Sideshow 12" Lord of the Rings

In the course of books involving Middle Earth, the main heros are Bilbo and Frodo Baggins. While the overall story is epic, and many other players are involved, it is really their adventures that are the cornerstone for all four books.

But they don't exactly ooze sex appeal. Very short, slightly round guys with large hairy feet - not exactly a dream date. Both Tolkien and Jackson knew they needed someone that all the men would want to be, and all the ladies would want to be with. And so we have Aragorn, or Strider as he is first introduced to the Hobbits, a man of many talents and rugged good looks, centerpiece of testosterone in Middle Earth. Oh sure, there's also Legolas, but he's for the ladies that prefer their men on the metrosexual side.

As leading manly man, it's no surprise that Sideshow chose him as the first release in their 12" Lord of the Rings line. This has been a highly anticipated line, with plenty of time for speculation and discussion. I ordered mine almost exactly 10 months before it finally shipped, and that's worse than Howie Mandel cutting to a commercial with only five briefcases left.

Aragorn came in two versions, regular (edition size of 4000) and an exclusive (edition size of 1750), and each cost $65. The exclusive, which is pictured here in the review, had two additional accessories: the pipe and ranger cloak. Both are currently on wait list with Sideshow, but there is still a chance to order the regular Legolas () or Boromir ().

Packaging - ****
Sideshow set a pretty high bar with the Star Wars packaging, and as much as I like the new LOTR style, it's still not quite as good. It's four star stuff, but if I had to choose between the two, the SW boxes would still win.

That's largely due to the nifty magnetic closures that work so well on the SW boxes. Here, they've gone back to the traditional Velcro. The boxes are wide instead of deep, only about half as thick as the SW boxes. They have some terrific graphics on the front, and a cool die cut set of flaps. The two flaps are designed to close with a tight edge and no overlap, and they look great. Open them up and you get some very well written text, and a nice layout of the figure and accessories.

It's all collector friendly too, and you can pop it all out and put it back with nary a problem. No annoying twisties or dental floss, and they included the new 'neck brace' that keeps the face of the figure from hitting the plastic tray cover and damaging the paint. There is one piece of plastic floss wrapped around the arrows to keep them together, but this is even useful to use when he's on display.

Sculpting - ***
Mat Falls is one of Sideshow's best sculptors, and he did the work here. The head sculpt has some issues - but it also has some real pluses.

If you've been collecting Lord of the Rings pop culture crap...uh, collectibles...for awhile now, you'll know that Aragorn's likeness seems to be one of the most difficult to capture. Toybiz did what they could with the 6" line, but it was never really above mediocre. Past sixth scale versions from Toybiz and DiD have left quite a bit to be desired, especially when compared to today's standards. And even the mini-busts and statues that have been produced have had a hard time capturing his look.

So I'm not really surprised that this one is close, but not quite there as well. The facial structure is good, although I'd like to see a little sharper line on the jaw. The average person would recognize this as Aragorn, and the proportion of the head to body is good as well.

My biggest problem with the sculpt is the hair, which has a bit too much of a tootsie roll dreadlock thing going on. It lacks the detailing and realism of some of the other recent Sideshow hair sculpts, and because his hair is long and in his face, it's something that your eye is drawn to immediately.

Speaking of the fact that two strands hang in front of his face, you can adjust that. Both strands are very soft, rubbery plastic, so you can tuck them up under the other hair, or if you're real inventive (or a professional hair stylist who just can't leave your work at the office), you could heat them up with some hot water and reshape how they lay. I added a second head shot photo showing the hair out of his face.

But I have to admit that after playing with him awhile, I liked the hair in his face better than out. It adds a dynamic nature to the sculpt that works well in action poses, and it also covers up another issue I have with the sculpt and paint - his look of surprise. The eyes are sculpted and painted in such a way that he appears to be taken aback. Oh, I'm not talking "Elves reproduce HOW???" sort of surprise, but more of a "Did I leave the iron on?" sort of dawning bewilderment. And Aragorn is just not a guy I pictured being bewildered by much of anything.

I mentioned that there were also real pluses here, and for me, it's the beard. I will admit that it's a little heavier and thicker than what he seemed to have in the film, but getting a very thin beard to look right in this scale would be Hell, I'm sure. The reason I'm so pleased with the beard isn't because it matches the film perfectly, but because it looks very realistic. Traditionally, that's been something that's been very hard for any sculptors to do, but the folks at Sideshow seem to be getting the hang of it, now with both this one and the Obi-Wan looking much more natural than previous attempts from any company.

The hand sculpts are quite nice, but slightly oversized. They aren't massive paws, but they are slightly larger proportionally than you'd expect. If those old wife's tales about big hands and big feet are really true, then Aragorn is going to be starring in a new kind of movie very soon.

The only right hand is sculpted in a fist to hold various accessories, with the fingerless glove. One left hand is sculpted in a fist as well, again to hold accessories, and the second is sculpted in a 'gesturing' pose. This relaxed open hand sculpt is very useful for a ton of poses. Both of these left hands have his ring sculpted on as well, and it's done in fairly nice detail.

