Color of the (K)Night – The Knight Bus (75957)

Don’t you love it when just hearing about a specific set gives you crazy ideas? Sure enough that’s the case for The Knight Bus (75957) from the LEGO Harry Potter series. Well, for me at least, anyway. So what could it be?

LEGO Harry Potter, The Knight Bus (75957), Box

Contrary to what my recent frequent excursions in Harry Potter territory may suggest, I still don’t care much for the series and its lore as much. I just happen to like some of the models. That’s why The Knight Bus couldn’t be further from my mind, but then LEGO actually made it valuable by including the new 3 x 3 windows and in Dark Purple, no less. Seeing as I’m also quite into LEGO Friends and already had a bunch of of windows in different sizes and flamboyant colors, the more I thought about it the more it made sense that this might make for an interesting use in a building one of these days.

After that it merely became a matter of math and waiting for a good price. There’s 34 of those windows in the set and while I might never need all of them, I quickly figured out that buying this set as a whole would not be more expensive then ordering a bunch of the pieces individually from Bricklink and I’d get a few more parts on top. Of course this is entirely subjective and depends on how you might potentially re-use those items plus the price. For 26 Euro this was pretty much a no-brainer for me, but at the original MSRP of 40 Euro I’d think twice about it.

LEGO Harry Potter, The Knight Bus (75957), Overview

With the bulk of the contents being dedicated to the bus itself and of that a major fraction constituting the windows, there’s little else going on in the set. There’s inevitably yet another Harry figure, of course the conductor and the driver, an elderly chap. The latter to me is perhaps the most valuable, as its generic nature makes it perfect for using it in a Modular Building or City scenario as well. Interestingly enough that could also apply to the overall construction, as cunningly this is a 6 wide model that would fit on standard LEGO roads.

LEGO Harry Potter, The Knight Bus (75957), Front Left View

On the other hand the narrowness is perhaps also one of my main criticisms. I looked up pictures of the real thing and man, is it bulky and bullish even. Compared to that the model looks very lanky and excessively tall. That is to say the proportions are not captured that perfectly from that standpoint. Trimming off one level would still make for a dainty little double-decker bus in a small town in the 1950s or so, though.

LEGO Harry Potter, The Knight Bus (75957), Aft Left View

Aside from the novelty of the 3 x 3 window elements the construction is rather straightforward and does not provide any challenges nor shows off any cool advanced techniques. It literally is just like you and your kids would build it – a row of bricks as the basis and then a row of windows on top, secured with a bunch of other elements like strip-shaped plates.

LEGO Harry Potter, The Knight Bus (75957), Front Right View

I’m not particularly friends with the way the topmost front windows have been constructed This is one of the few places in the set where for once I think that using the more conventional existing wind shield elements would have done just fine, ideally of course with the frames already printed on. It seems odd that they were so fussy here with a hinge-based construction when likely nobody really would have complained about the simpler and still better-looking method.

LEGO Harry Potter, The Knight Bus (75957), Front View

A little bit of finesse has however still been added with the large opening side wall. This provides generous access to the interior. Not that it’s that essential. Unfortunately due to the scale chosen the play value remains very limited. The “rolling palace” feel found in the movie is barely present and even if the model were bigger, you wouldn’t really be able to enliven it that much with only three minifigures.

LEGO Harry Potter, The Knight Bus (75957), Right Side Open

LEGO Harry Potter, The Knight Bus (75957), Right Side Open

Interestingly, a lot of emphasis has been put on modularity and openness, which to me seems a bit silly and unnecessary, given the limitations. I could have done without a removable bed in favor of a more detailed internal space. Even the reverse could be argued – the bus being kind of a camper van to just stow things away and then you pull out one piece of furniture or utilities like from a bottomless chest to decorate your scene. It feels neither here nor there and is overall unsatisfying.

 

LEGO Harry Potter, The Knight Bus (75957), Top View with Roof removed

LEGO Harry Potter, The Knight Bus (75957), Upper Level separated

All things considered, this is an okay model, but if it wasn’t for my super-secret plan regarding the use of the windows in a future project, I would have completely ignored it. The funny thing is that LEGO could bring out a two-level variant of this in another color and it would probably sell reasonably well, but as its stands, the Dark Purple otherwise is difficult to get accustomed and will limit the attractiveness for certain crowds.

