Blue T-Rex? – LEGO Jurassic World Magazine, December 2022

The LEGO Jurassic World remains my favorite of the currently available LEGO-themed magazines as I can always find something in it that gives me that good feeling in my tummy and the December 2022 issue does just that as well.

LEGO Magazine, Jurassic World, December 2022, Cover

The comic is not my favorite, being that it’s one of those half/ half ones, but it is a definite improvement over last month’s “empty skies” orgy. There’s some panels with detailed drawings and interesting perspectives, it’s just that there could be even more density with e.g. the jungle looking more alive. It really would make those escape scenarios more interesting.

LEGO Magazine, Jurassic World, December 2022, Comic

LEGO Magazine, Jurassic World, December 2022, Comic

The posters are standard fare, but at least the one on the front is decent enough. The reverse on the other hand is any Photoshop user’s nightmare. They just stuffed in every existing rendering or cut-out of dinos they could find and arranged them in a fake photo, but it’s really all over the place in terms of colors and perspective.

LEGO Magazine, Jurassic World, December 2022, Poster

The extra will be a familiar sight to regular followers of my blog or for that matter frequent buyers of the magazine. It’s another buildable dino, this time in the guise of Blue, the Velociraptor, bur rge basic structure is pretty much still the same of the original T-Rex we got after the relaunch in January 2020 and then of course we got it again in September 2021 in the form of a Dilophosaurus and even this year already in the February 2022 edition as another variation on the T-Rex. The nice thing about those creatures that you really have quite a bit of building to do and it feels rewarding, but of course it’s also getting a bit stale and repetitive to always have the same structure. Would be nice if they could design a few other species.

All in all this is an okay issue and worth its money. I still think we need an influx of some new dinos and also on a more general level new ideas, though.

Space Wedge – LEGO Star Wars Magazine, December 2022

The LEGO Star Wars magazine remains one of the staples of that whole LEGO magazine business and while not always outstanding, it usually has at least something interesting to show. Let’s see if the December 2022 issue lives up to that.

LEGO Magazine, Star Wars, December 2022, Cover

I’m not a friend of those “Palpatine behaves like a teenager” as you know, so the main comic doesn’t really go down well with me. Too much implausible nonsense and too way off the mainstream canon even if you take a liberal approach and allow for some wackiness.

LEGO Magazine, Star Wars, December 2022, Comic

The secondary comic isn’t doing much better, in particular since the vehicle it is supposed to promote as the extra, the Imperial Light Destroyer, isn’t really shown that much.

LEGO Magazine, Star Wars, December 2022, Comic

The poster on the front features Captain Vaughn from the Armored Assault Tank (AAT) (75283) set in all his glory. Stylistically it is similar to the one in the last issue, so they would look nice next to each other. The backside has an X-Wing zooming toward the Death Star, but it’s not nearly as interesting.

LEGO Magazine, Star Wars, December 2022, Poster

The extra is the Imperial Light Destroyer mentioned earlier. It was introduced in Rebels and recently played a bigger role in The Mandalorian. As you would expect the model is pieced together from a few wedge plates, which is sufficient to match the contour, but does not really provide the necessary volume for the ship’s body. In terms of pieces there isn’t too much special here. There’s a pair of triangular tiles in Light Bluish Grey, which are always nice to have, but the rest is standard fare – with one exception: Inside there’s a Black 1 x 5 plate (!) for the central spine, which I think is the first time ever this element has ever been used in one of those foil packs on any of the LEGO magazines. If you never encountered it up close and personal in a set (since it’s still being used rather sparingly) here’s your chance to get acquainted with this marvel of modern engineering. 😉

This edition of the magazine holds very few surprises, but is overall a solid affair. The posters are decent and the comics are serviceable, though I’d prefer them to be a bit more serious and in line with the rest of Star Wars. Though personally I prefer buildable models, fans of minifigures will be pleased that next month there will be another one in the form if a Hoth Luke Skywalker with snow goggles, vest and all.

Six O’Clock Shadow – LEGO Avatar, Toruk Makto & Tree of Souls (75574)

Birthdays are always nice and being gifted a bunch of Amazon vouchers is even better, so the stars aligned and I was able to afford myself the LEGO Avatar Toruk Makto & Tree of Souls (75574) package despite it being way over my usual budget. As I explained in my previous article on the subject the movie is a bit of a guilty pleasure and as I also already mentioned there I simply like the colorful nature of the whole thing. So I couldn’t resist temptation and committed to it – not just for this review, but because I really wanted to have it.

LEGO Avatar, Toruk Makto & Tree of Souls (75574), Box

Pricing and Contents

As the biggest set of the first Avatar wave of course this doesn’t come cheap and as usual LEGO are trying to milk the cow by adding a premium because it’s based on licensed IP. The original asking price for this is 150 Euro, which is way too much for 1212 pieces if you apply the conventional metric of 10 Cent per piece. Luckily you don’t have to let them get away with it as those sets are only mildly popular (people seem to want the unique minifigures and a few other things, but not necessarily the actual sets as a whole) and you can get decent discounts even from smaller retailers. I got mine for 111 Euro and currently with the Black Week/ Black Friday promos I’ve seen it drop below 100 Euro. This is reasonable, but nor perfect.

