REVIEW: EMCE TOYS RETRO-STYLE STAR TREK THE NEXT GENERATION CAPT. PICARD
I have said this in any number of reviews of retro-style action figures which seem to be catching on with collectors these days, but there can be little question that the top producer of action figures throughout much of the 1970's was a company called Mego. Their formula for creating 8", cloth-costumed, entirely compatible action figure lines (something of a coincidence but certainly a blessing for those of us who enjoyed multiple concepts during those years) by the use of a more or less common body mold with an easily attached head and assorted costumes, propelled them to the top of the action figure world. As did their licenses.
Along with securing the rights to both DC Comics and Marvel Comics, something which would likely be next to impossible today, at least for action figures, Mego also brought in the likes of Planet of the Apes, CHiPs, Starsky and Hutch, as well as a number of popular in-house creations, some based on established legends, such as Robin Hood, King Arthur, and assorted Western heroes and even Pirates!
But one of their most popular lines, was based on one of the most popular pop culture concepts of the time -- STAR TREK! The original series had run from 1966-1969. But despite being given a horrendous time slot in its third season by the network, which had been pressured by one of the most massive letter-writing campaigns in the history of television to continue the show, this persuading the network to continue the series but at the same time virtually ensuring its cancellation with the new time slot, Star Trek just would not fade away.
The 79 episodes of the original series entered the syndicated re-run market, where it garnered an entire new audience. The first Star Trek convention, which was expected to draw several hundred people, instead drew several thousand. Everyone was surprised -- the show's stars, the show's producers, and certainly the network, who were no doubt rather annoyed when told, in light of the relatively new ratings analysis process known as "demographics", that the demographically perfect show had been found. It was the one they'd just thrown off the air.
Star Trek would return, first as an animated series - ironically on the same network that canceled it - and then as a series of highly popular theatrical movies, after an abortive attempt to start up a full second television series.
Through it all, though, Star Trek remained largely the same. It was the adventures of Captain Kirk, Mr. Spock, Dr. McCoy, and company, in the late 23rd century, starring William Shatner, Leonard Nimoy, DeForest Kelley, and the rest. They started to show some age, of course, and the uniforms and even the starship USS Enterprise changed, but it was still the same classic, iconic crew. And Mego produced a superb series of figures based on the original television series, and for the first movie.
Sadly, Mego itself didn't last too long after that. Following the debut of another science-fiction franchise, Star Wars, which Mego had not acquired the toy license for, the toy world changed. Kenner's 3-3/4" Star Wars figures, with the clothes molded as part of the body, altered the landscape of the action figure world forever. 8" cloth-costumed figures were seen as increasingly outmoded, and Mego simply could not keep up. The company closed its doors in the early 1980's.
In 1987, an all-new Star Trek series debuted in syndication. For the first time ever, the focus was not on Captain Kirk, Mr. Spock, and the rest of the crew of the Enterprise exploring the galaxy in the 23rd century. Instead, this new series, titled STAR TREK THE NEXT GENERATION, jumped ahead into the latter half of the 24th century, aboard the USS Enterprise-D, a far larger and more sophisticated ship than its predecessors, and followed the adventures of Captain Jean-Luc Picard, Commander William Riker, Data, an android, Worf, the first Klingon to serve in Starfleet, and others, in a much bigger and more complicated galaxy than Kirk had ever known.
It was a gamble. Would the longtime, die-hard Star Trek fans accept an entirely new Star Trek? While there were a few holdouts, it worked. It worked so well that the series ran for seven seasons, more than double the original series, and spawned multiple spin-offs, including STAR TREK DEEP SPACE NINE and STAR TREK VOYAGER, which took place in the same 24th century setting, but in drastically different environs, with Deep Space Nine being set on a space station, and Voyager taking a starship crew and stranding them halfway across the galaxy; and finally STAR TREK ENTERPRISE, the ultimate prequel series, set in the 22nd century, before Kirk, Picard, or anyone else boarded a ship.
Unfortunately, by 1987, Mego was well out of business. After a short-lived line of action figures by Galoob, the Playmates toy company picked up the rights to Star Trek, and over a generous number of years produced a host of action figures based on not only Star Trek The Next Generation, but Deep Space Nine, Voyager, and even the Original Series. Their license ran out before they could do any figures from Enterprise.
