The LEGO Back to the Future DeLorean set, the 4th set to be released as the result of a LEGO CUUSOO project, is being officially unveiled this evening in San Diego at Comic-Con. LEGO sent us an advance copy, and I’m pleased to bring you a full photo review.
First, the details: 21103 LEGO Back to the Future DeLorean goes on sale tomorrow morning (July 17, 2013 in the US) for $34.99. The set includes two minifigs — Marty McFly and Emmett “Doc” Brown — and 401 LEGO pieces.
UPDATE: The set is apparently only available at San Diego Comic-Con today (July 17), and it will be on sale globally on August 1st.
First impressions & the finished model
Normally I’d talk about things like the build and parts selection before rendering judgment about the completed set, but let’s just get this out of the way, since there’s already been a lot of discussion about what the set looks like. The official set is, of course, based on a LEGO CUUSOO design by Japanese LEGO fans Masashi Togami, who built the DeLorean, and Sakuretsu, who created the custom minifigs.
The official set was designed by Steen Sig Andersen, a 30-year veteran of LEGO set design. (As a side note, I think it’s important to remember that official LEGO sets are designed by people much like hobbyist builders, who care just as much about the final design as we do and who are no less affected by criticism, but who have to work under far more constraints. Nevertheless, my job here is to review the end result of the process, not speculate on how my critique is going to affect Mr. Andersen’s feelings.)
Like many of you who commented here and elsewhere, my first impression when I saw the box art was not entirely positive. Frankly, I’m not sure why the final, official set looks the way that it does. My first impression when I saw the set was, let’s be honest, confusion. The hood has been re-sculpted using stepped tiles rather than the single large slope in Masashi’s original (a frequent and logical solution, as Larry Lars demonstrated in the version that Ralph highlighted last week). The roof is four studs wide rather than six studs, with the windshield frame angling inward to give the whole cab a pinched look.
There’s been speculation that this design change from Masashi’s original model might have been because of part availability in LEGO’s current production cycle. But Light Bluish Gray Slope 10 6 x 8 is indeed currently in production, in at least two 2013 LEGO sets. Short of the one functional reason (read on…), I’m still not sure why stepped tiles were necessary to achieve the final design in the set.
But in person, in less-dramatic light than the angle in the box art, it’s not nearly as bad. That’s hardly a ringing endorsement, and I don’t think the box designer (or photographer) did this set any favors by giving the steps on the hood such deep shadows. Similarly, the set designer could certainly have angled the windshield frame pieces much wider. I’ve done so in a number of the photos, and I think this subtle change alone makes the set look much better.
The rest of the DeLorean includes all the key details and play features you’d expect — from opening gull-wing doors and the big black exhaust vents to wheels that turn down for flight.
Another problem with the final roof design is that it limits headroom inside due to the gull-wing doors coming in closer to the center of the car. As a result, you can only fit one minifig inside, in the driver’s seat. There’s enough floor room (six studs) there for two, but the 4-wide roof prevents both Marty and Doc from riding in the DeLorean together. Since the DeLorean is a time machine, Doc is not particularly happy about being left behind.
If you can get past the hood and cab — granted, the very first things you see in any three-quarters “hero shot” on box art — this really isn’t a bad DeLorean. But it could be better, much better, as other LEGO fans (including Masashi) have demonstrated. And that’s more than a little disappointing.
Packaging, instructions, and the build process
Like LEGO Architecture sets and previous LEGO CUUSOO sets, the DeLorean comes in a solid box suitable for storage.
Similarly, the instruction booklet (printed in English and French) is perfect-bound rather than stapled, and includes background info on the movie, profiles of the CUUSOO project initiators, the LEGO set designer, and the Michael J. Fox Foundation for Parkinson’s Research. Throughout the instructions, there are little notes about the model or the source material.
As someone who grew up in Japan and is bilingual, one thing that bothered me was that the writer referred to Masashi Togami as “Togami” several times (meanwhile, “Sakuretsu” is a screen name). Given that the writer wrote “Steen” for Steen Sig Andersen, I believe the writer’s intent was to use Masashi’s given name as I’m doing, and that the writer assumed incorrectly that “Masashi Togami” followed name order used in Japan (surname, given name). A minor linguistic quibble, but a reminder that a quick read by someone familiar with the other culture or language is always a good idea in cross-cultural communications…
The set comes in five unnumbered poly bags, and with 401 parts, I just dumped them all in the box. (Poly bags are boring, and I’m not sure why other reviewers feel the need to photograph them. I won’t bore you with those photos myself.)
