Sunday, 18 July 2010

Hunt for the Decepticons Starscream

At long last, movie Starscream gets the figure he deserves... and what an amazing piece of engineering it is. It's not without flaws, but the level of detail in this model is excellent. The design for Starscream in the movies has always been contentious, considering the iconic nature of the Generation 1 Seekers and, while even the most recent comics series' have strived to keep some elements common to the 80's toys and cartoons, the live action movies have taken the view that these are alien robots, so they shouldn't have to look too human.

Personally, I enjoy this and really like all the outlandish appearances of the robots (mainly the Decepticons - the Autobots, by and large, are all humanoid), and was only disappointed by Megatron. Seeing Starscream in action, particularly in the dogfight towards the end of the first movie, I thought they'd created the ideal form for the Decepticons' air commander.

Vehicle Mode:
And again, we have further refinements on the F22 Raptor model. From most angles, it's getting towards the perfect version: the plane really is quite stubby, with a comparatively short nose, and a wingspan almost equal to its length. Naturally, this transforming toy is not quite so svelte as the real Raptor - it certainly has much more at the rear, though it quite smoothly curves upward to a more natural size up the front.

There are a couple of obvious glitches - ignoring the very visible robot hips at the back, there's a small technical detail about the wings that has had to be overlooked for this toy: missiles are not mounted beneath a Raptor's wings - they're concealed inside them, to keep its radar profile nice and stealthy. That said, the missiles packaged with this toy are ridiculously oversized anyway.

I'm quite impressed with the landing gear on this thing - they fold out from the legs at the back, and from between the turbines/intakes at the front. Nothing particularly accurate about either, but they work well enough.

Naturally there are sounds and lights, activated by a button just behind the cockpit on the lefthand side of the plane (pilot's left, that is). There are only two states - one, where Starscream opines that "No-one can defeat Starscream!" and the lights are permanently on, the other generates an engine whoosh and flashes the lights. Not brilliant... but I guess it might still be fun for a kid old enough to appreciate this model.

It's no surprise that this model is being included in the Masterpiece line in Japan... If the final paint job on that version is good enough, I might just buy that as well. The Cybertronian tattoos may be (kinda) movie accurate, but they don't do the model any favours. Much of the molded detail is rendered effectively invisible by these bizarre patterns, but it's nice to see him get a Decepticon insignia on one wing. The afterburners are there - like RotF Voyager Starscream, but unlike the original movie Starscream - and, overall, this rendition of the movie model is probably the closest we're ever going to get to perfect. It's a shame the legs couldn't be stowed better, but it would be difficult to create a decent robot mode out of a plane as slim as the F22 Raptor.

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Robot Mode:
Here is where this model really shines. Even in its tattooed, paint-deprived American form, this is the ultimate version of movie Starscream. The proportions are just about right, the bulk is there, the head sculpt is bang on, it's poseable (up to a point), and the colour scheme is more screen-accurate than anything before it - rather than carry on with the bizarre shades of beige that blighted the original movie Starscream and the RotF remake, Leader Class Starscream is solidly grey, with the occasional coppery/goldy parts. A better paint job - even just a dark wash here and there - would have made this thing nigh-on perfect... but I guess that's what the Japanese Masterpiece line is all about.

In general terms, Starscream has had a bit of a raw deal out of the movies - not only has he been characterised quite poorly, but the design has been notoriously difficult to translate into a toy. Make no mistake, I like the first toy - giant gun-fists and all. It's a reasonably good attempt at making a toy out of an impossible computer model. The legs looked good, the arms not so much... and the head mold was nowhere near accurate because it was based on pre-production artwork. RotF Starscream was a complete remold and (gasp) actually gave the toy hands. Sadly, keeping the toy to a budget meant that those hands did not stow away at all, and just hung out below the afterburners in Raptor mode. Robot mode was really no more accurate than the first toy, but significantly different and generally a move in the right direction.

The increased size of this one, however, solves most of the problems... and it seems likely that, even without the sound and lights offered by this toy, it couldn't have been made better or more accurate.

Possibly the best gimmick in this toy is the inclusion of pop-up weapons in the wrists. While the Voyager version had spring-loaded missile launchers on each wrist (molded to look like Gatling guns), the Leader Class version has a Gatling in his left forearm and a pair of (non-launching) missiles in the right. The lever used to deploy them is painted bright red - I'd guess to make it obvious it's there for a purpose, and that deploying these weapons isn't just a case of fiddling with the plates on his forearms.

And for those who feel that no TransFormer is complete without spring-loaded weapons, there's even an attachment for either wrist, molded to look like the missile launcher that Starscream sprouted when he arrived at the Hoover Dam in the first movie... except that the blade things are facing forward, rather than sticking out... Maybe it's a cop-out that it's a separate part, but at least there's a way to store it in Raptor mode as well.

Sounds and lights are disappointingly similar to plane mode. Pulling down on the cockpit, Starscream will either say "No-one can defeat Starscream!" or "Decepticons will crush the Autobots!", with the lights in his eyes and the cockpit on at all times. The button on his shoulder is there to activate the transformation sound while actually transforming the toy, and the button from plane mode, still just about accessible, does exactly what it did in plane mode. I had hoped for more, but it's certainly an improvement on RotF Leader Class Prime and Megatron, who say nothing more than their own names.

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It seems a little strange that the hands aren't ball-jointed in any way - either at the wrists or for the thumbs - as that would have made a massive difference to the toy. The jointing in the arms is such that it's quite hard to get the hands into a natural position in some poses. I would also have liked jointed fingers - easily doable at that size, but I concede that it might have made the toy more brittle and prone to breaking... not to say more expensive.

It's also a shame that the hips don't rotate like the Voyager version - it wouldn't need much, but it would have made a huge difference. As it stands, it gets by with the rotating 'lower knee'. I would have liked a bit more movement in the 'upper knee', as he can't crouch very well, and so leaning poses can be quite tricky to achieve.

And while it is very poseable, the weight of the upper body - being the bulkiest part, even without the inclusion of heavy electronics - it is prone to tipping over forwards or backwards, if the legs take on any 'extreme' kind of pose.Waist rotation might have been nice, but the joints in the chest allow for some fairly 'natural' looking twisted poses.

Transformation is, in all honesty, a dream. Considering the complexity of the model, switching it between modes is pretty simple. The only thing I didn't get right the first time was the hips - rather than rotating them forward so the fronts of his thighs are facing into the body of the plane, they are flipped out and round so that the outside of the thigh is facing in toward the groin.

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In both plane mode and robot mode, Movie Leader Starscream is actually not that much bigger than his Voyager counterparts, and yet is leagues better in complexity and accuracy. Amusingly, the TFC Toys Screamer Coronation Set almost fits this movie model... it's just a touch too small. It's no surprise, then, that movie 'masterpiece' Starscream is a good inch or two taller than Takara Tomy's Masterpiece Starscream... He's approaching the same size as MP Megatron and Prime, however, so he'd be towering over MP Grimlock!

I picked this up at the London Film & Comic Con for £50, and while some of the expensive electronic giants in the TransFormers lines have turned out to be quite disappointing, I'd have no qualms about forking out for this again.

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