Saturday, 7 September 2013

An Expected Journey

Man, I've been itching to get to this post!  When we were planning out trip to Australia this year, we knew we had to take the chance to pop over to New Zealand, for no other reason than to visit some of the locations seen in the Lord of the Rings and Hobbit movies.  Sure, the country is beautiful, I found cool toys like the Darkness Warriors, and the Waitomo Glowworm Caves were amazing, but it's the whole Middle Earth thing that really did it for me.

We were able to visit NZ for a week, so we didn't have time to see all the stuff we would have wanted to see, but we visited Hobbiton, it was fantastic, and I'm going to show off my pics here.  I'll also pepper it with some Hobbit figures, because this is a toy blog after all.



Right off the bat, this is the kind of stuff that greets you when you arrive at the airport in Auckland.  Things start getting epic as soon as you touch the ground!  How can you not think you're in for an adventure when you see something like this?



We knew well in advance that we were going to pop over to New Zealand from Australia, so I made sure I stocked up on a few Hobbit/Lord of the Rings figures to bring with me.  I knew I wanted to bring a Gollum figure, but I didn't like how the Bridge Direct version had that weird pink paint around his eyes.  Luckily, I was able to find a set where it doesn't stand out as much.  Plus, I got Bilbo in the set as well, and I had to bring a hobbit to Hobbiton!


While I do miss the scale of Toy Biz's Lord of the Rings line, the 3.75" scale has been my favorite toy size for a long time, so it's hard to get too down on stuff like that.  You do have to sacrifice some detail, and Bilbo here only passingly resembles his movie counterpart (he could just as easily be Merry, Sam, or even Pippen from Lord of the Rings - his face looks kinda Pippen-y).  Plus, his scarf makes it either look like he has no neck or it's tied way too tight.  You can pop his head off and remove the scarf, but the figure ends up looking kinda plain without it, so I make do.


Bilbo comes with a bag and a canteen, which fit decently, but I have a hard time getting them both on at the same time.  His most important accessory is his trusty letter opener sword, Sting.  It fits snugly into its scabbard, which is also wide enough to not warp the shape of the blade from keeping it in there for too long.

This isn't part of any Hobbit/LOTR tourist stuff, it's just random New Zealand countryside.  But it looks just like Middle Earth! 

Once you get to Hobbiton, you really do feel like you've stepped into the movies.  The hobbit holes are roped off so you can't go and feel everything up, but it's done in such a way that it doesn't intrude on the fantasy.


The Gollum figure from the Bilbo/Gollum pack is actually really sweet.  He's tiny, but there's a lot of articulation packed into the little guy.  It's useful articulation too.  A lot of so-called "super-articulated" toys have joints and run into each other, locking them up and making them less articulated than a standard figure (or the joints are so tight that you feel like you're going to break them just by moving them as they're intended).  That's not the case here.  Gollum can crawl, skulk, and sneak.  Some elbows and knees would have gone the extra mile, but he still looks good scurrying around the One Ring.  Sadly, Gollum has no accessories.  He could have come with the ring, a fish, a rock, or something, but it's just him and his loincloth.  He'll have to scavenge what he can from your other figures.  Oh, and unlike Bilbo, Gollum looks a lot like his movie inspiration.  So I guess scale isn't everything!  His small size makes him an excellent travel figure too.







The first figure I knew I would bring with me was my Lego Bilbo Baggins from the "Escape from the Mirkwood Spiders" set.  This was before I had the 3.75" Bilbo/Gollum pack, and I knew I had to bring a hobbit with me.  The fact that he's pocket-sized didn't hurt either.  If the Bilbo and Gollum shown above make for excellent travel figures, this guy is even excellenet-er.  Yeah, that's a word.  Anyway, when I finally got the Bilbo/Gollum set, I just couldn't leave this guy behind, so he came too!  I even brought his li'l sword, since you never know what you might run into in Middle Earth.  I also had to bring some version of the One Ring, and this one looked decent enough with the other figures too.  I had all three of these figures in my pocket when we visited Hobbiton, and this was the first one I took out to snap some pics of on the scene.










I found this Invisible Bilbo Baggins at a Toys R Us in Sydney, Australia.  I knew there as a 6" version that was a SDCC exclusive, but I don't remember seeing this 3.75" one before I found it on the shelves.  There's nothing on the package that says it's an exclusive, but unless I just completely tuned it out, I had never seen it before.


The figure itself is exactly what you'd expect: The same sculpt as the standard Bilbo, but transparent.  The trouble with transparent super-articulated figures is that you can see all the joints inside of them, and it hurts the overall look of the toy.  It's rare that I walk into a store and find a figure that I had never seen before, though, so I had to get him.  I never checked how much he was, but toys in AU/NZ are expensive, so I hope I didn't drop too much money for him!  A standard-sized Star Wars figure costs $20, so it must be harder to be a toy collector down there.  Maybe that's why people take up surfing instead... Any way, despite its faults, it's still a decent figure and I brought it along to Hobbit too.




