REVIEW: THE HOBBIT 4" SCALE BILBO BAGGINS FIGURE
Certainly one of the great literary classics of fantasy -- some would argue the greatest literary classic of fantasy, and they might well be correct, is THE LORD OF THE RINGS trilogy by J.R.R. Tolkein. Within these pages, Tolkein created the incredible world of hobbits, dwarves, wizards, elves, orcs, and more, and set one small hobbit named Frodo Baggins off on a quest in this increasingly war-torn world to destroy a dangerous ring that had come into his possession, and put an end to the plans of the evil Sauron.
The story was so epic in nature, it seemed a natural for movies. And yet at the same time, many considered the story too epic, too fantastic, to be successfully converted into motion picture form and still be respectful to the source material.
There were attempts. Ralph Bakshi endeavored to create an animated theatrical version of the first book of the trilogy, using innovative animation techniques of the time. Opinion varies on how successful Bakshi was. I've seen his movie and for the most part, I thought it was a muddled mess, especially visually and particularly the battle scenes. Rankin-Bass, on the heels of another endeavor which I shall discuss shortly, adapted the final book of the trilogy, "The Return of the King", into an animated version for television. The animation technique was ornate and impressive, but perhaps still somewhat lacking in the needed epic scale.
It took director Peter Jackson, a fair amount of New Zealand scenery, hundreds of actors, costumers, set designers and builders, and some of the most modern and innovative filming and special effects techniques available, to finally bring the Lord of the Rings trilogy to a cinematic reality that properly reflected the epic scale of the trilogy -- and I still think they wimped out on the ship that Gandalf, Frodo, and a few others sailed off in at the end of the movie. Here, the Rankin-Bass animated feature got it right.
But otherwise, Jackson finally managed what many had thought was impossible. Create a motion picture trilogy that followed Tolkein's epic classic and brought it to the movie screen as properly as possible.
But there is a fourth book. A prequel. Initially, Jackson said he didn't want anything to do with it. Need it be said, filming the trilogy was an exhausting procedure. But somewhere along the way, Jackson relented. And so, we have a second trilogy to enjoy, because somehow, Jackson is managing to get three movies out of this single, beloved book.
The book is THE HOBBIT, and it chronicles the adventures of a hobbit, one Bilbo Baggins, as he reluctantly joins a band of dwarves as they seek to reclaim a treasure stolen by a dragon named Smaug, and eventually regain their homeland. I don't think I'm giving away any long-held secrets here by saying that along the way, Bilbo comes across the Ring that sets the stage for the later trilogy.
The Hobbit has been adapted for the visual medium before. This is the other Tolkein-based production from Rankin-Bass, apparently taking a break from its stop-motion animated Christmas specials. Their animated incarnation of The Hobbit, produced in the mid-1970's, was a remarkably well-done tale, featuring an impressive voice cast, and some gloriously-rendered traditional animation, rich in detail and as epic in scope as you could ask a cartoon to be. Although the story was certainly shortened for time, it successfully presented the basics of the tale with a grandeur that was quite remarkable.
No doubt, however, that Peter Jackson's live-action version will be that much more impressive, utilizing the same methods and locations as were used for his Lord of the Rings trilogy. And CGI technology has had a decade of improvement, for that matter.
No great surprise, there is an action figure line for the first movie, officially known as THE HOBBIT: AN UNEXPECTED JOURNEY. What is surprising is that the action figure line comes from a company that I've never heard of. For that matter, I don't know of many people who have heard of it. Granted, a new company did need to be found, since the company that produced action figures for the Lord of the Rings movies, Toy Biz, sadly no longer exists. But whoever heard of "The Bridge Direct" before now? Certainly I hadn't. They're apparently a rather small company with offices in Florida, and that's about all I can tell you about them. One has to believe that these Hobbit figures are their first foray into action figures.
