Hunger Games Series 1
Katniss, Peeta and Gale

Hunger Games action figures by NECA

The first big blockbuster film of 2012 is hitting screens on March 23rd, quite a bit ahead of the pack.  Suzanne Collins mega-hit novel, The Hunger Games, is coming to a theater near you, even if you live on the dark side of the moon.

The marketing machine is in full gear for this film, and the expectation is that the complete trilogy of books will get turned into movies. The second, Catching Fire, is already scheduled to begin shooting this spring, and with the amount of backing the franchise has received, the odds are very good that the the third and final installment, The Mockingjay, will also be completed.

The books have been on the NYT Best Seller list for months, garnering critical acclaim and mass sales. The story is well conceived, with far more detail and back story than most of its ilk, and characters that the reader learns to love. While the story has many threads and many points, for me it was the concept of watching the birth of a revolutionary leader, one that wasn't particularly interested in the burden thrust upon her, that made the books so great.

There's plenty of PR out there right now, including full editions of both People and Us magazines dedicated to the film. But there's not a whole lot of collectibles...yet. Most companies are unwilling to take a risk with a new property, even one with so much backing and potential. NECA isn't most companies though, and one of the things that has set them apart from their competition (and is why they are still cranking along while others have faded away) is their willingness to take on risk to get reward. They picked up the Hunger Games license early, and have their first set of figures coming out just in time for the film's release.
Click on the photo below for a life size version
Hunger Games series 1 action figures by NECA
Hunger Games action figures by NECA
Hunger Games action figures by NECA
Hunger Games action figures by NECA
Hunger Games action figures by NECA
Hunger Games action figures by NECA
Hunger Games action figures by NECA
Hunger Games action figures by NECA
Hunger Games action figures by NECA

This first set includes the three main characters - Katniss, Peeta and Gale. They should retail for around $15 each (I paid about $13 each with an online retailer) but that depends on the store, of course.

Packaging - ***1/2
These are the usual clamshells made originally famous by McFarlane, but picked up by NECA very early on and still used by them today. If you're not handy with a knife, you won't like them, but they do greatly reduce the chance for anything being stolen on the peg. That's a huge problem for figures, and a big disappointment for kids and collectors alike. This style package pretty much makes that impossible, unless you're flashing a blade in the toy aisle.

The included backer card is pretty basic, but it does have a large photo of the actor right there for you to compare, with another small one on the front. That's always a gutsy move on the part of the manufacturer, since they buyer doesn't have to go by memory, but can tell immediately whether the figure is accurate or not. It's a plus in my book, since that sort of personalization always costs the company more money.

Sculpting - Katniss, Gale ***1/2; Peeta **1/2
I've mentioned this before, and I'm going to mention it a couple times in this particular review - the macro photos and in hand experience are not exactly the same with this set. Remember, these figures are only 7" tall, making the head sculpts about 1 inch each. While creating monsters in that scale that look great is relatively easy, doing the same with human likenesses is not.

In hand, I thought both Gale and Katniss were extremely good. Getting a good likeness often involves finding a very specific facial attribute that can be used as an anchor point, something that people will latch on to visually and recognize. When a person has something like that - or more than one something like that - it's easier for the sculptor to create a portrait that others will recognize immediately. Ergo, uglier actors are easier to sculpt. The pretty ones tend to all look alike when you get right down to it.

And Jennifer Lawrence, the actress playing Katniss, is very pretty. It was definitely a challenge for them to create a sculpt in this scale that people would recognize, but they pulled it off quite well. The shape of the face and chin, the spacing of the eyes, the shape of the nose, even the film specific hair style, all work together to create an overall accurate portrait.

It was a little easier with Gale, due to that rather large nose that he has. They almost went to far, but when you're creating something in a small scale, the features often have to be a bit exaggerated to come through to the nekkid eye. That's the case here - the nose looks a bit big in some photos, but in hand looks just about right.

Unfortunately, I think they missed the boat with Peeta. The shape of the face is off, with too thick of a neck and too wide of a jawline. I can still find some of the actor in there if I squint just right, but it's lost when looking at the character in hand.

There's a ton of detail work on the body and hair as well, and it's clear that NECA is taking this license very seriously. The wrinkles in Katniss' coat, or the fine stranding of her hair, add a ton of realism to the overall appearance.

There's a few issues of course - there's some mold lines that I find annoying, for example - but overall I'm very happy with how Gale and Katniss turned out.

As I mentioned earlier, these are a 7" scale, but they've been properly scaled to each other and to other 7" figures. Gale comes in at the full 7", while Peeta is about 6 3/8", and Katniss is slightly taller at 6 1/2".

Paint - ***1/2
One of the areas where I've been highly critical of NECA product over the last few years is the paint work. They haven't been consistently getting the kind of quality they need from their overseas manufacturer, and it's hurt several lines.

That's not an issue here, at least for me. Remember, these are $15 action figures, not $200 Hot Toys icons. If Hot Toys did decide to pick up this license, I'd be all over it like hair on a bear, but that's not what these are.

