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Captain Toy/Michael's Review of the Week

Review of Saruman - Lord of the Rings
Sixth Scale Action Figure

Asmus Toys
Date Published: 2016-02-10
Written By: Michael Crawford
Overall Average Rating: 3.5 out of 4

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Lord of the Rings Saruman sixth scale figure by Asmus

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Introduction

Along with the Poppies, the awards voted on by judges selected from the pop culture collectibles industry, I also do my own selections for Best...and Worst...of the year. It always generates a lot of interesting discussion, although it's usually the worsts that get people going the most.  This year, I only selected one worst in each category (as opposed to previous years, where I went for three in each whenever possible), and the largest number of complaints I received was because I didn't have more worsts.  People love a little blood in the water.

One of the lines I picked on was Asmus' Lord of the Rings/Hobbit sixth scale series of figures. I gave them some crap over the two female figures they released last year, Tauriel and Eowyn, and I stated that overall, the line was my biggest disappointment in the high end category.

That doesn't mean it was all bad. I preferred their Aragorn over the one produced by ACI, and still do. In fact, the more I work with it the more it grows on me.  The work on Bard was good too, although the likeness was off.  Every release has shown improvement over the last, and they are a company that listens to its customers and works hard to make them happy. They are also doing all of this at a price well below the current market average, which isn't something to be scoffed at. I had high hopes for them in 2016.

And now it's 2016, and I've just received Saruman, the latest release in the series. Asmus made him a true limited edition, complete with an edition size (just 1500) and number on each. Were my high hopes justified?  Let's see...

Click on the image below for a Life Size version
Lord of the Rings Saruman sixth scale figure by Asmus

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Packaging - ***1/2
The package is quite large, necessary because of the large polystone altar. The top of the box sports a great shot of the actual Saruman, and when a company uses a still of the character, rather than the figure, for the box artwork, it says a ton about their confidence in the sculpt. As a buyer, you don't have to go looking around for stills to compare their work - you can immediately see how good (or bad) the portrait is.

Inside is another cardboard cover with more attractive graphics, and a double layer of plastic trays holding the figure and accessories. It's all very collector friendly, and while there's a fair amount of plastic wrap on the figure, it's all easy to remove.

Lord of the Rings Saruman sixth scale figure by Asmus

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Sculpting - ****
While I still contend that the Aragorn sculpt is excellent (minus the hair, which creates the weird pin-headed look), I will say that this is the best work Asmus has released so far. It hits on all three of my requirements for an excellent portrait.

First, there's realism.  The aged and weathered skin looks fantastic, and the combination of sculpted beard and rooted hair was absolutely the right way to go.  Asmus has been experimenting with this sort of mixed hair technique, and I suspect we'll see more of it in the industry as a whole. Here, the long, straight, flowing white hair looks far more realistic than any long sculpted hair would have. Trying to do a rooted beard would not have worked - I have yet to see one that doesn't look like the character has a marmot with a blow out glued to his face. The sculpted, wavy beard works for me, especially in hand and on display.

Then there's accuracy.  Yes, this is very clearly Saruman as played by the wonderful Christopher Lee. The bushy eyebrows and evil stare, the long nose, even the shape of the head, are all excellent work.  There is the minor nit to pick here and there with the accuracy, but that's what they are - minor. For example, I think the beard is a little too wide toward the bottom, making it less pointed and more round than what we saw on screen. Still, it's easy enough to fix by draping the hair a little further in front. There's also a very small, exposed divot at the front of the hair line, where the rooted hair is inserted. You'll only see it in macro photos because in hand it's much too small, and I plan on trying to work the hair around a bit to see if I can cover it up.

And finally, there's life-like.  They've given the expression true emotion, and you can see the attitude boiling just under the surface.  This is no blank stare or zombie face, this is a wizard about to mess you up.

It's also worth noting that Asmus went out of their way with the hand sculpts, using all new versions for this character. They have long, boney fingers, long nails, and a older, veined appearance.  Going the extra mile, especially for a figure in this lower price range and a limited edition size, is much appreciated.