Ladies and gentlemen....  Bag End!







I'm not the tallest guy in the world.  I guess I'm average.  Point is: I'm not hobbit-sized!  Yay! 

Gollum made it to the Shire!  Now he's going to...  Sit around?  Maybe take a bath?

The Party Tree 


Here's a pic of Invisible Bilbo in Hobbiton, but he's invisible, so you can't see him.


This is another set that I never saw at home, but at least I had heard of this one.  It's actually a preview of the next movie, since Bolg barely showed up in the first one.  That's what happens when you film all three movies at the same time!  I got this set much later in the trip, long after the New Zealand portion.  While Gandalf and Bolg never got to go to Hobbiton, they've still been closer to "Middle Earth" than most of my other Hobbit/LOTR figures.  That counts for something, right?


Ah, Gandalf, the deus ex machina of Middle Earth.  I had put off buying the single carded figure because I knew I wanted Blog, but I never knew till I got this set that this Gandalf is actually different.  What?  Yes, it's true!  This is "Battle Damage" Gandalf.  He's got some bruising on the face, and his robes are dirty.  Overall, he's not that different, but he's different enough for me.

There was a sticker covering Gandalf's "Battle Damage" title, but I couldn't tell you why.  Did they think it gave anything away from the next movie if Gandalf gets smacked around a bit?  We already know he's in Lord of the Rings, I'm sure he'll be fine!


Gandalf comes with his hat, his staff, his sword Glamdring, and a scabbard.  The scabbard is removable, but the figure just looks funny without it.  I'm not sure if it's actually supposed to come off or not, but it does.  Like Bilbo's scabbard, it's sturdy, but not so tight that it'll bend the blade.  You'd think that would be obvious, but half the toys out there these days can't say they have scabbards/holsters that don't bend their accessories.  Not that I think my toys can talk when I'm not around.  That'd be... that'd be absurd...

 Check out that battle damage!  I'm surprised he's still standing.

Gandalf next to a Toy Biz Easterling Warrior for scale.  It would have made more sense to show him next to a Toy Biz Gandalf, but I had the Easterling handy at the time, so there you go.



I found a sleeping hedgehog while we were exploring Hobbiton (I wonder if it's Sebastian!) and after nudging it to make sure it was alive, I took a couple shots of it with Gollum (for no other reason than it's Gollum with a giant hedgehog!)







As part of the tour, you get to have lunch at the Green Dragon tavern!


Gotta try the hobbit beer!  And the cider!  Eh, they're not for me... 


Not only can you actually eat at the Green Dragon tavern, but you're served a meal that's truly fit for a hobbit! 




... And in case you were wondering, yes, the Green Dragon is equipped for special-needs hobbits.


I found a corner in the Green Dragon that held some games, and I thought, "it's called toys and games!" so I took a pic of Bilbo on the shelf.  I didn't leave him there, though.  I'm not crazy!






Now Bolg is one awesome figure!  We haven't really seen him in the movies yet (aside from a brief moment battling Dwalin in a flashback scene), so he's all freaky looking and mysterious.  All we know is that he is the son of the giant pale orc Azog the Defiler, and he works in the dungeons at Dol-Guldur.  He uses the bones of his enemies to decorate his armor, and I'm pretty sure that he's got a dwarf beard draped across his chin.  Bolg looks like he's even bigger than his father, and he towers above Gandalf in this set.


As if his huge size wasn't enough, Bolg comes with more weapons than he can carry.  He's got two unpleasant looking swords, plus a positively vicious looking mace to pulverize anyone who gets in his way.  Bolg is easily one of the coolest figures in the Hobbit toy line so far.

I don't know if it's been confirmed or not, but Bolg seems to be wounded during his battle with Dwalin in An Unexpected Journey.  Could this explain the strips of metal bolted to Bolg's head and face?  That looks painful, and I'm betting he'd want some payback.  I'll have to get a Dwalin figure...

As we were ending the tour, we ran into some celebrities!  They weren't who you'd expect way down in Hobbiton of all places.  The guy in the middle is a tour guide, but with him is Yeardley Smith (the voice of Lisa Simpson), and Mitch Pileggi (Skinner from the X-Files and Darby from Sons of Anarchy).  I met Mitch Pileggi a few weeks earlier at the Calgary Expo back home.  Small world, I guess!


After the tour we headed into Matamata to visit the information centre, which is also done up like a hobbit house.


This Gollum statue can be found in the Matamata information centre.  I tried to copy his look in the first pic, and then got my Gollum figure to do it in the second.  Which one did it better?  There's only one right answer!


And that's it!  There's still plenty more of Middle Earth to see, but this was all the time we had.  I'd love to go back and spend a few weeks/months in New Zealand, scoping out the other film locations, and just taking in that beautiful country!  I don't think I've seen so many sheep in my life, and the glowworm caves should not be missed.  But if you are only able to see one thing, I highly recommend Hobbiton.  It's simply epic.


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