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Alien

NECA
by Poe Ghostal

Show your average person a photo of the iconic monster from the Alien film series and ask them to identify which film that version of the monster is from, and they'll probably shrug and say they have no idea. Ask a science fiction geek or action figure collector, though, and they'll know exactly which version of the xenomorph (they'll be sure to point out this term) they're looking at - because it matters.

While I couldn't get a real Alien action figure to save my life as a kid, there have been dozens, perhaps hundreds of Alien-themed figures since Kenner's early 1990s "Aliens vs. Predator" line. McFarlane Toys ran through most of the creatures from the film series in the early part of this decade in their Movie Maniacs line, and now NECA has taken up the license and is working to improve on McFarlane's earlier efforts. After creating some excellent figures for the otherwise forgettable film Alien vs. Predator: Requiem, NECA released a figure of the Alien as depicted in the original film.

Now, while I'll admit Alien is probably the (slightly) better film, my favorite of the franchise is definitely the action-packed Aliens. And contrary to what you might think, the xenomorphs in Aliens look different from the one in the first film. The most obvious change in the sequel was that the clear dome of the original creature became pitted and ridged, like the shell of an insect; there were other minor changes to the fingers, feet and other parts. There was also a change in role: whereas the original Alien behaved like a great white shark - a deadly loner, clearing his territory - the Aliens in the sequel were all drones, subservient to the Queen. They were, in essence, cannon fodder for the space marines (and thus were born countless first-person shooters).

Like McFarlane Toys before it, NECA re-used their original "Alien" sculpt to craft their "Alien Warrior" figure. However, according to sculptor Kyle Windrix, NECA did a lot more work to make the figure movie-accurate: "Even though the body is the same as the Alien the feet, hands and head make it feel like a new figure. I would like to have done a few more changes but the cost of the new molds just on what we did change cost almost as much as the first Alien figure."

I found McFarlane's Alien Warrior (not to be confused with their Warrior Alien) disappointing, which is why the Aoshima Alien was my favorite Alien figure for quite some time. It was finally superseded by NECA's AVP:R Alien last year; and that figure still has some qualities that make it better than any other, particularly its sculpting and articulation.

But it's not the Aliens alien, and for some reason, that matters to me. While there's an argument to be made that the original Alien design was the most psychologically disturbing, and that advances in special effects technology have made the creatures in each successive film more realistic and impressive, my favorite design remains the cannon-fodder drones from Aliens. I'm sure it has a lot to do with whichever design you encountered first - I also prefer the look of the first Predator over the sequels, and would give anything for a well-articulated NECA version. The Aliens xenomorph design was also the one used exclusively in Dark Horse's early comics (which was my main source of Aliens entertainment until I was old enough to watch the films in their entirety), so to me, the Aliens version is what I think of first.

Believe it or not, I passed on McFarlane's Aliens Warrior. I wasn't fond of their original Alien figure - it wasn't very film-accurate and the articulation was lacking. Since McFarlane's Aliens figure was mostly a re-use of that sculpt, I took that money and got the Aoshima Alien instead. Of course, Aoshima's Aliens figure was also primarily a re-use of their Alien mold (moreso than McFarlane's, in fact), but at least it had some decent articulation.

When I saw NECA was making an Aliens Warrior, though, I knew I wouldn't have a choice but to pick him up. I actually went ahead and got both color variants, the brown and the blue.

Like their Alien from the original film, the Aliens Warrior - whom I'm going to refer to from now on as the "Drone" - was sculpted by Kyle "Tankman" Windrix. Now, I'm not an expert on the differences between the original Alien design and the Drone, so there may be some innaccuracies. But I think this figure is the best, most accurate Drone we've received so far. In addition to the dome-less head, the figure also features the three-fingered design, the "blades" on back of the arms, and clawed feet.

The sculpt is superb, but that's not unusual for Windrix. Some of the most impressive work is on the tiniest details, such as the thin segmented tubes running along the head; it's worth lauding the fact that not only did Windrix sculpt it, but NECA was able to reproduce it in the production figure. It's the usual marvelous, intricate sculpting we've come to expect from NECA and Windrix, so I'm not going to dwell it on: suffice to say, the sculpt is excellent, and again, this is the most movie-accurate Drone we've had in this scale so far.

