While it was Star Wars that got me back into LEGO all the way back in 1999, Castle has always been my first love. It's what I loved as a kid; when I dumped my bricks out on the carpet to build as a kid, I either built houses or castles. Sure, there was an occasional spaceship, but I was a huge NASA fan back then, and didn't get into Classic Space because it really didn't look like the NASA stuff I loved.
What does this have to do with a review of the mid-range Lord of the Rings set, Attack on Weathertop? Not much, except I wanted to explain exactly how much I was looking forward to the whole fantasy genre getting some love, hopefully in the same way that space did when Star Wars hit. Sure, classic space vanished when Star Wars hit, and the same thing has happened to Castle, but LEGO had been treating Castle like a red-headed stepchild for years. But Lord of the Rings has all the promise of revitalizing this style of set, and tapping a vein that almost every other licensed line other than Star Wars has failed to do: succeed beyond the release of a movie. All of the initial LEGO Lord of the Rings sets are based on the Peter Jackson movies released in 2001, 2002, and 2003. Ten years seems like a long time between a film and the set releases, but with the Hobbit coming out, it was time to strike. Yes, the books are from 1950s, but most people identify with the movies not the books. The films did more to make people visualize the series than calendars and art books ever could.
Sure, it would have been awesome to see these sets back when the movie was big, but the films were never a sure bet. And honestly, LEGO has diversified a ton since the early days of Star Wars (go put together the original Slave I and hold it next to any other version to see what I mean), so we get a higher quality build these days, even if the price hurts our brains and wallets. For years, we've used the base of 10 cents per piece as good "value" in a set. I'm thinking it's time for that to change... it should be obvious to everyone that we're never going back to the old pricing.
$60 for this set means that it's main feature is some of that hurt. Like all of the sets in the line from $30 on up, these are playsets (instead of just characters and scenes like Gandalf Arrives and Shelob Attacks), and designed to capture the look of an iconic location and incorporate some playset features. We get the the ruins on top of the hill, a small little bush addition, and five minifigs, 3 1/5th of which are exclusive to this set.
For minifigs, we get two Ringwraiths (or Nazgûl for you whacky purists), Aragorn, Frodo, and Merry. This makes this the cheapest set to get Aragorn (who is also in Battle of Helm's Deep), and the most expensive way to get Frodo (who also appears in Shelob Attacks). The rest, all unique to here. One can't help but look at the lineup, the fact that it will cost you $160 USD just to get the 4 hobbits, and go "Well Played, LEGO, well played." Add on Gandalf Arrives for another $13 though, and you get the entire Fellowship. Suddenly doesn't seem so bad.
First up, Aragorn. Outside of Frodo, he's the primary protagonist of the movies/books. The entire third movie is focused around him (being the king that returns and all), and in the movies, he's just pure awesome. Not bad for a last minute casting replacement. As a minifigure though?
Easily the most boring one in the entire line, which is kind of sad. I think part of the problem is that he always has the look for Helm's Deep Aragorn, and never the look of Strider, the Ranger of the North. The torso printing isn't bad, and it has his general look, but it feels like he really should have a cloak and hood as well. Like almost all (maybe all) in the line, he's got an alternate face. We get intense Aragorn or Angry Aragorn. Except the mouth being open... I don't see much difference.
Frodo is the main character of the series. Remember how I said we get 1/5th of a unique minifig in this set? It's actually Frodo who gives us that change, because LEGO had the attention to detail to give him a different colored cloak. The grey cloaks he and Sam wear are gifts from Galadriel, before that, he sported some green for his little jaunt out of the shire. Beyond that, though, it's exactly the same minifigure we get in Shelob Attacks.
Frodo comes with The One
Seriously, outside of Boromir playing pincushion and Aragon going over a cliff, I don't think any other main character even got bruised in the movie. And even if Boromir hadn't died in the books, he was played by Sean Bean, who's most marketable skill in movies is dying (spoilers to some other movies), so of course he was going to die in the movie (just like in the book). I guess they didn't want to print up another alt face of Frodo yelling "Sam!" That being said, I really wish that they would have made him with more of a smile. Frodo's two expressions in the movie were smiling and downtrodden from the weight of duty. But the figure looks good, a great fusion of LEGO and Lord of the Rings.
Sure, in the series, people always focused on the Elf girl Logolas, Gimli, and Aragorn for action. But the best moments and scenes all involve the hobbits. Sean Astin still got shafted by the Academy, and in the second two movies, Merry + Pippin was entertainment gold. Weathertop gives us Merry, the more serious of the duo. Of course, by saying serious here, it's kind of like saying how The Godfather: Part II was better than the original. The original is still awesome.
That light green short cloak is just delicious, I have to say. Like so many of the other torsos in the line, I can see a ton of applications in other figures, especially castle and pirates stuff. For some reason, I look at this one and think "wow, that'd make a good Fable figure torso." That is if you like Fable. I don't, curiously enough.
