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By Thomas Wheeler

I don't usually review custom figures which I have created, but in this case, I would like to make an exception, because of the nature of the custom figure and what, in 2008, it commemorates.

2008 is the 10th Anniversary of one of my all-time favorite movies. Unfortunately, it's not a lot of other people's favorite movie, although for obvious reasons it is rather well-known in the toy collecting world. The movie is SMALL SOLDIERS. Based on a story by Gavin Scott and directed by Joe Dante, Small Soldiers told the tale of a group of high-tech toys, so advanced that they had gained intelligence of their own. There were the gentle if monstrous-looking Gorgonites, led by Archer, and the soldier-like villains, the Commando Elite, led by Major Chip Hazard. Once an early set of these toys got loose, chaos predictably ensued.

The movie was turned out by Steven Spielberg's company Amblin Entertainment, DreamWorks, and Universal Studios. DreamWorks has since thrown most of their eggs into the basket of a certain large green ogre.

Although some computer animation was involved in the movie, thanks to the very talented people at Industrial Light and Magic (there were some seriously prominent names involved in this film!), in 1998, there was still the need to produce actual action figures for use in the movie. That task fell to master special effects wizard Stan Winston, who, after working on the massive creatures of Jurassic Park, was asked to think smaller for this one. Universal Studios, promoting the movie in 1998, set aside a soundstage or two on their property to display the actual toys used in the movie's production for the general public. I was fortunate enough to see them.

There was, of course, a general toy line. You can read my retrospective review of the fantastic 12" figures of Chip Hazard and Archer elsewhere here on MasterCollector. There was also a 6" line of action figures. The toys were produced by Hasbro, who also aided in the design of Chip Hazard himself for the movie.

I once owned most of the 6" scale action figures. Unfortunately, I have since had to sell them. The figures were very decent, if not as well articulated as one might have liked. They did a good job of capturing the likenesses of the characters. If there was one problem with them, however, it was the assumption that good guys sell better than bad guys. Normally, this might actually work. In Small Soldiers, though, it backfired somewhat.

Despite being the bad guys, the Commandos were much more popular than the Gorgonites. They were more human-looking, which probably made them easier to relate to, and frankly, they got more screen time. I remember seeing costumed characters dressed up as the Small Soldiers during my time at Universal Studios. Kids and even adults were all over the Commandos. The Gorgonites were largely ignored. The Commandos were great fun. Unlike in the Disney parks, the people dressed in the Commandos costumes were encouraged to speak, which gave them a greater level of interaction with the fans.

Unfortunately, when it came to the toy product, the figure line was weighted heavily towards the Gorgonites. This made the Commandos hard to find since they sold out quickly, leaving the Gorgonites hanging.

Ultimately, the movie was a decent success but not a blockbuster, the toys didn't fare well enough to really continue too far beyond initial assortments, and Small Soldiers unfortunately faded into obscurity except in the minds of a handful of die-hard fans, many of whom, like myself, were also action figure collectors.

But I wanted to do SOMETHING to commemorate the 10th Anniversary of the film. Then I remembered -- years ago, I had customized a 3-3/4" G.I. Joe version of Major Chip Hazard! It seemed like a natural, if admittedly slightly peculiar, fit. What if, within the world of G.I. Joe, Chip Hazard was a real person? And NOT a villain? I decided to make the attempt. That required rounding up the parts necessary to create such a figure.

Chip Hazard, as a character, has a rather exaggerated physique. In a way, he looks more like the 8" Sigma-styled G.I. Joes. I knew I couldn't duplicate that in a 3-3/4" action figure, nor did I especially want to try. I wanted to create a 3-3/4" G.I. Joe Chip Hazard that could work as a legitimate member of the G.I. Joe Team. But I still wanted him to look as much like Chip Hazard as possible, within the more realistic-looking style of G.I. Joe.

I chose the head of a 1991 Grunt. I did this for several reasons. Grunt has the look of a quintessential soldier. So does Chip Hazard. The mouth is open on the Grunt head, which I thought was a good way to represent Chip Hazard's ability in the movie to move his mouth and speak. And the Grunt headsculpt looked rather stern and demanding. Chip Hazard was certainly that. Also, Grunt's crewcut was a near match for Chip Hazard's own.

I say "near match" because there were some differences. Chip Hazard's hair protrudes a bit more in the front, and is pointed down in the center. Grunt's wasn't. Chip's was also combed further back on the sides. This was fairly easily rectified by gently sanding down the sides of the hair a bit to be level with the "skin" of the forehead, and then using modeling putty to extend and properly "style" the front of the crewcut. Then it was just a matter of painting Grun't black hair and eyebrows the proper light grey of Chip Hazard's.

The easiest part of the custom was the torso. Chip Hazard had a black shirt and a gold-tan vest with camouflage on it. The blatantly obvious choice for the torso was Pathfinder, who had a black shirt with a gold-tan vest. All I had to do was paint some camouflage on it. I love it when a custom, or even part of a custom, is THIS easy.

Chip Hazard had rather muscular arms, and I wanted to match that as best as I could. He also had green short sleeves. I couldn't match THAT, but I could select arms with decent musculature. For this, I selected Flint, painting the black sleeves the proper shade of green, which was a very straightforward green, and adding the striped camouflage. And, of course, painting the gloves black to match, as well.

My choice for the legs was largely based on Chip Hazard's boots. Chip has these huge combat boots with a big metal panel on them. I couldn't QUITE match that, but I came close. The boots of Downtown, a Mortar Soldier from 1989, had two large panels on them. Furthermore, the rest of Downtown's legs and even lower torso piece were not a bad match for Chip's own. So from the waist down, my G.I. Joe Chip Hazard was taken directly from Downtown. Again, this was a matter of merely painting the parts the right colors, which was green for the lower torso and legs, with the same striped camouflage added, and black for the boots, with the panels painted silver.

Ultimately, and at the risk of sounding like I'm boasting, I think my G.I. Joe Chip Hazard is one of my finest G.I. Joe customs of all time, and I've done a fair number over the years.

He's also not a bad way to commemorate the 10th Anniversary of SMALL SOLDIERS, a movie that honestly deserves a lot more regard and attention than it gets. I haven't heard any plans from DreamWorks or Universal to do anything to commemorate the movie, and I think that's a shame. It's a cool movie, and you can probably still find it on DVD. If you've never seen it, get it. You'll enjoy it.

And I hope you have enjoyed this look at my custom G.I. JOE MAJOR CHIP HAZARD, and I'd like to end this by saying HAPPY 10th ANNIVERSARY, SMALL SOLDIERS! (It deserves it and a lot more...)