Now Playing series 3
Baron Harkonnen (Dune), Werewolf (Dog Soldiers), and
Meg Mucklebones (Legend)

It should be no news that SOTA Toys is having some rocky times. Jerry Malcuso left, and about the same time, it appeared that they were beginning to have some quality issues with lines like Now Playing and Nightmares of Lovecraft. Some are even saying that these may be the final days of SOTA, another company struck down by a tight market.

But let's not write up the obituary quite yet. While there were some issues with the Lovecraft series, and Pumpkinhead showed real signs of cheaping it up on the paint application, the issues haven't been as bad in reality as often made out on message boards. Now comes the latest series of Now Playing figures, including Meg Mucklebones from Legend, Baron Harkonnen from Dune, and a werewolf from the great Dog Soldiers. These are hitting stores now, retailing for around $12 - $14. There are actually several versions of the wolf - regular brown (reviewed here), bloody brown, variant gray and bloody gray. Some retailers are selling the bloody brown and regular gray, so I'm assuming their variants in the cases. The bloody gray is a SOTA website exclusive.

The prototype versions of these figures were b-freakin-ootiful, but early photos of the production stuff looked...less than stellar. In fact, they looked awful. Not only had the paint been drastically altered, but the sculpts themselves were toned down, including the werewolf. Many, including myself, were severely dismayed.

I have received the full set now (I also have the boxed set from The Thing which I'll be reviewing later), so let's take a look...

Packaging - **1/2
While the large clamshells protect and display the figures fine, they inserts are dullsville. Thankfully, twisty ties were kept to a minimum, but I did have a broken right wrist joint on Meg long before I ever opened it up, and it appeared to be caused by the twisty being too tightly wrapped around the arm right at the joint.

Sculpting - Werewolf, Baron ***; Meg **1/2
Early photos of the production figures did not do anything to sell these figures. The sculpts looked bad - real bad. Of course, part of this was because the paint looked bad, and bad paint can bring the best of sculpts to its knees. There was much gnashing of teeth and wailing of message boards.

Fortunately, the sculpts aren't nearly as bad as feared, and in fact could be quite good given a better paint application. The wolf has good detail through the fur and face, with bared teeth and gums snarling and snapping. The body lacks some of the texture detail, but again, much of this is due to a broader paint job. His pose is dynamic and menacing, and I'll be happy to add him to the shelf.

Harkonnen is not a character that does much for me. He's fat, he's disgusting, he's cruel. But he's also not a particularly visually interesting guy. The sculpt is the most detailed of the three, particularly in the body work where very wrinkle and fold of the clothing flows realistically. I'm not a big fan of the screaming expression though, and the poorly sculpted chest hair has to go, but it is a fairly accurate version of Kenneth McMillan in the role.

Meg is the biggest disappointment of the line, although much of that is again due to paint and not sculpt. The evil face sculpt is good, and the texturing of the wrinkled, nasty skin looks great. Her leg pose works fine with the diorama, and while the articulation and sculpt don't work in perfect harmony, they aren't completely off key either.

Her biggest issue is in the clumpy, thick hair, which has far less detail and is a bit too dynamic in back for my tastes, sticking up at odd angles depending on the position of the head.

These are big figures, scaled to 7" but all standing taller.  Harkonnen is about 7 1/2" tall, while Meg is a full 8", and the werewolf is almost 8 1/2 even in his crouched pose.

Paint - Werewolf ***; Baron **1/2; Meg **
Ah, here's the real crux of any problems with these figures. It's very, very clear that the number of paint operations and the quality of the application were dropped significantly for the production figures.

This issue hits home the worst on Meg. They've used a shiny gloss finish over her entire body to imply a wet, slimy look, but it ends up looking cheap, rather than disgusting, probably because it's so even and smooth. Instead of looking realistic, it looks like exactly what it is - a coat of clear gloss paint. The work on the greens and yellows of her body didn't turn out quite right either, particularly where two different body parts come together at a joint. For example, at the waist where the torso and pelvis meet, there's a distinctly obvious difference in color. The upper body is much darker at the joint, while the lower is a lighter green. There's no subtle transition, and because this color change happens abruptly right at the joint, it makes said joint even more obvious. This same sort of thing occurs also at the wrists and ankles, albeit to a lesser degree.