Realistically I feel this is more around the 80 Euro mark, with the point being that despite getting quite a bit of volume on the individual models, a lot of it has to do with the lofty nature of those builds. Yes, the tree is quite large (and so is the Toruk), but that’s mostly down to using some very large/ long elements enclosing/ circumscribing lots of open space. My “kitchen table photo studio” was almost to small to accommodate everything and I had to touch up a few spaces at the edges where I ran out of grey background, but individually each model feels pretty lightweight and like you’re not holding much in your hand. It’s really more that you have to be careful not to break off some dangle-y thing than the models being weighty.

LEGO Avatar, Toruk Makto & Tree of Souls (75574), Overview

Minifigures & Direhorse

As already mentioned, the minifigures for the Avatar series seem to be reasonably popular among collectors, a lot of which no doubt has to do with their unique appearance due to the blue skin and tall legs. With only for of them this package feels a bit understaffed not only because of the bigness of the set but also more generally based on what the set is supposed to represent. It could have done well with another three to five “generic Na’vi warrior” figures to deck out the scene. The characters in this line-up are Jake Sully again in a different warpaint, of course there’s also Neytiri and the two others are Tsu-Tey, the former’s ex-lover and Moat, the female chieftain of the tribe. The prints are distinct from those of the other sets and well-executed, which no doubt contributes why they are so coveted.

LEGO Avatar, Toruk Makto & Tree of Souls (75574), Minifigures

The animals of Pandora so far are seriously underrepresented aside from the big flying beasts and the Thanator, so it’s good to see that be expanded upon as well. I’m not saying that I’m a fan of the Direhorses, though. That whole Ant Eater like appearance and behavior with them licking honeydew from flowers just feels odd and of course the six legs just feel awkward and unnecessary. It has also always bugged me that conveniently these creatures have USB cables to connect with the Na’vi‘s minds. All of that is a bit hard to explain away and rationalize no matter how willing you are to suspend disbelief for the movie. The horse as such is just fine, but has zero posing options. It also looks a bit too uniformly colored for my taste and should have some more organic patterns, especially in the “mane” and the rear section as they can be seen in the film.

The Landscape Pieces

The landscapes of Pandora are their own character in the movie so it’s only appropriate that the corresponding LEGO sets also at least make some effort to render at least parts of it in brick-built form. I already mentioned the pros and cons of how well the translation into this miniature format works for me in my other review and this is no different here. While the landscapes are certainly colorful and other-worldly, they have very little to do with how this stuff is depicted in the movie. The building techniques are very restricted without any recognizable effort to actually re-create plants from the film and the color choices are not anywhere close to how most of this looks and feels. It’s all rather arbitrary and gives the impression of “As long as it looks different enough, it’s good enough.”.

This is still tolerable for the smaller pieces, but for me the wheels come of the cart on the big one. This is supposed to be the entry “gate” to the glade where the Tree of Souls resides and even if you’re only superficially familiar with the movie you will immediately recognize that it looks nothing like it does there. Many of the rock formations on Pandora clearly have the appearance of lava frozen along the magnetic field lines (due to the floating mountains and the Unobtanium) , which makes them look like actual arches. None of this is present here and one can’t help but feel that the designers didn’t even try. Yes, it would not have been easy, but there are enough curved/ arched elements in LEGO‘s portfolio to at least hint at this on some form.

On the bright side this large assembly is quite stable and thus easy to handle. You can literally just grab it in the middle and carry it around like a suitcase on its handle. This robustness is of course needed in order to perch the huge Toruk Makto on the short axle on the “floating” mountain piece.

LEGO Avatar, Toruk Makto & Tree of Souls (75574), Landscape, Large, With Toruk

Tree of Souls

The Tree of Souls is mostly a simple affair. It’s very obviously based on a Weeping Willow constructed from a bunch of arches, slopes and Technic connectors with the base being pieced together from different rounded and cropped corner plates. It’s really not too advanced or fancy and if you inspect the images closely you can see the simplicity of the build and the overall symmetry. It’s just disguised by the dangling boughs/ twigs and the cyan-green vines on the ground that represent the “magic” moss/ lichen used to transfer souls into a new body or revive someone.

Sadly it could have looked even better if LEGO had placed more emphasis on a consistent coloring. Especially the black parts on the tree trunk draw too much attention and overall there’s just a few too many different colors used with the real irony once more being that of course a lot of them were/ are available in Reddish Brown or could have been manufactured in this color. This is again this weird dichotomy with LEGO where somehow they seemingly cannot be bothered to consider these points even if sets like these would be more relevant to adult collectors that want things to look coherent than children who play with it.

The construction of the tree overall is rather tedious and after I was done with it, I didn’t feel like I wanted to finish the set that evening. It really helps to spread out the build process across multiple sittings on different days or else you get a bit aggravated. In particular the repetitive nature of plugging together the transparent antenna pieces is not very enjoyable and i even forgot some on the inner three petals. If you don’t know it, you won’t see it, though. Unfortunately it is nigh on impossible to make everything hang down perfectly straight. My gut feeling tells me that this would require treating the leave elements and the whip/ leash pieces with a hot air fan to relax them or bend them into place.

Toruk Makto

The Toruk Makto, which translates to The Last Shadow (because it’s the last thing you see before you die) is the evil big bad of the movie in terms of the animals. Unlike his scrawny distant cousins, the Banshees/ Ikrans, he’s a lot harder to catch and does not as easily bow to your will. That’s why anyone managing to do so is highly revered among the Na’vi. That of course is the only reason they are even willing to listen to him (or his remotely piloted Na’vi avatar clone, more precisely) after the big disaster of the Home Tree being destroyed by Quaritch and his goons.

