Gentle Giant Lord of the Rings mini-busts
Saruman, Frodo and Sam

I've been wearing my cranky pants this week, and it shows with three sub-par ratings.  Either that, or I simply hit a bad batch of figures.

But let's see if we can change that trend tonight, with a review of the three latest releases from Gentle Giant in their Lord of the Rings mini-bust line.  Yep, while there has been much doom and gloom about the future of this line (and even I will be quite surprised if we see any announcements beyond Sauron and the Orc), the line is still cranking along for now.

The last three to hit shelves are Frodo and Sam in their Orc disguises, and the anti-Gandalf, Saruman.

Frodo and Sam include the now traditional feature of this line, the small 'ring drawer' in the base.  These little drawers allowed them to license the busts because they aren't really busts...they're ring drawers.

Saruman doesn't have to have the drawer because he sports the one other feature that GG has used with the LOTR busts to differentiate them - the light up feature.

All three of these should be available now at most online retailers and some LCS'.  Expect to pay any where from $40 - $50 each, depending on your selected retailer.

Packaging - ***1/2
The design of the LOTR boxes is a bit more attractive and eye catching than the plain Jane Star Wars stuff from GG.  That's probably more the fault of the licensors, but who's to blame is irrelevant.  Here, the design is more attractive, and they also sport the window so you can see what you're personally getting.  And of course, they have the cool little baseball card style COA's.

Saruman is a limited edition of 3500, while Sam and Frodo are 3000.  But considering how cool sales have probably been (or so I hear), is that really 'limited'?

Sculpting - Saruman ****; Sam ***1/2; Frodo ***
The sculpting on all three of these is outstanding, especially the armor on Sam and Frodo.

One of the common complaints with GG's mini-busts is that they often lack texture on the clothing and other areas.  The smooth appearance of the clothing, often seen on Jedi robes for example in their Star Wars busts, takes away from the realism of the sculpt.

On Sam and Frodo, that's clearly not an issue.  There's some wonderful detail work on the chain mail and leather armor, and even the helmets have dings and dents added that make them appear to be roughly formed by a blacksmith.

The head sculpt on Frodo is good, if not quite perfect.  It very well could be the best Frodo likeness we've gotten so far, particularly below the eyes.  The nose, lips, cheeks, and shape of the head and jawline are dead on.

The eyes take away quite a bit though.  They're HUGE!  It's like Gollum had sex with Marty Feldman and popped out Frodo.  The eyes pull Frodo down at least a half star here.

Fortunately for Sam, he has no such issue.  There haven't been as many Sam sculpts, particularly in high end collectibles, so I can easily say this is the best headsculpt of the hobbit we've gotten.  The photos don't do him justice either - in person, it's amazing.

Both Sam and Frodo (although Frodo more) are in a pained, exhausted state at this point.  That's obvious in the expressions, although I think the Sam expression is a little less wussed out than Frodo's.  Of course, Frodo always was the whinier of the two.

Both sculpts pale in comparison to Saruman though.  He really is outstanding, with and excellent detail work in the wrinkling of the face and the fine hairs of the beard.  Put this guy with the earlier Gandalf bust, and you have one Hell of a pair.

Paint - Saruman, Sam ***1/2; Frodo ***
The paint isn't quite as good as the sculpt here, but it's still solid work.  Both Sam and Frodo have the glossy look on their hair and face, which I usually complain about.  But here you know they are hot, sweaty and exhausted, and the gloss look actually works.

The dirt and blood effects on Frodo work a bit better than the same effects on Sam (where they seem a bit more like a paint wash than dirt on a character), but he suffers fro those big eyes here again.  The paint does nothing to make them look less buggy.

Saruman's paint job is almost perfect, but I do think they could have done a bit more with a wet look in the eyes.  That would have been the one addition I would have liked that would have given him the full four stars in this category as well.

I also really like how the Palantir was painted, and the slitted eye looks great either lit or unlit.

Design - Saruman, Sam ****;  Frodo ***1/2
Frodo's design is good, if not quite as outstanding as Sam and Saruman.  He's tired, using the sword to help support himself, and the combination of the outfit and appearance fits perfectly with the Mount Doom style base.

I do like the pose of Sam's body a bit better though, with the tired yet relaxed hold on the huge sword over his shoulder and the tilt to his head.  Both busts are designed to work well with or without the helmets too, which can be tricky to get right.