She's also the only character with serious eye paint issues. There's some slop in the whites, and the pupils don't quite line up. Fortunately, it isn't nearly as obvious in person as it is in photos.

The Baron has a great paint job on his body, although it is kind of dull in terms of color. There's just the right amount of wash to highlight the details in the sculpt, and they even did his fingernails and toenails. The only real slop is around that damn chest hair again - it's got to go.

His face has some small detail work, and while it's fairly clean and neat, it also reminds me of a clean, neat mass market job. There's something slightly cheap about the appearance, and not quite as lifelike as you expect from the specialty, low production run, market.

The wolf is the best of the bunch, although he still can't come close to comparing to his original prototype version. It's rare than any figure does though, so the step down in his quality is more in line with the norm.

His work on the two heads is very good, with a nice transition of colors through the fur. Likewise, the hands and feet look terrific. It's when you get to the body that you see far less attention being paid, with broader general colors and applications. It's not as serious of a problem as I expected it to be, and most of the real complaints will come because folks had their expectations set for something that simply wasn't possible to produce.

The werewolf really reminds me of the large scale Pumpkinhead in quality. Had they been able to up the quality of the paint operations here, just like then, the sculpt would have probably had a much better chance at shining.

Articulation - Werewolf, Meg **1/2; Baron **
All the figures took a shot at articulation, but some hit the mark better than others.

The werewolf has a ball jointed neck, but the joint is so far up inside the furry head and neck, that the range of movement is pretty limited. His sculpted pose also shifts the head to the left, and getting him to look in any other direction and still look right is pretty much impossible.

He also has ball jointed shoulders, cut wrists, a cut waist, and cut ankles. The arm articulation is useful, but that's about it.

On both the werewolf and Meg, I had a lot of trouble with gapping at the cut joints. The joints aren't particularly tight, and the waists and wrists tend to show a little too much space.

Meg also has the ball jointed neck, and hers is a tad more useful than the wolf's. Still, it's not possible to tilt her head back far enough to bring her line of sight level, let alone to get her to look up. Her ball jointed shoulders don't work quite as well, and she has the cut wrists, waist and ankle joints as well.

Harkonnen has the least amount of articulation, although based on the design, that's probably not a big surprise. He has a much better ball jointed neck than the other two, and can look up, down and tilt quite well. He has cut shoulders, and cut wrists, and that's about it.

It is worth pointing out though that after I'd shot the photos, I figured out that the little tubes on his chest were not rubber or plastic as I'd assumed, but wires so that you can bend them around in better positions.  Be careful though, because it is easy to break them off at the chest.

Accessories - Werewolf ***; Meg, Baron **1/2
The werewolf is the clear winner here, with not only his cool base, but a couple extra goodies as well. His base represents one of the walls of the rundown farm house, riddled with bullets behind him and covered in blood and entrails at his feet. The base fits in well with other past NP bases, although the wall in back is a little short. It's other issue is the size of the foot pegs, which have to be forced quite vehemently and against their will into the holes in the bottom of the wolf's feet. I never did manage to get him all the way down flush with the floor, and that's a pet peeve of mine.

He also comes with a severed, bloody human arm, which is a little light on sculpt detail but decent enough, and a second, closed mouth head. The heads pop on and off easily enough, and there's enough personality and dynamics to both sculpts to make either an visually interesting choice.

Meg comes with her base as well, but here's loses a bit from the production version. Where there was once a second large tree stump jutting up from her left side, now there is none. The base itself is still good, particularly the slimey appearance of the swamp water, and with her feet removed (they both pop off at the ankles), her calves work as their own pegs.

