The Balrog

Occasionally, you have to wait for things. Oh, I know, it's tough to do, and it seems that people's ability to wait, even for short periods, is getting rarer and rarer. We like things now, thank you very much.

In the toy world, waiting is fairly common. Things get announced early in the process, often as soon as a license is acquired, but in the best case it will takes months to get the sculpts complete, approvals signed, and actual product manufactured. Once in a great while, that happens a little quick...and once in awhile, it takes much, much longer.

Such is the case for a 1/12 scale Balrog. Everyone knows who the Balrog is - although fewer will know that this particular Balrog is called Durin's Bane. He probably doesn't need much of a name, since "Aaaeeeeiiiiii" is about all anyone has a chance to say when meeting him.

This Balrog, the bane of old Durin, fought Gandalf in Moria, battling him til Gandalf killed him. Gandalf did not survive his wounds however, dying after putting the ultimate hurt on the Balrog. However, he wasn't 'dead dead'. He arose as Gandalf the White, and rejoined the battle against Sauron.

Back in 2002, Toybiz originally discussed producing a Balrog in scale with their 6" line of action figures. What was eventually shown at Toy Fair though was around 12 - 14" tall, not quite in scale but similar to the deluxe Treebeard that would arrive later. Even at this scale, retailers balked, and the costs were too high for Toybiz to persue it. Fans loved the idea, but it died an early death, and by 2003 everyone assumed it was cancelled.

At Toy Fair 2004, NECA announced that they were planning on producing a scale version of the Balrog, designed to be more in scale with the 6" figures, with lights and sounds. It has taken 2 1/2 years to finally get this bad boy from concept to reality, but he's finally here!

He isn't cheap though, and considering the huge size, that shouldn't be much of a surprise. I have some sponsor links at the end of the review, and online is likely to be the only way to pick him up, other than at a local toy show.

Packaging - ***
There has never been any intent on the part of NECA - at least in several months - of selling this guy at regular retail locations. It became clear with the fall of specialty retailers like Media Play and Sam Goody, that this was going to be a predominately online purchase. That means the packaging didn't have to show off the figure, since you wouldn't get a chance to see it in person til it was on your doorstep, and your credit card was already smokin'.

That is actually a very good thing. The poor folks at SOTA didn't have that opportunity with the huge Lord of Darkness, and because of that ended up with a window box that didn't properly protect the quarter scale figure, and was fairly worthless as well since no brick and mortar retailers ended up carrying him.

Because NECA figured this out early, they were able to design a package with shipping and protection as the top priority. They succeeded extremely well, with a box and packaging that cradle the figure and his goodies extremely well. It's not something you'll be showing off to your friends, but you should be opening this guy up the minute you get him anyway.

Sculpting - ****
I have some large figures in my collection, right up to the full size Mike, Sully and Dobby. I have plenty of quarter scale figures, both all in plastic and in the mixed media 'premium format'. I have a 1:1 bust, and plenty of sixth scale statues, figures and even vehicles. But it's been a very, very long time since the sheer size of any toy impressed me this much.

To say this guy is huge is like saying Paris Hilton is a fun date. He stands about 23 inches tall, which in itself isn't all that impressive. There are plenty of quarter scale figures that stand that tall, and even the Lord of Darkness is taller if you ignore the flames. But with most bipedal creatures, their depth and width is nothing compared to their height. That means that while they might tower over other figures, they still don't take up that much sheer volume.

Ah, not so with the Balrog. His wings are HUGE, spanning a whopping 42 inches from tip to tip. And since he stands at a slight angle when lined up with the general sculpt, his one wing is tilted toward the back.  That means you need about 24" of depth on the shelf as well.  In total, you need about 7 square feet of shelf space, or 14 cubic feet of total space to display this guy!

Once you get past the enormity of the figure, you'll notice some terrific detail work. The skin texturing and patterns are great, and the work around the face and mouth is particularly well done. I love the hand sculpts, and the overall design of the body works well with the limited articulation.

Also of special note are the sculpted flames. Any time you try to sculpt something as dynamic and fleeting as flame, it's almost a no win situation. Still, they've captured the look about as well as I've ever seen, and there's no doubt about what it's intended to represent.

The sculpt allows for him to stand alright on his own, as long as you use the tail to help out. However, the legs and tail are rotocast, and on top of that, sport articulation. The joints at the hips and ankles tend to spread under the massive weight of the upper body and wings, and I have a very bad feeling that this is a figure destined to wilt over time. Don't be surprised if you end up building a base for this guy with a rod attached to his heiny, just to keep him standing long term. This does deduct some from the overall for me, but I'll talk more about it in the Articulation section, and that's where you'll see the effect on the score.

One thing that almost did pull down the score in this category is the 'wing flaps' along his sides.  These soft rubber flaps are supposed to attach inside grooves cut into his torso.  Even when properly aligned, they only stay in for short periods.  I'm thinking glue will be necessary, and at this price point that's something I don't expect to have to do.

But the guy is just so mind boggline huge with such great detail that he managed to get the elusive four stars in this category anyway.  Or maybe it was waking up at 2am last night with him standing over my bed that convinced me.

