Gentle Giant Lord of the Rings mini-busts
Strider and Ringwraith

The Lord of the Rings movies are in the past, long behind us and Peter Jackson at this point.  And yet, the flow of collectible merchandise based on the movie license has yet to completely dry up.

Oh, it's not what it was a few years ago, but there's still a fair share of collectibles out there, especially in the high end market.  Obviously, Sideshow is doing their sixth scale figures, Premium Format figures and diorama statues. But added to this mix is the new mini-bust line from Gentle Giant.

Yes, there was a mini-bust series before from Weta, released in partnership with Sideshow.  However, these busts were not always the best likenesses.  I've never been particularly impressed with the Weta work on human likenesses, and I avoided that line completely.  But when GG announced their series, I knew I was a goner.

The first two are now hitting stores, including the Strider look for Aragorn, and a Ringwraith.  If the Harry Potter and Star Wars lines from GG are any indication, we're in for a long, expensive, and often frustrating ride.

Both of these releases are a limited edition of 2000, and run around $45 each.

Packaging - ***1/2
Not only do you get excellent graphics and a very protective solid foam interior, but there's a window in front (yea!) to see the bust you're purchasing in advance.  Add to that some very nice descriptive text on the back (much more than usual for a bust), and the normal baseball card style COA, and you have a great mini-bust package.

Sculpting - Ringwraith ****; Strider ***1/2
Getting the look of humans right is always a tad trickier than monsters, and this set is no exception.  It also helps that with the Ringwraith there is NO likeness to actually capture - it's just an empty cloak.

However, the managed to pull off the engineering and design of the emply cloak over the more solid body quite well, without sacrificing appearance for some durability.  They also did some excellent detail and texture work on the armor on the hands and arms, along with the sword that he's holding.  That, along with the nicely pock marked base, designed to give the impression of Sauron, raise up the score for the Ringwraith to a full four stars.

Strider is done in a very classic pose, pondering his situation while having a smoke.  The face sculpt is a very, very good representation of Aragorn, and the beard is particularly well done.  It's still a little too thick and hairy, but it's an improvement over some other attempts we've seen.

There are also many nice small details in the clothing and body as well, including the ring on his left hand.  The scale of the pipe to the body is about right, and the overall internal proportions of both busts are on target.

The base for Strider is very different from the Ringwraith's, designed to look like vine covered castle walls, butting up against a solid rock wall.  Both busts have a unique feature, that GG clearly intended would set them apart from any previous mini-busts - they have a little ring drawer built into the base.  These are very small drawers, just big enough to hold a ring or two.  The drawer on the Ringwraith comes straight out from the front, while Strider's is off to the right side.  Strider's didn't fit quite as well for me, requiring some jiggling around to get it to finally line up right.  It does line up better than in some of the photos, but not as well as the Ringwraith's.

If you collect either the Star Wars or Harry Potter busts, and would like these to fit in scale-wise, you'll be happy to know that they do.  Even more importantly, the scale between Strider and the Ringwraith is just about right, with the big bad slightly larger and more imposing.

Paint - ***1/2
The paint ops look great on both figures, although it isn't quite astounding work.  There's a little slop here and there, most notably around Strider's face inside the cloak, but it's not major enough to cause a big deduction.

The Ringwraith is predominately black, and at least it's a consistent coverage.  The best work is on his gauntlets, which have a very realistic aged and weathered finish.

While Strider's face paint is generally good, the eyes are a bit wonky.  I can't quite put my finger on it, but something about the way they've been painted makes him look a tad...confused.  I suspect this detracts a bit from the sculpt, but it's often difficult to separate the effects of the paint from the effects of the sculpt, particularly on faces.

Quality - Strider ***1/2; Ringwraith ***
It should be no surprise that both are made from high quality materials, with a  very solid heft and feel.  The overall quality on Strider is great with the exception of the slighlty wonky fit on the drawer.

The Ringwraith suffers from a slightly different problem - his sword. Technically, this is an accessory, because it comes packed separate and you attach it.  The sword is clearly made from a soft lead or pewter type material, so that it's more pliable. That helps avoid breakage issues (though you still want to be careful with the thin areas), but mine came out of the box clearly bent in several spots.  While it might appear in a larger scale to be realistic, in this scale the bends look like damage.

Value - **1/2
These come in at a similar price to other GG busts on the market, in that $40 - $50 range depending on the retailer.  It's an average value in the current market, so it's pretty much a wash on the overall score.

Things to Watch Out For - 
It's easy to damage the sword, so take care putting it in the hilt.  Otherwise, you should be good to go.

Overall - ***1/2
While I suspect everyone will recognize the quality and detail in both these busts, I'm not sure anyone will be wowed by them as they have been with some of the other recent mini-busts from GG.  Neither really has that wow factor, either because we've been over saturated with LOTR product, or perhaps because the basic designs and colors just don't leap out and slap you like a little girl.

Still, with a limited run of just 2000 each, and a solid job done on both, you can bet that these will be the Harry Potter of six months from now, with people coming in late to the line and looking to pick them up.  If you think you *might* want to get into this line, I'd suggest getting these now rather than waiting.  Even if you change your mind, it's unlikely that you'll lose any money, and you'll could save yourself some frustration and heartache later.

Score Recap:
Packaging - ***1/2
Sculpt -  Ringwraith ****; Strider ***1/2
Paint - ***1/2
Quality - Strider ***1/2; Ringwraith ***
Value -  **1/2
Overall - ***1/2

Where to Buy -
As is usual with mini-busts these days, online is your best bet:

- Fireside Collectibles has a great price on Strider at just $40, but where's the Ringwraith?

- Alter Ego has the Strider for $42.50, with pre-orders available for other future releases, but no sign of the Ringwraith.

- Dark Shadow is sold out of both of these, but has a great pre-order price of around $30 each for some of the upcoming releases.

- Hero Hunt has Strider listed at $50, but no sign of the Ringwraith either.

Related Links -
If you're looking for other high end LOTR collectibles:

- check out my review of the 12" Aragorn and Legolas from Sideshow.

- and don't miss the very cool Premium Format Lurtz from Sideshow.

Figure from the collection of Michael Crawford.

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