Looking more like a movie still than a traditional brick sculpture, I had to look twice at this beautiful image by David Hensel (Legonardo Davidy) to be sure that it was, in fact, completely LEGO. Making wonderful use of his fantastic building skills and some great forced perspective techniques, this is one of David’s best models so far.
A few week ago we reviewed two of the four new sets for The Hobbit: Desolation of Smaug. With the movie opening this evening and all of the sets now available in stores and on LEGO.com, we’ll dive into the third set, 79011 Dol Guldur Ambush, which is the smallest of the lot.
79011 Dol Guldur Ambush comes with a $19.99 USD price tag, but has an admirable 217 pieces and three minifigs packed in. Taking place in the second film, the set portrays a scene not pictured in the book, in which Beorn ventures to Dol Guldur, the stronghold of the rising dark force we will later know as Sauron. Inside the box are two unnumbered bags and a very crumpled instruction manual. This is a terrific set for parts, particularly for castle builders, as nearly the entire set consists of black, greys, and browns. The instructions first call for the construction of a small double-catapult, which is really a plate with two wheels and two of the mini-catapults. It’s effective, but hardly inspired. The main portion of the set consists of the ruins of Dol Guldur, an ancient fortress. Here we get a bit of broken rocky wall surrounding a large entryway. Of course, as the set name implies, there’s an ambush. On each side of the door there are lever-controlled booby-traps: on the left are two axes, and on the right a giant hammer contraption. Neither are actually triggered by a pressure plate or anything — you simply swing them into place independently with your fingers via a knob on top. To the right of the main doorway is a segment of rock connected by a hinge brick. This swings aside to reveal — you guessed it: a flick-fire missile. A spare missile is included if you really want to go nuts. That’s about it as far as play-features in this set are concerned. The real noteworthy part here, though, is the wall itself. Much like the Mirkwood Elf Army wall, it is constructed almost completely from very small pieces. The designer went a little crazy with the Brick, Modified 1 x 1 with Stud on 1 Side, using 20, when fewer than half that number actually utilize the extra side stud. However, I see this as a bonus rather than otherwise, since the modified brick tends to be more useful. There are also two of the “dougnut tiles,” or Tile, Round 2 x 2 with Hole in dark grey. This is the only set that is actually released yet which contains this highly useful piece, though other sets with it are in the lineup for the new year.
There are three minifigs in the playset: two Gundabad orcs and Beorn. The two orcs are the twins of the two included in the Mirkwood Elf Army, except that the two here haven’t gone prematurely bald. Mighty woodsman Beorn is the unique figure to this set, and he is a profound disappointment. The great furry mane is not a new hairpiece, but is actually part of the head. There is no excuse for LEGO to have taken this route, since the part of the head that is visible is clearly shaped like a normal LEGO head. Nevertheless, the hair and head is all molded as one, reducing the usefulness of it considerably. I won’t bother to enumerate here all the times LEGO has managed to produce similar head/hair combinations without resorting to this sort of shoddy work.
Ultimately, however, this is a really excellent set. The minifigs are not worth bothering with, but the bricks make the set more than worth-while. The wall, while not particularly exciting, is very nicely done, and it even connects up to the bigger 79014 Dol Guldur Battle set to make a bigger playset.
The last time we checked in with Alice Finch, she had just unveiled the world’s largest LEGO Hogwarts built from several hundred thousand LEGO bricks. Not content to let sleeping bricks lie, Alice has teamed up with David Frank to recreate one of my favorite locations in Middle-earth, Rivendell, “the last homely house west of the mountains,” where Elrond hosts both Bilbo and his dwarven companions in The Hobbit and Frodo and the Fellowship in The Lord of the Rings.
The Brothers Brick is pleased to unveil official photos from the two builders and an exclusive interview with Alice and David.
The Brothers Brick: How did the two of you meet?
Alice Finch & David Frank: The July 2011 meeting was our first SeaLUG meeting, and I remember David brought a part of his Dragon Knight Castle. Even though we were both relatively new to LEGO, it was clear that he was already building like an expert. We got to talking about castles — those that we’d seen in person and those that we wanted to build out of bricks — and we both mentioned how we thought building Rivendell would be the ultimate challenge. We’re both avid readers and dedicated Tolkien fans, so our friendship began with a thorough discussion of Elven architecture.