The model of the indomitable creature is quite ginormous, not least of all due to the enormous wingspan. However, also the body has more “flesh” and is much more voluminous compared to the wiry Ikrans. This helps a lot to make it actually threatening and also presentable. It has real legs and the wingtips can be folded backwards. underneath it all is still an awful lot of Technic axles and connectors, though, which isn’t my favorite. It always reminds me that LEGO perhaps should have developed a Ribs & Spars system not just for this, but also for their Ninjago dragons and similar. You know, something that looks more like natural bones or bent swords, not ugly fat tubes.

There’s inevitably a dedicated new head piece and with the ones coming up in the second wave this shows that they invested quite a bit of design effort and money for the molds into this. The feet with the huge claws are quite a bit of building and feel massive. Interestingly enough, while absolutely not accurate to the film, this still feels natural. It only turns the logic of thee creature on its head a bit. Whereas in reality it would mostly use the claws to balance on rocks and trees or hang on walls, here it makes the Toruk look more like it would walk around on the ground as well similar to a dinosaur. Indeed a rare case of where the limitations of brick building still resulted in an accidental positive outcome.

While all this certainly sounds a lot more positive than the Ikrans, I’m still not convinced this is the best way to go about this. Somehow I can’t shake the feeling that if they had gone the full mile and created molds for the body and legs I would have liked it more and even perched the creature on my shelf. Sorry for the language, but this seems a bit half-assed and even more so given the price.

Pieces from another Planet

As you well know one of my considerations for buying a set is the potential harvest of pieces I can add to my own stock, in particular new ones and interesting recolored items, and in this regard the set offers quite a bit. The most visible new elements are inevitably the ones on the Tree of Souls such as the Trans Dark Pink antennas, the Lavender leashes/ vines and the Light Aqua clips and tail/ Bionicle spine pieces. Underneath it also has one of the newer 8 x 8 round plates in Reddish Brown. I also babbled on about the new column piece in my last article and it appears here in Trans Clear, which will be super useful for building nice presentation stands. Of course there’s also the new whip/ connector cable pieces in Black and Bright Light Blue. The Toruk has a few hidden surprises. One of them is the inverted rounded plate for the first time in Red plus there’s a completely new double-curved 4 x 6 slope piece.


Concluding Thoughts

Compared to the two smaller Avatar sets I reviewed earlier this has been a much more satisfying experience overall. You’re actually getting a bit of volume of stuff and everything looks reasonably nice. The only thorn in my side is the price or else I’d give this a full recommendation. At 80 Euro or thereabouts this would be some nice fodder for multiple evenings during the winter, but at double the price this doesn’t really work out. It’s simply too costly for what it offers and in particular people who have no relation to the movies nor a love for weirdly colored parts won’t get much out of it.

That said, I still believe these sets would work better if LEGO had just made them as nice display sets for adults instead pretending they would be play sets for kids, most of which likely never even won’t get to see the movies due to their age rating. The models are a bit too fragile for serious play and the functions too limited to really make it worthwhile. The thought of a five year old running around with the monstrous Toruk is equally odd, though it would probably be funny. so for what it’s worth, LEGO missed the mark on both these fronts. Again, this is for fans of the movie, but won’t hold much appeal for the uninitiated while at the same time being unsuitable for kids.

Skeletons Galore – LEGO Minecraft Magazine, November 2022

Minecraft somehow isn’t my thing and as much as I want to, I just can’t get myself to even play it once. There’s some value in LEGO Minecraft, though, as I often enough find myself buying some sets just for the bricks. Out of necessity (because all the bricks are exposed and visible) they keep introducing interesting recolors and new elements. That said, of course the corresponding magazine is another way to sometimes snatch up the goods.

LEGO Magazine, Minecraft, November 2022, Cover

The November edition of the LEGO Minecraft magazine doesn’t offer too much that would get me excited, though. The comic is one of those uninteresting ones with lots of empty sky and endless green planes.

LEGO Magazine, Minecraft, November 2022, Comic

The poster is quite acceptable in that it is colorful and lightens the mood. On the other hand the one on the back with a Creeper head and informing you “When you see this, it’s already too late” sucks up this positive energy.

LEGO Magazine, Minecraft, November 2022, Poster

The extra is interesting in that we get a skeleton horse built from plates and bricks  plus of course one can never have enough skeleton minifigures, Minecraft or otherwise. The Alex figure is nothings special, on the other hand.

LEGO Magazine, Minecraft, November 2022, Extra

This edition is not really anything special, but serviceable. The little bone horse is fun to build and looks the part. The rest of the magazine can’t really hold a candle to that, unfortunately. It’s definitely not a must-have issue.

Baker’s Delight – LEGO Friends Magazine, November 2022

It’s that time of the year where we’re making giant leaps towards Christmas and inevitably this has been a recurring subject in the LEGO Friends magazine just as well. Sometimes with Christmas trees, sometimes with fun in the snow and more often than not with baking activities. This year we’re once more going down that route.

LEGO Magazine, Friends, November 2022, Cover

Interestingly, the comic doesn’t delve too deep into this and after a short introduction with the girls baking cookies it’s off to some winter-ly outdoor activities.

