Monday, May 09, 2005

The Hitchhiker’s Guide to the Galaxy action figures: Arthur, Jeltz & Marvin
Toy review by Sombrero Grande

The feature film version of The Hitchhiker’s Guide to the Galaxy premiered two weeks ago; the action figures based on the film began premiering in stores last week. I picked up three of the five figures from Series 1 this weekend: Arthur Dent, Marvin the Paranoid Android and Jeltz the poetry-reading Vogon. Also available are Zaphod Beeblebrox and another Vogon, Kwaltz. I imagine if the first series of figures sells well enough we’ll see a second series, perhaps with Ford Prefect, Trillian, Slartibartfast and Humma Kavula to round out the main cast with maybe another Vogon tossed in (though all that is just my own speculation).

I bought these for much the same reason I buy any other action figures: it’s just cool to have the likes of Arthur Dent standing next to my computer alongside the Sea Captain and Bumblebee Man from The Simpsons, the two-faced Mayor from The Nightmare Before Christmas and Lew Zealand from The Muppet Show. Who would have thought we’d ever see characters like these in poseable plastic form?

A company called NECA, who I’d not been familiar with prior to their Nightmare Before Christmas and Pirates of the Caribbean action figure lines, produced these Hitchhiker’s toys. In addition to the 6” figure line, they’ve also created 3” figures, plush dolls, a 10” Marvin with light-up eyes and several prop replicas. While there are some flaws with each of the 6” Hitchhiker’s figures I picked up, I’m not sorry I bought any of them.

Look at Marvin's feet

Let’s start with Arthur, since he’s where the story starts. My initial disappointment came when I saw that the face sculpt looked little-to-nothing like actor Martin Freeman. My initial interest in the figure was to have an action figure that resembled Tim Canterbury (Freeman’s character in the BBC’s The Office) to sit on my desk. Once I had Arthur out of the package, though, his sculpt really started to grow on me. I have to wonder if maybe the likeness is purposefully off, as if NECA couldn’t get the rights to use Freeman’s exact likeness. Even the picture on the front of the packaging isn’t of the actor but an early prototype for the figure, which bears more resemblance to, say, Robert Patrick (Agent Doggett of The X-Files and the T1000 from Terminator 2) than Freeman.

I passed on getting Zaphod because he looked even less like Sam Rockwell than Arthur looks like Freeman. If Zaphod had come with his Thinking Cap as an accessory I might have been swayed to give him a second look, though.

Ford, I think we're on the wrong ship.  Ford?

Where Arthur really works is in the details. From the wrinkles in his shirt to the texture on his uneven draping bathrobe, the little touches make a big impact. Arthur comes with his towel as his one accessory. It’s sculpted folded and it took a bit of effort (and a quick study of the picture on the package) to figure out how to get him to hold it somewhat convincingly. From a quick glance, you wouldn’t expect Arthur to have much articulation, but I was able to get him into a surprising number of startled/confused looking poses. None of these are really “action” figures, but they are good for putting into a variety of cool poses. Let’s face it, the people who are going to be buying these aren’t going to be doing much other than posing them next to their computers at work or home, so they’re just fine for that.

Jeltz is the one Vogon I bought (something just seemed off or unappealing about Kwaltz, even though I liked his character better in the film). I think it’s Jeltz’s open mouth with protruding lips and gnarly teeth that really sets his figure apart. The opening inside his mouth adds another bit of depth to the figure that you really have to see to appreciate. Like Arthur, it’s the little details that also make a big difference here. Whether it’s the bumps and sags in his skin, the knitted texture of his drooping vest, the pinstripes on his jacket, the lines in his powdered wig or the holes in the socks on his sandaled feet, Jeltz has eye-catching detail to spare. The expression on his face looks like he’s spewing forth the worst poetry in the universe with a mix of nonchalance and menace at the same time. (Which brings me to something I just realized I neglected to mention in my review of the movie: how wonderfully expressive the Vogons were. Not only was it refreshing to see “real” puppets at work instead of some awful CGI creature, but the expressive range of the Vogons’ faces gave them a believable life of their own.)