She also comes with three chunks of seaweed to hang off her body. One fits around her neck and hangs down her back, while the other two hang off her arms. This is another area where the production piece really deviated from the prototype. The original prototype had lots of thin, dangly seaweed all over her body, but these few pieces are chunky, clunky, and not particularly realistic. Unless someone was throwing long chunks of cookie dough and Playdoh into the water.

Harkonnen has the least number, with just his display base. The back wall and floor are fairly plain, and lack the accoutrements that we saw in the prototypes. There's a clear post to suspend him above the floor, and while I joke about characters having a pole up their ass, this time it's really no joke. You know how they usually route the pole up to the back? Not this time. You'll have to insert it in a very uncomfortable spot for poor Harkonnen.

Fun Factor - Werewolf ***; Meg **1/2; Baron *1/2
Baron H is going to be a snoozer for any kids. He's a fat guy in a weird suit that can only stand when he has a clear pole up his ass. There's not a whole lot of play potential here. But Meg is a little better, largely because of her EGF - extreme gross factor. Oh, her floppy breasts may be a bit more than most parents can take, but kids are usually less freaked out by such things.

And the werewolf has some actual play potential, although it's hurt a bit by his lack of articulation. Everybody loves a good werewolf, even if they haven't seen this movie, and this is a solid rendition of a classic character.

Value - **
There's a few places where you can pick these up for $12 or less each, but that's not the normal going rate. The previous wave was around $12 at most places, and at that price was a solid value. They had excellent diorama bases, and extra goodies in accessories. Unfortunately, these are running a couple bucks higher at most retailers, and have fewer add-ins and cheaper bases. I'm grading these at $14 each, which seems to be pretty common. If you can snag them closer to $12, I'd add another half star here, making these a more average value.

Things to Watch Out For - 
Clearly, you want to take some care with Meg's joints, particularly her wrists. It seems that the glossy finish tended to freeze up her joints more than the other figures, and with thin wrist pegs, disaster is quite possible.

Overall - Werewolf ***; Baron **1/2; Meg **
The first two series of Now Playing figures were quite good, especially with stand outs like the Killer Klown. This series doesn't measure up to those first two, but they aren't the worst stuff I've ever seen either. It's clear from the final product that there's some money issues here, because the changes that were made to the bases, sculpts and paint are all straight forward cost cutting moves, but how deep the financial woes go only time can tell. I'm hopeful that SOTA can pull things out for 2007, and I'd really like to see their Land of the Dead figures make it to market. We can always use some more cool zombies!

Of these three, I'd recommend that the werewolf fans definitely pick up the Dog Soldiers version. He'll look good on the shelf with other 6 - 7" movie themed monsters. Only the most hardcore fans of Legend and Dune are likely to buy the other two though, and I can't really argue.

Score Recap:
Packaging - **1/2
Sculpt - Werewolf, Baron ***; Meg **1/2
Paint - Chewie ***1/2; Maul ***
Articulation - Werewolf, Meg **1/2; Baron **
Accessories - Werewolf ***; Meg, Baron **1/2
Fun Factor - Werewolf ***; Meg **1/2; Baron *1/2
Value -  **
Overall - Werewolf ***; Baron **1/2; Meg **

Where to Buy -
Online is clearly your best bet:

- CornerStoreComics has the set of 3 for $34, and the singles for just $12 each.

- Amazing Toyz has the set of 3 at $33, plus they are selling the variant wolves individually for $13 - $15 each.

- Killer Toys has the set for $38, or the singles for $14.

- Alter Ego has the set of three for $38.

- YouBuyNow has the singles in stock for $14.50 each.

- and for the U.K. readers, Forbidden Planet has them listed for 11 pounds each.

Related Links:
Reviews of other Now Playing goodness...

- both the huge Lord of Darkness and Pumpkinhead figures from SOTA this year were part of the overall Now Playing line.

- then there's the series 1 (which included Darkman and the Nightmare Demon) and series 2 figures of the regular Now Playing line.

Figure from the collection of Michael Crawford.

This page copyright 2003, Michael Crawford. All rights reserved. Hosted by 1 Hour