REVIEW: THE HOBBIT 4" SCALE THORIN OAKENSHIELD FIGURE
Without question, 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.
It ultimately 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 truly, 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. This was one instance where an animated TV movie based on the "Return of the King" 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 closely 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. Rankin-Bass, apparently taking a break from its stop-motion animated Christmas specials, produced an animated incarnation of The Hobbit in the mid-1970's, and it 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. 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 have acquired several figures from the line to date. This review will take a look at the most prominent dwarf from among the group Bilbo joins. His name is THORIN OAKENSHIELD.
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 honorable 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 the character of Thorin Oakenshield: Thorin II Oakenshield, son of Thráin, son of Thrór, King Under the Mountain is a major character in The Hobbit and is mentioned in passing in The Lord of the Rings. He was the leader of the Company of Dwarves who aimed to reclaim the Lonely Mountain from Smaug the dragon, and was the son of Thráin II, the King of Durin's Folk in their exile from Erebor, and the grandson of King Thrór.
Thorin is described as being very haughty, stern, and officious. He has a talent for singing and playing the harp. He refers to his homes in the Blue Mountains as "poor lodgings in exile." He is a capable and a cunning warrior, if not a particularly inspiring or clever leader. While shorter than elves or men, Thorin is said to be quite tall for a dwarf.
In The Hobbit, Thorin and twelve other Dwarves, mostly relatives of his or others of Durin's Folk, visited Bilbo Baggins on Gandalf's advice to hire him as a burglar, to steal back their treasure from Smaug. He especially wanted the Arkenstone, the Heart of the Mountain.
He alone was not taken by complete surprise when the company encountered a band of Trolls, and he and Gandalf fought valiantly in the Goblin tunnels. Thorin was the first to be captured by the Wood-elves of Mirkwood, and insisted that the other Dwarves not disclose their quest to their captors. He was the first to emerge from the barrels at Lake-town and marched right up to the leaders of the town, declaring himself as King Under the Mountain.
Thorin was furious when Bilbo stole the Arkenstone to use as a bargaining counter with Thranduil, the Elvenking, and Bard the Bowman, both of whom had some claim to the treasure. The conflict was averted by an attack of Goblins and Wargs, and the Dwarves joined forces with the Elves, the Men of Lake-town, and the great Eagles to defeat them in what came to be known as the Battle of Five Armies.
During the battle, Thorin was mortally wounded, but before he died he made his peace with Bilbo, saying, "If more of us valued food and cheer and song above hoarded gold, it would be a merrier world. But, sad or merry, I must leave it now. Farewell."
Thorin recovered the Elven blade Orcrist during the quest. He came upon it in a Troll stash (after barely escaping with his life). He used it throughout the Quest of Erebor, but it was taken from him after he was captured by the Wood-elves. The sword was given back after his death and was laid upon the tomb (the Arkenstone was placed in the tomb itself) so that ever after the blade would glow blue should enemies approach and the mountain could never be taken by surprise. Thorin was succeeded as the leader of Durin's Folk by his cousin, Dáin Ironfoot.
Part III of Appendix A in The Return of the King, gives an overview of the history of Durin's folk and further elaborates Thorin's background. Born in the year 2746 of the Third Age, Thorin was driven into exile by the dragon Smaug in 2770, along with the rest of the surviving Dwarves of Erebor, the Lonely Mountain. At the Battle of Azanulbizar in 2799, when he was 53 (a young age for a Dwarf) he marched with a mighty Dwarf-army into Nanduhirion beneath the East-gate of Moria. Thorin's shield was broken, and he used his axe to chop a branch from an oak tree to defend himself, thus gaining the epithet "Oakenshield".
In the movies of The Hobbit, Thorin is portrayed by Richard Armitage. The movie elaborates on the back-story: the book explains that Thorin came by the epithet "Oakenshield" fighting against orcs in the Battle of Azanulbizar, but in the movie Thorin fights the orc leader Azog directly – and Azog is not killed but survives to become an antagonist in the later story of Bilbo's journey.
So, how's the figure? Really outstanding. The entire line of Hobbit figures in both scales is remarkable. If this company called The Bridge Direct wanted to make an immediate and positive impression on the toy world, I'd have to say they succeeded. To basically come out of seemingly nowhere and produce a line of action figures this well-made is no small feat. I've seen more than a few threads on toy collector message boards hoping that this company will acquire some other pop-culture licenses and produce figures for them.
At first glance, Thorin looks a little disproportionate. But we need to realize that we're looking at a character that's supposed to be a dwarf. One of the most impressive aspects of the Lord of the Rings movies, and now of course the Hobbit movies, is the elegant photography that was used to make the various actors correspond correctly to the heights of the characters they were playing. Think back to the Lord of the Rings trilogy. Elijah Wood isn't THAT short. And I'm reasonably certain that neither is Richard Armitage, even though dwarves are taller than hobbits.