In several respects, the model comes together like one designed by a fan, and not an official set. For a set that did indeed originate as a fan design, that’s a good thing. Though SNOT is no longer unusual in LEGO sets, there are enough single-stud connections, half-stud offsets, and hinge-based connections that it felt like I was building something designed by Daniel Siskind, Tyler Clites, or Christopher White — all of whose custom designs I’ve had the pleasure of building for myself (there’s value for even experienced builders in trying out someone else’s designs from time to time).
The DeLorean on the box art comes together after 93 pages and 63 steps. But there are still 12 more pages of instructions, and I still had about 50 pieces rattling around in the box. The remainder of the instructions and parts enable you to convert the DeLorean into the versions of the car seen in Back to the Future II and Back to the Future III.
The conversion to the BTTF2 DeLorean just adds a Mr. Fusion and swaps out the 1985 license plate for a 2015 license plate, plus four clear bricks to “float” the car off the ground.
To convert the base DeLorean into the version seen in BTTF3, you swap out red wheels for the gray wheels in the tires on the original. Why LEGO didn’t just include 4 more tires I don’t know.
You also build a greebly panel to put on the hood, which (finally) explains the stepped tiles rather than a single smooth slope for the hood.
I still think the same effect could have been achieved (somehow — I’m not the designer with 30 years of professional experience) with the 6×8 slope in Masashi’s original design, but at least this answers the “Why?!” that so many of you out there have expressed.
The highlight of this set is the pair of completely unique minifigs. Marty McFly wears his puffy vest (mistaken for a life jacket in the first movie), and Doc Brown wears a nuclear hazmat suit.
Both the minifig torsos and their heads are printed on two sides — “happy” and “scared”/”angry”.
The minifig parts appear to be of the quality you’d expect in a standard set, not the cheaper-feeling minifig elements you get with some Collectible Minifigures (which you can distinguish by the mold imprint on the inside of the left arm).
To answer a question I’ve seen elsewhere, no, there aren’t additional minifigs in the set to reflect the characters’ outfits in the second and third movies.
Although this probably isn’t a set I’d recommend for a draft, there are definitely some rather special parts in this set that you absolutely won’t be getting anywhere else. In a revelation that I think will truly shock many of you, every one of the unique decorated parts in this set is properly printed rather than a decal. Here’s a shot of the back of the box that shows all of them.
The Flux Capacitor, white California 1985 license plate, orange California 2015 license plate, and time readout on the dashboard are all printed! Combined with the minifigs, if that’s not motivation to buy this set and rebuild it to your own liking, I don’t know what is.
Though less-exciting, and I’m not 100% sure, I think the purple skateboard is also new. That was actually another opportunity for printing, and it would’ve been cool to see LEGO’s official take on the hoverboard. Still, new parts in less-common colors like purple are always welcome.
Based on early photos and the part count, I wouldn’t have been surprised to see this set sold at $40-50 MSRP. A licensed product, 401 pieces, two minifigs, and collectible-quality packaging all add up to at least $40. The final MSRP turns out to be $34.99. The LEGO Minecraft set sold for $34.99, so I suppose the same price for the next CUUSOO set isn’t such a surprise after all.
I generally don’t address collectibility or the secondary market in my reviews, but that seems unavoidable here. LEGO couldn’t keep the Minecraft set in stock for more than a few hours during its first year, and the $35 set is still going for $50 and up on the secondary market even though you can buy it for $35 from LEGO again. At times when LEGO didn’t have any in stock, it wasn’t unusual to see the $35 set sold for $100 or more (likely driven by the possibility that it was “out of print”).
Strictly on price-per-part and probable collectibility, this set is a bargain.
This is ultimately, inevitably, and somewhat unfortunately, a mixed review. If you’re both a LEGO fan and a hardcore Back to the Future fan, buy this set. If you want to use the unique printed parts and the base design to make a better DeLorean, by all means do so (the key slope piece starts at about 35 cents on BrickLink, if you don’t already have one).
At $34.99, the set is also a good value, both for the number of parts and the likely scarcity of the printed pieces. I hate to fuel speculation or the secondary market in general, but I can’t imagine that this set will be any less collectible than other licensed LEGO sets, and as a one-off, potentially even more so. Buy one to build (or rebuild), and buy a second to sell to a collector in three years at a 400% profit, thus enabling you to buy more LEGO to build with. Just don’t be a jackass and hoard 30 of them in your basement.
I’ve written the word “buy” quite a lot in the previous two paragraphs. But that doesn’t change the fact that this set could have been much, much better. Changes to the hood and roof design are both baffling, and severely detract from the “shelf appeal” of the set, without really adding anything in terms of sturdiness or playability (normal compromises I’d expect).
Overall, yes, I can recommend this set with a clear conscience. But you deserve to know exactly what you’re getting. And what you’re getting isn’t perfect.