Monday, 24 February 2014

Soundwave (Transformers Generations: Fall of Cybertron)

Possible Autobot lair?

Series: Transformers Generations
Year: 2012

Company: Hasbro

I don’t remember Soundwave from my childhood. But over recent years he’s become one of my favourite Transformers. His robotic monotone, bizarre tape deck alt mode, navy and purple colour scheme and ability to shoot out smaller robots are all awesome. But I don’t care for his more modern iterations from series like Prime – and I wasn’t about to fork out big bucks for a G1 or Masterpiece version. But the Fall of Cybertron toy? Yeah…I could get behind that one.  

Soundwave’s bot mode is a reasonably good approximation of his classic G1 bot form, but it’s been updated enough that it doesn’t look super blocky and outdated. It will annoy some of the diehards, but I think that’s been the case with most stuff released since 1990 anyway. 

His eyes (eye?) are light-piped. This doesn’t work as well as it did for Starscream, but if you hold him at the right angle you can give him some cool laser-eye effects. (Pew! Pew pew pew!)
Articulation-wise, he’s got:

*double-hinged shoulders
*swivel-hinged biceps (though it’s split into two separate pieces on the arm)

*hinged elbows (ratcheted)
*hinged forearms (mostly important to transformation)

*cut wrists

*swivel-hinge hips
*cut thighs

*hinged knees (ratcheted)
*hinged ankles

As much as I loved the few Transformers I had as a child and teen, no-one could ever accuse them of being over-articulated.  Soundwave is very well articulated – his large feet mean he’s very stable, and you can get him into some good, deep poses. The only drama is that his shoulders are massive, so sometimes they get in the way a little. Still, a little manoeuvring of the various joints should short it will let you work around it on most occasions.

I would have liked his head to be able to move (though with the gun there it would have been tricky), a cut waist and his hands to open and close, but I’ll live. On the whole, Soundwave is an excellent bot figure.  

His alt mode…well, it was was always going to be a little controversial. Given that this is based on the Fall of Cybertron game – which in turn is set millions of years before tape decks were even conceived – it works from a story perspective. Rather than the much-loved tape deck, Soundwave has become a more conventional “Communications Truck.” Personally, I think the design is okay – and I prefer it to the jet mode that he often gets in other media – but what lets it down is its relatively plain colour scheme. It works on the bot, but not so much as a vehicle.  As a result, mine will mainly go into vehicle mode to reduce space size for storage.
The instructions aren’t in colour, and I found these a little difficult – to the point where I initially thought that he hadn’t been put together properly and I wouldn’t be able to transform him. I think Hasbro needs to go back to using words on their instructions too, or possibly colour images rather than the grey and purple ones currently in use.  

As a side note, there was another Soundwave released for War for Cybertron. It was considerably smaller and still changed into the communications truck – but it also had an undocumented feature which turned him into a very boom-box looking shape. This one doesn’t seem to have that ability, which is a little disappointing.
On the vibrant streets of Columbia

Soundwave comes with two accessories – his shoulder-mounted gun and Laserbeak. Lasberbeak is pretty cool as accessories go – rather than a cassette, he’s now become a “data disc” to better fit with the FoC aesthetic. He transforms into bird mode by pressing a button on his base.

The box and instructions also depict Soundwave with a second gun, which is hand-held. However, mine didn’t come with this – I spoke to a friend who also has this figure, and I think the gun was cut from the final release.
Personally, I think it would have been better if a couple more of the data-discs had been included in the set to sweeten the deal. Soundwave isn’t a small guy, granted, but $50AUD is still a lot.

Soundwave is a not a badly painted figure by any means, but he has the same issues that I mentioned in my previous review of FoC Starscream. There’s a bit of slop at some edges, some missed details and some odd choices in terms of casting colour vs paint. The job looks consistent overall and you won’t notice issues unless you’re looking closely – but as with Starscream, I think that a figure retailing for this amount should have a little more attention paid to it. 

Laserbeak has some splotches of red paint around his face and neck, but his paint is otherwise pretty good. The silver details are all picked out without any slop (though the Decepticon logo has a bit of wear already), which is particularly impressive considering how small they are.  

The main issue I had with Soundwave is that Laserbeak doesn’t fit particularly well into his chest, and the eject function doesn’t work very well either. I’ve only been able to fit him in once, it was a chore getting him out and I’m loath to try it again in case I break either of them. This doesn’t bother me as an adult, but as a kid it would have annoyed me immensely.