I decided to see what the figures were all about. The company is producing two scales of Hobbit figures -- roughly 4" and 6". That's an intelligent move on their part, since that seems to be the two major scales, give or take a bit, of most action figure lines these days. The 4" scale gives you compatibility with such lines as Star Wars, Marvel Universe, and G.I. Joe, while a 6" line sets you well alongside the likes of Masters of the Universe, DC Universe, and the WWE -- you know, just in case you want Sheamus to beat up a Goblin.
I decided to stick with the 4" scale line, since I do have a generous number of figures in this scale, including samples from other movies, like Indiana Jones and Pirates of the Caribbean, and the figure it made the most sense to choose first was "The Hobbit" himself, one BILBO BAGGINS.
Let's have a somewhat more extensive look at the history of the story, and of the character, and then we'll have a look at his action figure.
The Hobbit was first published on September 21, 1937, to wide critical acclaim, being nominated for the Carnegie Medal and awarded a prize from the New York Herald Tribune. The Hobbit follows the quest of home-loving hobbit Bilbo Baggins to win a share of the treasure guarded by the dragon, Smaug. Bilbo's journey takes him from light-hearted, rural surroundings into more sinister territory. The story is told in the form of an episodic quest, and most chapters introduce a specific creature, or type of creature, of Tolkien's Wilderland. By accepting the adventurous side of his nature and applying his wits and common sense, Bilbo gains a new level of maturity, competence and wisdom. The story reaches its climax in the Battle of Five Armies, where many of the characters and creatures from earlier chapters re-emerge to engage in conflict.
Encouraged by the book's success, the publisher requested a sequel. As Tolkien's work on the successor The Lord of the Rings trilogy progressed, he made retrospective accommodations for it in The Hobbit. These few but significant changes were integrated into the second edition. Further editions followed with minor emendations, including those reflecting Tolkien's changing concept of the world into which Bilbo stumbled. The work has never been out of print.
Bilbo Baggins, the titular protagonist, is a respectable, conservative hobbit. During his adventure, Bilbo often refers to the contents of his larder at home and wishes he had more food. Until he finds a magic ring, he is more baggage than help. Gandalf, an itinerant wizard introduces Bilbo to a company of thirteen dwarves. During the journey the wizard disappears on side errands dimly hinted at, only to appear again at key moments in the story. Thorin Oakenshield, the proud, pompous head of the company of dwarves and heir to the destroyed dwarven kingdom under the Lonely Mountain, makes many mistakes in his leadership, relying on Gandalf and Bilbo to get him out of trouble, but he proves himself a mighty warrior. Smaug is a dragon who long ago pillaged the dwarven kingdom of Thorin's grandfather and sleeps upon the vast treasure.
The story involves a host of other characters of varying importance, such as the twelve other dwarves of the company; two types of elves: both puckish and more serious warrior types; men; man-eating trolls; boulder-throwing giants; evil cave-dwelling goblins; forest-dwelling giant spiders who can speak; immense and heroic eagles who also speak; evil wolves, or wargs, who are allied with the goblins; Elrond the sage; Gollum, a strange creature inhabiting an underground lake; Beorn, a man who can assume bear form; and Bard the Bowman, a grim but honourable archer of Lake-town.
Gandalf tricks Bilbo into hosting a party for Thorin and his band of dwarves, who sing of reclaiming the Lonely Mountain and its vast treasure from the dragon Smaug. When the music ends, Gandalf unveils a map showing a secret door into the Mountain and proposes that the dumbfounded Bilbo serve as the expedition's "burglar". The dwarves ridicule the idea, but Bilbo, indignant, joins despite himself.
The group travel into the wild, where Gandalf saves the company from trolls and leads them to Rivendell, where Elrond reveals more secrets from the map. Passing over the Misty Mountains, they are caught by goblins and driven deep underground. Although Gandalf rescues them, Bilbo gets separated from the others as they flee the goblins. Lost in the goblin tunnels, he stumbles across a mysterious ring and then encounters Gollum, who engages him in a game of riddles. As a reward for solving all riddles Gollum will show him the path out of the tunnels, but if Bilbo fails, his life will be forfeit. With the help of the ring, which confers invisibility, Bilbo escapes and rejoins the dwarves, improving his reputation with them.