These figures are just a smidge shorter than Hot Toys or Sideshow, with Saruman coming in about 1/8" shy of 12" tall.

Lord of the Rings Saruman sixth scale figure by Asmus

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Paint - ***1/2
A great sculpt can't shine through without a great paint job - Asmus has come through on both accounts.

The slight variations in skin tone add to the aged appearance, and the glassy, wet eyes have almost no bleed. The eyebrows are clean and sharply defined, and even the beard has just the right amount of variation in color and tone.

I was a bit torn on the use of a semi-gloss finish on the beard.  It seemed...weird...at first, but the more I looked at him, the more I felt it helped match the beard to the rooted hair, which is always going to have some shine.

The one area I would have liked to have seen a little more work was the hands.  They went through the effort to give them unique sculpts, but they're pretty much just cast in the skin tone. I would have liked a little more aging and dirt, but considering the price point, I'm betting most collectors will be happy to add that detail themselves.

Lord of the Rings Saruman sixth scale figure by Asmus

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Articulation - ***
The underlying body is generally well made and quite posable. There's two issues here that are unique to the figure that reduce some of that posability.

First, there's that beard. While it looks great, it does mean that there's not a lot of tilting or leaning, including front to back.  Even turning is limited to some degree.

Second, there's the boots, which I'll discuss in a little more detail in the Outfit section. They are a hard plastic and tall, so there's no ankle movement either. You can certainly turn the foot, but bending at the ankle is out of the question.

A bigger issue is the wrists. It looks to me like they've gone back to the bodies we saw with Bard, where the wrist pegs are NOT intended to be removed.  That's all well and good...until one breaks. I didn't have that problem this time, but I also didn't try to do too much with the wrists. I'd take care, and I'd also like to see them stick with the newer body from here on out.

Lord of the Rings Saruman sixth scale figure by Asmus

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Accessories - ***1/2
He doesn't have a ton of stuff, but considering the price point, he's pretty well outfitted.

There's seven hands in all: two for gripping the staff, two relaxed pose, two in what they called 'open palm' poses, and one spell casting (or splayed) hand. These are a softer material, so swapping them is quite easy, and inserting the staff or other items is also very simple.

As I just mentioned, there's his staff, with crystal ball at the top. One of the cool design elements that I never noticed in the movie but is quite apparent here is how the top of the staff matches the style of the altar.

That's the big accessory here: the altar. It is made from solid, heavy polystone, and includes a light up feature that I'll discuss more in a later category. The sculpt is great, and it can rest on the included large heavy cardboard 'mat'. This mat also acts as a COA, with the edition size and your particular number printed on the bottom.

To rest on top of the alter (or in Saruman's hands) is the Palantir of Orthanc. At first glance, it looks like your basic dark colored plastic marble, what we would have called a 'shooter'. Blow some light through it, and you realize there IS an eye in there, it's just tricky to see.  I'm betting that these vary quite a bit from marble to marble, and the colors and iris are easier to see if you look down at it, rather than from the side.

If you've been buying the Asmus figures regularly, you've been receiving extra parts to build an additional Orc.  That continues here with the inclusion of a set of shin armor.

The final extra is his display stand.  While some people won't need it - and it's not diorama style - it's still nice to include it for consistency.

Lord of the Rings Saruman sixth scale figure by Asmus

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Light Feature - ***
The altar includes a battery compartment on the base, along with a small switch. Place two LR44 batteries (not included) inside, flip the switch, and a bright light shines out the top of the altar.

One interesting feature is that the batter compartment cover is held in place with a magnet. It's quite a strong one, so there's no fear of the cover falling off, and it's easier to work with than one that has to be unscrewed to change the batteries.

The light doesn't do a lot to illuminate the interior of the Palantir, unfortunately.  It looks pretty good from above, since that puts the light source on the opposite side from your eye, but the seal between the ball and the light isn't very good, allowing much of the illumination to be lost on the side.  Had they dropped the light down inside the altar just a little more, so the round bottom of the marble could rest deeper and seal off the edges, I think the light would have had a better chance at showing off the interior of the Palantir from the side as well.