As I mentioned in my Starscream review, Hasbro is on to a good thing with the Generations line – they’re toy-ish enough for kids, but nice enough for collectors. Hasbro has just recently annoyed more Generations stuff for 2014, and I’m very keen—Acid Storm is definitely on my to-buy list.  

By these standards, Soundwave is a cool, albeit overpriced, toy. I found him eBay brand new and paid notably less than retail for him, and I would suggest you do the same if possible. While we’re hardly getting gouged on these figures, I still think they’re stretching the level of price acceptability.
Still, pricing aside, Soundwave is a great figure and comes highly recommended. If Hasbro keeps doing this line right, I suspect I’ll keep buying them! 

Soundwave was always sensitive if anyone found out that he liked to collect action figures -- it just wasn't considered fitting for a grown Decepticon.

Sunday, 23 February 2014

Lego Ghost (30201) polybag

Theme: Monster Fighters
Pieces: 31

Build time: 5-10 minutes
Year: 2012

RRP: See below

The Background
In spite of my initial scepticism about the Monster Fighters theme when I first encountered it in 2012, I have become quite a fan. Christmas 2013 saw my parents (very) generously purchase for me Lord Vampyre’s Castle, which now occupies pride of place on my bedroom floor. But I was lacking a ghost to haunt said castle, and that had to be rectified.

So I bought this set -- a polybag that containing a ghost, complete with Marley-esque chain, and a grandfather clock.

The Minifigure
When I was but a youth, I had a friend that I'm pretty sure owned this set, from Lego’s long-running Castle theme. The included ghost minifigure was unlike any other I had ever seen. There were ghosts in the world of Lego? Perhaps most amazingly, IT GLOWED IN THE DARK!

I was, of course, rather jealous. But though I owned a handful of Castle stuff, my Lego interests were more focused around the Pirates and variations of Space. So I never ended up getting one of these bad boys.
Flash forward more than 20 years, and I finally have my own ghost minifigure. On the whole, I think he lives up to expectations. This one is a little different to most modern versions – he doesn’t have any legs, but instead a small brick. A ball and chain plugs into the bottom of this to provide him with a “foot”, and he’s balanced by attaching a single stud to the other empty slot. It’s a neat little system, and the addition of the ball and chain separates him from the ghosts that are included in the other Monster Fighter sets.

And does he glow in the dark? You bet he does!

The Build
As might be expected, it didn’t take long to put this bad boy together. I think it was around 5 minutes, while watching an episode of The Middle 
The clock works well for the ominous Monster Fighters theme, but could be easily transplanted into your average Creator house. I’ve never really seen Lego do a set like this, and I thought it was really cool. It’s a bit of a shame that it seems to be restricted to this fairly limited release. For the time being, it sits in a tower of Lord Vampyre’s castle, chiming every hour and irritating the bat-creatures that hang from  the building.

This set isn’t particularly hard to find, but it’s now discontinued and getting expensive. I paid $18AUD, which seems about standard, and was fortunate enough to find an Australian seller who didn’t charge me for postage. International sellers may have it cheaper, but you’ll probably pay a bomb for postage.

Still, it’s a fun little set and one of the cooler ways to get hold of an individual Lego Ghost – on that basis it comes recommended. If you can find it cheaper than I did, grab it!

  "Dammit, ghost! I'm trying to sleep -- go and clank somewhere else!"

Saturday, 22 February 2014

DVD Review: Arthur C. Clarke's Mysterious World

DVD Release Date: 2011 (original screening date 1980)

Extras: None

I was reading through the archives of The Surfing Pizza a few months ago, and came across an old article where he spoke about compiling a shelf full of “Sunday reading” books. I knew almost exactly what he was talking about too -- I often found Sunday afternoons a bit of a downer as a child, and well into my teenage years. It was too late to start any new major projects, and though the evening would likely bring something watchable on TV, the hours between 12 and 6 were likely to be spent doing nothing better than clock-watching if you weren’t careful.

So to fill these Sunday afternoons, I often spent a lot of time at the local library. And I spent a lot of time reading about the paranormal, the unexplained and the mysterious. UFOs and aliens were of particular interest, though in a pinch I’d read about more general mysteries.  
So when I first heard about this show a few years ago, it sounded right up my alley, though the chances of getting hold of a legitimate copy seemed a little unlikely. I just assumed that it would be one of those things that wouldn’t be available at JB Hi-Fi – or if it was, it would be for an extortionate price – so I never really chased it up.

