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Knifehead

Pacific Rim
by Poe Ghostal

Blessed are the monster makers.

It can't be easy to create a new monster in this day and age. Science fiction and fantasy stories, novels, movies, television shows, comics, and videogames have given us thousands of new monsters over the last century. Where once there were only ghosts, vampires, werewolves, and demons, now there are monsters of every conceivable size, shape, color, toothiness, and alignment. Heck, Japan's Ultraman and its myriad spinoffs give viewers a new monster in every single episode (with sometimes hilariously goofy results).

So Guillermo Del Toro and his design team on Pacific Rim had their hands full creating new kaiju (Japanese for "monster") to threaten humanity. Perhaps inevitably, some of them ended up resembling existing monsters from pop culture history. In some cases this may be coincidence, in other cases deliberate homage, and in a few cases, parallel evolution.

My hunch is that's what happened with Knifehead. He bears more than a passing resemblance to a pair of vintage Gamera foes, Zigra and Guiron. The former was based loosely on the goblin shark, while the latter has, well, a knife for a head. Del Toro describes Knifehead this way: "It's like if you took a shark and you pulled its nose way out until its head become this very sharp, pointy, blade-like shape rather than the blunt triangle that a shark normally is." So Knifehead is like a shark whose nose got turned into a knife. I don't know, he still looks an awful lot like a goblin shark to me.

These figures were produced from digital 3D files provided by the production company, which were then touched up by NECA. The results were disappointing with Gipsy Danger - that figure is lacking in details. That doesn't seem to be as much of an issue with Knifehead. He has a lot of texturing on his flesh, though it varies considerably; his legs are pebbled, his sides have cross-hatched scales, his arms are rough and pebbled, his tail and the top of his head are smooth, and the underside of his "knife" has slanted, parallel lines. No idea if all these textures are accurate to the monster itself - you'd need a really good photo of a production maquette (or at least an excellent screen capture from the film) to be certain. But for the most part, the sculpting on the main part of the body is sharp - literally. That knife-head is downright pointy, and the edge beneath it, while not paper-cut inducing, is also quite sheer.

However, the big, flat "dorsal fin" on his back has a much softer sculpt that doesn't blend well with the rest of the body. It's like a big remora just laying there. There's a chance this is intentional - it could be some kind of organ on its back that has a smoother texture. But it's definitely incongruous with the rest of the figure.

The real problem here - and it's a big problem - is the scale. According to Pacific Rim: Man, Machines, and Monsters, Knifehead is 315 feet (96 meters) tall, while Gipsy Danger is only 260 feet (79 meters) tall. Randy Falk has pointed out that some of the kaiju are so large they couldn't be made for any reasonable price - unfortunately, it appears Knifehead was still too large to do properly in-scale, since Gipsy Danger towers over him.

NECA could easily have just made the Jaegers a bit smaller - say 6" instead of their standard 7" scale - and not only could they have saved money on production, but Knifehead would be closer to proper scale (though he'd still be a bit small). The twist is that, by being smaller, Knifehead is in near-perfect scale with S.H.MonsterArts. Godzilla is supposed to be 100 meters tall - exactly the same as Knifehead.

Knifehead is molded in black plastic. There's a kind of sheen or shiny speckling to the figure. Was this a paint application or something that was mixed in with the plastic? Not sure. Is it supposed to represent some sort of otherworldy nature to the monster's flesh, or is it just supposed to look wet? Also not sure - but it works. The most significant paint applications are the almost tribal-looking yellow stripes, the horns on its "dorsal" part, the black glossy nails, and the red mouth, white teeth and multiple blue eyes. The yellow lines are pretty well delineated and don't look sloppy like the white details on Gipsy Danger. There's a good wash on the limbs that give it a slightly dusty, dinosaurian look. The paint applications on the mouth and teeth, however, are sloppy. It's not clear where the mouth starts.

Knifehead has a hinged jaw, swivel shoulders, hinged elbows, balljointed hips, hinged knees, and a bendy tail. The inner two arms are not articulated. It's just not enough articulation. We can accept the lack of head movement - Knifehead has an extremely thick neck, and you could believe it can barely move its neck. The hinged jaw and bendy tail are nice touches, though it should be noted that the "balljoints" of the hips are so restricted as to basically be a V-crotch, rendering the hinged knees useless.

But this figure really needed at least balljointed shoulders. It's understandable why they're not there - NECA is being cautious with this line, and the balljoints were likely too expensive - but their lack makes this figure this close to a McFarlane statue. On the other hand, this guy's solid. I suppose if you dropped him nose-first the knife might break off, but hey, maybe not.

I really want to like these figures, but NECA simply didn't put the money and effort into them that they have some of their other lines lately. Also, there are no accessories, which is a bummer - couldn't we get some little tanks or ships or jets or something? A cargo container? Something to smash?

It's funny; five or six years ago, collectors wouldn't have been as disappointed by these because it's what they would have expected from NECA. They're victims of their own success with this line. Knifehead has a great sculpt, but the scale and articulation issues really weigh him down. Balljointed shoulders alone would have added a lot. Still, for the nascent Pacific Rim superfan like myself, he's hard to leave on the peg.

-- 07/26/13


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