Gentle Giant Gandalf mini-bust

Everyone knows how tough it is to capture recognizable human likenesses. The sad truth is, the prettier the person, the tougher to capture their 'look'. The reason is pretty simple: they don't really have one. For example, let's consider Jennifer Anniston and Brad Pitt. Beautiful people, eh? And instantly recognizable when you see their photos. But put their photos next to each other, and you'll realize they have a tremendous amount in common. The size and shape of the eyes, the eyebrows, the shape of the face (right down to the angular jaw), and even the lips and smile are almost identical. They lack the type of 'character' (odd shaped noses, scars, trademark expressions, etc.) that a sculptor can focus on and exploit.

But Gandalf is someone with LOTS of character. The actor has plenty to start with, and then the makeup and style of his character gives him all kinds of personality to focus on. There have been several versions of him that have captured the look, and the latest mini-bust from Gentle Giant proves the point once again.

This is the third mini-bust in GG's new Lord of the Rings line up. The first two (Aragorn and the Ringwraith) had small ring boxes built into their bases. Gandalf skips the drawer and goes for a nifty light up feature for his staff. You can pick him up for around $40 - $45, depending on the retailer. As always, I have my recommendations for dealers at the end of the review.

Packaging - ***1/2
Ah, me likes the window boxes. If you're fortunate enough to buy this in person, the window box allows you to see what you're getting. Had that been the situation for me, I could have avoided getting the Gandalf with a pimple on his nose. More on that in a minute.

The baseball card sized Certificate of Authenticity is also included, and the interior hard styrofoam trays work extremely well in preventing breakage. The edition number is listed on the COA of course, as well as the bottom of the bust and box. This was a run of 3000, by the way.

Sculpting - ****
There have been many excellent Gandalf sculpts, but this is certainly one of the best.  The detail in the face and hair is amazing, and if we got this kind of small, fine work every time out, we wouldn't know what to complain about.

The work in the long bear and hair is particularly impressive, giving this bust much more realism than usual.  Also, he has some wonderful work in the wrinkling and bagging around the eyes, giving him the age you'd expect.

I'm not ecstatic about the work on the hands.  Both look a little rough and poorly defined.  But your eyes won't be drawn to them often, since the head sculpt eclipses everything else.

Paint - ***1/2
The only thing holding this figure back from a perfect four star rating is the paint work.  And since this can vary - and usually does - your odds of getting a perfect one are at least decent.

Unfortunately, my Gandalf has a large brown pimple on the end of his nose.  It isn't so bad that he looks like the before photo in a Clearisil ad, but I certainly can't give perfect marks to a bust with an imperfection like that.

The paint work around the hair line is a little uneven and sloppy as well, but you'll have to be at the right (or wrong) angle to see it.

Design - ****
Gandalf looks wise, pensive, and thoughtful.  Stern and determined. The expression works perfectly, and matches up nicely with the pose selected for the body and arms.

The left hand is a little weirdly placed, since it doesn't quite hook up to the belt, although it is supposed to appear as though he's holding it.  Still, that's a very minor nit in an otherwise excellent design.

Light Up Feature - ***1/2
There's no ring drawer this time.  Instead we get a cool light up feature with the crystal on the end of his staff.  There are 3 watch batteries (included) in the base, with a button on the bottom to activate it.  It lights up nice and bright with no light spill out of anything but the crystal, and the button is well concealed.  The button did seem a little cheap feeling, but since you won't be pushing it a whole lot, it probably won't end up being an issue.

Value - ***
Gandalf runs the same as other busts in this series and the Star Wars series, and yet he includes the additional light up feature. That's value! The Strider and Ringwraith busts dried up pretty quickly too, so I wouldn't wait around too long on this guy if you want to avoid secondary market prices.

Things to Watch Out For - 
If you're lucky, you can pick him off the shelf and watch out for those paint ops. Otherwise, you're good to go.

Overall - ***1/2
This is another excellent bust from Gentle Giant. Don't get me wrong - not all of their work is a home run by any stretch of the imagination. But when they do it right, it sure is right. Had the paint ops on this figure been perfect (i.e. no pimple on his nose), this would have been an easy four star purchase.

Even with the pimple, he's an exceptional mini-bust and another fine addition to this early line up. While I'm not too worked up about the Samwise and Frodo we have coming, I can't wait to see Elrond and Saruman.

Score Recap:
Packaging - ***1/2
Sculpt -  ****
Paint - ***1/2
Design - ****
Light Up Feature - ***1/2
Value -  ***
Overall - ***1/2

Where to Buy -
Sponsor suggestions include:

- Hero Hunt has an excellent price (in stock) of just $40.

- Alter Ego Comics has him for $42.50.

- for the U.K. readers, Forbidden Planet has Gandalf for 30 pounds.

- and if you are still looking for the very cool 20" version from NECA, Toys and Cool Stuff still has one in stock at just $40 Canadian.

Related Links -
I also reviewed the first two mini-busts released, Strider and the Ringwraith.

Figure from the collection of Michael Crawford.

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