Sunday, 24 February 2013

The Hobbit v The Lord of the Rings dwarves: size comparison

I finished one of my new Grim Hammers dwarves today (they are going to take longer to paint than I imagined) and am posting this picture of him next to a LotR dwarf.  It's hard to tell, because of the heavy armour, but I reckon he is about half a head taller than the older figures.

Now I am very fussy about figures of different sizes but I wouldn't have any problem fielding them in the same force.  Things like their hands are exactly the same size, for example.  Games Workshop have previewed some more new Dwarves from The Hobbit today so I shall have to get some of them and maybe they will offer a better comparison.  The more dwarves the better!

My daughter wants me to get the new Thror figure but my head says that paying £12 for a dwarf is insane but I'm sure I'll get it anyway!

Sunday, 10 February 2013

The Hobbit: Grim Hammers Dwarves Part 1

I was in Oxford Street last week and nipped into Games Workshop to pick up the new Grim Hammers dwarves from The Hobbit.  They cost £20 for 12 figures which is a not very impressive inversion of the prices for the plastic sets from The Lord of the Rings from a few years ago when you got 20 figures for £12.  The small number of figures is apparent as soon as you open the box as you get just one sprue.  Apparently, they have reduced the number of figures in their other sets too.  The last box of plastics I completed was the Uruk Hai Scouts which used to have twenty four figures in a box but now you get just one sprue of twelve figures.  Interestingly, the plastic set of twelve Uruk Hai now costs £15 as against the £20 for the twelve The Hobbit dwarves.  The difference being the cost of the new licence, perhaps, or maybe they are just trying it on.

The figures are very nice, however, and, unlike most plastic sets, you get twelve different bodies with the arms being (mostly) separate.  The weapons are very fine and quite delicate.  The figures are attached to the sprue by very chunky lumps of plastic.  You certainly can't just twist them off.  You'll need a pair of clippers and then a very sharp knife to clean them up.  

Cutting the bodies off the sprue and sticking them to the bases took twenty minutes.  I can see why some people don't like plastics because of the assembly time but, in contrast to metals there was no cleaning up to do as there was no flash and no discernible mould lines.

The dwarves completed as on the box

The next stage of assembly wasn't so quick, however.  There were no instructions in the box (I'm not sure if there are supposed to be or not) and so it was a puzzle trying to work out which bodies went with which arms.  It also wasn't clear whether any set of arms goes with any body.  Rather than risk it I followed the arm/body combinations on the box although this meant studying the components very closely and comparing them with the photographs on the back of the box.  Some arm combinations were numbered A and B so I assumed that these went together which seemed to be the case but it would have been nice if this had been made clear.  I'm not sure a ten year old would have managed it.  It took me over an hour to work out which arms went with which body and then stick them on which was also a fiddly process as you had often had to align two arms at the same time before the glue dried.

So next I have to fill the gaps on the bases, texture them with sand and undercoat them.  All my other Lord of the Rings dwarves have grey rocky bases to represent Moria. I'm not sure yet whether I will do the same for these or do my usual grassy bases (which is how Games Workshop have painted them).

Tuesday, 5 February 2013

The Hobbit: An Unexpected Journey

Weeks after everyone else saw it I actually got out to see The Hobbit with the children on Sunday.  Although we were all keen to see it there hasn't been a point since December when one or other of us haven't had one of the dreaded bugs going around.  In fact, we only just got to see it as it has already gone from most of the local cinemas and, indeed, we had to trek over to Staines to watch it.

I was interested in it from two perspectives, of course, as a film and as an inspiration for wargames using some of Games Workshop's horrendously expensive figures.

As a film, I read a few negative reviews but many of these had to be read on the basis that they were written by conventional, rather than genre, critics.  As a long time fan of science-fiction I well know that most critics hate SF and fantasy and the more prevalent it has become in the cinema the more they hate it.  Anyway, as a film, again, there were two things I was interested in: the story and drama and, if you like, the texture of the film.  By this I mean sets, costumes, lighting, special effects and everything that builds the world of Tolkien on the screen.