Paint - ***
There aren't a lot of paint ops on a figure like Aragorn, but what is here are those critical face applications.

The skin tone is good, and the highlighting of the beard and hair is excellent. In fact, it's really the combination of the paint and sculpt that makes the beard look as good as it does, screen accurate or not. There's no slop or bleed, and cuts are clean between colors. Even the lips have a nice hue, with an appropriate amount of gloss.

The downside is the eyes. Now, we all know that Sideshow can make eyes look so real it's creepy, but this wasn't one of those times. The paint work is flat and dull, making the eyes look much more doll-like or worse, mannequin-like. Shoot them with enough shadow and they don't look too bad, but put any real light on them and they are the weakest feature of the face. I ended up preferring the hair over the face just because it helped hide the zombie appearance of the eyes.

Other areas sport the same quality in terms of clean lines and even applications. The ring on his left hand has good detail work, while the muddy effects on his clothes and boots work well. He could have used more weathering on the cape and jacket, but what's there is well done.

Articulation - ***1/2
If you're paying attention, you'll notice that the articulation score crept up again. I will continue to argue that Sideshow really does need to begin working on taking their current body to the next level of realism by developing joints that allow for a more natural flow and stance, but I got to give them credit this time around in this category even with their regular body.

The neck joint is their traditional ball joint, but it seems to work much better this time around. The range of movement is improved, and it holds poses much better. I don't know if they've been tweaking it, but whatever the case, it worked better for me this time.

All the other joints are nice and tight as well, and the body looks good with this level of clothing. The proportions and lengths of torso and limbs is good, and there aren't any parts that drop off when you look sideways at them. Always a plus!

That doesn't mean they still don't need work though, and I'm still on the bandwagon with other folks looking for a more natural body in the future.

Outfit - ***1/2
While I didn't give this costume a full four stars, I do want to point out right up front that it's one of the very nicest outfits ever produced by Sideshow in terms of quality. I have a two or three minor points that bother me that hold it back from getting the full four stars, but there are certain pieces of the outfit that are simply stellar.

The exclusive version comes with the hooded ranger cloak. This cloak is black, not gray or green as you might surmise from the photos on the Sideshow website. It's mud splattered on the bottom - and it feels like it's really mud. It fits nicely, and sports both the neck clasp and wire insert around the hood, making it a quality cape. It looks alright on him, but it's probably not a look I'll go with on the shelf.

The most talked about piece of clothing is his 'duster'. This long pleather coat is split into sections below the waist for better mobility. It fits much, much better than I had assumed from photos, and is not the baggy mess we've seen in the past with this type of pleather jacket. It does have a couple issues, though, including the fact that it's not nearly as weathered as the prototype was, which leaves it much shinier appearing than I'd like. It's not so shiny that I hate it, but I know how good it would look if it were completely matte with age and wear, and that leaves me a bit disappointed.

The coat also sports some cool patches at the elbows made from a slightly different color pleather, and is soft enough that it doesn't restrict posing in any way.

Under the coat is the uber-cool leather jerkin. And yes, I'm pretty sure this is real leather, something we don't see too often in sixth scale figures. It's soft and very thin, and fits him perfectly. I was really impressed with how good the figure looked without the duster, and even though it's not a screen scene, I'm tempted to display him that way.

Under the jerkin (now there's a word Beavis and Butthead would love) is a gray shirt. The shirt has short sleeves, although mine were pushed up completely inside the jerkin when I first removed the duster. It's a nice quality shirt, and the inclusion of the sleeves shows an attention to detail that's nice, since they could have cheaped out and left them off.

The pants have the usual funky fit around the hips, but since the jerkin and duster completely cover them, it's not an issue with this figure. He has an old world style fly that ties up the front rather than Velcro or a zipper, and the lower legs of the pants fit nicely right down inside the boots.

I didn't try to remove the boots, but they are an almost perfect sculpt. Let's get the bad out of the way first - this boy has some huge feet. I don't know how he could sneak up on anybody with these pancakes slapping the ground. The oversized foot of the boot is the only disappointment though in it's appearance. The upper is a soft leather as well, with a string tied around it, and the two materials that comprise the boot - leather and plastic - actually blend together much better than I had expected.

Last but not least, there's his ranger's belt. The belt ties around his waist easily enough with plenty of belt to spare. The scabbard and pouches are already attached, and you'll find it fairly easy to put the belt on over the jerkin.

Accessories - ****
Another category where you can find very little fault. There's a couple issues, but Sideshow has done a great job here for their first attempt at this line.

Aragorn comes with an extra left hand, that's posed in a neutral position. It actually works quite well for drawing the bow as you can see in the photos, or just waving bye. The hands go on and off easily enough, but I didn't have any trouble with them falling off too easily, as with some past releases.