Most of Playmates' figures were around 5" in height, give or take a bit. They did produce a 12" line of action figures, as well as a superb 9" line of cloth-costumed action figures, which was arguably as close as Playmates got to duplicating Mego's efforts. There was a considerable lineup here from all four Treks at the time, and they really are excellent figures.
But -- What if? What if Mego HAD continued to exist into the late 1980's? What if they had maintained the Star Trek license, and extended it into The Next Generation?
Now, thanks to EmCe Toys, we have a pretty good idea.
Several years ago, some enterprising (okay, bad pun, I know -- deal with it) individuals formed a company called EmCe Toys, whose logo bore a suspicious resemblance to an early Mego logo. There was a reason for this. With the blessing of Mego's founder, Marty Abrams, EmCe Toys set out to bring back the days of Mego. While they couldn't acquire the licenses to the "World's Greatest Super-Heroes" from DC and Marvel, they could obtain other licenses -- including Star Trek! Basing their figures entirely on the original molds, right down to the headsculpts from the original Star Trek line, EmCe brought back Kirk and the crew, even finally introducing figures of Sulu and Chekov, who had not been part of the original line, as well as presenting a host of classic Aliens from the line, including a vastly improved Gorn.
Doubtless there were those who wondered -- well, we've had other Star Treks since then. Wouldn't it be cool to have Mego-type figures of those characters? Apparently EmCe Toys wondered the same thing, because that's exactly what they've done. We now have official Mego-style figures from STAR TREK THE NEXT GENERATION!
This review will take a look at CAPTAIN JEAN-LUC PICARD, who was played by actor Patrick Stewart. Let's consider briefly the history of the character, and of the actor.
Jean-Luc Picard was born to Maurice and Yvette Picard in La Barre, France, on July 13, 2305, and dreamed of joining Starfleet. He failed his first Starfleet Academy entrance exam, but was subsequently admitted and became the first freshman to win the Academy marathon. His academic training in archaeology is mentioned in numerous TNG episodes and he continues to pursue archaeology as a hobby; he also remarks at one point that he failed a semester of organic chemistry because of a distraction created by romantic issues. Shortly after graduation, Picard was stabbed in the heart by a Nausicaan, leaving the organ irreparable and requiring replacement with a parthenogenetic implant; this would prove near-fatal later.
Picard eventually served as first officer aboard the USS Stargazer, which he later commanded. During that time, he invented a starship evade and attack tactic that would become known as the Picard Maneuver.
Depicted as deeply moral, highly logical and intelligent, Picard is a master of diplomacy and debate who resolves seemingly intractable issues between multiple parties with a Solomon-like wisdom. Though such resolutions are usually peaceful, Picard is also shown using his remarkable tactical cunning in situations when it is required. Picard has a fondness for detective stories, Shakespearean drama, and archeology. He is frequently shown drinking Earl Grey tea and issuing an order by saying "Make it so."
Star Trek: The Next Generation depicts Picard's command of the Galaxy-class USS Enterprise (NCC-1701-D). The ship carries roughly a thousand crew and passengers, the passengers largely being family members of the crew, something which was considered a new development for Starfleet at the time. The pilot episode shows the ship's mission to investigate a problem at Farpoint Station, which becomes sidetracked when the being known as Q makes Picard "representative" in a trial charging humanity with being a "dangerously savage child-race". Picard persuades Q to test humanity, and Q chooses as the test's first stage the crew's performance at Farpoint. The trial "ends" seven years later (when Q reminds Picard that it never does), in the series finale, when humanity is absolved by Picard's demonstration that the species has the capacity to explore the "possibilities of existence".
The third season finale, "The Best of Both Worlds, Part I", depicts Picard being assimilated by the Borg to serve as a bridge between humanity and the Borg; Picard's assimilation and recovery are a critical point in the character's development, and provided backstory for the film Star Trek: First Contact and the development of Benjamin Sisko, the protagonist of Star Trek: Deep Space Nine. Stewart asked Roddenberry to keep Picard a Borg for a few more episodes beyond the third season finale, as he thought that would be more interesting than simply restoring Picard in Part II. It is later revealed in First Contact that parts of Borg machinery were removed from inside Picard, but that he retains traumatic memories of assimilation -- which becomes a pivotal plot twist in Star Trek: First Contact.