LEGO Magazine, Friends, November 2022, Comic

The baking theme is taken up again on a coloring two spread, but strangely enough they’re suddenly making pizza. This feels a bit like they’re recycling a drawing that was originally intended for a different issue. There’s a second coloring page with a Mandala-like round design.

LEGO Magazine, Friends, November 2022, Coloring Page

The poster is the same boring stuff we’ve gotten a million times already, but maybe there’s hope for next year when the revitalized and redesigned characters make an appearance and we get more diverse characters overall.

LEGO Magazine, Friends, November 2022, Poster

The extra is a small cookie selling stand with an oven next to it. It’s serviceable, but really a bit underwhelming and too unspectacular. throwing in a bit more stuff wouldn’t have hurt.

This issue isn’t much to write home about and it’s “just okay”. Definitely not the special celebratory edition one would have hoped for and way too early to count for the holiday season. Thanks to the coloring sections it will keep your kids busy for a little while, though.

Explorer-ing… Spiders – LEGO Explorer Magazine, November 2022

The weird logic of magazine publishers eludes me. The latest issue of the LEGO Explorer magazine is clearly very Halloween-centric, yet at the same time it came out a week to late here in Germany. See the problem? I honestly don’t get why they don’t give themselves more of a safety margin. Even if this may work for the UK version, which comes one week earlier, it just doesn’t make much sense here. The only consolation is that Halloween is nowhere near as important a holiday around these parts, so not too many will be disappointed. Still, it’s an unnecessary oversight/ lapse of foresight.

LEGO Magazine, LEGO Explorer, November 2022, Cover

In keeping with the scary theme this one is all about spiders (mostly). This will really creep out a lot of people and while I have grown to appreciate these eight-legged freaks and even find some of them quite beautiful, I’m also as arachnophobic as the next guy. I can handle “cute” jumping spiders or small ghost spiders, but I’m really put off by most bigger species. I’m actually pretty glad that in our part of the world we don’t have to put up with Tarantulas, Banana Spiders or Black Widows (usually).

LEGO Magazine, LEGO Explorer, November 2022, Info Page

The comic takes a spin on the “mad scientist creating monsters” trope and things of course go terribly wrong. Unfortunately the potential is not fully exploited and overall the comic is a bit tame.

LEGO Magazine, LEGO Explorer, November 2022, Comic

The poster features more creatures that give some people the heebie-jeebies such as snakes, crocodiles and several underwater creatures like a Spider Crab or the angler fish from the Deep Sea Creatures (31088) set.

LEGO Magazine, LEGO Explorer, November 2022, Poster

The back cover has a neat little extra in the form of a door hanger, but as noted in my intro it comes a bit too late for really counting as a Halloween gimmick.

LEGO Magazine, LEGO Explorer, November 2022, Door Hanger

The extra is a really quite disgusting spider with big fangs, long legs and a sizeable “butt”. This is nice and to make it even more realistic they even went out of their way to include all eight legs despite the small scale. The legs are Black, the underbelly is Reddish Brown and the back Dark Brown. My cheap camera and the inadequate kitchen table lighting on an overcast day just make everything look dark.

The narrow focus of the magazine makes this a good one for me. There isn’t too much sidetracking and everything is consistently based around monsters and Halloween. Regrettably the issue does not contain a preview for the next one, so I’m not sure if this is the last one we got. I’d hate this to be a case of “Another one bites the dust.”. Recognizably the mag is struggling to attract buyers, but I’d hate to see it go just because not enough people purchase it. On the other hand they’re still offering subscriptions, so I’m a bit confused on the matter. Perhaps it will relaunch in a different form next year? We’ll have to see, I guess!

Pandora’s Boxes – LEGO Avatar, Neytiri & Thanator vs. AMP Suit Quaritch (75571) and Jake & Neytiri First Banshee Flight (75572)

As you may have noticed, things have been a bit slow around here lately, which is not necessarily just to blame my laziness. Many sets I have on my list only came out in September and October and some others that have been out already for a while don’t have great availability, which means they sometimes are out of stock and if they are there are sold at high prices. All of that makes it more complicated for me to obtain stuff within my budget constraints and likely that’s going to remain this way for a while. So be apprised that the long gaps between reviews may be here to stay despite my best efforts to make things work. Now on to the article.


We all have those “guilty pleasure” movies, that is films that we know aren’t actually that good, but we keep watching over and over again for a specific reason. One of mine is undeniably Avatar. The reason for this is pretty obvious – as a 3D artist myself I was simply enawed by the sheer amount of hyper-realistic rendered graphics on display, even more so since virtual plant and landscape creation was one of my secret obsessions and I just knew how hard it was to make a leave sway in the wind or some stalks interact with an animal touching them. Combined with the fact that in 2009 a lot of this was still a lot harder to do than it is nowadays and many of the technologies used were in their infancy, how could one not be impressed?

Then there’s the whole other side that triggers my inner film critic – the story is very run-off-the-mill and full of corny stereotypes, terribly written dialog and yes, even those awful names for locales like the Hallelujah Mountains (!) make me cringe. Why am I telling you all that? Naturally, the upcoming sequel movies have caused a bit of a renaissance and brought the original movie back into everyone’s mind and view. They even went so far as to bring back an enhanced version of the original to cinemas. While this seems a bit too much hype for my taste, of course I can’t evade all the buzz. Knowing that The Way of the Water will likely be the same mix of weird and terrible storytelling with eye-popping visuals will not deter from making it a point to watch it, regardless.

