Armies of Middle Earth:
the Good Guys of Wave 2
While you are waiting for the king to return (Elvis or Elessar, take your pick) and watching your DVD of Fellowship of the Ring and waiting for the extended Two Towers in November, you might have a hankering to act out some scenes from the Lord of the Rings trilogy. If it's the scenes where they all smoke 'pipeweed' you might try your local dealer, err entertainment supplier. But if huge battles are what stir your imagination, then you'll get help from Play Along Toys with the Armies of Middle Earth toy line.
The premise for Armies of Middle Earth is to create a line of toys that are smaller (and less expensive) to allow you to recreate some of the battles and memorable scenes from the three movies. Since most of us don't have the painting skills to work on miniatures, or the model making skills to build miniature sets, the perfect thing would be a line of pre-painted plastic figures, along with some playsets. Then they need to be small so your whole home isn't full just to set up the 10,000 Uruk-Hai you need to make the battle of Helm's Deep accurate as you make a Deeping Wall out of your mashed potatoes like Richard Dreyfuss in Close Encounters.
Now just because these are small figures (all the characters are under 3") don't expect the detail to be missing, because it isn't. The sculpting for these figures is top-notch and the paint and quality control go right along with it. After you get a set or two of the figures, you'll be like Holly Hunter in The Piano, doing whatever it takes to get one more key, or piece so you can have it all. Just make sure you stop before you get stuck having sex with Harvey Keitel.
This Spotlight is going to take a look at the second wave of Soldiers and Scenes and Warriors and Battle Beasts packs for the Armies of Middle Earth line. We'll take a look at the good guys today, and then give the bad guys their own Spotlight so they don't feel left out. At the end of the feature is a short rundown of the other figures and playsets in the line, so make sure you check that out to see what others sets may interest you.
There are a few things that are common to all the figures in the line, so it makes the perfect place to start. Even though cutting and pasting this over and over would be so very easy, we'll avoid the very easy and go with the merely easy! All the figures in the Soldiers and Scenes multi-packs come with bases, and the bases are detachable though many of the figures don't stand as well (or in some cases at all) without the bases. The figures on horseback come off, and weapons like swords and long pointy sticks are removable from the hands that hold them. The Elven Archer has his bow and arrow molded in his hands, so this doesn't apply.
On all the figures, the articulation is very limited. These really are not action figures but battle scale figures, and the sculpting on most of them means that if they had much more articulation they wouldn't be very poseable anyway. They are also very, very small so adding in articulation is difficult. And you have to be very careful with toys this small because arms and legs can be twisted off much easier than on larger toys. These are designed to be displayed and set up in huge (or possibly not so huge) battles just like toy soldiers.
Gimli and Legolas
The special two-for-one deal of the battle beasts is the pack with a horse and two riders - Gimli and his purely platonic Elf buddy Legolas. Yes, you get a running horse with a saddle for two, and two who are mounted. Umm, the two who like to ride. Umm, you get the picture. They both come off the horse and are both armed, Gimli with his handy axe and Legolas with a Rohan sword (both weapons can come out of their hands).
These guys are sort of the Middle Earth Odd Couple, in that they are total opposites. One's short, the other tall. One fat, the other thin. One runs through forests, and the other through caves. One is beloved by teenage girls, and the other by frat guys. These two show that we really all can get along, except for the Orcs - who are just plain bad.
Legolas has only a couple of points of articulation, namely both his shoulders can swivel. Gimli only has one at his waist, so he can do the twist and that's about it. Detail is the name of the game, and from Gimli's gloves and belt buckle to Legolas's quiver, boots and gauntlets the details are just like Prego - it's in there. Once you look at the pictures you'll see the paint details are clean and the quality control on these figures puts a few larger ones to shame.
The land of Rohan is North of Gondor and is home to people who really love their horses. They practically worship the animals and treat them like family - family that they actually like. Also like family that you would strap a saddle onto and ride around so you wouldn't have to walk. Yep, that kind of family.
This rider is just a generic rider, so you can make him whoever you'd like and he can fill in as a group of riders (assuming you buy a group of them). So he can battle Wargs on the hills, rush to save Helm's Deep with Eomer or just wait for the huge battle planned for Return of the King. While his horse is shown at a slow trot (like when Aragorn, Gimli and Legolas are found by the Rohirrim), he still isn't your typical Sunday rider. That's because he has the Middle Earth Bell with him in the form of his "reach out and touch someone" pike. The layman's term is "very long stick with a sharp point," or "extended pokin' stick."
The rider has waist and shoulder twists and the neck can twist a little but it was very tight so if you must twist the neck be very careful, the head might come off. This guy's armor and shield are well decorated and the helmet even has the form of a horse on the top. The chain mail has scales and the sword on his belt is not removable, but it looks nice.
Battle of Amon-Hen
The climactic battle in Fellowship of the Ring takes place at Amon-Hen, a place that was once an outpost for Gondor back in the day. Now there are just ruins overgrown with brush, but it makes the perfect spot for the remaining members of the Fellowship to split up and meet the Uruk-Hai for the first time. Of course they don't bother to try and talk out their differences and so it comes to fighting, and not everyone gets out alive.
