This comes as little or no surprise to Lego aficionados and fans of both the toy and the films. Ever since TLG picked up the rights to do Star Wars back in 1999, it's been a foregone conclusion that successful and geek related media were going to be rendered in studded brick and minifigures. Since then, we've seen Spider-Man, Batman, Spongebob, Harry Potter, Pirates of the Caribbean, even Winnie the Pooh and Bob the Builder.
As exciting as this news is, and as much as I knew it was coming, I have some trepidation about seeing the Tolkien universe in Lego form. With Star Wars it made sense. Even with Harry Potter and Pirates it made sense. Even with Spongebob it made sense. What sense am I talking about? Well, it's hard to describe, but it comes down to playability, or the Swoosh Factor.
As a fan and builder and collector of Lego since 1979 (go ahead and look it up, there's nothing supporting that) I've come to expect Lego to give me a sense of modular playability. I want there to be a theme, but items within that theme that can do as well by themselves as they can within the group. I'd like there to be a single set that's really cool and something I can play with, but that also is in line with other sets that are cool and can be played with. Some of my favorite sets are space themed. They are ships that you can fly through the house, land in the back yard, explore a bit, then fly off again. Cars and trucks and planes from the City line are equally as enjoyable. Star Wars spaceships (with some design problems) are of the same ilk.
The sets I have a problem with are scene sets with little function. Sets that have a couple minifigs and a set behind them. Two Jedi and a door. A ninja, a skeleton and a tree. A couple pirates and a treasure chest. Sure it still promotes building and creative playing, but the piece count is really small and at that point the playability is limited. There's only so much you can do with a tree or a door. Those types of things are backgrounds, the things the main characters and the cool vehicles or ships go PAST on their way to the fun stuff.
In this same vein, I think Star Trek would make a horrible Lego line. Star Trek in all forms is a giant hotel in space. Rather than the drama coming and going from the single location, the location now moves from story to story. Sure a giant model of the Enterprise or Deep Space Nine or a few shuttles would be kinda cool, but outside of that what you do? Random Vulcan locations? Starfleet Academy barracks? Iowa? Star Wars was perfect for Lego because the ships and robots were just as much part of the story as the characters.
The Lord of the Rings is a great story and was the best fantasy movie ever. However, when this discussion came up a while back, I found myself trying to get excited about Lego versions and failing. Sure the property is a treasure trove of minifigures and the games themselves will undoubtedly be insanely enjoyable (you can bet your plastic-molded ass I'll be getting them) but in terms of sets I'm not sure what will happen. I think it'll be somewhere between the Castle line and the annoying small scene sets. Let's break down a likely list of sets they might have.
Bag End - You have to know that from the beginning there's going to be a small round door set in a hillock. You'll be able to remove the roof and see inside and play with Bilbo and Frodo, or Bilbo and Gandalf.
Gandalf's Cart - As much as making minifigs of hobbit children will require legs that are too small even for Lego to mold, this is a great scene set for Gandalf. Some fireworks and Frodo to go along with it.
Bilbo's Party - A tent, some benches, some random hobbits, Merry, Pippin, Gandalf, Frodo and Bilbo.
Bucklebury Ferry - I've skipped Farmer Maggot because we don't see him in the movie. Right to the small skiff that takes the hobbits across the Brandywine. All four, plus a Nazgul.
Bree - Or at least the Inn of the Prancing Pony. Since no other places in Bree were mentioned in the movie, and since the Barrow Downs were skipped entirely, the only place in between the Shire and Rivendell worth mentioning is Bree, and the only place in Bree worth mentioning is the Inn. So, basically you'd have a tavern, but it's the first sighting of the minifig Strider/Aragorn.
Weathertop - This might be one of the best sets so far. At the top of a large hill lies the ruins of the watchtower of Amon Sul. Now, the Lego group will call it Weathertop, but just remember it's not. The hill itself is Weathertop, the ruins are Amon Sul. Either way, we'll have Aragorn, all four hobbits and all the Nazgul on foot. The set would be a pretty nice Stonehenge type scene.
The ride to Rivendell - Frodo is hurt and needs to be carried swiftly by Arwen. So you'd have her, a scene with a river and trees, some Nazgul and a way to build water horses out of Lego.