All of this is the perfect opportunity for LEGO to bring out a few sets. when I heard about this, I was quite giddy with anticipation, hoping they would bring out the Dragon Assault Ship (that big flying pancake thing), but as it turns out they had other plans. Instead we’re getting a bunch of scenes from the first movies for people to relive their memories. The first two I chose for my review are Neytiri & Thanator vs. AMP Suit Quaritch (75571) and Jake & Neytiri First Banshee Flight (75572).

LEGO Avatar, Neytiri & Thanator vs. AMP Suit Quaritch (75571), BoxLEGO Avatar, Jake & Neytiri First Banshee Flight (75572), Box

Pricing and Contents

It seems to be one of those “unwritten rules” that licensed LEGO sets are considerably more expensive than others and this is unfortunately the case here just as well. Combined with the recent arbitrary price hikes they imposed on their costumers under the pretense of the overall situation in the world inflicting economic pressure this makes these sets a rather costly investment. The Thanator set comes in at 45 Euro, which on first glance isn’t all that terrible for 560 pieces. However, as is evident from the overview picture, many pieces are small and the individual models are also not the largest and most complex ones.

LEGO Avatar, Neytiri & Thanator vs. AMP Suit Quaritch (75571), Overview

The Banshee set fares a lot worse at 55 Euro  for 572 pieces. The problem here really is that right out of the gate you know that you’re not getting much for your money’s worth with the Ikrans being super skinny and the wings inevitably gobbling up pieces plus the actual wing “skin” undoubtedly costing a premium since the foil pieces need to be printed and cut specifically just for this set (an observation that applies to similar Ninjago dragon sets as well).

LEGO Avatar, Jake & Neytiri First Banshee Flight (75572), Overview

With all that in mind, it’s once more time for retail discounts to save the day and make this work. Lucky for us the original movie has dropped from most people’s memory and at this point the new film isn’t even out, so demand for these sets isn’t that high and there is some wriggle room, so I got the Thanator set for 32 Euro and the one with the Banshees for 37 Euro. If you’re patient and wait for upcoming special promos in the pre-Christmas season or Black Friday in particular, you may be able to get even more discount. On the other hand popularity could grow once the new movie hits and people flock to theaters, so you can’t hesitate too much and have to trust your gut feeling.

Minifigures

A standout feature of these sets are of course the tall minifigures for the Na’vi, the oversized blue smurfs that roam Pandora‘s forests. This is achieved in two ways: One are the very obvious long legs. Instead of having two stud holes they are three holes long and at this scale this makes quite a difference. Those leg pieces are not the same as the one specifically used on Woody from the Toy Story sets a few years ago, by the way, meaning they’re a new mold. The second trick to gain some height are the elongated heads with an actual chin area. Again, a minimal change, but noticeably contributing to the overall perception of those creatures being 2.5 meter tall. This can be easily seen with angry Colonel Quaritch next to Neytiri, both from the Thanator vs. AMP Suit set.

LEGO Avatar, Neytiri & Thanator vs. AMP Suit Quaritch (75571), Figures

Since the Na’vi are basically butt-naked bar a loin cloth and some of their tribal garbs and trinkets, the whole body is Medium Blue. All the details are printed on, including their blue skin stripes and the aforementioned decorative items. the designs are very nice and each character is immediately recognizable.

LEGO Avatar, Jake & Neytiri First Banshee Flight (75572), Figures

The Landscape Pieces

As stated in my lengthy opening paragraph, the landscapes of Pandora play a major part in the appeal of the whole movie. They lend to the credibility and even if in the first movie we only ever get to see sub-tropical regions, there’s already a lot of variation and diversity there which will only expand once we get to know other areas in the new movies. That said, of course re-creating those landscapes in the real world and especially in LEGO is a whole different exercise. Since most plants and creatures were specifically designed for the movie, there are no exact matches for them in our environment.

That can mean that a plant doesn’t exist at all in this form on our planet or that the designers drew inspiration from existing species, but changed their appearance. That can be anything from simply changing the scale (unless you’re into it, very few of us really know how weird some microscopic fungae or small herbs look up close), changing the color or blending features of different plants into a new one. Very experimental genetics, if you will. Apparently this means that LEGO would have to create a ton of new molds and recolored elements and as we all know this would not be realistic or reasonable in terms of manufacturing cost and in turn price. So they had to get creative and look at what they already had and could easily use.

A very obvious candidate are the palm leaf elements. The Magenta ones were in a few The LEGO Movie 2 sets along with the super rare Bright Light Orange variant and I for one am glad that we’re getting them back and from what it seems in notable numbers, given that they appear in more than one of the sets. Regrettably this is also where LEGO stopped being “nice to us” and giving us new colors with most other elements being pulled in from existing sets such as the small leaves in Magenta and Bright Light Orange having appeared in various Disney sets or the Sunflowers (40524). The only highlight other than that for me were the two Dark Red flower stems hidden in the green capsules. Those were only introduced last year in Minecraft and are still relatively rare.

