Gentle Giant Animated Saruman


"The following is a guest review.  The review and photos do not necessarily reflect the opinions of Michael Crawford or Michael's Review of the Week, and are the opinion and work of the guest author."

Matt checks in tonight with a review of the new animated version of Saruman from Gentle Giant - take it away, Matt!

The Lord of the Rings craze has more or less come and gone. Oh, sure, they're still great movies and all, and fans of the films or the books will likely never be lacking for merchandise for a good while. But the high point has passed, and the product flow is much slower.

One of the companies releasing new merchandise is Gentle Giant. The company is rapidly approaching a Sideshow Collectibles-level of popularity, with major licenses like Star Wars and Harry Potter that have been popular with fans. Lord of the Rings is their newest major addition, with the first items - an Aragorn bust and a Ringwraith bust - having just come out in February. 

In addition to busts, the company is also producing a line of "animated" statues (funny term, I know). Of course, there IS no Lord of the Rings animated series, but that hasn't stopped GG - they've simply retooled the characters from the film into roughly the same style as their Star Wars animated line. The first entry into the line is the wicked wizard Saruman; do they start out on the right foot, or stumble out of the gate?

Packaging - ***
The box is fairly large and sturdy, made of tough cardboard with and a snug styrofoam interior. The graphics are pretty standard stuff, done in the Two Towers "red" color scheme that we all recognize. It also features several large photos of the statue - from different angles, too, which is nice - and a little bio about Saruman on the back. It's a utilitarian package, and it should do its chief job fine - getting the statue to you in one piece.

I really would have liked a small window to check out the statue because... well, you'll see.

Sculpting - ***1/2
The primary appeal of the "animated" variety of statues is the striking design - a quality this piece has in spades. The angular, flowing features of the character are very striking, at times even attaining a surrealistic beauty. Basically, this is a statue that can truly be admired from all sides, and when you find yourself studying the sculpt of a character's back, that's how you know you've got a very interesting piece.

It's also more detailed than you may initially suspect, with the florid patterns on the robe and "triangles" on the sleeves being sculpted on, not painted. The features actually somewhat betray the minimalist theme of the sculpt - this would be a REALLY difficult character to animate. But considering that there's no actual show to base the character on, I'm willing to forgive it.

Certain areas also seem too soft. The eyebrows have a somewhat chunky appearance, as does Saruman's staff. This may be a bigger issue with the paint application, though, which I'll get into next.

Paint - **
Oh Gentle Giant.... what happened here? Surely you've all noticed what I FIRST notice upon opening up the statue - that lazy eye. Oh, that lazy eye. Eyes can be difficult to get right because when they look wrong, its the first thing you notice. But difficulty aside, there's no excuse for the eyes being THIS off. You can pose the statue so that's its less noticeable, but you shouldn't have to do that. You can pretty much forget about displaying the statue facing head-on - it just looks silly if you do.

I actually sent back the first statue I bought because I figured I got a bad one. But the second one has the eye in the EXACT same place, which suggests a running production error. Be warned.

The rest of the paint is decent, but suffers from some area of slop and bleed, particularly around the beard. There are some strands of hair that don't appear to be painted at all. The details of the robe and the area's around the staff's globe are other problematic areas.

The statue's color palette is limited by the character, of course, but a little more definition between them would have helped highlight the sculpt. Overall, its a sub-par job, and none of the statues should have been allowed to leave the factory if all their eyes are THAT off. 

Design - ***1/2
Fortunately, the statue's design is pretty much as appealing as the sculpt. The elongated, wisp-like design is a nice exaggeration of the character. Some may not care for it, but if you don't, then odds are you don't care for the overall "animated" style.

I'm not quite sure what he's doing. Conjuring of some sort, I assume. He kinda looks like he's hailing a taxi, but I generally like the pose. I'm actually glad they didn't include the Palantir, since most interpretations of the character feature that object. It's nice to have a Saruman figure that's not gazing into a crystal ball of some kind.

He stands about 10 inches tall, which may be smaller than some expect, but the size works. It lowers the cost of the state while still being large enough to stand out in a large collection.

Value - **
At $70-$80, this is the most expensive collectible I've bought in a good while. The price is fair, with the statue being of decent size and fairly limited as well, with only 1,500 made (compare that to some of GG's "limited" Star Wars busts, with runs of 9,000 pieces). However, the sloppy paint job is actually OFFENSIVE to me, considering what I paid. When you're talking high-end collectibles, everything should be pretty close to flawless while this statue clearly is not.

Things to Watch Out For -
No problems, but it is supremely fragile, so care at all times, especially with the fingers and don’t leave his eye’s switched on. Also if displaying for any length of time I’d advise you use the stand. If he did ever take a shelf dive you’d be picking up a thousand tiny pieces…doesn’t bear thinking about.

Overall - ***
Seriously, I do like this piece. It looks like nothing else on my shelf, and the overall sculpt and design is very appealing and possibly exceptional. But the lazy eye and unsatisfactory paint do irk me, and have me rethinking picking up the next character, Gandalf. Hopefully they'll have any production kinks worked out soon, because similar errors across this entire line would more or less ruin the whole reason for collecting these.

Packaging- ***
Sculpt - ***1/2
Paint - **
Design - ***1/2
Value- **
Overall- ***

Where to Buy -
Sponsor options include:

- Hero Hunt has an excellent price at $64.

- Fireside Collectibles matches the $64 price tag.

- Andrew's Toyz has him for $68.

- Alter Ego has him for $68.

- CornerStoreComics has him at $68 as well.

- YouBuyNow is at $75.

- For the U.K. fans, Forbidden Planet has him for 50 pounds.

Figure from the collection of Matt.

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