Since he's an archer, there's a set of five arrows, a quiver, and an 'arrow sleeve'. The sleeve is a black bag that can house the arrows, and is movie accurate. Personally, I preferred not using the bag, but your mileage may vary, and it's a welcome addition to make the figure more film accurate.

The arrows and quiver are excellent, with great sculpts and paint. The quiver has an adjustable strap, so that you can get it just the right length to go over the arm and head. It also can house the bow, making for a neat package.

The bow is a tad small, scale-wise. His right hand has some trouble holding it because it's so much smaller than his grip, but it is possible to get some pretty cool poses out of it. The string is stretchy enough to do poses in which he is in the act of shooting, but the string stretches out pretty quickly, getting loose on the bow. The string is also quite small scale-wise, which is a similar to the complaint I had with Lurtz.

He's not just an archer but a swordsman, so he comes with a broadsword and sheath. The sheath comes already attached to the belt, and it has a smaller sheath sculpted to it that can hold the utility knife.

Both the knife and sword are made from fairly light weight plastic, and I was a little disappointed that they weren't more impressive. The die cast weapons of some sixth scale warriors has me spoiled, but had the sword been metal, it would have been much heavier and harder for him to hold for long periods.

There's a couple pouches on the belt, labeled as an Oil Pouch and Sharpening Stone Pouch by the Sideshow website. They aren't removable from the belt though, and neither opens, so whether you consider them accessories or part of the outfit (the latter for me) is up to you.

Another really well done accessory is the bed roll that he can carry on his back. There's a leather outer shell that wraps around a soft cloth roll, and if you wanted to pull it apart for Aragorn to take a quick nap, you certainly could. I'm leaving mine just as it is though, because it's been so perfectly wrapped that I want it to remain pristine.

The final accessory for the regular edition - yes, the regular comes with all this! - is the Evenstar Pendant. This was the token of her love that Arwen gave to Aragorn, at least in the movies. Peter Jackson wisely juiced up the romance side of Middle Earth with some additions to the relationship of Aragorn and Arwen, and inventing this pendant was one of those additions.

The pendent is on a metal chain, and looks terrific from a sculpt and paint perspective. However, it has the opposite problem from the bow - the pendant is a tad large, scale-wise. It's not a major issue, but does detract slightly from the realism of the figure.

Okay, that's it for the regular addition. The exclusive includes the cloak I already discussed in the Outfit section, and the pipe. Nothing like a good smoke after a long day of hacking orcs, I always say.

Fun Factor - **1/2
I wouldn't go giving this guy to the kids if I were you, since the sword and arrows could be used to blind the cat, and the cat wouldn't be real happy about that. Unless you're really ugly.

But the figure itself is certainly a sturdy example of a high end action figure, and the normal handling required to dress and pose him shouldn't put any undo strain on any particular piece of clothing or accessory.

Value - **1/2
He's $65, which is more expensive than most of the recent Sideshow 12" releases. However, the outfit and accessories really do warrant this higher price, and while I had some minor nits with the outfit that just barely kept it from four stars, it is some of the nicest overall work we've ever seen from Sideshow. While you aren't getting a bargain at this price, you are getting pretty much what you're paying for.

Things to Watch Out For - 
I'd take some care with the hard plastic sword, since it's quite thin and can easily snap. Also, I noticed that the seams on both shoulders are straining a bit due to the tight fit of the pleather coat over the jerkin. When redressing or adjusting the duster, try not to put too much additional strain on the stitches. Other than that, this is a pretty sturdy figure, especially in this price range.

Overall - ***
When I reviewed the 12" Toybiz Aragorn, he got three stars. But let's be honest, the Toybiz version isn't qualified to lick this guy's boots. Part of that is due to cost - the Toybiz version cost about $20, less than a third what this figure costs. Part of that is due to the ever rising bar, with companies like Sideshow, bbi, Dragon, Hot Toys and Medicom pushing the quality of figures higher and higher with every release. As much as I like this Aragorn - and I do like him - the quality of the accessories, outfit and articulation just aren't enough to overcome the basic issues I had in other categories.

However, he's a very solid start to the series. Legolas is looking great so far, and I'm really looking forward to how they handle the complex outfit on Boromir. The next in the series should be Faramir, and how far behind can a Gandalf, Sarumon or Elrond be?

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

Where to Buy - 
Sideshow is wait listed for both the exclusive () and the regular (). Online options for the regular version include:

- Alter Ego Comics has him listed at $55.

- Fireside Collectibles has him listed at $55.

- Dark Shadow Collectibles is at $57.

- CornerStoreComics has him at $55.24.

- Amazing Toyz has him listed at $60.

- and don't forget that you can still order the regular Boromir () and the regular Legolas () direct from Sideshow.

Related Links:
Other LOTR reviews:

- I recently reviewed the cool Premium Format Lurtz, pictured above in the one photo.

- Dreams in Dragons also did a 12" version of Aragorn, as did Toybiz.

- and NECA did a 20" Epic Scale version with one of the better likenesses. Still not perfect though!

Figure from the collection of Michael Crawford.

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