The action figures, of course, can be whatever height they need to be. They're not dependent on any sort of special cinematic techniques. As such, the figure of Thorin is 3-3/4" in height. Taller, certainly, than Bilbo Baggins' 3", but also distinctly shorter than Gandalf's towering 4-1/4" -- and that's without the hat.
Apart from his height and slightly skewed bodily proportions, Thorin looks relatively human. There are no strange pointed ears or odd facial features. He has a thick mane of long brown hair, with a few strands of gray. These have been impressively added to the figure by, I think imprinting some very narrow gray strange into the hair. Imprinting is nothing all that new in the action figure world. I've seen it used since the G.I. Joe line did it for Cobra emblems in the enemy soldiers. But I don't think I've ever seen it used in hair before. Thorin's hair is long, wavy, and superbly well-detailed, and this extra bit of detail probably wasn't all that easy, but it certainly works.
Thorin also has bushy eyebrows and a thick mustache and beard. Here is my only slight criticism with the figure. The positioning of the eyebrows has them slightly upturned. To me, it costs the character a certain amount of strength and determination in his facial expression. If you look at the photograph of the character on the package, and even the photo of the prototype figure on the back, the eyebrows are positioned much lower, making him look, yes, angrier, but also more determined. He is leading a group that is heading off to an eventual conflict, after all.
That aside, the facial details are extremely neatly painted. The eyes are precise, as is the facial hair. The hair on the back has two little gold rings in it, and even these have been painted.
Thorin's clothing is similarly well-detailed. Peter Jackson had to take a few wardrobe liberties with the dwarves in the movie. Thorin is described in the books as wearing a "sky-blue hood", and indeed, it seems that colorful hoods are common to the dwarves. That probably wouldn't have played very well on the movie screen, in the relatively medieval setting of Middle-Earth, so the colorful hoods were largely dropped, although I have read that Jackson tried to carry over some less intense versions of these colors somewhere on the clothing of many of the dwarves.
I don't really see much blue on Thorin's outfit, although he is impressively attired. He is wearing a silver shirt, clearly intended to be thick, chain-mail armor. Over this he has a dark gray sleeveless tunic, tied off with a belt at the waist, and hanging almost to his knees. He has thick gauntlets covering his lower arms, with armored shields on the outsides, and is wearing gray trousers and boots, the latter of which appear to have some furry details, and are held in place by a series of thin straps.
Let's consider the sculpted detailing on this, because it is extremely impressive. The chain-mail shirt has many sections to it. These have been very precisely sculpted, painted silver, and given a little bit of "aging" paint. I don't usually care for this sort of detailing, but it's not inappropriate here.
The tunic is amazing. It is covered with long and short diagonal intersecting lines that create an amazingly ornate pattern that looks faintly Celtic. No disrespect intended towards any toy sculptor, but this almost had to have been done with the aid of a computer. It's just too detailed and too precise to have been done entirely by hand. But in any case, it's exceptionally impressive.
The belt and gauntlets also have ornate detailing to them, and the buckle on the belt has been painted with silver outlines and a gold emblem in the center, with an astounding level of precision.
There's really not a lot of painted detail on the legs and boots, but there's plenty of sculpted detail, especially on the boots. Some of it is a little hard to make out because the plastic is so dark, but if you study it long enough, it's there. And there is a little bit of painted detail even here, in the form of small silver buckles on the boots.
I know I've said this already, but it just astounds me that a new toy company comes out of seemingly nowhere, and their first major foray into action figures is this impressive.
Then there's Thorin's level of articulation. This is similarly impressive. Thorin is gully poseable at the head, arms, elbows (including a swivel), wrists, waist, legs, and knees, including a swivel. The ankles are not poseable, but as long as he can stand up, I don't really mind this, and he certainly can.
Thorin comes with three accessories. The first is the item from which he derives part of his name -- Oakenshield. He has this large, rough-hewn, wooden-looking shield. It's designed to clip to a hold on his lower left arm. To be honest, it doesn't stay put all that well, and it looks like it could interfere with the elbow articulation a bit if it did. If you want to display him with the shield on his arm, I'd recommend a small drop of glue, preferably nothing too permanent.
Thorin also comes with two swords. One is relatively short, but fairly ornate, and is mostly a dark silver with a brown handle. This fits into a sheath that Thorin wears on his left side below his belt. The other sword is far larger and far more ornate, with a curved blade and dark silver and gold details. I suspect this is the blade known as Orcrist. There's a peg on the sword and a small hole on Thorin's back where I assume he can carry it.
So, what's my final word? I'm very sincerely impressed. Certainly Peter Jackson has 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. 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 Thorin Oakenshield 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 certainly Thorin Oakenshield is one of the major players.
The THORIN OAKENSHIELD figure from THE HOBBIT: AN UNEXPECTED JOURNEY definitely has my highest recommendation!