Saruman's design fits the character perfectly, and you can't argue with the crazy eyes.  Oddly enough, he isn't looking over the bottom lids in the actual box photo of the character in the same pose, but that look works perfectly with the Palantir in his hands.

Accessories - Sam/Frodo ***; Saruman Bupkis
It's fairly unusual to get 'accessories' with busts, but occasionally Gentle Giant does it.  Here, both Sam and Frodo have their Orc helmets to complete their Orc disguises.  You can display them with or without, as the mood strikes.

Both look terrific, although Frodo's does seem a bit too large.  That's a really minor quibble though, and is probably due to the better sized and suited version that Sam managed to get.

You do have to get the helmets on the head just right so you can see their eyes, and it's quite easy to have them off kilter.  But I'd prefer that to something that was so tight that it damaged the head over time.

Obviously, Saruman lacks any such accessories.  However, he does come with the three (or four?) watch batteries that power his light up feature.

Light up Feature - Saruman ****; Sam and Frodo Bupkis (obviously)
The Palantir in Saruman's hands lights up with a very bright light.  The painted eye slit looks terrific when it's lit, and the best part - it flickers!  Yes, it's supposed to do that, giving it a very evil, other worldly feel.  That kind of small touch is what sets this bust apart from others.

As I mentioned earlier, Sam and Frodo aren't supposed to light up, so there's nothing wrong with the fact that they don't.  They both have those nifty little ring drawers (in back on both), which work fine for storing your stash.  As long as there isn't much to store.

Value - Saruman ***1/2; Sam, Frodo ***
If you end up actually paying the $50 SRP, then you can knock another half star off here.  That's a pretty average value, at least for Sam and Frodo.  The light up feature of Saruman still gets him at least 3 stars though.

However, there's no reason to pay more than $40 for these - $45 tops.  That's the same price other companies are charging for mini-busts that aren't a) this detailed, b) lack anything like the helmets or light up feature and c) are not of this type of quality.

Things to Watch Out For - 
The helmets do fall off easily, so keep that in mind when picking up the busts.  I've also heard that some folks are having issues with paint rubs from the helmets on the faces, but that wasn't an issue for me.

Overall - Saruman ****; Sam ***1/2; Frodo ***
It's possible that I'm being a bit hard on Frodo.  If he had been released on his own, without the other two for an obvious and direct comparison, he might have squeaked out another half star.

The sculpting on the hair, armor and even face is terrific...with the exception of those Gollum eyes.  Putting on the helmet helps a bit, but his helmet is so much bigger and oversized than Sam's that once again it gets a bit of a negative comparison.

Sam is excellent all around.  The likeness is fantastic, especially in person.  The details on the armor are outstanding.  My only real complaint is that the dirt wash they used didn't work quite as well as I would have liked.

And that leaves Saruman.  From the nifty flickering of the light up feature to the excellent sculpt, he's outstanding.  I would have liked a little more gloss on the eyes, but that's fairly minor compared to his generally amazing appearance.

All three of these are so far removed from the Elrond bust, that it's hard to believe they're part of the same line from the same company.  Gentle Giant has to learn consistency.  And I'd prefer high quality consistency, not consistent crap.

Score Recap:
Packaging - ***1/2
Sculpt - Saruman ****; Sam ***1/2; Frodo ***
Paint - Saruman, Sam ***1/2; Frodo ***
Design - Saruman, Sam ****; Frodo ***1/2
Accessories - Sam/Frodo ***; Saruman Bupkis
Light up Feature - Saruman ****; Sam/Frodo Bupkis
Value -  Saruman ***1/2; Sam, Frodo ***
Overall - Saruman ****; Sam ***1/2; Frodo ***

Where to Buy -
Sponsor options include (all highly recommended!):

- Urban-Collector has Sam and Frodo at just $37 each, a terrific price!  Saruman is also just $40.

- Dark Shadow have Sam and Frodo at just $39 each, but they are sold out of Saruman.

- Amazing Toyz and CornerStoreComics both have Sam and Frodo at $41, plus Saruman at $42.

- Alter Ego Comics has the busts for around $42.50.

Related Links -
I've done reviews of Gandalf, Elrond and the Balrog, Strider and the Ringwraith.

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Figure from the collection of Michael Crawford.

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