makes sense to have those there. But for "The Unexpected Gathering," Bilbo hasn't found Sting yet, and hasn't even considered writing down the travels he hasn't gone through. They are details that I like seeing, kind of, but it divides this set. I get that the (very needless) scene at the beginning featured Frodo and Bilbo, as well as the book, but that wasn't there with the dwarves.
Much like the Malibu Mansion Attack set for Iron Man 3, they try to capture more than one scene and sort of diminish the whole thing. Part of me wishes that sting and the book would have been left out in favor of adding to the table or putting in some more details... or at least finishing the inside door.
In the end, we have a very nice looking set with a collection of unique figures. The set itself looks great, but has a whole lot of utility both for display and for parts. You're not going to find a better collection of green (or dwarf torsos) available, and if you want to build a market or the like, there's a lot of food accessories in the set. It's not a cheap set, but it never feels like it's not delivering on that price (unlike, say, the Sail Barge). When we first saw it, this looked like a good set, and I'm pleased to say, after building it, that LEGO actually delivered a good set as well.
What I liked
- Good looking set, while not as big as the movie (that'd be one expensive set), immediately reminds you of Bag End from the movie
- Interesting building techniques for the windows, blending the building and grass, and garden
- Good selection of parts and figures, including a lot of stuff you don't normally find in one set (food stuff, specifically)
What I didn't like
- The door only looks good from the outside, and terrible from the inside
- Some details don't fit the scene that the set is trying to create
- The inside is somewhat sparse compared to the outside, and some details (maps, shelves) are more like tack-ons than detailed parts
Verdict: Pick it up, this is a great looking set with a lot of stuff going for it. You can get An Unexpected Gathering, and the rest of The Hobbit Sets, on Amazon.com. As of this article, it was even for a very nice discount, and down to $55 in the US, and all of the other Hobbit sets are carrying similar discounts.