I love all kinds of underwater creatures. It’s a subject that keeps following me around and from watching documentaries to it being a recurring theme in my artistic work, be that computer graphics or traditional drawings, it’s something that simply massively interests and inspires me a lot. To give you an idea I’ve included those three little preview images for some stuff I had on one of my old web sites and I still have stacks of unfinished sketches and scribbles of even more creatures.
All that being the case, it seemed an almost inevitable, natural development and foregone conclusion that I would buy the Deep Sea Creatures (31088) set one day. In a way I was pretty excited and really looking forward to its release as part of this years first wave of new sets. Oddly enough, while LEGO seemed to have no issue rolling out their The LEGO Movie 2 sets even before Christmas last year, this one took quite some time to even appear in online shops and on store shelves. I was only able to order it around the end of January.
Now I don’t buy the basic Creator sets a lot. If you are a reasonably seasoned LEGO user, there’s not much you can gain from them. Most of these sets fall basically in one of three categories:
- Cars and other vehicles, many times extremely simplified and stylized.
- Simplified and often quite small houses and buildings.
- Animals and robots based on hinge and joint armatures with some cover pieces.
To make a point: It’s quite repetitive to a degree and quickly becomes a matter of “Seen one, seen all.”. There’s not much incentive to revisit this series once you have built a small number of similar sets, if you wanna put it that way. It’s also usually a very short-lived bit of fun with the build process being (by necessity and intentionally) quite simplistic and quick. Finally, also inherently a limitation of who those sets are designed for, you won’t find that many valuable special parts in there, so they aren’t the best way to bolster your repository, either.
There are of course exceptions and the Deep Sea Creatures set is one of them. Basically in the aforementioned scheme it would fall into the mechanical puppet category, but from the outset I had a much different feeling about it in that it clearly aimed at a bit more realism and more complex design. I immediately took a liking to it and therefore right from the start decided I would get at least two sets on the chance I might want to keep the assembled models around permanently. At some point I then decided to go full on crazy (and incidentally make it simple to compare all models for this article) and got myself another two of those boxes, bringing it to a full four.
The four models in question are the actual main build from the set, the Great White shark and the secondary builds for the squid and the angler fish. The sperm whale is a bonus build based on a digital instruction you can download for free from LEGO‘s building instructions archive.
Having four sets at hand allowed me to lay out the models and what pieces are left over with each build, which kinda reveals that I may have gone a bit too crazy on the whole matter. Except for the shark that apparently was used as the foundation, the other sets do not even come close to using all items in the box. If you plan to pursue the same strategy, be prepared to end up with a ton of extra hinges, small plates and also some larger parts for the spares box, not all of which may be that useful. Personally for me I would likely have preferred it the other way around – some more parts in the set and the models built to a slightly larger scale, thus using up more of those extraneous parts – but I’m not complaining. All of this stuff will find its use eventually.
As already mentioned, the hero model is a Great White shark which is not only proven by it using all the parts, but on balance it also being the largest item and in my view also the one with the most emphasis on overall design. It’s just looking damned good! This model also perhaps has the best little companion creature by ways of a crab. That’s not only a neat way of sneaking in the surplus parts needed for the other models, but in this case also gives you a sizeable second creature to play with while at the same time totally being something simple enough you could have thrown together from your own parts collection. On the other hand the “treasure chest” with the sea weed doesn’t feel that useful, even less so since it’s literally not used for the other variations, either. I guess one way of looking at it would be that I now at least have four of those elements in Bright Green when I only had them in other colors before.
The shark’s body is made up of three segments that are assembled individually and then connected using small ball joints. This allows for some poseability, but not that much in the end. However, it apparently was enough to inspire JK Brick Works to create their own custom moving version of it with the necessary modifications for more flexibility and less friction and the video dropped just a few days ago just in time for this article. It produces a nice swimming motion, which however would be more in line with smaller shark species. If you check out videos, Great Whites move actually rather slowly and rigidly, with the main drive coming from the tail fin, not the overall undulating motion of the body. That is to say for ultimate realism you would need to change the motion pattern or redesign the model to represent a different variety of shark.
The building techniques in this model are quite varied and use anything from large wedge elements to represent the head’s top to a bunch of perpendicular/ studs on sides construction to attach curved slopes to the sides and capture the curvature of the body. Regrettably, LEGO opted to not design some custom fin parts or include suitable re-issues from their back catalog (this wing element in a different color and with less prominent texture looks nice for instance), so all the vertical fins are made from 1 x wide bricks and slopes, making them rather thick. The smaller fins are represented by flag pieces and wedge plates, which preserves at least some semblance elegance.
Looking at the underside reveals that the model is made sturdy by some large parts such as the inverted curved slopes on the tail and the straight symmetrical slopes in the middle section. On the other hand from that angle you also see the lack of coverage on the jaw, indicating that this model is really not meant to be viewed from this position and ideally would just sit flat on the table/ floor. Not a biggy, but I would argue that they could have thrown in those two or three extra slopes.
How aggressive and convincing the shark looks is of course all in the facial features and thankfully the LEGO designers were able to capture this perfectly. The head looks strong and bullish while retaining its sleek, dynamic overall appearance. Somehow even the teeth look convincing, though the genuine article naturally has a lot more of them and they are smaller. regardless, the proportions are pretty well-balanced and it just works.
The eyes are an interesting construction with a transparent neon yellowish green bar being inserted into a black Technic pin and the eye being further enlarged by a bushing on the pin. This makes the eye stand out and contributes to the fierce look because otherwise it would be barely noticeable – in nature those eyes are quite large, but buried deeply in the skull, so typically only a small dot can be seen. I quite like how the were able to resolve this dilemma without making it look too ridiculous.
