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Indiana Jones Fight on the Flying Wing

Lego
by yo go re

I've always thought that Lego got a bit over-enthusiastic when it snagged the Indiana Jones license - I imagine some Indy fanboy charging into the Lego office and yelling (in Danish) "Guys, they're doing a new Indiana Jones movie! We have to get in on this!" and no one then stopping to wonder whether Lego and Indy are really an ideal match. Maybe it comes from being a Space Lego fan, but when I think Lego I think vehicles, and while that gives Lego Star Wars enough territory to keep going for the next billion years, it doesn't offer a lot of possibilities for Indy. Of course, there's one almighty exception.

Soldiers have captured the Ark and are about to fly it away! It's up to Indiana Jones and Marion to board the experimental Flying Wing aircraft and keep it from taking off. While Marion tackles the pilot, Indy fights the mighty mechanic - just watch out for that leaking fuel truck nearby!

"Soldiers," huh? Looks like someone's worried about copping PR flak for making toys of Nazis. Mind you they're also carefully skirting how the "mighty mechanic" gets torn to pieces by the propeller, but that's an Indy film for you - fine for kids, but terrible for squeamish over-protective parents worrying about kids.

Let's cover the fuel truck first, since it's not going to be around long. At 5½" long (hose excluded) it's not a big piece, but whoever designed it put some serious thought into making the most of the small number of parts and possibilities available at this scale. The main features are the cab, which seats two figures side by side - it's a specially made part that offsets the studs on its base, so that the two 2x2 seats only have a 1 width gap between them (for the passengers' arms, which overhang the 2 width seat itself) yet remain centred on a 4 or 6 width vehicle frame - and the fuel tank, a 4x4 drum mounted sideways. What's impressive about the truck, though, is the fine detail of it, where carefully-chosen regular parts have been used to give the impression of a complex and realistic vehicle, despite actual realism being well beyond such a small construct's grasp.

A minor quibble I have is that the drum isn't locked, and can rotate, which is a bit annoying when you accidentally bump it and then have to stop and line up the stickers again. Said stickers represent the fuel ports, so there's no way to knock one of them off as happened in the movie - unfortunate, but understandable given the limited scope of the vehicle. The truck sports a fuel hose, extending from the rear and ending in a handheld nozzle that clips to the right side of the cab.

But the truck's only here to explode, so let's move on to the real business: the flying wing. Although this particular aircraft is fictional - designed by Ron Cobb, Raiders' production artist, using something Northrop was tinkering with at the time as reference - the Nazis were well-known for their advanced aerospace prototypes (which fortunately often got mucked up by misdirected orders from higher up the food chain), so in a movie featuring magic laser pointer amulets and people having their faces melted off by Yahweh, a flying wing tooling around in the '30s is practically mundane.

The Lego version is built around the 747 wing, a gigantic single piece with a hollow centre allowing a fuselage with interior space to be constructed within it, and in this case capped with a pair of slanted wingtips, bringing the total wingspan of the craft to about 22½". It's big. The use of the single wing limits the realism though (if that's the right word for a fictional vehicle), since it makes it impossible for the Lego model to do what the real thing did, which was have its centre section sunk down beneath the line of the outer wings. The basic frame, in fact, owes more to the real-life Horten Ho-IX (which any Secret Weapons of the Luftwaffe veteran will know fondly - or dread, depending on which side they played on - as the Gotha Go-229), with its level wing, and trailing point in the center in place of the Raiders wing's dipped and square-backed middle.

In other ways the Lego wing is accurate though, with its twin tail/engine booms - lacking the Nazi swastikas, obviously - and the green/grey camouflage pattern on the upper surfaces, though the Lego version is cleaner and more geometric than the hazy shaded pattern on the real thing. The camouflage patterns are stickers, green on clear, and quite large, so you'll want to be careful applying them so as not to wind up with air bubbles. Each engine boom includes a set of landing gear, mounting two free-moving beams with two wheels each, which look great, but on rough or uneven surfaces can be pushed to flip up backwards - obviously an aircraft should only be moving about on a smooth runway, but this is a Lego toy, it's going to get rolled over carpet or the tablecloth or heaven knows what. The nosewheel, beneath the cockpit, is a smaller piece, laterally fixed but mounted on a 360° swivel; overall, on a smooth surface, the plane trundles and turns ponderously around just like the real thing.

The middle is where most of the action (and construction) is. The cockpit is revealed by a hinge-mounted canopy, and features the pilot's seat, in behind a 2x1 instrument panel - another sticker, rather than a pre-printed brick, with authentically 1930s instruments, dials and such rather than digital readouts. There's plenty of room for the pilot, even with his bulky helmet, but no actual controls for him to use. Further back the center of the dorsal hull lifts off to reveal the cargo bay, containing a small crate containing three jewels. Why jewels? Well, the Ark never got loaded onto the plane - maybe this is cargo that was coming the other way, trinkets to bribe local officials to facilitate the digging. I tried fitting in the Ark from the "Lost Tomb" (Well of Souls) set, but it's just a fraction too tall to allow the hull piece to be put back over it - a minor modification would fix it, if you want to go all alternate history and have the Nazis get the Ark.

In the rear is the tail gunner's turret, although again the necessities of available Lego parts mean it's been redesigned slightly - instead of a rotating bubble turret, it's got a swivelling gun mounted behind a fixed canopy. It's not a big deal unless you're going to be anal about accuracy, and the guns have a good turning range, plus can ratchet up and down (individually, if you want, though I can't imagine why). The canopy doesn't have a hinge, and just has to be taken off to access the gunner's seat.

The set includes four minifigures, starting - naturally - with Indiana Jones, reproduced in considerable detail, with his dishevelled leather jacket and shirt, his belt and holster printed onto the leg piece, and a separate shoulder satchel. He's got a rather cute rendition of his trademark stubble on the face, and of course comes with his whip (coiled, but it can be straightened, and the end will fit into a standard Lego clip if you want to attach it to something) and Fedora hat. There's also Marion, still in her silly white dress - as a figure intended for an action set she's got legs, rather than a solid "skirt" piece, but it does hinder the look of the dress - and wielding a club. She's got two expressions, smug on one side of her head, panicking on the other; her long black hair covers the unused one completely.

Up against them are two "soldiers" (Nazis), a pilot and the mechanic. The pilot's in a tan flight suit with pouches (all printed, of course), wears a bulky helmet with attachable goggles, and comes with a pistol - there's nowhere to stow it in the cockpit (unless you pop it in the crate with the jewels), but there's room under the canopy for him to just hold it. The mechanic is bare to the waist, with a rock solid musculature printed onto his chest, and a face sporting a rather cutesy disgruntled expression behind his moustache and bushy eyebrows. If they ever do Lego Predator, they've got their Jesse Ventura head already done. He comes armed with a wrench, which can be stowed in any of the vacant clips on the fuel truck.

This is the only Indiana Jones Lego set I've ever really wanted. I've got a couple of others, but I bought the Well of Souls because it's cheap, has the Ark, and I thought it'd be fun to combine the Indy and Marion minifigures to create a Lego Carolina Jones, and the Temple of Stupid Aliens because local stores were so desperate to get rid of them over Christmas that they sold it for next to nothing (I dismantled it again after a while; I'll probably use the parts for something else one day). This one, though, this I saw in the catalogue and thought "Oh yes, that I'll have." The flying wing isn't a perfect replica of the "real" thing, but it is damned cool. Rustle up a couple of swastika stickers for the tails and you've got the best Indy Lego set they've done.

-- 07/29/09


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