Over the last two years, we’ve had other projects that we focused on: David has built several castles, one with accompanying village and market, we both participated in a collaborative build of Hobbiton for SeaLUG’s display at Emerald City Comicon, and Alice built Hogwarts Castle. after our building skills had been honed on our own big builds, and with the second Hobbit movie about to come out, we decided 2013 was a good time to take on the challenge of building Rivendell.
TBB: In the movies, Rivendell is simultaneously sprawling and highly detailed. How do you even start a daunting build like that?
Alice: Our first task was to do research, which began with the laborious task of watching The Fellowship of the Ring — again. We got together and looked at the models in the movie, screen by screen trying to figure out how the buildings fit together and how we might approach the swooping arches and colorful roofs. Alice looked through all the “behind the scenes” and “making of” books on LOTR and found some of the original sketches for the models.
David: And I found a souvenir model that Weta Workshop made of Rivendell. It turns out that when they were making the Weta model, they had to do some serious research themselves because the film never really established what scenes happened where. The model was key as it allowed me to map out 48×48 sections in a Visio diagram to figure out roughly what size we would need to build it to.
TBB: Elven architecture in Tolkien’s artwork and Jackson’s films is very distinct, with swooping curves and intricate details that don’t easily lend themselves to accurate representation in LEGO. How did you approach this project from a design standpoint?
Alice: By the spring, I started studying some of the more interesting and potentially difficult parts of the model. The first thing I experimented with was the iconic tower from Arwyn’s building (far left of the model). I wanted to try out some of the large wedge pieces I had left over from some experiments I’d done for Hogwarts and thought they might just work. Again, it took some wrangling to figure out how to attach them, but I was really excited about getting that particular challenge ticked off my list.
I also did some studies for the roof design — 1×1 tiles, 1×1 round plates, and “cheese” slopes were all options to achieve the patterned designs. I tried them all — alone and together — and found that all cheese was by far the best and also had the most color options. Ideally, it would have been nice if LEGO would have churned out a few thousand sand red, sand purple, and sand blue cheese for me, but at least I had a drawer full of sand green to pair with the dark green, dark red, dark blue, and tan cheese. After all the patterned roofs were completed, I think we figured that there are about 8,000 cheese in the roofs and another 2,000 or so in the mosaic bridges and courtyards.
David: I had less actual buildings in my sections, so I really focused on blending what I had with the landscape. My main building really emerges from the rock and was built After the landscaping had taken shape. The actual buildings were very different than anything I have ever done as they needed to be airy and sweeping, so I focused on a more open design and heavily utilized odd angles to get a different look from the brick.
TBB: What part combination are you the most proud of?
Alice: In my prowling for interesting parts on BrickLink, I came upon the Gungan shields. My first thought was how they would make some very elegant Elven windows, so I ordered a few to investigate and see if I could make them work in an architectural setting. Figuring out how to secure them was a bit of a challenge, but with some experimentation I figured out how to make them cooperate inside the framing of some SNOT arches.
Once I figured out how to frame them, I designed the rest of the building around them, bringing in as much sand red and sand purple as possible. I’ve been collecting sand color parts almost since I first started building again, knowing that someday I wanted to do Rivendell and that if I wanted enough to build with, I’d have to gather them a few at a time.
David: Oddly enough, for me it’s simple 1×2 trans-clear plates. I had to figure out a way to represent horses emerging from waves and my part selection was very limited. I am very happy with the result.
There are many other areas I am happy with, but given what I had to pull off, that would be it.
79013 Lake-town Chase is the medium-sized set from the new year-end lineup of Hobbit kits, set to release in conjunction with the second movie on Peter Jackson’s Hobbit trilogy, The Desolation of Smaug. Some of the new sets are available through Amazon with a ship date of Dec. 1, though sadly Lake-town Chase isn’t available at the time of writing.