I’d also guess that for Harry Potter fans this is equally not on top of many people’s lists as it doesn’t offer much play value nor a load of figures. That and of course again its color may just look odd on a shelf or in a showcase. In the end it’s an acquired taste in many ways and once the gags from the movie are stripped away there’s not much remaining other than a barren bus that could mean nothing to you if you haven’t seen the film…

Looking back in…?

…Frustration? Anger? Bliss? All of them? End-of-Year summaries are a difficult thing and where LEGO is concerned, I sure have a bag of mixed feelings. So how was this year? Good? Bad? Terrible? Awesome? The answer is likely: “All of the above.”, so let me explain.

Personally I’m not that unhappy within the restrictions that I have to work within, anyway, meaning smaller, not too expensive sets. There indeed have been a number of good sets like my favorite Deep Sea Creatures (31088), a couple of excellent LEGO Friends sets that for once forewent the kitsch in favor of more palatable realism, a few surprising Star Wars models and even some of the The LEGO Movie 2 stuff was quite good. I also got a bit into Harry Potter and the new Hidden Side series also was surprisingly good.

On the other hand there has been a lot of frustratingly bad stuff in the same series I mentioned just as well. On top of that LEGO keep screwing around with Ideas by “improving” the sets in the opposite direction and over-optimizing them and this year has ruined Technic for me for good. Aside from the big and expensive showy models there is not much left there that would pique my interest. The smaller models are often just an embarrassment with their flimsy engineering. If that wasn’t enough, there’s that thing with a still barely functioning Control+/ PoweredUp system that gets stuffed into boxes with no rhyme or reason and makes models unnecessarily expensive for very limited return value.

On that note and on a more generic level I feel that the rift between relatively costly sets and the lower end is also growing. There’s definitely a dichotomy between pretty well-executed, large but expensive sets and many relatively lackluster packages in other price ranges. In addition it seems that LEGO are just trying too hard too see what they can get away with. There’s no way around it: Many sets feel unjustly overpriced and if it wasn’t for the magic powers of a free market regulating itself, i.e. discounts being available, this would be one heck of an expensive hobby/ special interest.

Unfortunately it doesn’t seem LEGO haven’t learned that lesson yet and as the first previews for 2020 indicate, we’re in for another round of sets where you wonder how they even arrived at some of the rather ridiculous prices. That in itself could be considered a statement and what bugs me about the whole matter that they just don’t seem to care. In fact a lot of this customer squeezing has a somewhat desperate undertone and one can’t help but feel that things aren’t as rosy as the company will have you believe. Now it’s of course pure speculation, but there are some signs that things didn’t go their way this year.

First, of course The LEGO Movie 2 was an epic fail. In Hollywood movie terms it was a bomb and didn’t break even, which in turn of course affected sales of the sets associated with the film. A second wave was only rolled out reluctantly in August and just before Christmas all the remaining sets were shoved out in a sale with crazy discounts. That and just at the same time Warner Bros. not extending their deal and the development shifting over to Universal. Cynically one could say that a tainted property was dumped at a different outlet in the hopes of producing tons of cheap movies.

Another big bummer also right in time for the end of the year is of course the acquisition of Bricklink. This also fits the pattern of a company perhaps not doing so great trying to control the market. No matter what, it’s just bad for the AFOL community at large and repercussions are already felt only a few weeks after the announcements with major changes to sales policies affecting what can be found on there.

All things considered this may not have been an outright terrible year, but some of what has happened just feels unsavory and a few things have been set in motion that just don’t feel right. So far it also doesn’t seem that we will be off to a good start in 2020 and that is just as much reason for concern. There will still be plenty to buy and to cover on this very blog and I’m more than certain that just like this year we will get some more announcements every now and then, but overall excitement on my end is limited for the time being…

Pony Carriage? – Beauxbatons’ Carriage: Arrival at Hogwarts (75958)

As someone not particularly into Harry Potter it surprises even myself how many of the respective LEGO sets I have bought lately, so here we go again with another one that ties right into The Goblet of Fire and the Trimagic Tournament. Specifically it’s themed around those short few moments when the contestants from other schools arrive, so we get Beauxbatons’ Carriage: Arrival at Hogwarts (75958) to represent the eponymous French school of magic and sorcery.