And I don't really want to reveal much more than that. Don't want to spoil the movies for anyone who's not entirely familiar with the story.
As to Bilbo himself, in the movies he is portrayed by actor Martin Freeman, while actor Ian Holm will reprise his role as an aged Bilbo from the Lord of the Rings trilogy. In The Hobbit stories, Bilbo is introduced as a Hobbit of about 50 years of age, which is roughly middle age for hobbits, who tend to live to be about 100. Like most hobbits, Bilbo is a homebody who is interested mostly in good books and good food and has no use for grand adventures, but ends up going on one almost despite himself.
Again, I don't want to give away too many details from the story for the sake of those who want to enjoy the movies. Obviously, Bilbo survives his adventures, and by the end of the journey, Bilbo had become wiser and more confident, having saved the day in many gruesome situations. He rescued the dwarves from giant spiders with the magic ring and a short Elven-sword he acquired. He used the ring to sneak around in hostile environments, as well as his wits to smuggle the dwarves out of the elves' prisons. He was able to hold his own in conversation with the wily Smaug. When tensions arose over ownership of the recovered treasure, he tried unsuccessfully to bring the opposing sides to compromise, using a stolen heirloom jewel as a leverage. This strained his relationship with Thorin, but the two were reconciled at Thorin's deathbed. At the end of the story, Bilbo returned to his home in the Shire only to find that several of his relations, believing him to be dead, were trying to claim his home and possessions. In addition to becoming wealthy from his share of the dwarves' treasure, he found that he had gained experience and wisdom.
By the time of the Lord of the Rings trilogy, Bilbo is celebrating his "eleventy-first", or 111th, birthday, and his adopted nephew, Frodo, is celebrating his 33rd, among hobbits meaning that he has come of age.
On the night of his and Frodo's birthdays, Bilbo announced his intent to turn his home and estate over to Frodo, put on the Ring and vanished from sight. As Bilbo prepared finally to leave the house, he reacted with panic and suspicion when Gandalf tried to persuade him to leave the Ring with Frodo. Bilbo refused to give up the Ring, referring to it as his "precious" – just as Gollum had in The Hobbit. Gandalf lost his temper with his old friend, talking some sense into him. Bilbo admitted he would have liked to be rid of the Ring, and he left it behind, becoming the first person to do so voluntarily. He left the Shire that night, and was never seen in Hobbiton again.
Freed of the Ring's power over his senses, Bilbo travelled to Rivendell, where for the next 17 years he lived a pleasant life of retirement: eating, sleeping, writing poetry, and working on his memoirs, and becoming a scholar of Elven lore.
When Frodo and the other Hobbits stopped in Rivendell on their quest to destroy the Ring, Bilbo was still alive but now visibly aged, the years having caught up with him after he surrendered the Ring. Upon seeing the Ring again, he suddenly tried to take it from Frodo; he returned to his senses when a terrified Frodo backed away, and he broke down in tears, apologizing for bringing the burden of the Ring onto Frodo.
After the quest to destroy the Ring was fulfilled in The Return of the King, Gandalf and the four Hobbits visited Rivendell on their way back to the Shire and found Bilbo still living there. He gave Frodo a set of manuscripts that later became Translations from the Elvish, and also gave Samwise Gamgee a small bag of gold that represented the last of his share from Smaug's vast hoard. Two years later Bilbo accompanied Gandalf, Elrond, Galadriel, and Frodo to the Grey Havens, there to take ship for Tol Eressëa across the sea. He had already celebrated his 131st birthday by this time, surpassing the Old Took by one year and becoming the oldest living Hobbit ever in Middle-Earth.
So, how's the figure? Well -- short, for one thing. We need to keep in mind that Hobbits are the smallest humanoid life-forms on Middle-Earth. Next up are dwarves, then elves, then humans -- and finally Galdalf with that pointy hat of his.
