Thursday, 11 July 2013

DotM Mechtech Sentinel Prime

TransFormers: Dark of the Moon proved several things - that alien invasion movies were de regueur during the period of 2010-2011; that, even with a coherent story, Michael Bay could deliver only a vaguely coherent movie (and one which countered some of his good ideas from the earlier ones - I mean, seriously, why did these transforming alien robots require aircraft?); that the Generation 1 cartoon had some excellent ideas which were ripe for stealing; and that Hasbro was very capable of fumbling an entire toyline.

Sentinel Prime was a controversial character - an ancient Autobot hero who made a deal with Megatron for the sake of Cybertron, with none of Optimus Prime's regard for life. As a prominent character from the film, he had a figure in almost every size class (no Deluxe, even though Optimus got one!)... but, knowing my propensity for Leader Class figures, it will not surprise anyone to learn that's the only one I picked up.

Is this another winner, like RotF Optimus Prime, or a weird pile of junk, like Megatron from either of the previous movie ranges?

Vehicle Mode:
The first TransFormers movie - and its toy range - impressed me in part because of the licenced vehicle alternate modes, and the faithfulness of the toys to those vehicles. Packaging proudly bore the labelling of the manufacturers and, while some sacrifices were inevitably made in turning these vehicles into robots, those sacrifices were invariably on the side of the robot rather than the vehicle. Sentinel Prime disguises himself as a Rosenbauer Panther 6x6 Aircraft Rescue and FireFighting (ARFF) truck and, while Rosenbauer have streamlined the vehicle since Dark of the Moon was made, the distinctive look of the earlier iteration is evident in this model. The designers of this model did an incredible job in recreating the vehicle in plastic, only losing points in realism due to a few visible robot parts from the front and rear - more if you attach Sentinel's shield to the underside of the vehicle, since it protrudes quite noticeably from the sides and rear.

The paint job is hardly elaborate - most of the vehicle shell is molded in the appropriate colour of plastic so as to minimise the need for paint. It is possibly for this reason that some oft-neglected details, such as headlights and tail lights, are nicely painted. The rolling panels behind the cab on each side are painted silver, with the Rosenbauer logo prominently displayed. The sides are further tagged with 'Fire Rescue' (missing the blue medical star) and '316', though the 'R' logos toward the back have been replaced by Autobot insignia. The rear lacks any of the emergency striping of the movie vehicle but, in all honestly, that's not a terrible loss.

What is rather strange is the use of completely colourless transparent plastic for the windows, when the vehicle used in the movie has them heavily tinted. I'm glad Hasbro didn't cop out an use opaque black plastic for the windows, but some kind of tinting - perhaps even blue, like the emergency lights on top - would have disguised the fact that large bars of opaque black sit on either side of the windscreen, and that the back of Sentinel's head is very clearly visible behind the windscreen.

Lights and sounds being the most importantest thing EVAR in a Leader Class toy, Sentinel Prime has the requisite components. In vehicle mode, pushing the small grey button on the left side of the cab's roof will activate his 'blues and twos'... though the LEDs inside those transparent blue casings are red (possibly alluding to the dubious nature of the character). Attaching any Mechtech weapon to the port on the righthand side of the cab's roof causes a sort of activation/power up sound to play, then pushing the grey button elicits the sound of weapon fire. Removing the attachment is rewarded with the transformation sound.

Sentinel's weapons aren't just stowable in vehicle mode - they can attach as active Mechtech weapons. The shield plugs into both of the roof-mounted ports, and then the sword tabs in across the middle. It's a very odd-looking attachment for a firetruck, though the shield looks like it's intended to act as either a piercing ram or a kind of cutter. If that weren't enough, a pair of missiles fold out from the very back of the truck... though they look a little weedy by comparison.

It's also worth mentioning that the arm - or 'extendible turret', as Rosenbauer call it - used in the movie is called the 'Stinger', and features a pneumatic lance for puncturing holes in aircraft. The toy has the arm, but it only features hoses. It's a shame that an additional Mechtech lance wasn't included with this, as it could have been attached to the end of the arm in vehicle mode, or to Sentinel's wrists in robot mode, thus making the model an even more accurate representation of the movie character. As it stands, the arm rotates a full 360degrees at the base, and features two hinges... both are a little loose on mine, so the arm doesn't like to stay extended at some angles.