LEGO Harry Potter, Beauxbatons' Carriage: Arrival at Hogwarts (75958), Box

As a non-fan I don’t put too much emphasis on all the details and my buying decision is merely driven by whether I like the overall appearance of a model and/ or how I may re-use the parts later. In those regards the set ticks a few points on the list with lots of pieces in useful colors and the overall design of the carriage being a nice generic baroque-ish coach.

LEGO Harry Potter, Beauxbatons' Carriage: Arrival at Hogwarts (75958), Overview

The most noteworthy part about the figures is perhaps Hagrid which is not contained in too many sets. Of course there’s also Madame Maxime and two of her students, though the latter is a bit like that old Stormtrooper problem in Star Wars – you never have enough of them and some versions of them are extremely rare. In order to re-create the actual scene from the movie you’d need a lot more Beauxbatons.

LEGO Harry Potter, Beauxbatons' Carriage: Arrival at Hogwarts (75958), Figures

Before we move on, let me get the most disappointing thing about this set out of the way – the horses. For the life of it I can’t fathom what madness drove LEGO to include thirty years old horses in such an otherwise beautiful and elegant set. This completely ruins the overall impression. Not only are the horses kinda child-ish looking and blocky, but compared to the carriage they look like ponies and not like the mighty steeds you see in the film. It’s really ridiculous.

Creating a dedicated new mold may sound a tall order, but given that LEGO sometimes come out with new animal molds where and when you least expect them, this idea doesn’t seem as far-fetched as it may sound. One can only wonder why they didn’t do it. In fact looking through Bricklink I’m almost inclined to think that this would have been a wonderful opportunity to dust off those old Belville molds, give them a work-over and use those horses.

LEGO Harry Potter, Beauxbatons' Carriage: Arrival at Hogwarts (75958), Horses

The second, but much less bothersome caveat is that the carriage is more a generic one that would fit the European Baroque and Renaissance eras instead of being in any way representative of what’s actually in the movie. Of course a fair argument would have to be that this could be a more than valid interpretation strictly based on the books and that’s just fine. However, where the film is concerned it doesn’t capture the “flying palace” feel that the carriage evokes in the few shots where it can actually be seen. You know, not unlike with the Tardis from Dr. Who – larger on the inside than on the outside.

LEGO Harry Potter, Beauxbatons' Carriage: Arrival at Hogwarts (75958), Carriage, Aft Left View

The failure to communicate the actual “bigness” can mostly be attributed to the window arrangement. A quite conventional layout was chosen as opposed to the large tiled windows on the film prop that lead you to think this is more built like a tall (factory) hall with huge, multi-storied windows. Doing so would of course also have necessitated a larger chassis as well, so aside from the specific issue with the horses this also seems to me like they were trying to keep it at a specific smaller scale to also not have to worry about things like larger wheels and the pieces count reaching a level that would make it too expensive. All sensible measures, just not in line with what you get to see on screen.

LEGO Harry Potter, Beauxbatons' Carriage: Arrival at Hogwarts (75958), Carriage, Aft Right View

All that said, the model is still pretty gorgeous once you move on and ignore all those issues. Due to our history of Germany once having been a patchwork of smaller countries and regions and the kings, counts and earls trying to outdo each other, there are a lot of these pomp-laden, mostly decorative and representative carriages still to be found in museums and I’ve seen quite a few of them. It’s all lots of gold on black or white accentuated with gem stones and other colors, including lots of red velvet for the seating to represent royalty.

I’ve not yet seen a specific one in light blue (that would likely have been more of a Prussian mail coach or something like that), but it’s not impossible that something like that may have existed. In that regard if you are into this sort of thing the model would be more than an adequate representation. Conversely it may be more than fitting as a basic design for English, French or Italian carriages of certain historic eras. The details would differ and there would be a lot of specific customization and decoration, but overall this is so good you may just want to download the instructions and give it a try to build from your own parts.