Need it be said one of the most impressive aspects of the Lord of the Rings movies, doubtless duplicated in The Hobbit, was taking a cast of human actors, roughly all the same scale, and altering them accordingly. Elijah Wood, who played Frodo Baggins, had to appear very small next to Ian McKellen, who played Gandalf, while John Rhys-Davies, who played the dwarf Gimli, had to come somewhere in between the two. All of this and still get it all incorporated into the grand scenery of Middle-Earth, as played in part by New Zealand.
Fortunately for The Bridge Direct, the toys could be manufactured in whatever size needed, without resorting to some of the most innovating filming and special-effects techniques ever devised.
That aside, the figure is extremely impressive, and I do mean extremely impressive, especially coming from a toy company that it seems nobody's ever heard of before. One discussion thread on a toy-based message board I encountered put forth other concepts that the participants thought were worthy of action figure lines, that they would like to see The Bridge Direct get the license for. A host of video games were mentioned, along with James Bond, and any number of properties already held by other companies. That's making one heck of a first impression.
It's deserved, though. Bilbo Baggins is nicely sculpted, very impressively detailed, neatly painted, and very well articulated. This figure has all of the elements one would like to see in an action figure, and none of the problems that do occasionally come up.
Bilbo stands almost precisely 3 inches in height. Although some small-scale action figures are originally sculpted at a larger size, often twice their intended size, and these original sculpts are called "two-ups", I don't know if this is the case with the Hobbit figures. And in any case, the painted detail still has to be carried out on the smaller figure during mass production.
One has to believe that The Bridge Direct found a production facility that had substantial experience in making toys and held them to some very exacting standards. The headsculpt is an excellent likeness of Bilbo as he appears in the movie. My one and only criticism of the entire figure is that the ears aren't quite big enough. If you look at the photo of Bilbo on the package, taken from the actor in the movie, you'll notice that Bilbo has rather large, somewhat tapered ears. They're not exactly pointed like Vulcans, but they're not typical human ears, either. The figure's ears are of a more average size. But I find this abundantly forgivable given how impressive the overall figure is.
Bilbo has rather shaggy, light brown hair. This was molded as a separate piece and glued to the head during assembly. This enabled both the head and the hair to be molded in their appropriate colors, with no need for paint detailing of their basic colors.
Look, I have nothing against proper paint details. But every so often I'll encounter a figure where the head has been molded in the hair color and the skin painted, even if the figure has relatively short hair, or even more ridiculous, a head that's been entirely painted -- skin, hair, the works. This is just silly. And if there's any glitches in the painting process, it can also lead to needless defects.
The way Bilbo has been manufactured works. It wouldn't work for every action figure out there, but it certainly works here. The only painted detail on the figure's head are the eyes and eyebrows. Which, I have to say, have been painted with an astonishing level of precision. I never fail to be impressed by the ability of any toy production facility to paint such tiny eyes on such small figures. Bilbo's eyes are barely 1/16" wide, and yet the whites are apparent, as are black pupils and neat lines over the eyes representing eyelashes.
Bilbo is neatly dressed, wearing a burgundy-brown coat, a pale gray-green vest, an off-white shirt with what appears to be a small scarf, and tan trousers. That's quite a wardrobe for such a small figure, but it's been carried out most effectively. The figure's arms are molded in the color of the coat sleeves. Then the rest of the coat was molded as a vest. This is not an unusual procedure at all these days, and I've seen it used on any number of action figure lines where a given figure is wearing a coat or a jacket or a robe. Everybody from Jedi knights to super-heroes have used this procedure. More often than not, it works quite well, and it certainly does here.
The actual vest that Bilbo is wearing, the gray-green one, was produced as a sort of flap that tucks under the coat and snaps onto two pegs on the figure's chest. It works, it looks good, and it lends a certain extra dimension to the figure. The scarf loops around the head, and I believe was put into place during assembly.
Bilbo also has a small sheath at his waist, on his left side. This is for his enchanted dagger -- more like a sword to Bilbo's side (although referred to in the previews for the movie as being more akin to a letter-opener), which Bilbo ultimately names "Sting" -- presumably no relation to either the musician or the professional wrestler. Interestingly, the sheath is attached to a separate brown belt, that is barely visible because of Bilbo's vest. That's some serious attention to detail.