The hero side of the battle is split between Aragon, Gimli and Legolas and Boromir, Merry and Pippen. The first group comes out of the battle okay and the latter bunch just has some bad luck. How bad? Let's just say when you see Boromir again it's going to be a flashback. And not one of those where Boromir is remembering something, but more like one of those where someone else remembers something about someone who is dead. The bad kind.
Boromir is portrayed as a 'start of the battle' Boromir because at the end he's a fair impression of an archery target. Since we should keep with the impressions, Merry and Pippen are like sacks of potatoes being carried off. But they all fight valiantly and Boromir does take out quite a few of the Uruks protecting Merry and Pippen.
Boromir towers over the hobbits in size and articulation. He has waist and neck twists, and both his shoulders twist. Once you add in his removable sword, he's pretty cool, but the best parts are in the details. He carried his shield and has an ornate horn on his belt. His cloak and boots are muddied from the battle. Both the hobbits are just as detailed, though not quite as armed since they only have short swords. They do carry packs, presumably loaded with food for the various extra meals they tend to consume. They are also articulated, with both having twisting necks and shoulders, and Pippen has a twisting waist. Merry will just have to settle for a Pepsi Twist.
Helm's Deep Elves
For the big battle in The Two Towers, everybody throws down at the fortress of Helm's Deep since it was the only place everyone had directions to. When all hope seemed lost, who comes knocking at the door but a bunch of long-haired guys. Unlike the usual hippies who just need a place to crash, the Elves are willing to earn their keep by helping to defend the keep. After the battle though, you get the feeling that many of these guys would have rather been Keebler elves, since they ended up dead.
The three pack features one Elf that we know by name, and then two generic elves. The generic Elves are an archer and a warrior, and the one we've previously met is Haldir. Haldir was the Elf who took the Fellowship to meet with Galadriel, and due to the rule of character economy he has to be the one to lead the contingent of Elves in to help out Helm's Deep. You'll recall that Elrond and Galadriel decided to send troops yet neither is there...
All the Elves wear elaborate armor, and the figures are no exception. All three are well sculpted and they are very impressive. The articulation though, is a mixed bag since the figures are sculpted for only a few poses. The archer has no articulation at all while the Elven Warrior has neck, waist and both shoulders fitted with twists. Haldir has the same waist, neck and shoulders as his warrior kin, and the two have swords in dramatic poses. Due to these poses the figures can't really take too much advantage of the articulation. Haldir's armor is much lighter in color that the other two, probably to show he's the leader but it also calls attention to him, and not the good kind. Let's just say I don't see a Return of the King Haldir figure coming...
The Line So Far
Much as you would expect any large military to be organized, so is the toy line depicting the armies of Middle Earth. There are three basic divisions within the line, one at the individual level, one mounted and one involving playsets. There is a fourth set but we're going to call in a sub-category of the playset division just to avoid making the opening argument about three divisions wrong.
The soldier level sets are sold in 3-packs and called 'Soldiers and Scenes' and they are based on having three figures built around a common theme or specific scene. The Wave 1 sets were Attack at Weathertop, Warriors of Rohan, Moria Orcs and Ringwraiths. For Wave 1 the count of good versus evil characters is 5 to 7, in favor of evil. For Wave 2, the odds are even at 6 each with Attack at Amon-Hen and Elven Warriors at Helm's Deep covered here on the good side, and Uruk-Hai and Mordor Orcs being covered in the companion piece when it is added.
For the mounted figures (cavalry in military parlance or Warriors and Battle Beasts for the toy line), there isn't much variety on the side of evil. This is because they really don't have much going for them in terms of small mounts. If you are a bad guy, you either are a Ringwraith with a horse, or an Orc with a Warg, and there is one of each in both the waves so far. The good guys have some variety, with Wave 1 consisting of Gandalf on Shadowfax and Aragorn on horseback. For Wave 2 you get a standard Rohan Horsemen and the bonus of two other characters (Legolas and Gimli) on horseback.
Along the lines of playsets, you have a Helm's Deep set, Orthanc and the Bridge at Kaza-dum. For the subset of playsets you have a pair of orc crews with some artillery. One set has a battering ram, while the other uses a siege ballista.
Will there be more? Umm, yeah.
Pictures of Legolas & Gimli
Pictures of the Rohan Horseman
Pictures of the Attack on Amon-Hen set
Pictures of the Elven Warriors of Helm's Deep
|Where to buy Armies of Middle Earth: The Armies of Middle Earth 3-packs retail in the $9.99 USD price range and the horse & rider packs retail in the $7.99 price range. They are available at toy stores such as ToysRUs, KB Toys, and larger Target locations, as well as various online toy retailers.
Several such online stores are RTM sponsors The Outer Reaches and Action Figure Xpress. (Be sure to check the other RTM sponsors, listed on the Shop Center.)