Paint - ***1/2
It took a couple extra days for my Balrog to show up, so I was checking out some of the photos of the early arrivers online, just like everyone else. And most of these early photos, shot with flash, had me deeply concerned about the paint application. The red looked far too obvious, and was cut with very even lines, giving it a fake pattern appearance. It was with great fear and trepidation that I opened mine up...

And I'm very happy to report that this is not at all an issue in person. The red and black could still be blended together a *little* better, with less of an obvious delineation, but it's not a sharp, clean line. That's merely the result of the flash photography, where the light was reflected much better by the red than it was by the black.

To try to give you some idea, I shot this guy in three different places under three different light conditions.

The flames are worth another special mention in this category. The only thing harder than sculpting realistic fire is painting it, but they managed to pull off a great blend of appropriate color, with clean transitions between the reds, oranges, and yellows.

The yellow, white, orange and red paint on the body, eyes, nostrils and mouth also have some very cool effects under a black light - I'm not sure it was intentional, but the hippie in me was digging it.

Articulation - ***
There's not a lot of joints, but the few that are here do help with some basic posing.

He has a cut neck, ball jointed shoulders, pin elbows, V hips, two cut tail joints, a cut waist, cut wrists and cut ankles. The arm joints are the most useful of course, making several threatening poses with the flaming sword and whip of fire possible.

The neck joint isn't super useful, since you'll want to keep the flames lined up on his head and back anyway. that means he'll be looking to his left most of the time. The tail joints are nice, since you'll need to position the tail just right to keep him standing. However, the hip and ankle joints are going to work against you over time, and are the weak points for all that weight. The legs are going to want to spread, and the ankles turn, as time passes. This is one of the very, very rare cases where I would have actually preferred less articulation for the sake of the long term viability of the figure itself.

The legs don't move all the way forward, which appears to be intended to help him stay standing.  Unfortunately, that's not the direction that will be the issue.  Instead, he's much more likely to push the legs backward as he tries to lean forward, and there's nothing to stop them in that direction.

Accessories - ***
The Balrog comes with two - his whip of flames that he grabbed Gandalf with as he fell of the bridge, and his flaming sword. Both can be held in his right hand, although they fit a little loose and sloppy. They both have excellent sculpts, and the whip is made from a soft rubber material. The paint jobs mirror the work on the other flames on the Balrog's body, and either will make for a great display.

Lights/Sounds - ***
You supply two AA batteries in back, press the button, and you get a nifty light up action in the flames on his head, along with a roaring sound.  The flames don't simply light up - they flicker.  There's two versions, one short and one very long, that alternate.  It's a nice effect, although it can be a little tough to get to the button when he's on the shelf. It isn't particularly loud, but loud enough to get the point across.  There's also an on/off switch, to keep him silent when you're just not in the mood.

Fun Factor - ***1/2
If you have kids that enjoy the 6" line of Toybiz Lord of the Rings figures, then they will love this guy. It's not just adults that like their toys big - kids love 'em too. And adding this to the play scenario with a few hobbits and a wizard would be high on the list for any 8 year old fan. Of course, it's unlikely too many will get to play with him at this price point, but that doesn't mean they wouldn't enjoy it.

Value - **1/2
Once you get him shipped to you, you'll be out around $100. That's certainly not chump change, and 30 bucks or so more than many other all plastic quarter scale figures. Of course, many of those are actually much smaller than this guy, lack lights and/or sounds, and rarely have accessories. While you won't feel like you got the deal of the century, you'll probably feel like you got what you paid for.

If you're really lucky, perhaps you can find this at a local dealer, and save yourself the $20 - $30 in shipping costs.

Things to Watch Out For - 
Follow the instructions for popping on the wings, and you'll have much better luck getting it right the first time.

Overall - ***1/2
You expect a lot at a price tag this high, and the Balrog still has a few warts.  The red to black transition could have been done smoother, especially across the chest, he's definitely going to have issues standing over time, and I wish those silly flaps under his arms would stay in place without special intervention.

But other than that, he's rockin'.  If you're a big fan of the Toybiz line, you have to pick this up - you really have no choice. He'll be the centerpiece of the entire display, and when you build a full scale bridge diorama for this guy, I want to see it.

Score Recap:
Packaging - ***
Sculpt - ****
Paint - ***1/2
Articulation - ***
Lights/Sounds - ***
Accessories - ***
Fun Factor - ***1/2
Value - **1/2
Overall - ***1/2

Where to Buy - 
These are packaged to be sold online, so that's likely to be your best bet. It's a good assumption that shipping will run you around $20 at least, perhaps more, depending on your location in the U.S.:

- Amazing Toyz has him in stock at $87.50, plus shipping (estimated around $14 - $26 depending on your location).

- CornerStoreComics has him in stock at $87.50 plus shipping.

- Killer Toys has him listed at $86, plus additional shipping charges. You should give them a call.

- YouBuyNow has him listed for $90 plus shipping.

- Alter Ego has him listed at $96, with shipping calculating out around $12 - $15.

Related Links - 
This isn't the first Balrog from NECA - they also did the nifty votive candle holder

Figure from the collection of Michael Crawford.

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