LEGO Harry Potter, Beauxbatons' Carriage: Arrival at Hogwarts (75958), Carriage, Front Right View

The build process is quite enjoyable. A lot of it is of course building the left and right walls and while there are lots of repeating steps I found it never too tedious or boring. There are some interesting building techniques as well. Not particularly challenging and extraordinary, but well executed and used where it makes the most sense. One of my concerns for instance was that the “horns” might fall of easily, but they snap into place just fine and stay there unless you handle the model too roughly. There’s no denying that some of the parts require some extra care, though. The lamps and some of the other golden elements can easily be whacked out of alignment and need to be placed properly to look “nice” in the first place.

LEGO Harry Potter, Beauxbatons' Carriage: Arrival at Hogwarts (75958), Carriage, Open, Overview

The interior is nothing to write home about, but sufficient to accommodate the three representatives of the school, i.e. Mme. Maxime and the two student girls. The idea with the entire wall lifting up deserves some accolades and they even went so far to outfit it with a cabinet. It’s crammed, but lively.

LEGO Harry Potter, Beauxbatons' Carriage: Arrival at Hogwarts (75958), Carriage, Open, Top View

Once you dismiss the Harry Potter context and can do away with those awful horses you get a nice generalized carriage that can fit into many scenarios. However, it’s definitely not worth the 50 Euro LEGO are asking for. I may have been pulled in by the Bright Light Blue parts, many of which are available in this color for the first time in this set and I sure don’t mind getting a few nice golden and wood colored elements on top, but clearly even the 35 Euro you get this for with discounts still feels like a bit of a stretch, given the circumstances. Things would definitely look different if they had included more adequate animals, that’s for sure….

Graveyard Double Shift – Graveyard Mystery (70420) and The Rise of Voldemort (75965)

With Halloween imminent, I figured it might be a good idea to focus on reviewing some spooky-themed sets by ways of being built around graveyards – or sections of them at least. This includes the Graveyard Mystery (70420) from Hidden Side and The Rise of Voldemort (75965) from the Harry Potter line of LEGO sets.

LEGO Hidden Side, Graveyard Mystery (70420), Box

As you know, I’m quite a fan of Hidden Side – the sets are done well enough and to boot also very affordable because LEGO are pushing them so aggressively and there are discounts at every corner. This makes it easy enough to add them to the menu even if you are on a budget. The Graveyard Mystery can be had for as little as 20 Euro, which to me seems just about the right price. The full 30 Euro feels a bit out of proportion for what amounts to a rather slim model, on the other hand, and I’m not sure if I had picked it up then.

LEGO Hidden Side, Graveyard Mystery (70420), Overview

The set comes with the standard Parker and Jack figures along with Spencer, the ghostly dog. On the other side of the spectrum there’s a skeleton and the groundskeeper/ gardener, the latter of which is essentially the only really interesting bit in that department as with his overalls and all he could also be interesting for other uses e.g. in a City play scene.

LEGO Hidden Side, Graveyard Mystery (70420), Overview, Everything Closed

Being designed with the Augmented Reality app intended to be used with these sets in mind, the graveyard/ cemetery is kind of a panoramic arrangement, so that most parts are visible all the time and the camera can capture the entire scene. The layout in and of itself however is more or less a towel strip walkway with a linear progression. You enter through the gate, pass by a bunch of graves and then arrive at the angry tree with the keeper’s little storage shed underneath.

LEGO Hidden Side, Graveyard Mystery (70420), Overview, Markers Exposed

Since I don’t have the app, I can’t enlighten you about the specific meanings of the colors in the game, but there sure are a lot once you open up the respective areas and expose the insides and undersides of some elements. In fact I believe even the big green slope on the central grave may have some bearing even with the lids still down. The problem is of course that without the fancies of a mobile device the play options are ultimately limited. You can barely hide a minifigure in the central grave and even placing someone inside the little shed is finnicky. Doing a hide & seek  and guessing in which grave someone is hiding would not pose much of a challenge.

LEGO Hidden Side, Graveyard Mystery (70420), Overview, Back Side

A stand-out piece is naturally the angry tree with its “face” and “arms” being clearly recognizable. From what I’ve seen of the game it doesn’t seem to do much, though, and is merely whipping around. That is presumably not really useful. the same could be said for the mechanism on the real model in a sense. While I can appreciate the facial expression changing and the arms going up it still feels gimmicky. This is once more a case where a static, more detailed and more refined tree would have been preferable over such a very limited action feature IMO.