Again, the macro photos can show flaws, but if you're looking close you'll also see that these are well above the usual mass market release.  The eyes are very clean, with sharp lines and a slight gloss. There's no slop at the hairline, and rather than just throw paint at the bodies and call it 'weathered', they've stuck with more consistent colors and simple details. They could have easily gone nuts with the washes and dry brushing, but instead managed to be reserved, giving these a cleaner look.

Another area of concern is always skin tone - here, it matches nicely between face and hands, is very realistic in color, and shows no glop or dirt.

There are a few details that they skipped, which keep this from getting a full four stars. There's less detail work on the buckles and straps than I'd like, and there is the occasional slip here or there on a cut line. But overall this is a real improvement over some of the paint quality I've seen with other recent lines, and is probably an indication of the care with which they are handling this license.

Articulation - ***
NECA has never been big on articulation, although some of their lines are a bit more posable than others. Their recent Gremlins, for example, have better articulation than I expected considering the tough design of the characters.

All three figures have excellent ball jointed necks, with lots of tilt and lean action. This is a huge plus overall, since it allows the figures to at least have some personality in the more static poses.

They also have what is often called 'NECA' shoulders, which approximate the range of movement of a true ball, but don't damage the look of the sculpt of the shoulder.

There's ball elbows too (really pin and post type elbows, but they work like balls), as well as cut wrists, a cut waist, and cut joints at the top of the boots. The only exception to this list is Gale - because of his bare arms, the skipped the cut wrists.

That's it though, so doing much with the legs is out of the question. I was able to get all three to stand on their own, although at times Katniss was a bit tricky. The heavier pack on her back makes it more difficult to find her center of gravity, but it is doable.

Accessories - Katniss ***; Peeta **1/2; Gale Bupkis
This is the one area where I was a little disappointed, particularly with Gale. Considering the plethora of extras they could give all these characters, not getting a single item with Gale was a surprise.

I'm betting this is how they were able to keep costs down of course, so it's a give and take situation.

Peeta does slightly better, getting a cool looking spear. It fits in his hands easily, although with the limited articulation he's not going to be able to do much with it.

Katniss does the best, getting a bow plus three arrows. The design is fairly basic, but has a slightly mech look to it that is probably based on the movie. They went with an actual string too, rather than molded plastic, which allows her to draw the bow...kinda.

Fun Factor - **1/2
The limited articulation makes these less kid-friendly, but they are certainly sturdy and well made. Since the license has it's greatest appeal with tweens and teens, these aren't likely to see a lot of 'play'. As collectibles, they'll allow you to pose them in a few ways, add some personality with the ball jointed neck, and most fans should be good with that.

Value - ***
Online, you should be able to pick these up for right around $15 - $16, and considering the current market price for most 7" scale action figures, I consider this a deal. This is going to be a hot license this year, and NECA was wise to get in early, and are clearly putting some real effort into the product. Keeping the price point down should help them as well, as many collectors and fans have had enough sticker shock.

Things to Watch Out For -
You'll want to pick through any on the peg to make sure you get the very best paint job. Since I got these three online sight unseen and am happy with them, I'm hoping that the overall quality on the paint work is consistent enough that you won't have an issue.

Overall - Katniss ***1/2, Gale ***; Peeta **1/2
I'll admit it - I'm a huge fan of the books, and I have very high hopes for the film series. I wasn't happy about the casting for the three leads, because I think all three are simply too old - but I'm willing to see if their acting ability can change my mind.

I think it's pretty obvious that NECA sees the long term potential in this line, and is doing everything it can to make this first series a hit. The sculpting (with the exception of Peeta) and paint work are excellent, and the target audience is likely to overlook the weaker aspects of articulation and accessories.

This Katniss is a must get for most fans, and Gale is worth the buy. I'm not a huge fan of this Peeta, but if this first series does well, I have no doubt we'll see a second or third or more incarnation, and with all the different outfits he will be wearing in the films, they'll have no trouble finding one that looks good. In other words, they have time to give us another Peeta with a better head sculpt.

Score Recap:
Packaging - ***
Sculpting - Katniss, Gale ***1/2; Peeta **1/2
Paint - ***1/2
Articulation - ***
Accessories - Katniss ***; Peeta **1/2; Gale Bupkis
Fun Factor - **1/2
Value - ***
Overall - Katniss ***1/2, Gale ***; Peeta **1/2

Where to Buy -
Online options include these site sponsors:

- Big Bad Toy Store has the set for $48, or the case of 14 for $200.

- Entertainment Earth has them by the case, where you can get 14 figures for $210.

- or you can search ebay for a deal.

Related Links -
I don't have anything else related to the movies or books that I've reviewed yet, but I've got my fingers crossed that we'll see more figures, including something from one of the higher end companies, at some point. Until then, these figures will do just fine.

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Hunger Games action figures by NECA

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

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