Flash forward to 2013 and I found this in a pile of old DVDs for sale at my work. I believe I paid around $3, which I was more than happy to part with. Those of you who want to view after reading will probably have more luck with Amazon or eBay, though.  

The Show Itself
Though the program bears Arthur C. Clarke’s name, he is more of a facilitator, rather than the focal point of the show. He bookends the program, showing up to introduce the week’s topic, and adding some pertinent points at the end of proceedings. From time to time he’ll pop in midway through the show, sometimes to segue and other times just to make a remark.

Many of the subjects you’d expect to be covered in this sort of program make an appearance – UFOs, aliens, cryptozoology, crystal skulls and of course, Stonehenge. For anyone who’s picked up a book on the paranormal, it will be pretty familiar stuff. But Clarke is a reasonably charismatic presenter, Gordon Honeycomb’s narration is solid and it’s nice to see interviews with some of those involved, rather than simply reading about these individuals.  
Image quality is around VHS level. I’m not sure whether it’s been remastered or not, but this show was obviously filmed in the days before digital video and Blu-ray. But although it’s a bit crude by today’s visual standards, it certainly doesn’t look ugly. In fact, I think this relative crudeness adds to the overall mysterious vibe of the program. And some of the footage is undeniably beautiful, such as the sunrise as viewed from Newgrange.

The rest of the show is a mix of footage from around the world, presumably shot by the production staff. There’s a mix of interviews, on-location shooting and archive footage, all tied together by narration from Gordon Honeycomb (who Wikipedia tells me now lives in Perth).

The soundtrack is particularly good. It’s very dated, but I do enjoy that distinctly 1980s “mysterious” synth sound, so it doesn’t bother me in the slightest. Composer Alan Hawkshaw is still alive these days, and still producing soundtracks.

The DVD has no extras, unfortunately. It would have been nice to get a director’s commentary or two, and perhaps a “now vs. then” retrospective on some of the featured mysteries. But this series did come as part of a boxset which compiles all three of Arthur C. Clarke’s TV series about the unexplained – Mysterious World, World of Strange Powers and Mysterious Universe, so I can’t really complain.  

The Verdict
As might be expected, the show is never explicit about whether the mysteries it showcases have any strong basis in fact. Doubtless a number of the people interviewed have seen or experienced something – but what is that something? A genuine paranormal phenomenon, or just something ordinary that was taken out of context and misinterpreted?
Probably the closest the show to drawing a definite conclusion is in the episode featuring the Rude Man of Cerne, which – based on reconstructions carried out over the course of the episode – they suggest probably depicts Hercules, rather than a Celtic fertility deity, as has been commonplace to assume. In other cases, interviewees and experts explain their viewpoint, but for the most part, it’s difficult to draw a solid conclusion based solely on what you see on screen.

It is partially this reticence that makes reviewing a show like this somewhat difficult. Many people of a more sceptical bent will sneer and ridicule the program for looking at many of these “mysteries” with any level of seriousness at all. To the dedicated believer, the show will not have drawn enough conclusions from the “evidence” it presents. As for myself? As much as these subjects interest and entertain me, the more I have looked into them, the more sceptical I am inclined to be. Yet I don’t think the whole thing can be written off as easily as some people would like -- and it certainly made for entertaining viewing. 

I did quite a bit of Googling while watching to see if any of the cases depicted had been solved, shown to be fraud, etc. However, most of the time there didn’t appear to be a whole lot of additional information -- save, perhaps for the Crystal Skulls.

As the program was filmed more than 30 years ago, quite a number of people mentioned have died – including Mr Clarke himself. But it was interesting to see that more than 30 years after first screening, many of these mysteries still remain just that – mysteries.

Friday, 21 February 2014

Kre-O Transformers Microchangers – Collection 4

Company: Hasbro

Year: 2013



Blind bags. They’re a great way to get collectors interested in your product, and an equally great way to drive them up the wall. Even though we’ve typically got more cash to spend than the average kid, that doesn’t mean that we’re made of money, and very few of us are interested in investing time, money and effort into completing a set that may yield us dozens of unwanted figurines.