Mind you, I’m not saying that this is bad and the designers didn’t try, it just doesn’t feel very Pandora-ish. A particular beef of mine is that many of the scenes with the Thanator (pictures at the top) for instance play out in the shadow of the forest and at dawn, so everything has slightly bluish tint. This surely could have represented better by using colors like Dark Turquoise, Dark Blue, Sand Green, Sand Blue and so on. Also the overall density of the jungle could have been better with “simply more stuff”. And with that we are also getting to the point of the glow-in-the-dark elements: The crowns (top) and upside-down carrots (below) would make so much more sense in a dark environment.

In the Banshees set there’s also a completely new element. Since it’s not yet listed on Bricklink I can’t provide you with a proper name and description, but it is basically the counterpart to this also rather rarely used support beam, only that instead of a flat surface it is a half-cylinder. Here it is used to create the illusion of a waterfall down the floating rocks and thus included in Trans Light Blue, in other Avatar sets it is used in Trans Clear to similar effect, only without the illusion of water. It’s actually a nice new element and I would predict that especially in the clear color it would also make for a nice support on other models that are being displayed mid-air.

On a final note: As you can see when studying the pictures closely they have clips and “hook” bar elements at their ends. This is meant to allow you to connect the individual pieces into a bigger ensemble. While it’s a nice touch, it doesn’t exactly make sense. The landscapes each have a different feel and appearance down to the color of the “grass” being different greens and there’s no real transition between the zones.

Also the landscape models are not very robust, being that they are only built on a two plate thick base with not much structural reinforcement and the risk of pulling stuff apart is rather high. Did I mention that he bar and clip elements being different colors is also kind of annoying? There’s some good intentions here, but the execution leaves a lot to be desired. it would probably have been better to focus more on making each segment as detailed as they possibly could or in the opposite direction harmonize everything so that the individual sections could be plugged together with pins and form a solid piece of landscape.

The Thanator

The Thanator (simply “death bringer” derived from the ancient Greek word thanatos) is one of the first large creatures we get to see in the movie and it also plays a vital role in the grand finale. That latter scene where this creature is turned into an ally is what the set is about. Personally I never found it to be all to terrifying contrary to what the film wants to make you believe, which perhaps is already saying something. To me it’s just not the most interesting beast to begin with.

One of the factors that contributes to this feeling is the decision to have six legs, which makes the movements look awkward. It’s one of those sub-conscious things that you cannot put a finger on at first, but it becomes more and more clear the more you think about it. The second thing is the odd coloration. Yes, it makes sense for a creature that moves through the shadowy underbrush of the forest to have a dark skin to blend in, it’s just not visually attractive. The third and final reason why this fails to impress me is the odd sense of “He’s wearing a mask.” with the leaf-shaped skin appendages and the extremely protruding teeth. Yes, that no doubt is the intention – to create the feeling of the creature wearing a skull mask like a shaman or tribal warrior – it just doesn’t really work for me.

Based on my limited enthusiasm for the actual film creature I wasn’t expecting too much, yet LEGO managed to make things even worse. Just looking at the box art made me go “RLY?”. Everything about Palulukan (as the Na’vi call him) looks wrong and at no point do you believe that this is a slick predator stalking other animals in the jungle. The most obvious shortcoming is of course the extremely blocky appearance. You can see that to some degree the curved appearance of the body was captured, but everything else feels like rigid limbs hanging from a marionette.

The stiffness not only affects the look, but also the play value in that it is nigh on impossible to pose this creature other than the most basic stances. You can forget about that typical attack pose because the trunk doesn’t have a joint and at the same time the leg joints are way to weak to e.g. allow the thing to stand on its hind legs and rear up. In reverse, it is equally difficult to even get all six feet on the ground at the same time. When you manage to get it working it still feels wrong due to the claws just hovering above the actual ground plane due to how they are constructed. This just feels so wrong!

The other thing that rubs me the wrong way is the head. I mean what is the point of creating custom molds, if you can’t get it right? I may be critical of the skull mask design, but smoothing things over extremely can’t be the answer, either, don’t you think?! To me this looks like they are planning on re-using the mold on some Ninjago dragon with a bird-like head. In other words: It looks very generic. As it stands, I consider the Thanator a complete failure.

The AMP Suit

The second model in the package is the AMP (Armored Mobility Platform) “suit”, of course just a mech. Unlike many Ninjago mechs this is more reminiscent of the original Mechwarrior bots with the bulked-up, gorilla like chest and raised shoulders. From a mechanical engineering standpoint that would make a lot more sense. Compared to those overly tall mechs you have a much lower center of gravity and wouldn’t have to deal with some of the instabilities that long limbs bring. Naturally this doesn’t mean that this is “realistic” and could exist as a functioning vehicle in the real world. It’s just more logical and plausible, something the movie designers made a big point of and an established quality of James Cameron‘s movies that lends them that extra believability.

The AMP depicted in the set is not Cl. Quaritch‘s personal machine, which due to lots of repairs and usage has many parts in their natural dark grey “metal” color that never got a coat of fresh paint, but rather a stock model that was stored on the Dragon Assault Ship and with which he escapes as the vessel crashes down. The exact color appears to be more of a pale green similar to RAL 6028 Sea Green, but I guess Sand Green is a good enough match. The good news that brings about is that it required a number of pieces to be specifically recolored like the ingot piece or the rounded 1 x 2 plate. For me it also gives access to some other pieces in this color that have been around already, but in sets I never bought. This helps to bolster my parts stock.