The fourth-season episode "Family" reveals that Picard has a brother, Robert, who took charge of the family vineyards in La Barre after Picard joined Starfleet. Robert and his wife have a young son, René, who is Picard's nephew. Picard joins forces with legendary Enterprise captain James T. Kirk in Star Trek Generations to fight the film's villain, Dr. Tolian Soran. Commanding the new USS Enterprise-E (after the Enterprise-D is destroyed in Generations), Picard again confronts the Borg in First Contact, and goes on to other adventures in later movies.
Along the way, Picard and his crew encountered several luminaries from the Original Series, including Sarek, Spock's father, in a third-season episode titled "Sarek"; Mr. Scott, who had been suspended in a transporter loop for over seventy years after the starship he was aboard crashed into the surface of a Dyson Sphere, in the episode "Relics", and Spock himself, in the two-part episode "Unification."
Picard was, of course, portrayed by actor Patrick Stewart. Star Trek creator Gene Roddenberry named Picard for one or both of the twin brothers Auguste Piccard and Jean Felix Piccard, 20th-century Swiss scientists.
Patrick Stewart, who has a background of theatre at the Royal Shakespeare Company, was initially considered for the role of Data; he has said that he would not have been interested in taking a supporting role "to sit around". Roddenberry did not want to cast Stewart as Picard, however; he envisioned an actor who was "masculine, virile, and had a lot of hair".
It took "weeks of discussion" with Robert H. Justman, Rick Berman, and the casting director to convince him that "Stewart was the one they had been looking for to sit in the captain's chair"; Roddenberry agreed after auditioning every other candidate for the role. Stewart himself was uncertain why the producers would cast "a middle-aged bald English Shakespearean actor" as captain of the Enterprise. He had his toupee delivered from London to meet with Paramount executives but Roddenberry ordered Stewart to remove the "awful looking" hairpiece.
Stewart's stentorian voice impressed the executives, who immediately approved the casting. Roddenberry sent Stewart C. S. Forrester's Horatio Hornblower novels, saying the Picard character was based on Hornblower, but Stewart was already familiar with Hornblower, having read the books as a child.
As the series progressed, Stewart exercised more control over the character's development. By the time production began on the first Next Generation film, "it was impossible to tell where Jean-Luc started and Patrick Stewart ended", and by the fourth film, he stated that: "I find myself talking a lot about Picard and one of the things that I've come to understand is that as I talk a lot about Picard what I find is I'm talking about myself. There was a sort of double action that occurred. In one sense Picard was expanding like this and at the same time he was also growing closer and closer to me as well and in some respect I suppose even had some influence on me. I became a better listener than I ever had been as a result of playing Jean-Luc Picard because it was one of the things that he does terrifically well."
Stewart stated, however, that he is not nearly as serious or brooding as his alter ego.
Stewart also stated, "One of the delights of having done this series and played this role is that people are so attracted to the whole idea of Star Trek... several years after the series has ended... I enjoy hearing how much people enjoyed the work we did... It's always gratifying to me that this bald, middle-aged Englishman seems to connect with them." Stewart has also commented that his role has helped open up Shakespeare to science fiction fans. He has noted the "regular presence of Trekkies in the audience" whenever he plays theatre, and added: "I meet these people afterwards, I get letters from them and see them at the stage door... And they say, 'I've never seen Shakespeare before, I didn't think I'd understand it, but it was wonderful and I can't wait to come back..'"
Of course, for pop culture fans, Patrick Stewart would later go on to play another iconic character-- Professor Charles Xavier of the X-Men.
Picard's acclaim among fans of the Next Generation version of the show is near universal, and he is usually considered one of the top two characters to have been Captain on a Starfleet vessel in the series. There are often lengthy and serious debates over who was the "best" Starfleet captain – Picard, or James Tiberius Kirk.. Dan Cray of the Los Angeles Times wrote, about their meeting in "Star Trek: Generations": "Captain Kirk was the man of action right down to the very end. They had him off punching out the bad guy... and meantime they had Captain Picard as the intellectual trying to dismantle the missile by doing it through the computer screen... That was Kirk versus Picard, right there in a nutshell."