79013 Lake-town Chase depicts a scene presumably from late in the second film, when our heroes arrive in Lake-town, the village built upon Long Lake under the shadow of the Lonely Mountain. It’s a town built upon a pier, with the entire town raised above the waters of the lake to act as a natural moat and to aid in defense against the fiery breath of the great dragon Smaug. The set is priced at $49.99 USD, weighing in with 470 pieces. Included are two of Lake-town’s structures and a longship.
The box contents contain no surprises: 4 numbered bags, 2 instruction manuals (2 bags per), a very small sticker sheet, and the loose boat mast. Bag No. 1 builds the ship, Bilbo Baggins, and Thorin Oakenshield. The ship is a great build, cleverly placing 2 rowboats stern to stern to create the hull. The boat is the twin of 7016 Viking Boat against the Wyvern Dragon from 2005’s Viking theme. I’m OK with that, though, since the Viking theme was one of LEGO’s coolest non-licensed themes in the last decade, and the 7016 was one of the better sets from that line. The few minor differences are simply swapping out a few details, such as utilizing the newer smooth round shields instead of the old stickered Technic disks, plus the addition of a nifty brick-built furled sail. The shields here are printed with a Viking-esque double fish pattern which looks fantastic. There’s a large barrel in the fore of the longship to finish up the Barrel Escape scene from the last wave of sets (but still from the second film). Also included is a mini catapult in the aft. Bilbo is naturally equipped with Sting and the One Ring, and Thorin is armed with the gladius. As per usual, two extras of the One Ring are included, along with an extra oar and some typical spares.
Bag No. 2 builds the smaller of the 2 buildings. I’m not entirely sure what sort of building it’s intended to be. Part of it seems to be some sort of armory, containing a removable rack with extra weapons. The opposite half of the building has a small enclosed space, with a flip-up door/barrel of fish. The action is controlled via a knob on the side. There’s a ladder on the side that can function as a gangway between the two buildings. For both of the buildings, the pier is depicted by placing large plates atop 1-brick high pillars over blue plates, a visual language LEGO has been using since 1991’s 6267 Lagoon Lock-up. This bag also contains the only generic figure of the set, the Lake-town Guard, who is armed with a fancy pike.
Bags No. 3 and 4 together make up the larger structure, which is a jail. True to form with all LEGO prisons, there’s a lever-activated break-away wall segment for easy escapes. The neighboring house has an upper floor containing a simple table and lamp, though no ladder, and there’s a balcony above the cell which contains another mini-catapult. The entire building is open in the rear. All 3 of the stickers are used in this section. While I’m not typically a fan of stickers, the ones included here are pretty innocuous. There are wood plank stickers which are applied to 1×4 and 1×6 brown tiles, and the jailhouse sign hanging out front is stickered with a padlock image. I went ahead and applied all 3, since I can see them being useful in their stickered forms in other creations. There are also 2 more of the of the reddish-brown “Gothic” arches which I noted in 79012 Mirkwood Elf Army. Both this building and the previous are frosted with patches of snow, which looks quite nice and increases the visual interest of the buildings considerably. This segment includes the final 2 minifigures: heroic Bard and the Master of Lake-town, carrying a bow and a pearl gold key, respectively.
I understand that LEGO feels it necessary to include protagonist characters in every set in the theme, but I really wish this set had included more guards or townsfolk instead of Bilbo and Thorin. Thorin, at least, has a torso print that is unique to this set. Bilbo is identical to versions that have appeared in multiple previous sets. The generic Lake-town guard looks snappy in an ornate purple frock over armor. The helmet is a very detailed accessory, with a silver top, dark tan fur brim, and brown leather side flaps. The crest on the helmet is quite generic, so it won’t look out of place in other settings. The guard’s pike now has a hole in the bottom that is almost, but not quite, the size of a plume. You can fit a plume in, but it’s extremely tight and doesn’t seat all the way. It’s an odd change, but of no real consequence. The Master of Lake-town has a detailed suit of fine clothes and an ornate hat that incorporates his flowing hair. The hat has a plume hole in the top. The Master also wears a double-sided cape of dark tan and dark red, which looks fantastic. And finally, there’s Bard. In every trailer I’ve seen for The Desolation of Smaug, I can’t help but see Orlando Bloom’s Will Turner character from Pirates of the Caribbean. The semblance is perpetuated in the minifig version of Bard, who looks more like Will Turner than the official Will Turner minifig. Bard is sporting Qui-Gon Jinn’s hairpiece in black, which is a new color for that piece. The LEGO kid is still featured on the back of the instruction manuals, looking like an adolescent R. Lee Ermey as he screams at you to take the survey.