As for paint, here's Mr. Windrix again: "The Aliens figure comes in two colors. I like the brown one best but some of the guys at the shop in NJ wanted blue so we went with both. Both look good but for me the brown one is the way to go. You can't go wrong just getting both. Over all it's a fun figure and better than any other Aliens figure that has been made so far."

Of the two, the brown Drone is a bit more accurate to the film. The blue shading on the Aliens was featured more in the advertising and other media, such as posters and art, so the blue may look more "right" to fans and collectors. The brown shading has been applied well, giving the monster a more organic, less biomechanical appearance than the silver highlights of the AVP:R Alien. The blue-shaded alien ends up looking more "black" in most light, giving it a more insectoid appearance.

While the AVP:R Alien had a spray-on gloss that worked well with the figure's articulation, it didn't look particularly slimy. The Drone figure has the slimier gloss, but at the cost of some stiffness in the articulation where the gloss seeped into the joints and acted like glue.

Speaking of articulation, this is the one place where I slightly prefer the AVP:R figure. That figure had balljointed hips, a balljointed torso with a great range of movement, and most importantly, a head with a hinge and swivel that could move up and down, back and forth. The Drone appears to be a bit more limited. The head is a balljoint with a good range of motion, including tilting to the side in a "curious" expression, but chances are it will be very stiff when you open it, so be careful. If it's stiff, I recommend heating it (such as dipping it in a large pot of boiling water) to loosen it before you try moving it. The head on my blue Drone broke at the peg, though I was able to fix it with a little customizing work.

The shoulders are balljoints - an improvement over the AVP:R Alien - as is the torso. However, I do wish the Drone had balljointed hips of some sort. There are hinges at the elbows, knees, and ankles, and swivels at the wrists, biceps and thighs. As often happens in sculpts with this much detail, the thigh and bicep swivels are pretty ugly when they're not lined up perfectly, but as someone who loves articulation I can accept it. Of course, the tail is a bendy, like all of NECA's Aliens so far, and it works fine.

I was concerned about the thin rubber tubes on either side of the Drone's head and the "blades" on the back of the arms, as they looked like they might break off when the head or arms were moved. The tubes seem pretty durable and flexible, but the blades are another matter; on my blue Drone, the left arm's blade broke off at the wrist immediately. I was able to glue it back on, but if I try to bend the elbow inward - or even twist the wrist - it will break again. On the brown drone, both blades are still holding, but I noticed the left arm blade is tearing at the elbow, again forcing me to keep the left arm in an extended position.

Now for the quality control issues. Aside from the aforementioned issues with the "blades" and the head, you can see in the head-on pic the back part of my brown Drone's head curves to the right. Mr. Windrix has confirmed this is a factory error (maybe the head got pulled out of the mold too fast, while it was still hot); the head should be straight (looking forward to all those "flaccid" jokes in the Loafing Lounge). Additionally - and maybe this has something to do with it - my figure has a pretty noticeable hole in the back right side of his head. Again, please save the jokes until after the presentation.

Unlike the AVP:R Alien, the Drone has an extendable inner jaw. Now, when you first get the figure, you may give the inner jaw a pull and think it doesn't actually come out. Well, I'm here to tell you it does, but damn, it's a bitch to get out, as I finally managed to do on my brown Drone. While the packaging does say the "inner jaw extends," the jaw on my blue Drone just popped right out, and looked like it may have been glued in. So basically, be careful.

While I think the AVP:R Alien may be the better toy, I think I like the Drone a bit more. He's closer to a 6" scale, which makes for better photos when posed with other figures in my collection, allowing for those Green Lantern/Aliens crossovers. And, hey, he's the version from Aliens.

I picked up my Drone at Newbury Comics for $18, which is partially their ridiculous mark-up; he's available at most online retailers for around $14. I'll probably pick up at least one more, since one of the most memorable things about the drones in Aliens was that you never saw just one - they came in packs.

Now if only NECA would give us a 1/12 scale Alien Queen, my collection would be complete...

- 02/01/09


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