As far as the film is concerned it was, in many ways, a no-win situation for Peter Jackson.  He had set the bar very high with the Lord of the Rings trilogy and following up a multiple Oscar winning film was always going to be difficult, especially with a children's book as source material.  The Hobbit: An Unexpected Journey was his The Phantom Menace; having to succeed with viewers who had expectations from the original trilogy as well as those who were too young to have seen the originals at the cinema (yes, it is that long ago now!).  Then there are those for whom the book is everything and I have seen comments on The Miniatures Page to the effect that "I will never forgive Peter Jackson for what he did to The Lord of the Rings".  Frankly, I always find it amazing that people think that filmmakers should slavishly follow the book that a film is based on.  They are such different media and engage the brain in such different ways and over a very different time scale that it is really not comprehensible that anyone would actually film a book in a completely slavish way.  It would end up eighteen hours long and completely tedious.  The fact that Jackson has nine hours to lavish on The Hobbit did not get him to film every scene from the book but to create new ones for dramatic effect.  Film is a dramatic medium and questions of pace and rhythm are more critical to filmmakers when telling a story than to novelists.

I think Jackson got it pretty spot on.  Several critics said that the film was slow to start but I think that this was an important part of setting up the adventures to come.  Only by seeing Bilbo in his domestic environment could you empathise with the outlandish and dangerous incidents that follow.  Also it is the first of a trilogy so the prologue in the Shire is there to preface three films not just one: a five minute introduction wouldn't do.

Speaking of introductions, Jackson mirrored the approach he took to The Fellowship of the Ring in adding a "historical" prologue (which was a last minute addition to the original film) which puts the dragon Smaug and the dwarves in context.  It explains the meaning of the quest.  The whole film, in fact, follows the structure of The Fellowship very closely and this, for me anyway, is a good thing.  The historical background, the introduction of the Hobbit protagonist and his world, the gathering of the fellow travellers, perilous interludes, a context-setting interval in Rivendell, more perilous interludes before finishing on a geographical high point overlooking the region of the next part of the quest.

I'm not going to go into plot or differences from the book but I thought it worked as drama, didn't drag and looked wonderful.  The latter is important to me as a good part of the enjoyment of the films is immersing oneself in a fully realised and believable world.  The combined CGI and real New Zealand locations worked their magic again.  Some of the background digital matte work was not quite as good as it could have been but I have been told that this looks better in the 42 fps showings.  I actually don't think all-digital environments are an improvement on the detailed model work in the LotR trilogy as the models exude that extra bit of reality.  Likewise, the CGI characters are not, for me as good as men in costume.  But for the most part I was too absorbed to notice any minor shortcomings in these areas.

What was triumphant, once more, was the design and photography.  The colour, I felt, was rather brighter and more saturated than the original trilogy which was quite monochrome for long passages. The Hobbit is a more colourful film.

Howard Shore's music is Middle Earth for me and he has come out with another fine score although, Misty Mountains theme apart, it doesn't reach the melodic heights of The Two Towers or even The Fellowship of the Ring.

There has been quite a lot of discussion about the look of some of the denizens of Middle Earth and their differences from their equivalents in the original films.  I am still not sure about the non-dwarf proportions of some of the dwarves and I think the goblins were inferior to those in The Fellowship but I thought the Wargs were better.  The rather peculiar look of the dwarves serves to differentiate them in a way that just having the different coloured hoods in the book wouldn't have, given the number of them.

Anyway, the different dwarfs will be more interesting to paint once I get going on the Games Workshop figures.  I admit to not having been very inspired by the initial releases of these but things have improved recently with the new elf cavalry and, above all, the armoured dwarves.  The latter is the first set that I actually can't wait to buy and get painted.  In the meantime I have the boxed set, escape from Goblin Town, the trolls and the hunter orcs on fell Wargs to be going on with.  The Wargs versus elves will be a natural match up although it's a lot of mounts to paint!

Many of the figures issued by Games Workshop so far are really character pieces rather than wargaming figures and it was interesting to see Jervis Johnson in this month's White Dwarf say that the "Games Workshop hobby" is "primarily about collecting".  Well, no, isn't it supposed to be about gaming?  Certainly the Lord of the Rings has suffered more than some of the other games from collector's piece syndrome and it looks like The Hobbit is going to be even more so.

I have to say that the price of Games Workshop's The Hobbit figures continues to stagger me.  Twenty five pounds for a mounted character with a foot equivalent is shocking!  Twenty pounds for 12 dwarves would be just about OK if they were metal but they're plastic!

I had waited to see the film before I got going on painting any figures.  One thing that I have learned is that you can't rely on is the Games Workshop paint jobs which are invariably brighter then their equivalents in the films.  Fortunately, I recently bought The Hobbit Chronicles which is particularly detailed on the film's costumes.

So, although I have started on the trolls don't be surprised if it's the dwarves that you see posted here first!