Merry comes with a short sword that first came out with the collectible minifigs, and shows up all over the place in this line. Overall, I have to say that Merry and Pippin (in Mines of Moria) are the two Hobbits that look absolutely spot-on for the character style. And the alt face is just awesome. I mean, can't you just look at that face and immediately picture the end of Fellowship where he screams, raises the sword, and is immediately captured by Uruk-hai?
Last up, we get two Ringwraiths, the bad guys (of sorts) that were not orcs, and also much more awesome. We get two, and they're identical, come with unique cloaks and the brand new horses in black. To be honest, these alone make this set a far better value than it would be otherwise. What kind of sucks is that we have to buy this set 4 more times to get all of the Black Riders. Maybe just 3, if you'd rather do some custom work on the Lich King, but still... why did men get so many rings?
You know, let's just take a few moments to look at him and sigh. What's he got going for him? New longsword in dark pearl grey? Check. A new cloak style that is wider (using 3 holes to wrap around, instead of two), and just dripping in awesome? Check. New horses in black? Check. A torso that screams both Ringwraith and Jedi? Check.
If I had a knock on these figures, it's that I kind of would have liked to see an alternate face of the ghost faces of the old kings, like Frodo saw when he put on The One Ring. But I'm not sure how you do that and still get the hood looking right. That being the said, the cloak is so awesome I'm willing to forgive a lot of other stuff.
As for that torso, take a look at these guys broken down. Tell me that this torso doesn't look better than any of the plain black Jedi and Sith tunics we've seen. Admit it, you want one right now to make a new Jedi Knight Luke. ADMIT IT!
I wasn't really a fan of the new horses in brown, and I cannot really tell you why. They just don't look quite right (and all come in sets in a really weird pose, like they're trying to fly or something). The same model in black, however, looks just great. Maybe it's the coloring, or how weird brown horses look after years and years of white and black ones.
As for the set itself, it's basically just this bush...
...and then the ruins at the top of Weathertop. For those who don't remember, this was the camping spot after the Hobbits and Strider left The Inn of the Prancing Pony (I think in Bree), and camped out. Yes, the ruins are a lot larger, but this is a mid-range set, and we get quite a bit with it.
Closed, it's obviously a decent representation in the playset line. The build itself is fairly fun, and there's a great variety of parts. You get the new bricks in dark tan, several light grey slopes and bricks, and dark green slopes. Not to mention some dark grey and arches for good measure. For a castle builder, there's a lot to love about this set, even at the high price point.
Since this is a playset, the tower section opens up and has two alcoves to hide our hobbits and people in.
On one side, we get a small weapons rack and
The other side gives us... something? Seriously, I have no idea what this is supposed to be? Some sort of wheel? A dwarf exercise machine? Something from a Lady GaGa concert? Oh and flickfires.
I'm sorry, what was that? You're asking what flick fires are doing in a Lord of the Rings set? That's a very good question. One to which I don't know the answer, and for the good of all humanity, I hope there isn't an answer that doesn't involve "I was really drunk, and saw flickfires, and said, what the hell!" Otherwise, LEGO made a castle wall that can shoot brown studs on flickfires. And I weep for us all if that's the case.
Of course, on the other side of those flick fires is one of my favorite features, the little Hobbit cookpot and some wonderful dark grey spiral steps. After I took these pictures, I just had to put all of my hobbits around here (save Frodo, he has to come running in to call them fools). Yes, the flickfires are dumb, but this set does what every good licensed LEGO set should do: it reminds me of the movie. So much about this set can bring me right back to recalling specific parts of the movies.
Think about it, the best sets do that. Jabba's Sail Barge, Buzz & Woody's RC Escape, Tantive IV. You can look at these sets and just imagine it (admit it... when you first built Tantive IV, you started to hum the intro to A New Hope and move it under a star destroyer).
Of course, that brings me to my biggest issue with this set. It's not that it doesn't have good figures... it does. Or that it's too expensive (it is). It's that the best moment of the scene isn't the fight at all, it's the whole discussion with the hobbits, trying to make breakfast. Shortly before, they were talking about Seconds-ies, Brunch, and everything. I would have much rather seen more hobbits in this set, and take Aragorn out, or better yet, add Pippin and make this set fully worth the $60 price tag. It was close before it, and I think that's probably the difference. That or another Ringwraith.
To be honest, they could have easily beefed this set up a little and added both Sam and Merry, downsized Moria, and switched their price points. Moria was a sticker-fest that had characters I would have rather seen elsewhere. Put all of the Hobbits in here and another 150 parts, and this is easily an $80 set. As it sits, it's more of a $50-55 set. But on sale, this set is a no-brainer buy. Right now, it's more of a think about it buy.
What I liked:
- Good playset that captures the look of Weathertop
- Ringwraiths and their awesome cloaks and torsos
- A good blend of bricks and parts
- I like the new horses in black a lot more than I like the brown ones... I'm not sure why
What I didn't like:
- Feels like a $40-50 set, not $60
- Adding all four of the hobbits would have justified the price tag. Without Sam and Merry, it feels like something is missing
- Aragorn feels so underwhelming next to every other minifig in the line
- Why would a castle needs flick fires?
Verdict: Buy it, especially if it's on sale