Still, I’m a sucker for blind bags, and have been since I was a kid. I’d read about them online (probably at OAFE) and I recognised a photo opportunity – Transformers that were small enough for the TMNT to use as toys!
Epic Autobot vs Decepticon battles in the lounge room

As far as I can tell, they’ve only just started turning up in Australia, though they’re already up to series (“collection”) 4. Looking online at previous iterations, the characters appear to be drawn from a bunch of different sources: G1, Beast Wars, Armada, and even a few “new” characters (they’re not exactly the same as their G1 counterpart, but they’re pretty similar e.g. Acid Wing/Acid Storm in collection 3). Though I’m not an especially dedicated Transformers fan, I was surprised at how few of the characters I recognised – only Kup and Rodimus were familiar names. This isn’t just because we’re on collection 4, either. Looking over the older collections seemed to suggest that there’s been a deliberate focus on more obscure characters.

There are 12 characters in each collection. A few of the major characters like Optimus, Megatron, Bumblebee and Starscream have seen released individually. A couple of the gestalts – Menasor and Computron – have also been released too. How many make it to Australia remains to be seen – so far I’ve only seen the blind bags in Big W and my local comic store. 
So, how do they stack up to your average regular Transformer?

"Change to da choppa!"

The most obvious point of reference is a Lego Minifigure – they’re around the same size, and the Kre-O range as a whole definitely owes Lego a debt of gratitude. However, Hasbro refers to their figures as a “Kreons”.





So far, I’ve got five characters from the line – Sandstorm, Kup, Iceberg, Brawn and Brake-Neck. Four Autobots and one Decepticon. They’re all built on the same basic body, with the variation coming in colouration and accessories. Their shoulders and hips are balljointed, which gives them a wider range of motion than a Minifigure. Heads are attached via a neck peg, so they can swivel from side to side, but can’t look up or down.
I like that the Kreons are more articulated than Lego Minifigures, but the articulation also makes them feel much more fragile. This isn’t a major issue for adults playing with collectibles, but it certainly could be for kids who tend to be rougher with their toys.

Kup is probably the one who resembles his animated counterpart the most – though Brawn looks really cool, he does look quite different to his animated form. Brake-Neck is hard to tell…TFWiki tells me that this character has gone through a few name and appearance changes, presumably for legal reasons. Apparently he was once one of the Stunticons that made up Menasor, but he doesn’t seem to be included in the Menasor set that’s advertised in the accompanying booklet. So your guess is as good as mine here. Iceberg was originally a Mini-con from Armada – he looks nothing like his original counterpart, but does looks considerably better as a bot. Sandstorm kind of gives the same vibe as his original form, but he was also originally a triple-changer. Still, they’re all quite endearing and cutesy, “accurate” or not.
Accessories vary slightly across the series, but in the case of my guys, all of them came with a gun. There seem to be a few basic gun shapes across the range – pistol, blaster and rifle – which are then moulded in different colours as necessary (or in Sandstorm’s case, combined with parts of his vehicle mode). I like Brawn’s the best – it’s translucent blue, which gives it an interesting dimension, as opposed to basic black or blue.

These figures don’t actually transform, as such. Rather, they can be reassembled into an alternate form with extra blocks that are included in the bag. It’s a cool idea, but one that’s better on paper than in execution, particularly with the cars. Why the cars? Well, the arms are supports for the front wheels. However, the ball-jointed arms mean that they tend to be a little wonky, and the whole thing looks a little weird once it’s complete. In Brawn’s case, the front of his car just won’t attach to his neck properly.
Iceberg's vehicle mode
Brake-Neck's vehicle mode

Brawn's vehicle mode
Kup's vehicle mode
Sandstorm (helicopter) doesn’t have the same problems, and looking at the diagrams in the instruction booklet seems to suggest that the airborne vehicles generally don’t have the same wonkiness. However, I’m yet to see any of the planes in person to confirm. All of mine are currently on display in bot form – they won’t be getting changed back and forth too often.

"This choppa won't be able to take us anywhere!"

Paint is not bad, but definitely not up to Lego standards. Kup had some wear on his legs straight out of the bag and Sandstorm’s shoulders have been painted orange in a very sub-par fashion. Each character has a chest tampo, most of which seem to be slightly misaligned. Still, I’ll give them a passing grade – the tampos are still impressively detailed for such a small scale – but there’s definite room for improvement.

Transformers Microchangers are pretty cute and endearing in bot mode, and the inclusion of obscure characters who rarely get a look-in is nice. However, I’m less keen on their alt modes. I’d like to get Slipstrike – his bot mode looks great and I think his alt mode will work well – but I’m not sure that I want to invest a ton of money into different bags to find him. I may just try and track him down on eBay.

Still, these are a fun sidenote to “real” Transformers toys. Vehicle fans need not apply, but bot modes definitely come recommended.