Far too often when a toy line dies, there are holes left in people's collections; figures that will never come to be. When
Toy Biz's Lord of the Rings ended it looked as though there was going to be a giant hole left, emphasis on the giant. Where
was the Balrog? Toy Biz showed off a large Balrog toy early on in the life of their line. But a lack of retailer support
left it on the drawing board. But just when it seemed that there would be no one to drag Gandalf the Grey to his death,
Neca stepped in to unleash the beast.
I saw the finished product at Neca's booth at Wizard World Chicago this year. The sight of the Balrog filling up a full sized glass display case was all that I needed to see to know I had to have one. Fortunately I didn't have to wait long.
Packaging - 2/10It is safe to say there won't be many people keeping the Balrog MIB. Why? Because the box for it is nothing more than the shipping carton. It certainly doens't earn any points for asthetics. A box with printed graphics might have been nice, but the toy is so large that it would have been impractical. (How large is it exactly? How about 27"x18"x19.5" and weighing a whopping 21 pounds.) Still, they could have taken a cue from electronics manufacturers and done at least some decorative printing on the box. On the positive side, all of that packaging does a fine job of protecting the toy.
Sculpting - 8/10The Balrog is impressive to say the least. Even after you get past its massive size, Neca didn't skimp on the detail either. The head and mouth captures the look from the movie very well. And I'll assume the rest is acurrate to the movie, though you never really get a good look at the Balrog in the first movie. My only real criticism of the sculpt visually is the flames. Sculpting fire is tough. And the sculptors did a terrefic job on the flames on the toy's back and head. But if the Balrog is supposed to be a creature of living flame, that isn't quite conveyed in the sculpt. I don't really get the sense that the flame is suppose to be coming out of the figure instead of the figure simply being on fire. A few small flames spread across the figure could have helped convey that and added more interest. I suspect the only reason that this wasn't done was to allow them to limit the electronic features to just one area. The flaps under the wing that meet the body are also an issue. There is a small slot in the body into which the flaps are to be inserted. But they don't fit well. Plus the weight of the wings is sufficent to cause them to rotate and pull the flaps out entirely. The weight of the figure is its biggest drawback. Any toy this large is going to be heavy. But at approximately 11 pounds, the Balrog is so heavy that he has trouble supporting his own weight. And if a figure like this takes a topple, it's going to take down everything in its path.
Paint - 8/10At first glance, it doesn't look like the Balrog has a lot of paint work. But while the black plastic does provide the coloring for the majority of the figure, there is a great deal of paint work in the cracks in the skin. The color varies from area to area to simulate a variety of levels of strength of the creature's inner flame. But the color in the various areas aren't blended. This results in drastic changes in the coloring for no particular reason. There is also a rather strange paint feature on the wings of my figure, small painted dots. I have no idea what they are there for, the spacing seems to be far too patterned to be accidential. But the result is a figure that appears to be suffering from an outbreak of chicken pox. Of course the paint work has its bright point as well. The paint work on the mouth turned out reasonably well. And the blending of colors for the flames on the back and neck is very well executed. And those are the most important areas since their bright colors are the first things that attract your eyes. The other flaws and short comings only become apparent upon a much closer inspection.
Articulation - 6/10With a figure this large and this heavy, I wasn't expecting much in terms of articulation. But Neca surprised me. The Balrog has sixteen points of articulation, eighteen if you count where the wings are mounted. The neck, waist, two points on the tail, shins, hips and wrists all have rotating cut joints. The elbows are single hinge joints. And the shoulders are duel joints, both rotating and hinged. The articulation in the arms is a welcome surprise. Even though the range is limited, it allows for a variety of menacing poses. But the weight of the figure makes the leg articulation a mixed blessing. The hip joint are a nice idea, but with limited usefullness. Each joint has built in limitations to their range of motion designed to stop the legs in the proper position to support the figure. But the joints in the shins allow the feet, particularly the right foot, to rotate out from under the figure. This flaw has already allowed my figure to topple once. The joints at the waist and in the tail don't add a lot of options for display. But they do help provide a means of adjusting the center of gravity for the figure to add stability.
Accessories - 8/10A gargantuan figure needs gargantuan accessories to match and the Balrog has two. The first is the flaming sword which the creature used when he first faced Gandalf. At just over thirteen inches in length, the sword certainly has size going for it. And its sculpt nicely blends the sword's form with the flames blurring the distinction between the two. Ideally I would love to see the sword cast in a translucent orange plastic and then the flames painted to really set the blade apart. But as it is, the subtle transition from the yellowish orange of the plastic to the darker flames works fairly well. The second accessory is the Balrog's flame whip. At over four feet long, the cat 'o nine tails (technically a cat o' four tails actually) is impressive. But it's extreme length will make it a bit unruly in many displays.
Features - 6/10As impressive as it is that the Balrog ever made it to production, the fact that Neca managed to also include an electronic feature is icing on the cake. (Batteries not included of course.) When a button behind the left shoulder is pressed, the flames on the Balrog's back and neck light up and flicker and the figure makes a roaring noise. Further more, the figure can make two roars. The first is quite short, just a few seconds. But the other lasts for about fifteen seconds. That Neca went all out to include the electronic feature is impressive, perhaps even moreso than the feature itself. To be honest, I would have been just as happy if they had skipped the feature and reduced the weight and possibly the price of the figure a bit.
Value - 3/10Just about everything about the Balrog figure is big. Sadly, that includes the price tag as well. Being limited to the specialty market, prices vary quite a bit. I was able to find it for as low as $87. But many stores were asking as much as $110. When you add in shipping which can easily top $25, the price climbs quickly. This is a great figure. And the sheer size means that it was bound to be expensive. But its size alone isn't enough to justify the price. There have been other large scale figures with similar features such as the Ultimate Godzilla figure that have been marketed for a much lower price. For $50 this would be a steller value. At $100 or $125, it is no bargin.
Happy Hunting:The Balrog won't be showing up at your local toy store. It is available from many on-line toy sellers or through Diamond at your local comic shop. (if they ordered them.) I ordered mine from Corner Store Comics and had no problem. But I have heard a few people complain that they can be tough to contact if their is a problem. It is also available from Big Bad Toy Store which has always been reliable.