So, how's the figure? Extremely impressive, but I'd like to say a few words about the package art first.
When EmCe Toys brought back the Mego-type Star Trek figures, they also brought back the original Mego packaging, only slightly modified for the sake of the altered figure assortments and a handful of new characters. They even enlisted the services of the original artist who did the portrait paintings to do the new illustrations of Sulu, Chekov, and the new Gorn.
I admit I wondered how the packaging for the Star Trek Next Generation figures would look. Although the original artist was not employed, the packaging is a superb tribute to the original Mego design. Obviously, the Enterprise-D is substituted for the original, just as the Star Trek Next Generation logo has been brought in. But the basic design is nearly identical, and it works superbly well. The painted portraits of Picard and the Borg are excellent, as are the portraits of two other characters that are apparently in the works for the line -- Data and a modern Klingon!
While I might have preferred Worf, I can understand EmCe wanting to do a modern-style sort of generic Klingon. They're a distinctly different breed than the original Klingons, and an original Klingon was part of the early lineup of Mego Star Trek figures, so it's a nice carryover there.
Now, as to the Picard figure -- absolutely superb. Although several companies have been producing Mego-type figures, usually with a certain degree of assistance from EmCe Toys' people, EmCe is the only one that is producing very precise Mego-type figures, using an exact remake of the body. And I think that produces superior results.
The headsculpt is excellent. Actually, it's almost more detailed that I would expect a Mego Picard to have been, if Mego had existed long enough to have gotten around to Next Generation figures on their own. It's an excellent likeness of the character, with significant detail. The painted detail on the hair uses paint wipes to bring out additional detail, something that Mego was not in the habit of doing.
However, let me offer this. If you study Mego's headsculpts over the years, it was clear that they were steadily improving. Their Star Trek headsculpts were generally more detailed than their super-hero headsculpts. For that matter, even some of their super-hero headsculpts showed improvement. The likenesses for characters such as Hulk, Mister Fantastic, and Conan the Barbarian, were much more detailed than early figures such as Superman or Aquaman. Later figures showed even more detail. Their Planet of the Apes figures, especially the specific simians such as Cornelius, Dr. Zaius, and Zira, were astoundingly well-detailed. It's no great stretch to imagine that if Mego had existed for a number of years more than they did, and had produced figures based on Star Trek The Next Generation, they might well have been some of the most detailed, accurate headsculpts ever. From that standpoint, if we see this Captain Picard figure as a speculative extension of what Mego might have done had they themselves existed long enough to do so, it works very nicely.
I do have two other observations about the head. One is -- it's pretty loose in its socket. I'm not sure what's caused this, or if it's the case with every Picard figure out there. But if this is a quality control issue, let's hope it gets addressed, and soon.
The other is this -- the entire head is painted, not just the hair and facial details, which have been superbly done, and with great precision, especially the eyes, but the entire head has been painted in a flesh tone.
Was this really necessary? This isn't something that Mego ever did. And I've seen it turn up before, and I have to say I'm not fond of it. It turned up quite a bit in G.I. Joe several years ago, mostly in original-style figures that were part of comic-based three-packs. And it looked awful. All it took was one little glitch in the paint to give somebody a horrible skin condition. Or, if the figure should be subject to any significant amount of play, if the flesh-tone paint chips off, then the figure's face really looks horrible.
Let me say this -- if the head is molded in a proper flesh-tone, then it just isn't necessary to paint the whole thing. Fortunately, Picard got a break. The coat of paint is nicely smooth. And I really don't know what color the plastic underneath is. And it's not as though Picard is going to be subjected to any active play. But there's still the question of "Why do this?" I just can't see a good reason, and frankly, I do think it affects the figure's compatibility with his precedessors.
Of course, the body is excellent. It's based on the Mego design, which is superb. Well proportioned, nicely articulated. Captain Picard is fully poseable at the head, arms, elbows, wrists, waist, legs, and knees.