Lake-town Chase doesn’t seem to contain a lot of chase, though it does contain a nice bit of Lake-town. It’s a solid set; the buildings are well-built and looking nice, and the ship is great. There’s not much in the way of unique or new elements, aside from the arches, but the vast majority of the pieces are brown or dark brown, with plenty of log bricks, so if you want to stock up on brown, this is a good way to do it. Fans of the line will be interested in it for the 4 unique figures. Fans can create much more interesting wooden structures than the ones found in this set, but any equivalently sized fan-created set would cost at a minimum twice as much, so we can’t be too harsh on LEGO.
Be sure to also read our previous review of The Hobbit’s 79012 Mirkwood Elf Army.
The first wave of kits are rolling out to accompany part 2 of Peter Jackson’s Hobbit trilogy, The Desolation of Smaug, which appears in theatres next month. This wave consists of 4 sets, priced at $20, $30, $50, and $70, respectively, and are available for preorder from Amazon with a release date of Dec. 1. We’re starting our reviews in the middle of the lineup, with 79012 Mirkwood Elf Army, the $30 set.
79012 Mirkwood Elf Army is a small forest battlement manned (elfed?) by a squadron of 4 wood elves. It’s under siege by a duo of orcs, one of whom rides a warg. With 276 pieces for its $30 price-point, it fares well for a licensed set, and only gets sweeter when you consider that it includes 6 minifigures. It’s the Hobbit equivalent to the Lord of the Rings’ 9471 Uruk-Hai Army.
The box contains 2 numbered bags, a 10×10 octagonal plate with hole, an individually bagged warg (which is new here in dark brown), and one annoyingly crumpled instruction booklet that wouldn’t stay open without weights on the corners. The first numbered bag contains the warg rider, Elf-King Thranduil, and the generic Mirkwood elf, as well as the pieces for the tree-fort — ahem, I mean forest battlement. The forest battlement is a large, brick-built, hollow tree stump, concealing a cubbyhole for a barrel full of green gems — well, one trans-green gem and one trans-green 1×1 round plate. The most interesting part of the trunk is the use of the new 1x3x3 arch, aka the gothic arch, in brown, which is the first time that piece has appeared in brown, and is only the third color currently available. You get 4 of them in brown with this set.
Atop the stump, which is about 8 bricks tall, sits the 10×10 octagonal plate on a turntable. The allows the entire top portion to rotate around the clickyturntable. The top is covered in a mixture of crenellations and foliage, which disguise a giant catapult. The catapult is actually a fig-flinger, which seems far less useful in a siege than the traditional methods of throwing rocks and fiery bombs. When activated, a tree branch is thrown back, revealing the catapult. Oddly, the tree branch that’s thrown aside contains a bar 3L inside the brown 1×1 round bricks that make up the limb. Presumably this is for strength, but I tested the segment with and without the bar, and didn’t note any significant difference in strength. So it’s unnecessary, but extra parts are always a good thing.
Bag number 2 finishes out the set with the rest of the battlement’s wall, the two elf archers, and the remaining orc. The wall is small, with three articulated 6-stud segments for a total of 18 studs in length, and connects to the tree-fort via a pair of Technic pins. This allows it to be placed on either side of the tree-fort. Despite its small size, it’s entirely brick-built, with no “wall” type pieces, and in fact mostly consists of 1×2 sized bricks. The set consists entirely of earth-toned pieces (tan, dark tan, brown, dark brown, light bluish grey, olive, and dark green), which is terrific for those looking to flesh out their landscaping collections. The front of the wall utilizes the second unique arch element for this set, which is the 1x3x2 arch, aka the Prince of Persia arch, in light bluish grey. There are 3 of these in this set. It’s just not a proper action set these days without including a flick-fire missile, and the middle wall segment does not disappoint.