Bilbo's trousers come to about the mid-calf level, and he is wearing no shoes or boots. Hobbits do not wear any sort of footwear. They have very large and very hairy feet. One supposes that the bottoms of their feet are quite toughened, and the hair keeps them warm in whatever sort of winter the Hobbits might experience.
Here again, on the figure, we see some incredible detail work. The tops of Bilbo's feet have a somewhat rough texture to them, but the details of hair appear to have been imprinted on. They weren't just paint-wiped on or something -- a practice I am not the least bit fond of. They were neatly painted or imprinted on to give the appearance of proper Hobbit hair, and this was done very effectively.
Let me say that I have been very impressed by the fact that The Bridge Direct did not use any sort of paint-wiped dirtying or weathering. I detest that practice. The times where it works and is even necessary are far fewer than those where it is actually implemented. No doubt Bilbo and company get put through several wringers over the course of their movies, and I doubt they come out of it all that clean. But it's just not necessary on the figures, and I applaud The Bridge Direct for their restraint here.
Interestingly, Bilbo Baggins has very few paint details at all. Most of his form is molded in whatever the primary color is. His head and hands are flesh tone, his arms and the coat are the burgundy-brown, and his trousers are tan. The vest is gray-green, and so is his torso. Here we have a little painted detail, where Bilbo's neck is flesh-tone, and a bit of off-white has been painted on the upper chest to look like his shirt. Additionally, his lower legs and feet are painted flesh-tone. And there's a bit of silver detail around his Sheath. But it's all been very neatly done.
Now, let's talk articulation -- because there's plenty of it. Bilbo is fully poseable at the head, arms, elbows, wrists, waist, legs, and knees. The elbows and knees have swivels as well as back and forth movement, and the legs move outward and well as back and forth. He's not poseable at the ankles, but that might have been a bit tough. His wrists swivel, and this was easy enough to work out given that his hands emerge from the long sleeves of his coat. The ankles would've been a little trickier, and might have spoiled the hobbit image of big hairy feet. He stands well -- which is more than I can say about some action figures that have recently lost their ankle articulation -- so I'm not going to criticize.
More to the point, none of Bilbo's articulation points are double-jointed, the way some figures are these days. I have yet to see any action figure line that has used this needless technique where it works well and looks good. It just doesn't. It breaks up the lines of the action figure too much, and it just doesn't look very good in operation. I'm glad that it wasn't used here.
The only slight articulation hindrance is that Bilbo's legs have a little trouble moving forward and back. But they still work well enough.
Bilbo comes with a nice supply of accessories. Notable among these is Sting, his dagger-sword. This item is about 1-1/8" long, with a silver blade and a brown hilt. Very nicely made. Bilbo also comes with a couple of leather-like pouches on plastic-molded ropes. No one ever said that hobbits travel light, when they bother to travel at all, which isn't often.
So, what's my final word? I'm very sincerely impressed. Certainly Peter Jackson has doubtless crafted another amazing trilogy of movies to enjoy, based on Tolkein's original adventure in Middle-Earth, and The Bridge Direct has surely made a name for themselves by turning out an abundantly impressive toy line. I suspect I may round up a few more of the figures, and review them as I do, but let me just say this, based purely on in-store observation: All of the figures are superb. 4" scale, 6" scale, hobbit, dwarf, wizard, whatever. All of the high points that I have related regarding the Bilbo Baggins figure in this review apply to all of the others as well. The Bridge Direct has very much earned the interest and accolades it is receiving for this line, and I congratulate them for it.
And if you're a fan of The Hobbit, either in literary or cinematic form, then you're definitely going to want to round up some of these figures, and Bilbo Baggins is not a bad one at all to start with. After all, he is -- The Hobbit.
The BILBO BAGGINS figure from THE HOBBIT: AN UNEXPECTED JOURNEY definitely has my highest recommendation!