The figure also uses the "Star Trek lower legs". When the original Star Trek figures were produced by Mego, they created a special lower leg with the boot built right on. This was because the trouser design of the Original Series had the trousers coming up short at the top of the boots, and flaring out slightly. That's a little tricky to accomplish on an action figure with detachable boots, so they just made the boot part of the lower leg, and the trousers an appropriate length. Admittedly, this cost the figure ankle articulation, but any Mego figure wearing the not-so-flexible plastic boots lost this anyway. Although the Next Generation uniforms are distinctly different than the Original Series, the design still works, albeit for different reasons, as we shall momentarily see.
The uniform is spectacular. The shirt has been made from a burgundy-colored fabric, excellent quality and the same sort of stretchy knit that Mego used on most of their figures. The black details around the shoulders and down the sides, as well as the angled detail on the front and back, has been imprinted on. This was done very nicely and with great precision.
I was pleased that EmCe didn't use the first season uniforms. They went for a uniform from the later seasons, where the shirt and trousers were separate, the fit was a little looser, and a high collar had been added. These were much superior uniforms in my opinion.
Picard's insignia has not been imprinted onto the shirt. It's a separate little piece of plastic that has been glued to the shirt. About the only thing that's missing are the four little "pips" on his collar that denote rank. But let's give EmCe Toys a break. Even Playmates had trouble making that look good on figures that were slightly taller than these, and I suspect it's a detail that Mego wouldn't have worried about all that much. I can live with this omission, no trouble.
Interestingly, the shirt doesn't have any snaps or openings in the back. And the collar just isn't that wide. I tend to be of the opinion, although this is speculation, that the figure's shirt was probably put on the figure before the head. To what degree this might explain the looseness of the head I don't know. I can't see why it would have anything to do with it. And this isn't a complaint. It certainly looks good.
The trousers are a separate piece, with an elastic waistband. And here is where the "Trek legs" come in handy once again. In the Next Generation series, the trousers seemed to taper right down into the boots themselves, which were barely distinct from the trousers. EmCe Toys has achieved this by having the trousers run almost all the way down, leaving a bit of space open at the end for the feet and heels of the boots. Obviously, the "Trek legs" would work just as well for this design as they would for the shorter, cuffed trousers of the original series.
The trousers are held in place at foot level by a black elastic strap that fits under the feet, right in front of the somewhat raised sole near the heel. Amusingly, that's exactly how Playmates Toys achieved the effect with their 9" Star Trek figures. What the heck, it works, who not use it?
Captain Picard doesn't come with any accessories. He's not wearing a belt with a communicator and a phaser on it. Let's remember that by the time of Next Generation, their shirt insignias doubled as communicators. So really, Picard is wearing his communicator.
And Picard wasn't really one to go charging into a situation on another planet with a phaser at the ready. More often that not, he left that sort of thing to his "away team", which was generally led by Commander Riker. And even Riker didn't always go in with a phaser primed and ready. Worf, maybe, but not Riker. But, the lack of accessories is no great loss in my opinion.
So, what's my final word? I am immensely impressed with this figure. My harshest criticism is the inexplicable completely-painted head, and I can live with that. Apart from that, this is a truly magnificent figure. It is no great leap to imagine that if Mego had existed into 1987 or so, this is precisely what they might have come up with. I have already acquired the Borg figure, and he's also very cool, and I look forward to Data and the Klingon.
Really, I hope this is a trend. Imagine if EmCe decides to do figures from the other Trek series? I'd love to see a couple of two-figure assortments from Deep Space Nine. Imagine, if you will, Mego-style figures of Sisko and a Jem'Hadar, or Odo and Quark? Playmates never did a 9" scale Quark. Okay, he's a bit shorter, which is probably why, but I think I'd be prepared to live with that. Or Star Trek Voyager? How about figures of Janeway, Tuvok, Neelix, and Seven of Nine? We could even get some cool figures out of Star Trek Enterprise, like Archer, Tucker, T'Pol, and Shran the Andorian.
I can dream, right? We'll see what happens. In the meantime, we have these very impressive Mego-style figures from Star Trek The Next Generation, and Captain Picard is certainly a truly excellent figure. If you're a Star Trek fan with fond memories of the days of Mego, or even if you just want an abundantly cool figure of Captain Picard, then you will be extremely pleased with what EmCe Toys has done.
The EMCE TOYS "Retro-Style" figure of CAPTAIN JEAN-LUC PICARD from STAR TREK THE NEXT GENERATION definitely has my highest recommendation!