The wall has small segments on the back side for the elf archers to stand on while raining down arrows on the hapless orcs approaching, and the top has the same small crenellations as the tree-fort. There are also two awesomely-printed oval shields that serve as decoration on the wall’s exterior. A separate little rock piece contains clips for weapons, including a spare longbow. Finally, the charging orc is provided with a ladder to scale the wall.
With 6 figures in the box, and the word “army” in the name, you know that the minifigures are the real point of this set. They are all up to LEGO’s usual high standard for minifig detail, with all 6 containing front, rear, and leg printings. The two elf archers and the generic elf have the same printing for the torso, legs, and head. The two archers, are, of course, armed with longbows, and each carries a quiver on his back. The generic elf gets a giant Prince of Persia dagger — there’s an extra in the box, so he can dual wield if you’re so inclined. Thranduil holds a standard long-sword, and gets a terrific olive green torso overlaid with an ornate champagne gold print. His hair/crown mold is the softer rubbery plastic so that it can fit over the cape in back, and is tan with the crown painted gold and the ears painted flesh. Elf-King Thranduil is unique to this set. The two Gundabad orcs are identical, except that the warg rider wears a spiky pauldrons piece and carries a spear instead of a notched scimitar. It’s unfortunate that among the 6 minifigs included here, there are only 3 different torsos/legs/heads. LEGO ought to have made at least one of the elves different from the other two in something besides accessories. Even a different head would have helped, if LEGO didn’t want to create an entirely new print for a torso.
All told, though, this set is a marvelous deal. 6 minifigures in any set is a pretty good bargain, and in a $30 set it’s all the better. The part selection is great, with no single-use pieces, and two highly-useful unique elements in great colors. This set is a must-have for fans of the line, or for anyone looking for a great parts pack.
Burlogh’s rendition of Goldberry’s Spring from The Lord of the Rings is top-notch. I love the effect of foliage-piled-on-foliage that virtually hides the brick-built base. It really conveys the lush feeling of Goldberry and Tom Bombadil’s home. The tree has the appropriate feeling of age and Goldberry is holding the white water lilies that Tom brings her everyday. This is decidedly a nice piece!
I’ve seen some pretty impressive renditions of Helm’s Deep in Lego, but this gigantic layout by Goel Kim and Big J captures the scale of the epic battlescene like no other. The diorama took 6 months to build and over a year to plan. Check out more pictures on MOCpages and Flickr or you might miss a detail like this.
I’m probably in the minority of nerds who prefers the 1977 animated version of The Hobbit to the current overblown Peter Jackson spectacular, but I won’t let that stop me from posting great models based off the 7-part film series. This particular scene comes to us from Paul (Disco86), who uses some familiar but effective techniques to paint an immersive scene from the trailer of the latest installment of “The Hobbit“. The diorama is entitled “It is our fight” and it appeals to me in large part because there is nothing but Lego in the scene, no glaring white background, kitchen table or Photoshop weirdness, just 100% mainline ABS goodness. There is also a nice technique I haven’t seen before involving flower-petals and green string. I’m guessing that’s Legolas on the right, probably saying something incredibly clever like ““There is a fell voice on the air” or “A shadow and a threat has been growing in my mind”. Oh Legolas, won’t you ever lighten up?
The summer wave of Lord of the Rings sets are skewed towards the high end of the price-range, with 79007 The Battle at the Black Gate in the middle at $60 USD. It does have a nice price-to-parts ratio, with 656 pieces. Beyond the fact that it’s a Lord of the Rings set, which I admittedly love, I wasn’t too thrilled about this set. After all, LEGO’s Battle at the Black Gate consists of, well, a black gate. And not much of a battle.