The design of the model is reasonable for its small scale, but not particularly correct when you look closer at the details. For instance the shoulders would need to stand up and out more. It would also have been nice if they had put more effort in making the canopy airtight or create a dedicated new mold for it. After all, the point of this is that you could sit in the cockpit without requiring an extra breather mask. in an odd way this also reinforces my points about the Thanator: A more detailed and slightly larger AMP would have been preferable over so many pieces being wasted on a unrealistic creature. This would also have allowed for a more realistic chainsaw blade, which I consider the weak point of this otherwise neat little model. In the end they could have sold this alone for around 15 Euro and people might have jumped at it.

Jake’s Ikran

Moving on to the second set, we get Jake and Neytiri‘s iconic Ikrans/ Banshees. Jake’s is the bluish one as for whatever reason those creatures come in a million shades of different colors, allegedly having to do with how strong and dominant they are. This kind of diversity within the same (sub-)species is usually only found with lizards or some birds. Other kinds of animals often need multiple generations to develop these variations. That’s why I’m a bit torn on this, as technically these creatures are too large to spontaneously develop such drastically different skin patterns and is kind of a crutches used for visual distinction in the movie.

As you can see from the images, there’s really not much to say about the model as there ‘s just isn’t much volume. The body is more or less just a block of different two stud wide elements and some brackets and to this block a few hinges are attached to hold the wings. Those wings are just large pieces of printed transparent vinyl, a method used on Ninjago dragons as well. In contrast to those fictional creatures here they are extremely large and the wingspan could be sufficient to actually lift the creature and someone riding it. It is kind of realistic in aerodynamic terms.

The wings can be folded up, but not folded within themselves. That’s why these creatures have no feet, as actually they would “walk” on one of their “finger” bones from the wing like a bat or Pteranodon. That makes them look like they’re sitting and hatching when you don’t have them attached to the landscape piece. as you can see, LEGO created yet another new mold for the head, which perhaps is the best part about the whole thing.

Neytiri’s Ikran

Neytiris version of the Ikran is 100 % identical to Jake‘s, only with alternate colors. This makes for a very tedious and repetitive build and would be my main criticism of this set. Similar to the AMP I would have settled on just getting a single model, but a bit more elaborate. I strongly believe that a slightly larger scale also would have allowed for more rounding/ smoothing of the body as well because you would have had room for more slopes. This also would have opened up the opportunity to present a different scene with the wings folded up properly like when Neytiri first calls her “girl” on the big tree or when Jake earns his stripes when catching his one up high on the rock precipice in the floating mountains. An incidental side effect of this would have been that they could have re-created those locations as well instead of just including a generic Pandora-ish looking  looking lansdscape.

LEGO Avatar, Jake & Neytiri First Banshee Flight (75572), Ikran Neytiri, Underside View

LEGO Avatar, Jake & Neytiri First Banshee Flight (75572), Ikran Neytiri, HeadThe underside shot once more illustrates the huge wingspan and the “bone” structure built from Technic elements. The funny thing here is that in fact the wings are robust enough, but the attachment with the hinges doesn’t live up to that. it can barely hold the weight and moving the wings into other positions makes them come off quite bit. At least for the large wings they probably should have added a second hinge or at least some clip/ bar combo to make it more stable.


Concluding Thoughts

I regret having to say that both sets are quite disappointing. The irony here is that you can see the seeds of what could have been, but the result is a letdown. In particular the creatures, which should be the highlight, leave a lot to be desired. The new custom molds for the heads can’t disguise the fact that their bodies are severely lacking in details and the proportions are weird. It’s not even that more realism was sacrificed in favor of more playability, because that isn’t the case, either. A six-legged creature that doesn’t get its feet on the ground certainly doesn’t count and neither do some “flying wire frames” whose wings come off.

As it is, I cannot really recommend either of the two packages. The parts that are interesting (landscapes, AMP suit) are not elaborate and refined enough whereas the rest makes you feel like a lot of pieces are wasted on mediocre models that in no way manage to capture the magic of the movie. This really feels like someone was trying to “ride the wave” with the original movie having been re-released in cinemas in a spiced up version and the immanent release of the first of the new films for which LEGO sets have already been hinted at. In other words: This comes across as a cash grab preying on peoples love and nostalgia, but the substance of the sets is as lacking as the story of the movie itself.

Once more these are sets based on a licensed IP (intellectual property) that make you wonder who is signing off on those deals and whether the products are being reviewed thoroughly enough before being declared ready for release. I really have a hard time believing that the people making those decisions even care…

Blue Bike Chase – LEGO City Magazine, November 2022

Three times in a row! That’s how Blue Ocean got under my skin by including something actual useful in the LEGO City magazine after I announced my abstinence from this publication. So what’s it for this month? Let’s find out!

LEGO Magazine, City, November 2022, Cover

The comic is another police chase story, only this time on a bicycle. It’s also spiced up (no pun intended) with some Halloween-themed stuff and the evil-doers exploiting the situation by doing their mischief during the spooky night.

LEGO Magazine, City, November 2022, Comic

Unfortunately the special holiday is not really put to good use with the emphasis being on the rather mundane police action (and the gangsters not even dressing up for the occasion), so the panels are a bit boring at times in the sense that there’s a lot of “blue night”, but no crazy ghosts, werewolves, vampires or other such creatures.

LEGO Magazine, City, November 2022, Comic

The posters reflect the story as well, but are equally a bit too ordinary and lacking an original twist.