Rivendell!! - Oh what to do, what to do. It's such a pretty place and so sparsely populated. You almost never see anyone there, but when the elves are leaving for Valinor there are dozens just marching along the forest paths. Here is our first look at the minifig of Elrond. Rivendell could have at least two sets, a recovery room for Frodo and a meeting place for the secret council. The secret council would just be an orgy of minifigs (including now Legolas and Gimli and Boromir) around a round table. Throw some arched backgrounds and voila!
I realize at this point were I to keep going I'd have way too many sets, but considering how many Star Wars had, I think I'll at least finish The Fellowship of the Ring.
The nine companions leave Rivendell (and don't think there wouldn't be just a set released of just nine minifigs) and head east. Their ultimate goal is of course getting the ring to Mordor to have it destroyed, but their most immediate destination is Moria. If you remember the movie, they couldn't go south and the other passes over the Misty Mountains were watched. So at first they tried to go over...
Redhorn Pass - In the movie Gandalf calls it the Pass of Caradhras, but good luck getting kids to say that. This is the snowy pass in which Saruman sends a blizzard to try and kill the Fellowship. Good excuse to include a lot of white bricks for a snowy path and an "action" event causing an avalanche.
The Gates of Moria - Moria is going to have a lot of sets, lots of battles, lots of monsters. Our first is the Western Gate. This is the riddle magic door that stymies the party for a while and then they are attacked by the Watcher in the Water; a giant tentacled beast that nearly kills a few hobbits and ends up trapping the Fellowship in the mines. Based on Lego's Atlantis line, I think they've got tentacles licked.
The Chamber of Mazarbul - This is the room in which the Fellowship fights a horde of orcs and a cave troll. It's a records room and has the tomb of Balin, Gimli's cousin. This could be a very big set with lots of little traps and stuff. Also a minifig heavy set. Come to think of it, through most of this movie, you'd be getting at least 9 minifigures. Maybe they'll do the Fellowship as their own set and then you just take them with you through all these other sets.
Durin's Bridge - Or the Bridge of Kazhad-dûm is a narrow stone bridge. It is here that the party must cross to get to the Eastern Gate and out of the mountain. It is here that Gandalf faces off against the Balrog (which should be an epic construct in Lego) and is dragged down into the abyss after he shatters the bridge sending the Balrog down. The set would of course collapse when triggered.
* There's also a scene in the movie built for suspense and comic lines. The stair way scene after they encounter the host of orcs and the first tremors of the Balrog's steps. The stairs are precarious and they end up crumbling as orcs fire arrows at the party. Would make for a good Lego set.
After this the 8 travel to Lothlórien. They meet Haldir who takes them to Caras Galadhon to meet Lady Galadriel and Lord Celeborn. There could be some sets here, Lorien Encounter in which we meet Haldir and a couple elves. The Great Tree where they meet Galadriel and Celeborn, the mirror in the water scene with just Frodo and Galadriel (in which she's tempted and totally freaks out) and the departing scene in which all the party get cool gifts.
Argonoth - They take their boats down the Anduin to the Argonath, two enormous statues of kings warning travelers. No action here, but man it'd be cool to build those two statues.
Battle on the Anduin - Although they are away from the river, there are a couple scenes here. One is with Frodo and Aragorn on top of a weird structure that has no name in the movie but seems perfect for holding one of the seeing stones. It's here Frodo flees and Aragorn starts fighting Uruk-hai. The other is Boromir valiantly defending Merry and Pippin.
Then finally we have Sam almost drowning in the Anduin.
So, not a bad selection of sets, but I think they're going to be HEAVILY influenced by the minifigures, which means, for those not to up on Lego prices, they will be very expensive. Licensed product line + Lots of minifigs = money I don't have.
(continued later for The Two Towers, The Return of the King, The Hobbit: An Unexpected Journey and There and Back Again.)
Yes, I realize I'd completely forgot about Saruman and Gandalf's fight in Orthanc. I think there could be a few Orthanc sets but the one where they grow Urak-hai from interbreeding men and orcs should probably be left off. However, a giant eagle saving Gandalf would be pretty awesome.
at 11:20 AM