The second model you can build from this set is a squid and I mean that in the broadest possible sense as a squid just being some underwater creature with tentacles. The funny thing with this critter is that the model represents all of these species, subspecies and variata, but at the same time not a specific one. It encapsulates typical features from calamari, sepia and octopi, more hinting at them than explicitly re-creating individual bits 100 percent in perfect detail.
That’s amazing, yet also massively confusing as the interpretation as to what it may be entirely depends on how you view it. Are the tentacles at the front or rear end? Is it swimming forward or in reverse? Is it idle and waiting for prey or already attacking? You literally can waste an afternoon speculating on the details and then further complicate things by doing your own modifications. A simple change of pose or reversing the direction of a slope can totally change your story. My preferred interpretation is that this is some infant or adolescent calamari that could happily be swimming in the more shallow regions of the Caribbean before its big enough to venture out further.
No matter which view you adopt as your own, one point is very obvious: There are only six arms. To boot, they are pretty much way too short for octopi and calamari, yet also not a good match for sepia. If one were serious about this, this would need to be changed from the ground up. Since I now have four of those sets and some extra Dark Blue parts in my collection, I have it on my agenda to create a more correct looking squid one of these days.
It’s not all bad, though, as you can see that quite some thought was spent and the limitations most likely stemming from the lack of more parts. After all, this is just derived from the first model and needed to fit in its part allotment and financial budget. The hinge on the mantle is a nice touch, though admittedly in the open position it looks way too much like someone chopped into the creature. If at all it would have to be the other way around with the open sack being at the bottom, so for your own build you might consider using a fixed position or padding out the interior with some extra bricks to make it look more solid.
Due to the absence of two arms, posing the tentacles and finding a nice position can be a bit tricky. The main hiccup lies in the lack of volume on the blue arms in this case. It also doesn’t help much that they are mounted at the center when in reality they would be attached to the outer hull. Another point that would need improvements in a potential reworking of this set.
The underside is in principle pretty much the same as on the shark, so no big surprises here. In terms of the tentacles to me it almost looks better than from the top, though.
Moving on to the third model in the set, the angler fish is a really ugly mofo just like its counterpart in nature. It’s my least favorite of all the options and in this case the problem is exacerbated by some clunky construction techniques. Once more you very much feel that it could have been done differently, but there was no room in the budget for the extra parts that would have been needed and the designers had to settle on less.
Out of these issues, the inadequate rendition of the actual lure is the thing that stands out most. It really looks like an odd street lamp. A better way to emulate its appearance would naturally have been the inclusion of one of those dinosaur tail pieces that LEGO so often uses elsewhere. Conversely, the teeth would of course look a lot more “correct” if the had been made up from claw/ barb elements as they are commonly used for spikes and thorns on dragons and such. It’s in a way even ironic that they added multiple rows of teeth when that would have been more adequate for the shark.
The bright green eyes distract a lot and assuming they are supposed to large bulgy ones would be more appropriate for one of those fish that bury themselves in the sand near shores and reefs. Seems to me a black 1 x 1 tile or plate would have sufficed, as the eyes are really tiny, beady things on real angler fish.
The fourth and final model, the sperm whale, is a kind of stylized, comical version of the beast. That’s fine by me as with the shortened, stubby body it really looks like a baby whale having fun. In my opinion it’s better than the squid or angler fish and perhaps should have been in the set right away in place of one of the two even if it is stylistically very different.
The construction is quite similar to the shark with only some parts having been switched from front to back and the middle segment apparently removed, yet at the same time it also borrows some techniques from the squid’s mantle for the shaping of the upper mouth/ head. I wouldn’t necessarily say that they trimmed away the fat, but the simplifications make an already accessible build even simpler. This could be a good model even for smaller children that they can finish quickly. It also is the least scary-looking of them all and even cute, so you might want to consider starting at the end and building this first.
Returning to the anatomical correctness of features one last time, it should be little surprise that they don’t hold up. Aside from the overall body length being too short, the fins and fluke are also way too small. There are large specimen of whales out there where a single ventral fin is three meters long! They literally could smack you to death without taking any note of it.
If you disregard my nerdy obsessing about some details simply because I love this stuff so much and those tidbits of info I’ve seen in hundreds documentaries keep popping into my mind, this is an overall excellent set. The models are well thought out and fun to build. Even better – while not the most exotic and rare parts, all of them are actually pretty useful. I must admit that hadn’t there been so much Dark Blue, I probably would have been reluctant to get four sets, but the way it is they can be used for roofs on buildings, nice looking cars or even just generic, unobtrusive details on other models and that can never be bad.
On the subject of color there is of course any number of ways to skin this. make no mistake – the Dark Blue is not “realistic” by any stretch of the imagination nor are the white bellies. This is unfortunately something that strikes me as an unresolvable conundrum – many sharks are all sorts of grey, so anything from Sand Blue to Dark Bluish Grey would work. The same goes for whales while on the other hand squids can be anything from pale White to Dark Orange or Dark Red, including all sand and earth colors inbetween as well as greys. Conversely angler fish can even be transparent. They couldn’t have accommodated all the options and you have to be fair about it.
I at least could try that Sand Blue shark thanks to garmadon, Garmadon, GARMADON (70656) and the other The LEGO Ninjago Movie sets I bought and whose parts I therefore have in my collection. It should also be relatively simple and cost efficient to rebuild the models in Dark and Light Bluish Grey if you can spare a dime on Bricklink. And if you don’t, the original set is still a superb little purchase for around 11 Euros or even the MSRP of 15 Euros and gives you some nice items to put on your shelf.