LEGO Magazine, City, November 2022, Poster

The extra that tempted me into buying this issue is of course the Dark Blue BMX bike/ mountain bike frame. This particular bicycle type is still pretty rare and while I have one in Dark Azure from the Hidden Side Newbury Subway (70430)  (oddly enough, I never reviewed it here) and also the Light Bluish Grey one from the Jurassic World Blue & Beta Velociraptor Capture (76946) (too small to make a review worthwhile), it’s always good to have more options at hand. The minifigures are a so-so affair. The positive thing is that the female police officer has a dirtied up face, but her uniform doesn’t reflect the same. It’s just a standard torso and pants. The same could be said for the thief who really is just “Bad guy no. 3” in a standard outfit.

LEGO Magazine, City, November 2022, Extra

To get back to my opening statement: No, my streak won’t go up to four in a row. I definitely won’t be buying the next issue because I have no interest in the extra, which is going to be an ugly forklift with no “special” parts for my collection that would warrant spending the cash. This one is okay if you want a simple way of obtaining the bike vs. buying an overpriced set, but otherwise it doesn’t really offer much that would get me excited.

She’s that Girl – LEGO Star Wars Magazine, November 2022

I decided to take things easy last week with my birthday and all, so I’m a bit behind on my schedule and only present you with the latest LEGO Star Wars magazine today.

LEGO Magazine, Star Wars, November 2022, Cover

The comic takes us underground into some crystal caves and as a result everything is very colorful. It’s always nice to see stories play out in such locations as opposed to the rather sterile imperial ships or the Death Star. The story arc itself is just another of those “Vader chasing someone and being a moron about it” things, though.

LEGO Magazine, Star Wars, November 2022, Comic

The shorter secondary comic introduces us to Princess Leia as she tries to escape some admittedly cool looking bounty hunters on an abandoned imperial base.

LEGO Magazine, Star Wars, November 2022, Comic

The posters are really nice this time. As you know i prefer a clean graphical style without too much “noise” and the “For Mandalore!” certainly delivers. it immediately reminded me of the poster for the The Rocketeer movie, both in terms of composition and that 1920s/ 1930s graphical style. That reverse poster mimics the style of some movie openings with scenes stenciled into the text, only of course this one uses comic panels.

LEGO Magazine, Star Wars, November 2022, Poster

LEGO Magazine, Star Wars, November 2022, ExtraThe extra this month is a minifigure of Princess Leia and it’s actually a pretty good one because it’s rare. This version with the new skirt piece depicting her in her classic white dress from A new Hope so far only had been included in the ill-fated (because bad) Tantive IV (75244) and the current Luke Skywalker’s X-Wing Fighter (75301) I also reviewed here on this blog. Therefore the little lady has been an expensive investment if you wanted to buy it without getting any of those sets. Just buying this issue of the magazine will give it to you at much lower cost, even if the devaluation probably has Bricklink sellers grinding their teeth.

Already having owned the minifigure I could have skipped this issue easily, but of course this will be the main attraction for many readers. I still prefer buildable stuff and the next edition is going to give us a nice Imperial Star Destroyer once more, so I can live with that. Overall this is a decent issue that will be a nice bit of fun.

Raptor Relay – LEGO Jurassic World Magazine, October 2022

The Jurassic World magazine for October 2022 is not that great. I can tell you that up front. However, despite this in a more general sense the magazine remains at the top of my list of Blue Ocean‘s publications and I always look forward to it, so let’s have a gander at some of its contents.

LEGO Magazine, Jurassic World, October 2022, Cover

The comic can quickly be summed up as “another issue, another chase”, and to boot, of course we’re still stuck in the actual Jurassic Park and on the island. This is really becoming long in the tooth and boring as heck, even more so since there are so few interesting new dinosaurs. There’s only so many ways you can spin a Velociraptor story.

LEGO Magazine, Jurassic World, October 2022, Comic

The graphical style also once more is of the “lots of blue sky” variety and the panels don’t look that terribly interesting. At this point clearly City and Star Wars have the lead with their much more explosive and varied visual storytelling.

LEGO Magazine, Jurassic World, October 2022, Comic

Another department clearly suffering from the lack of new dino species are the posters, which make you think “Didn’t I see that just two issues ago?”

LEGO Magazine, Jurassic World, October 2022, Poster

LEGO Magazine, Jurassic World, October 2022, ExtraThe highlight of the magazine once more is the buildable extra, which in the Jurassic World magazine tend to be reasonably decked out. Though the cover sells this as a “(communications) base”, it is of course not. It’s more of a relay or one of the many surveillance points and access points to different areas of the park.  It captures this feeling nicely, even if it is rather small. The “bad guy” Rainn Delacourt is from the Atrociraptor Dinosaur: Bike Chase (76945) set and so is the little raptor with the new print, joining his Pyroraptor buddy from the July edition. A small highlight are the two 1 x 6 dual arches. I have a ton of white ones and a few crazy colors like Dark Pink, but the Light Bluish Grey ones so far have eluded me. LEGO uses this element relatively rarely and often in sets that I don’t buy like expensive Star Wars ones, so it’s nice to have them. It would have been ace if they had thrown in a printed tile like this one for instance to connect the two arches and cover the studs.

As said in my introduction, this certainly isn’t the best edition in the series, but at least the extra is its saving grace. I’d really only get this issue for that reason because the rest unfortunately is very forgettable.