Sunday, June 16th, 2013 at 1:23pm by Andrew, BZPower News Manager
[Source: Nuju Metru]
Today we look at one of the newest Lord of the Rings sets, 79005 The Wizard Battle. Forum Assistant and Tolkien fan Nuju Metru has decided to share his thoughts on this little set from the pivotal scene in the film. Read on to see if this set is worth buying and finding space for in your already-crowded LEGO Tolkien display area! (Or is that just me?)
From the design of the box to the instruction manual, these are the first things you see before building the set.
Such a wonderful box, this is... I find the LEGO "Lord of the Rings" boxes to be quite pleasing to the eye, always have. They have a certain subtle charm. I appreciate how the dark blue on top, a nice background for the familiar LOTR franchise logo, fades into orange to go with the flaming Eye of Sauron in the upper right-hand corner; it's nicely parallel, but also distinctive, to last year's packaging, which gradated blue to yellow, with a picture of the One Ring in place of the Eye. The model, an excerpt from inside the dark tower of the white wizard Saruman (conveniently clothed in white, for those of you unfamiliar with the characters), takes up the rest of the free space on the box front. Saruman and the other wizard, Gandalf, are clashing staffs with much CGI beautification; between them, the Eye of Sauron, here appearing in a Palantir, or seeing stone, glows like fire. It's a dynamic scene.
This is a small set, and the box makes it clear. It's a little thing, the same size as the "Riddles in the Dark" Hobbit set from earlier this year (yes, so what if I keep all my packaging for LOTR/Hobbit sets; they're special to me, okay?), and when given a nice shake, the parts seem not to move much. The box is dense, full of pieces; 113 of them, as the handy white-text sidebar shows. It also bears the usual set number, name, and age range... Looks like I'm breaking the rules on that age range part.
The back of the box, as is typical, is occupied with several smaller images of the set that showcase its functions and playability. Again, there's a preservation of last year's box design motifs in the new wave of sets, most notably the thumbtacked (stapled? speared?) pieces of parchment, which frame the aforementioned smaller images. The set's functions - a chair launcher, and a Gandalf spinner - as well as its accessories - two staffs and a Palantir - are highlighted in the rough parchment rectangles.
Opening up the box, we're presented with two bags of dominantly black parts. At the bottom of the box, separate from other parts, were two 2x14 dark bley plates, which I correctly assumed would become the base of the model. In between the bags (is this normal?) was situated the undamaged folded instruction manual. The manual looks just like the front of the box, only that its frame is wider, so the background has more room to fade into darkness. The parts pile, once plastic bags are broken, feels nice and substantial. Certain elements jump out during the initial shuffle of the set, but those will be looked at later. Well, all the bits are out. It's time to start building.
Half the fun is had building the set. How fun is it to build and how easy or challenging is it?
The first parts of the set that go together, unsurprisingly, are the minifigures, Gandalf the Grey and Saruman the White. We'll look at them, like the cool pieces, later. Immediately following the assembly of the minifigs, the main model starts to come together. Here are some WIP images; there's nothing too surprising about the set's construction, so I have no reason to point anything out during this part.
Here are the few extra pieces:
Now that the set is complete, we can critique how it looks from every angle. New or interesting pieces can also be examined here.
First on the examination block are the interesting parts in this set. The set has only one new mold, but a few fun recolors I picked out.
I'm unsure of the relative rarity of the leftmost piece, but I know that I don't have many of them, and the uses I can think up are plentiful. I'm also fairly sure that the black version of the Atlantis pillar, so common in white, has appeared elsewhere, but it's new for me and I like it a lot. Saruman's hairpiece is the only new mold in the set; it came wrapped in an individual soft plastic bag, and is made of a soft, bendable plastic itself. The printing of the beard is very nice, and instantly distinguishes Saruman from Gandalf the White (who is in the Black Gate set of this wave). Then there's the inside of the Palantir, a trans-orange head emblazoned with the Eye of Sauron. It's double-printed with the same image on both sides, a simple but effective representation of its source material. Lastly is my favorite new part, the recolored crystal ball element, which appears here in trans-yellow. They're very pretty in person.
Next up is our cast of characters. Saruman is on the left, and Gandalf on the right. I'll tackle Gandalf first, as he's nothing too new; Gandalf the Grey is one of the most common of Middle Earth figures, and this version of him varies little from past iterations. The chief difference is in his headgear - long hair instead of his signature hat - and in his head. One side of the Gandalf face, the "nice" side, is the same as ever. But this Gandalf is also armed with an "angry" face, which can be seen above in the photo to the right. The open mouth, though impossible to see beneath the beard, is a nice touch.
Saruman is the new figure of note here, as he's exclusive to this set until the Tower of Orthanc (the best LEGO set ever?) comes out later this summer. Just like Gandalf's figure, Saruman's is crafted with a high level of detail that could only come from fig-designer love. His torso, both front and back printed (despite wearing a cape, it's printed back there!), is covered with intricate silver embroidery. His beard/hair piece I've already gone into. Saruman's head is, funnily, the same head as that of the Count Dooku figure in a Star Wars set this year; the same actor, Christopher Lee, plays both Saruman and Dooku. Dookuman's face, like Gandalf's, has a placid and an angry/leery side.
My only qualm with the figure of Saruman lies in his staff. It's a three-piece assembly and, while excellent in theory and appearance, it doesn't work so well in practice. I'm not sure if it's just the individual pieces I was given in this individual copy of the set or a general connectivity issue, but the white bulb at the top of Saruman's staff is very loose in its attachment to the black torch/railing/telescope part below it. This means that any careless posing of his staff leads the bulb to fall out and probably roll away. Many sad grimaces were made at this discovery.