Lord of the Rings Saruman sixth scale figure by Asmus

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Outfit - ***
This is not a super complicated outfit, but it's clean, well tailored, with quality stitching.

He's wearing the outer coat, the inner robes and shirt, pants, belt, and boots. The detail work on the fasteners is good, and I really love the subtle pattern to the material on the inner layer. While it's quite subtle, it does add a little juxtaposition between the layers.

The boots are a solid sculpt, with no ankle articulation, as I mentioned earlier. A little more dirt and wear here would have been nice as well, but it's a minor nit. Overall, there's nothing about the outfit to jump up and down about, but it's solid, clean work.

Lord of the Rings Saruman sixth scale figure by Asmus

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Fun Factor - ***
With the reduced articulation in the ankles and neck, you aren't going to go nuts with posing and re-posing this guy.  I suspect a lot of folks will place him with the altar, and forget about it, but he'll look terrific on the shelf in that pose for years to come.

Lord of the Rings Saruman sixth scale figure by Asmus

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Value - **1/2
Regular readers know that a score of **1/2 in Value is dead on average, and has no effect on my personal Overall, either positive or negative. It means I felt I got what I paid for, nothing more, nothing less.

Earlier this week I reviewed Jon Snow from ThreeZero, who also cost $190, and he received an extra half star here. I weighed Ghost against the altar, and the other accessories were similar as well.  The deciding factor was the complexity of the costume. Jon's has quite a bit more work involved and a greater number of materials, along with a lot of weathering that required manual effort, while Saruman's is fairly basic. The voice in my head almost convinced me to go that extra half star here, but then the meds kicked in.

Lord of the Rings Saruman sixth scale figure by Asmus

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Things to Watch Out For -
I'd take a little care with the wrists. They appear to have gone back to the body with the non-removable wrist pegs, and these can be damaged pretty easily.  Swapping hands was no problem thanks to the soft rubber, but bending the wrist itself can put a lot of pressure on the ball.

Overall - ***1/2
At the beginning, I asked whether my high hopes for Asmus in 2016 were justified. The answer is a definite yes. They've stepped it up with their release of Saruman, and if they can maintain this type of quality - with a few tweaks - for the rest of the 2016 releases, they will have a terrific year.

It's also important to note that this is the first male figure with rooted hair that I've really liked. He gets some help from his hair style of course, since straight, flowing hair is easier to control and maintain with a little product, but it's also clear that rooted hair in general is getting better and better with every release that uses it. While Hot Toys has cleared a path with their work on female figures like Black Widow, it's smaller companies like Asmus and Star Ace that will have a number of male figures in 2016 utilizing the concept.  I certainly hope that Star Ace is looking at this figure in particular as they complete their design work on Dumbledore and Hagrid.

In the Poppies results for 2015, I noted that all three female finalists in this scale had rooted hair, and I wondered if we'd see any male figures on the ballot in 2016. It's only been a couple days, and I can already guarantee it.

Score Recap (out of ****):
Packaging - ***1/2
Sculpting - ****
Paint - ***1/2
Articulation - ***
Accessories - ***1/2
Light Feature - ***
Outfit - ***
Fun Factor - ***
Value - **1/2
Overall - ***1/2

Lord of the Rings Saruman sixth scale figure by Asmus

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Where to Buy 
Online options include these site sponsors:

- comes in at just $171.

- has him for $190.

- Sideshow has him at $190 as well.

- or you can search ebay for a deal.

Related Links -
Asmus has also released Tauriel, Aragorn, Bard the Bowman, Eowyn, the Nazgul Steed, the Morgul Lord, Gandalf, Gothmog and Guritz. Other sixth scale LOTR figures include these by Sideshow - Gandalf, Sam and FrodoAragorn, Faramir, Boromir and Legolas. And don't forget the Aragorn from ACI.

You should also hit the Search Reviews page, in case any other applicable reviews were done after this one was published.

Discussion:
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This product was provided for the review by the manufacturer. Photos and text by Michael Crawford.

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