Product review: LEGO Battle of Helm’s Deep set
‘It is said that the Hornburg has never fallen to assault,’ said Theoden; ‘but now my heart is doubtful. The world changes, and all that once was strong now proves unsure. How shall any tower withstand such numbers and such reckless hate? — From Helm’s Deep, The Lord of the Rings by J.R.R. Tolkien
It is impossible to even say, “The Battle of Helm’s Deep” aloud without conjuring images from Peter Jackson’s incredible cinematic visuals of mayhem and battle. It was a complex bit of filmmaking on a long, cold, wet shoot that rem
ains legendary among stuntees and actors. Put it on your home theater and viewers cannot turn away.
LEGO faced the daunting task of bringing that movie sequence to life in a toy in a way that would be true to the film, The Lord of the Rings: The Two Towers and yet work as a play set. The result is a massive set that retails at about $130 but can be located around $100 a lot of places including Amazon. (Toys-R-Us actually marks it higher online than in stores!) There is also a Urak-Hai Army companion set for around $30 that looks pretty cool on the store shelf but is not part of this review.
Before we get into the meat of the review, I must disclose: I have little background with LEGO and am a recent convert. This is a big set and a little bit intimidating for a LEGO novice. But also big is its cool factor. My childhood didn’t include LEGO sets so to keep the child-like elements alive in the building of the sets and to keep the review on the level, I recruited Dresden (10) and Logan (8) to assist in the build and the experience. While they never lost interest in what was happening, they did find other diversions. They would check back with the set often to get progress updates but they didn’t stick around for the entire process.
I also quickly learned that this requires room and dedicated table space. As you will read, I highly recommend this excellent set. I think it compares nicely to any the company has created.
The box is big, the box is beautiful and the box serves its purpose of getting consumers to want this product. It showcases the product exceptionally well with play action on the front and the figure array on the back. See the extensive gallery for images of both. Deeper in the gallery are individual character images.
I freely admit that I don’t have a depth of knowledge on the world of LEGO. I do have typing skills however and know all the search engines and that is good enough for me to declare that the King Theoden figure is one of the very best LEGO has ever created. I am tempted to call it the greatest but I don’t quite have the authority to make such declarations. But of the “greatest” lists I found online (and they are fun!), I place Theoden above them all. Why?
His armor is detailed and correct to the character which featured some of Weta’s best armor work ever. His face is just right in both of its moods, his shield is spectacular, his horse is cool as is his sword with an cherry-on-top helm. Great, great figure that I hope Bernard Hill cherishes. But, as fate and toy makers would have it, he isn’t alone. A wonderful Gimli is here as is Haldir, Aragorn a awesome Beserker Uruk-hai and three other regulation Uruk-hai. In fact, the Beserker Uruk would be a contender for best all-time figure as well up there for me with Skeleton, UFO Alien, Indian Chief and Indiana Jones. Gimli checks in right around Darth Vadar levels in my book. (Which I am in danger of actually starting.) Long story short (too late) the figures alone for this set are a delight. A Grima Wormtongue character, even though he fled before the battle would have the bee’s knees.
THE BUILD: 4.5/5
Make no mistake, a set such as this is a financial commitment and to complete it takes a time commitment as well. In the best way possible, it qualifies as an epic toy. Open the box and out slides eight packages and instruction booklets.
After building the first bag, the builder is pleased by what he has but also aware of how much more there is to go. At this point there was enough reward to give Dresden and Logan a feeling of accomplishment but they were happy to back off. The excitement of something new faded and the meat of the work and the set was left. Acting as both photographer and builder and note-taker, it is difficult to gauge how long this would take an average LEGO vet. But the time spent building is part of the fun and definitely rewards the user with something to show after each of the bags is opened, sorted through and finished.
The main keep is the core of the set with just the right peripherals to give a sense of fun from the film. There is the center of the fortress and then the outer ring. The main doors, big enough for Theoden to ride his horse out of, open down a ramp (with a humorous little extra inside) to face the mass of four Uruk-hai. With his battle face on, there is some kid pleasure still in this adult that made it a lot of fun to pose the king on the cusp of battle.
But not only is the main gate part of the set, so is the exploding wall, the Beserker, his Olympic-flame torch and Sauruman’s hidden gunpowder in-a-bomb-at-the-hidden-stream trick; all of this in a separate packet. Gimli and Aragorn can lead a surprise attack out the side door and of course, the bearded one can be launched across the gap. Dresden and Logan got a real kick out of the wall flying to pieces while I had more fun with the Uruk siege ladder but we broke up the build sessions by doing one or two mini-bags of the set at a time.
Watching the tower on the inner ring and its Horn of Helm Hammerhand come together was perhaps the highlight of the process. Its existence in the LEGO universe is enough to cause a fan to break into a smile; This is a perfect blend of toy, J.R.R. Tolkien legend and Peter Jackson’s film realized in a construction kit. Fun stuff. Gimli of course fits nicely in front of the mouthpiece and only if it actually sounded a long, deep call would it get any better.
There is also an inner keep with great extras like the king’s throne, a castle rat, a goblet and food items. In the end, the toy is a multi-leveled, multi-layered grand construction kit.
The only fault lies in how some of the sub-kits connect to form the big pieces. Perhaps because of the construction foreman (me) or perhaps because things just weren’t exactly right, there were some lose connections, especially at the top of the mini-sets. This wasn’t that big of a deal but on a set this good it was the only letdown.
THE DISPLAY: 5/5
Perhaps the greatest compliment I can give to this LEGO set is that it found a place in my permanent display collection — see the photo gallery. It’s footprint isn’t insignificant but on top of a bookshelf in my Man Cave, there sits LEGO’s The Battle for Helm’s Deep. The real challenge for for future LEGO set (well, for me for LEGO, I am sure LEGO isn’t going to take this on) is to see if any can displace this one’s display spot. Of those currently released, only the hard to find Orc Forge set has any chance. The Lurtz character is fantastic and I really have a soft spot for cinematic bad guys.
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