The full set is a cool, dark diorama of that memorable scene from "The Lord of the Rings: The Fellowship of the Ring." It's all one set piece, with the two ominous lanterns attached at either side; I do sort of wish that these had come as separate elements, so that the scene could be spread out a little more, but it's a small qualm. The architectural atmosphere of the set nicely mimics the inside of Orthanc with minimal, clever parts usage, a fittingly dark color scheme, and an upward, angular feeling, best exemplified in those gorgeous lamps. I also like how Saruman's chair has space enough for his cape to hang in back without bending.
Another thing that slightly irks me about this set is its complete symmetry, which becomes very clear when the structure is looked at head-on, as seen above. I think it's mainly the too perfect trident at the tall end, formed by the spiny back of the chair and the two lamps, which subtly offends my design sensibility. This problem would have been solved if those lamps were separate elements...
The back view is this set's worst angle, which is the case much of the time in LEGO sets. Aside from the playability knobs and bells and whistles, the set could have practically run into a brick wall for the flawless planar surface back there. This doesn't bug me as much, because the chair is supposed to be woven into the wall of a larger tower, which we don't have here.
The Palantir is the biggest draw to the eyes, as it should be, being the crucial element in this scene, the fulcrum of Saruman's betrayal. The trans-orange Eye of Sauron underneath the clear crystal ball creates a nice effect, an appearance of containment. The double-sided print on the head is a good idea, too, because as the platform on which the Palantir is situated rotates, it's hard to find an angle where Sauron's eye isn't staring menacingly out.
The other half of the fun is in playing with the set. How well does the set function and is it enjoyable to play with?
I always appreciate efforts that TLG designers take to make their sets more than just pretty dioramas (unless those efforts stop making the set pretty). The Wizard Battle, despite being a small set, includes two play features, and the effort taken makes me happy. Time to look into how effective the attempts were.
The first feature is the chair launcher. This is simple, a flickable peg in back that pushes figures sitting therein out. Being a fairly straightforward transfer of energy, the more "flick" you put in, the more "fly" you'll get as a result. The chair's arms, angled up, assist in giving the launched figure in question a bit more oomph. A firm push will send the figure flopping into the Palantir stand; a solid flick will send them flying several inches beyond the confines of the set. The red plug on the end needs frequent adjustment after more forcible flicks, and is highly conspicuous in that color. This feels sort of like a flick-fire missile, where the missile is a figure.
I find the other play feature of the set to be far cooler: it's the spinning Palantir base. This is also a pretty routine piece of technology; a simple gearbox is situated beneath the platform and, when a knob in back is turned, the rotation is transferred to the Palantir base. When I first spotted this feature when I examined images of this set, I thought it was rather silly, frivolous even, for the designer to have included something to make the round Palantir spin. Was it really that important to see the Eye of Sauron move in and out of sight?
It wasn't until seeing the back of the box that I realized the intended use of this spinner, and was impressed by the ingenuity and fun of it. By attaching the back of Gandalf's legs to the studs on the round plate beneath the Palantir, the turning base becomes a delightful spinner, which replicates a memorable attack Saruman used on Gandalf in the movie. The chair is situated just far enough away that the spinning Gandalf's head won't collide with it. I really enjoy this function, even if it did necessitate a chunky base for the set.
Once it's all said and done, how does the set stack up? Should I get it?
What's to like?
- We've seen worse price-to-parts ratios from licensed sets (LEGO Star Wars, I'm looking at you...)
- Dark, ominous architecture is accurate to movie designs and cool
- Those lamps though
- Tricked-out Gandalf and all-new Saruman are both great figs
- Affordable way to get important LOTR character
- Some fun new elements like trans-yellow bulbs
- Sturdy model feels perfectly sized for its price range
- Gandalf spinner function
What's not to like?
- We've seen better price-to-parts ratios, even in this line of sets
- If only the lamps were detached from the structure
- Set feels sort of redundant in the face of the gorgeous Orthanc Tower set (which I must own!)
- I can't decide if I like the chair launcher or not
- Mostly uniform in color, perhaps that bugs some people
Thanks for reading. Overall, I am fairly pleased with this set. The duel between Saruman and Gandalf was a nice scene to recreate for the LOTR theme, and certainly a more memorable moment in the movies than the arrival of the pirate ship of the Corsairs of Umbar, which was also made into a set this wave.
Yeah, this was a key part of the LOTR story, a two-character scene which could be pulled off with minimal pieces... sounds like a great idea for a set, doesn't it? Yep. That's why I had the same idea when I was designing my own wave of LOTR sets before news of TLG's acquisition of the franchise broke. The similarities between 79005 The Wizard Battle and my MOC stab at the same scene are fun to look at.
If you're a fan of the LOTR franchise, I recommend buying this set. It's cheap, and feels pretty substantial; it includes some key characters, one of which is new (and if you don't want to spend $200 on the Orthanc Tower set, it's the only place to get him); it has some FUNctions. I was happy with it, happy enough to include it among the choice LOTR sets that make my shelves.
The display case is to stop it from getting dusty. Don't judge me.
Sorry Aaron, you have been judged - judged as awesome! I hope everyone enjoyed this review; if you did be sure to thank Nuju Metru in the Talkback, as well as leave any questions or comments you may have. And of course keep checking back on BZPower for more LEGO news and reviews!
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