Jeltz’s one accessory is his microphone from the film. He’s sculpted to hold it up to his mouth quite convincingly, but something else that’s nice is that it’s possible to twist the same arm into a position by his side that’s just as believable. Though, admittedly, other than his arms, there really isn’t much else you can do to pose this big hunk of plastic.

It ain't easy bein' green.

Marvin’s figure had the most disappointments of the bunch for me (which is rather fitting, since it’s Marvin, but still isn’t a good thing). I can just picture Marvin remarking in Alan Rickman’s voice, “great, I’m an action figure and it’s even worse than I expected.” Marvin comes with his gun from the movie and an extra hand as his two accessories. (One hand sculpt is positioned to hold the gun while the other has his fingers hanging dejectedly limp. Why they went to the extent to give him a whole other hand for this rather puzzles me, especially since they didn’t give an extra hand sculpt to Jeltz who’s right hand was obviously designed to look good only holding the microphone.) Looking at Marvin’s third hand in the package I started to wonder why they didn’t package him with a whole other arm for Arthur to use as a “gun” like in the movie. Hey, I thought, maybe they could have made one of his arms detachable to achieve this. When I opened the package, sure enough, one of Marvin’s arms popped right off and landed on the floor. At first I thought this must have been a planned-for touch, but in the process of trying to snap his arm back on, the other one popped off. Then the first one popped off again. After a while it became clear how difficult it is to pose Marvin without one of his arms leaping off like a suicide jumper.

Another problem with my Marvin is that one of his legs is attached a bit higher than the other, making it impossible for both his feet to stand flat on the ground at the same time. It’s not as bad as with my Super Beaker figure, as Marvin can actually stand on his own if I can balance his huge noggin just right in relation to his posture, but still it’s annoying.

I won't stand for this!

By design, Marvin is very sleek and bulbous, making him look so different than both Arthur and Jeltz that it’s a little hard to see how they’re from the same movie even if you’re familiar with the source material. The other figures are so full of detail and Marvin just looks so...plain standing next to them. I can’t fault the sculpt, as it is accurate, but the lack of detail makes little flaws in the figure more apparent. For instance, a little ding in the side of Marvin’s otherwise perfectly round, shiny head sticks out like a third eye. The pearlescent paint on his body is dotted with smudges and imperfections that were likely added to resemble wear as if he were a real robot, but they end up looking more like imperfections in the figure than intentional touches, unfortunately.

One last nit to pick is with scale. Ideally, Jeltz should be much taller than Arthur than his figure is, and Marvin shouldn’t tower over Arthur (his figure reaches roughly the same height as Jeltz), but the scale as it is isn’t too distracting. It’s not worth not getting the figures over, but it’s something you may not anticipate from looking at them in their packaging.

Overall, Marvin is very slowly growing on me. Perhaps it’s his giant-headed character design that instinctively makes me want to forgive his flaws. He’s still my least favorite of the three, but I’m not preparing to hide him in the back of a display or put into “storage” just yet.

I got these at my local Suncoast mall store. The price tags said $11.99 apiece, though Suncoast’s currently having a 25% off sale on all action figures, so they ended up being around $9 each. If you’re interested in these, I suggest you find a Suncoast ASAP since I have no idea for how long this sale will last. The price seems a smidge high, especially for Marvin, but in these times of shrinking retailer interest in action figures and consequently smaller production runs, there’s little that can be done to help it. There are far worse values out there in the action figure world nowadays, so I guess I can’t really complain too much. The case assortment seems to be 2 Arthurs, 2 Zaphods, 2 Jeltz, 4 Marvins and 4 Kwaltz per box, which seems a little odd. I can see why they’d want more Marvins per box since the casual buyer would be more likely to pick up a Marvin than anyone else, but why so many of Kwaltz? I can guess that Marvin and Kwaltz may have been the cheapest to manufacture in terms of paint operations compared to the others, but it still seems like numerous Kwaltz figures may be destined to hang around on store pegs for a while whilst Arthurs prove to be a bit scarce. Again, though, that’s just all speculation on my part.

All in all, these are pretty nice figures that big fans of The Hitchhiker’s Guide to the Galaxy and the movie in particular will probably get a real kick out of.


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