The gate has been scaled down nicely enough, though compared to the monstrously large gate seen on the screen in The Return of the King, LEGO’s seems laughably small. Still, that’s forgivable, since I doubt many people would be interested in purchasing a true-to-scale version of what amounts to a big wall (or be able to afford it). The gate is paired with a small tower, and two stone outcroppings which take the place of the mountain shoulders the gate is nestled between.
Inside the box are 4 numbered bags, a bag containing the eagle, and a loose dark bluish grey 6×24 plate. The 2 instruction manuals were pretty crumpled, as usual. For a very brief period LEGO a year or two ago packaged instruction manuals in a bag with a stiff piece of cardboard, and it helped immensely. I don’t know why they decided not to roll that out permanently, as it can be very frustrating trying to follow instructions when the pages keep curling up. For the first time in a long while in a set of this size, though, I discovered that there is no sticker sheet. Since I’m not a fan of stickers, I was happy to see that. In fact, the only decorated pieces in this set are the minifigures and animals, which is also a bit of a rarity these days. All 3 of the named minifigs wear capes, and all 3 capes were packaged together. This decision is of no consequence to me, but it is the first time I recall seeing it. As with most recent, large sets, there’s also a brick separator included, which is a nice trend.
The 4 bags break down into two each for the tower and the gate. The tower has a small postern door in the base which raises vertically with a lever, like an old-fashioned garage door. Both the tower and the gate have a lot of texturing on their surfaces which is accomplished by using mostly small pieces. It reminded me a lot of the building style of many of the adult-fan oriented sets like the modular city buildings, except that here everything is black. The abundance of various 1×1 elements explains the high part count. It’s always nice to get more Studs-Not-On-Top pieces, and this set has plenty. In fact, the tower uses 1×1 Technic bricks in many places where a regular 1×1 brick would have sufficed. The tower is topped with a small single-piece catapult, the medieval equivalent of a flick-fire missile.
The gate is built on a large, almost completely tiled base. It’s two large gate pieces which swing outward; more of a moving castle wall than anything else. They are secured in the back with large latch on a knob. Beyond being covered in the castle-y version of greebles, there’s not a lot to this. The tower, gate, and rock pieces each clip to each other via Technic pins, so you can change the layout, but only slightly. The rock pieces have to go on the ends, so basically the tower can just be on the left or the right.
The Battle at the Black Gate includes 5 minifigs, 1 horse, and 1 eagle. There are two orcs, which are slightly different from one another. The creepy-as-can-be Mouth of Sauron is a natural choice for this set. His helmet is rubbery and packaged in a small bag. No doubt the head with no eyes and a freakishly large mouth will do service in many fans’ horror dioramas.
Representing the forces of good are Aragorn in regal garb and Gandalf the White. Both of these versions are exclusive to this set, and I’d guess that fact will contribute heavily to the sales of this set. The Mouth of Sauron’s mount is a black horse. There is armor printed on the horse’s head, which between that and the beady red eyes will reduce its usefulness. Finally, there’s the giant eagle. The eagle comes in both this set and the $200 Tower of Orthanc, so many people simply wanting an eagle will do best to opt for this set at less than 1/3 the price. The eagle is 3 pieces: two wings and a body. Each of the individual elements are completely rigid and non-posable, though the wings connect to the body via LEGO’s standard clip system allowing them to be positioned. The single-piece body doesn’t do much for me, but I can’t wait to try out the giant wings in various MOCs.
In the end, this is a rather boring set. Despite the high piece count, the final model feels small for the price. The problem here is not one of LEGO’s making; they did an admirable job considering the source material. But when your source is a giant gate, there’s only so much you can do. The build-quality is great; it’s just a boring subject. And it’s hard to have a finale-worthy battle with only 5 minifigs, but I doubt LEGO could have feasibly pushed the price point any higher to accommodate more figs, and making the gate any smaller would have been disastrous. I doubt many people will be interested in buying this set because of the gate itself, so the minifigs are the real selling point here, and they are indeed very nice. If you’re interested in getting your hands on any of the rare or exclusive minifigs in this set, then it’s a must-have. Beyond that, I’d give this set a pass, unless you’re running low on your stock of small black pieces.