LEGO Hidden Side, Graveyard Mystery (70420), Angry Tree, Front Side

On the bright side, the set is full of pieces in very usable “natural” colors ranging from the various browns and grays to Olive Green. Nice to see that LEGO still can do such sensible stuff without them going bonkers or some higher-up instructing a designer to include bricks in crazy colors only to clear out the left-overs from previous production runs of other sets. There are no particularly unique or rare parts in this set, however. Thus there would be little point in getting this set for anything but buildings or indeed landscaping and cemetery building.

LEGO Hidden Side, Graveyard Mystery (70420), Angry Tree, Back Side

A small shortcoming, if you want to call it that, is the unattractive back side. Even with the emphasis on the panoramic effect it wouldn’t have hurt to have a few details here or at least the floor plates extend beyond the graves’ rear edges. To me it really feels like they chopped it off a bit too harshly.

LEGO Hidden Side, Graveyard Mystery (70420), Gate

After my experiences with the Hidden Side side I kept having this weird idea running in my head that perhaps one day I might want to build a larger custom graveyard, perhaps with a small chapel and crypt, so naturally I stumbled upon The Rise of Voldemort from the Harry Potter movies.

LEGO Harry Potter, The Rise of Voldemort (75965), Box

The point is not so much that I would be a particular fan of the series – quite opposite, as now 15 years later I look at these films and wonder how I could ever have been so foolish to buy the DVDs – but regardless, they are not without merit in terms of production design and at least some of the less WTF?-ish story elements. I know, I seriously need to read the books one day for a fair comparison.

LEGO Harry Potter, The Rise of Voldemort (75965), Overview

Anyway, on of the key things that also made me consider this set is that when doing churches, graveyards and similar you have a need for some specific extras, that being large numbers of grey minifigure elements and decorative bits and bobs for the slabs/ grave stones. Lo and behold, this set comes with a fully formed angelic figure in Dark Bluish Grey, which of course is twisted into representing the Grim Reaper and there’s also a frog in that same color.

LEGO Harry Potter, The Rise of Voldemort (75965), Figures

What also made the decision to buy this set easier is the consistent color usage compared to the first set. This means that you can easily mix & match and expand the ground thanks to the Dark Tan being used in conjunction with the same contrast colors for other elements. Or in simple words: You can buy multiple sets of both models and need not worry that intermingling parts would result in odd color combinations.

LEGO Harry Potter, The Rise of Voldemort (75965), Grave Closed

The set represents that scene where Harry Potter gets accidentally transported to an alternate place during the Trimagic Tournament in The Goblet of Fire, to witness the resurrection of He who must not be named, so there are all the figures relevant present. Personally I don’t care that much for them and for my taste in the context of the set there are simply way too many minifigures. In a sense it feels overcrowded due to the smallness of the available play are vs. the number of figures. That’s in my view also the biggest shortcoming of this set.

LEGO Harry Potter, The Rise of Voldemort (75965), Grave Open

One of the side-effects of this lack of space is that it doesn’t really capture the mood of the scene. There is no sense of dread and feeling lost because everything is crammed together. This also isn’t helped by the simple construction with only a central part in the middle and the small side extensions clipped on with hinges. This inevitably limits the options for disguising some gaps and open areas, which painfully becomes obvious with the insides of the grave. It just looks extremely shallow and indeed a figure doesn’t even fit into it without the lid remaining ajar.

LEGO Harry Potter, The Rise of Voldemort (75965), Grave, Front Right View

LEGO Harry Potter, The Rise of Voldemort (75965), Grave, Back Right View

At the end of the day both sets have their flaws and issues, with the Hidden Side Graveyard Mystery at least offering a better value for money, however, due to being larger to begin with. I guess the ultimate test would really come once you actually start combining things, possibly based on multiple such sets, to build a more elaborate cemetery. The irony is of course once more that basically all the ingredients are already there, but LEGO trimmed away to many things in the interest of being “economical” to make either of the sets genuinely great. As a consolation, both sets are very affordable at least, so it would not be impossible to grab a bunch of them and make your dream project a reality, assuming you, too, have a thing for graveyards…