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Thunder Driller

Lego Power Miners
by Artemis

Ask a so-called "expert" about tunnelling and they'll go on about geological analysis, careful excavation, provision of airflow, shoring up tunnels, and so on. Because they're boring. Everyone who's ever watched bad sci-fi knows how you should really go about getting from A to B without seeing daylight in between: get a monster truck chassis and fit a big damn drill to the front. Job done.

The rugged Thunder Driller is the most important vehicle on the Power Miners team. With its massive double-geared, auto-rotating planetary drill, it tunnels through solid stone to reach deep underground caverns and hidden rock monster hives. As long as its magma-core engine is fuelled up and its huge spiked wheels keep turning, the Thunder Driller's powerful dual-direction drill never stops spinning!

See, even Lego admit it - despite the Crystal Sweeper being larger and therefore more efficient at transporting money from parents to Denmark, this is the vehicle that matters. Big damn drill, every time. Of course, the corollary is that you need to get the big damn drill vehicle right - you can have Morlocks murdering you left and right, team members turning out to be saboteurs from rival governments, the military itching to declare your mission a failure and just nuke everything, and the audience getting bored with the budding romance between the hunky science-hero and the hot technical specialist babe, and all that's okay - expected, even - but if your big damn drill fails you, you are screwed. Pardon the pun.

The Thunder Driller is the epitome of the big damn drill - huge screw, monster truck wheels and all - and as such you have to allow for the Rule of Cool, which negates certain technical inconsistencies like the vehicle being three times as wide as the drill itself, and the "magma-core" engine apparently being an Industrial Revolution boiler (well, let them have that - after all, a nuclear reactor is essentially a steam engine). Taking that into account, there's not much to complain about in the basic construction, either its methods or results. Regardless of big of gear work going on in the insides of it there's really nothing fancy happening, but Power Miners is the adventure-sci-fi line for 2009 (kind of Lego Space only not in space), so it's not aimed at Technic builders anyway. And my only complaint really is that the huge wheels don't quite integrate with the rest of the hull, even with the front debris shields trying to accomplish that - from some angles you can see pretty easily that the whole thing's just a 4x4 tray with the chassis sitting on top like cargo. No big deal, though.

No big deal in construction anyway. Good as the build is, the one thing you can't ignore is that the bricks it uses are mainly lime green and orange, which is about as eye-twisting a combination as has been seen since Wonder Man quit the Baron Zemo school of fashion. I know it's meant to be bright and toy-like, but it works against the mood of the line as a whole - it's not outer space, and clean, bright colours just don't look right. Some effort is made to mitigate the effect, with various stickers adding debris scratches to the hull, but short of covering the entire vehicle with stickers - which would have the no-sticker brigade literally committing suicide, leading no doubt to lawsuits - it's doomed to fall short of the mark.

Luckily on this particular vehicle the orange is kept to a minimum - it's worse on other entries in the line, but here it's just the big damn drill's collar, and various minor bits of trim and detail, making the Thunder Driller the most serious-looking of the contraptions. Despite the remaining lime green, various bits of techy gunmetal grey and black darken things down, and non-space-age-sleek bits like the hull-mounted spotlights, the chain, the dragster-style side exhausts, and the driver's roll cage (despite being attached only at the top, and thus more liable to collapse and crush the poor guy than help him) all help edge this further towards the working-man's-tech area it needs to be in.

The big showpiece is of course the big damn drill, which is not just big but active - thanks to gearing inside the forward hull, moving the front wheels also turns the drill, with the inner (light grey) section rotating counter to the outer (dark grey) part. It works well to a point, but what's missing is a lot-to-high pair of gears inside somewhere to speed up the drill - the inner drill bit turns at a respectable one rev to the front wheel's 2/3rds of a rev, but the outer part is actually slower, itself only 2/3rds to the wheel's one rev. Pushing the vehicle along and imagining it in action, it's just tricky to imagine that trundling outer drill doing enough damage to a rockface to allow it to be driven through.

Two crewman are included with the Thunder Driller: Doc, the clean-shaven team leader, and Duke, the rough 'n' tough career driller. Like their Mars Mission predecessors they benefit from costume details printed on both front and back of their torsos, rather than just front, and both have bulky helmets that I believe are a new design, with protruding parts that are possibly intended to be mini-spotlights. The old goggles visor fits onto them, though according to the instructions, and other promotional material, Doc doesn't wear his. You'd think a doctor would know better. Another new piece for the miners (I think) is a bundle of dynamite sticks, with a single fuse; the Thunder Driller has a storage bin just next to the driver where the dynamite can be stowed. Yeah, right in front of the magma-core engine that's spewing fire out of its boiler hatch. I'd stand some distance back when they start this thing up.

And continuing the Mars Mission's theme of butchering any hapless native life-forms the explorers happen to find, the miners face opposition in the form of rock monsters. The backstory has the miners investigating mysterious earth tremors, and discovering both the critters and strange crystals - both of which have presumably been there for untold centuries, but they conclude it the rock monsters' fault (since they try to stop the miners from harvesting the crystals, on the flimsy basis that it's their natural diet) and start killing them. Seriously, all of the packaging graphics show miners throwing dynamite at the rock monsters. What is it in the water over at the Lego studio?

Anyway, the rock monsters are all the same figure, a combination of a translucent body with rocky grey limbs, head, and panels painted onto the front and back of the torso. They look quite good, I must say. There are five "characters", identified by the colour of their translucent parts - the Thunder Driller set includes the orange one, Firox, who's apparently fast, sneaky, and more of a prankster than a deadly threat. His head is hinged at the back allowing the mouth to yawn wide open, and there's enough interior space to fit in, with the head closed over them, one crystal piece easily, and two if you position them just right.

One final selling point of the Power Miners sets is that they're purpose-built combiners - obviously all Lego can be taken apart and rebuilt as something else, and combining different sets is the natural way of creating constructs bigger than god, but the Power Miners sets are each paired off (the two cheapest go together, then the two big sets, this and the Sweeper, each merge with one of the mid-range ones), and instructions are available from the Power Miners website for a new vehicle that can be built out of their pooled parts. The Thunder Driller combines with the Granite Grinder, a weird little shatter-driller forklift kind of thing, to create the Aero Shredder, which... well, it's a preposterous piece of junk, an ungainly, bulbous hull with stupidly large lateral thrusters and no visible lift engines at all, which carries a ground-based lawn-mower sort of thing around by hooking a dangling chain under its turret. The whole thing looks like an accident waiting to happen, and nothing that any sane person would take on an underground mission; I'm not overly fond of the Granite Grinder anyway, so I haven't bothered getting it to test out the combined form.

Of course, I'm rather happy the Aero Shredder isn't worth building, because I like my Thunder Driller just the way it is. It could use a minor tweak here and there, and anyone with a sufficient Lego collection could probably do so (and replace some of the lime green while they're at it), but even as-is, it's a rugged, tough-looking little powerhouse of a vehicle.

-- 08/20/09


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