Robot Mode:
I'll start with the electronics, just for a change, because it's so rare that one can describe their implementation as 'clever'. Just like in vehicle mode, Sentinel Prime has different effects activated by the button in the Mechtech port on his right shoulder. As before, plugging something in sets off a kind of activation sound, and removing it generates a transformation sound effect. Without a weapon, the grey button on the left shoulder just sets off the sirens, with a weapon you get a firing effect. In both cases, only the lights on his shoulders start to flash. The button on his chest is a different matter. With nothing plugged into the active Mechtech port, a speech clip - "Sentinel Prime", sadly not in the voice of Leonard Nimoy - will be played (in the US version it's "I am Sentinel Prime"). With a Mechtech weapon in his shoulder, the US version alternates between two additional voice clips: "Good to see you alive, Optimus." and "What has happened to the AllSpark?". This being the European release, the effects are crippled, and you just get two alternating weapon effects. On the upside, whenever the chest button is pressed, only his eyes light up... and they light up in red.

The paint job seems reasonably extensive at first glance, with lots of little details picked out in black, silver, and a very orangey gold. A close inspection of the movie CGI reveals that he's very lacking, however. In some places, it's difficult to see where the additional paint applications could or should have gone, at least in part because the molding isn't strictly accurate.

There is an awful lot of molded detail generally, though - even the four separate panels hanging off his back and shoulders are sculpted to look like his 'cape' from the front (though they could have used some paint to bring those details out a bit)

Sentinel's hands are sculpted to hold his sword and his shield, though I've found his grip rather lacking, especially where the shield is concerned. Since the handle on the shield is on a small arm, it tends to just rattle and flop around in his hand, so I've found it better to plug it into the Mechtech ports on his forearms. The sword works well enough, but wrist rotation isn't quite enough to make the most of the weapon. I'm not saying ball joints would have been preferable, but a small amount of tilt could have been useful.

The weapons are a bit disappointing, though, and it's a real shame that he's lacking the lance (something spring-loaded, like the dagger on the RotF Arcee toy, would have been cool) and the Cosmic Rust cannon he used to off Ironhide. While a Mechtech weapon from someone else (such as DotM Jolt) can serve as a stand-in for the latter, the way Sentinel's thumbs are molded prevents him actually holding any weapon other than his sword. Bizarrely, the strange lance weapon from the original movie's Deluxe Jazz toy might have been a serviceable addition to this toy, were it not for the fact that its peg is too small.

The functionality of the shield is no less strange in robot mode than it was in vehicle mode... parts spring open and what appears to be a tiny cannon springs out... but it always points at the ground, so I can't see it being especially useful in a fight.

The head sculpt is pretty good, though it's missing all the dangly 'beard' detail. It also borrows a feature from Leader Class figures in the TF: Animated toyline - when the button in the chest is pushed, the mouth opens just a touch. The big disappointment with the head is that it barely moves - the 'helmet' is extended so as to butt up against raised areas inside his 'collar', no doubt to ensure the internal wiring doesn't get torn or broken during play.

Since taking these photos, I realise I've made a bit of a mistake. In the vehicle mode photos, I've only flapped down the very back pieces to expose his missiles, while in the photos below, I've included a shot of detailed molded inside his lower leg, because I couldn't understand why it was there, or why the circular sockets are there. I have since realised that the sockets are additional Mechtech ports and the other detail should be made visible in vehicle mode.

The main drawback to Leader Class Sentinel Prime is that his transformation, while not especially complex, is even more fiddly than that of RotF Optimus. Getting his arms into his shins and oriented correctly for vehicle mode is painfully frustrating, and then ensuring all the panels line up nicely can take ages. Even then, the tabs on the edges of the roof are so small that they frequently don't hold their place. On the upside, I am very impressed by the way the front of the vehicle folds into his chest (with the windscreen being completely hidden behind the vehicle's bumper and side windows, and the way the various pieces fold around each other) and the way the panels making up the rear of the vehicle become the lower legs and feet. It works fluidly, and creates a toy that's reasonably accurate to the CGI on screen.

By and large, articulation is not quite as awesome as RotF Optimus, though they do have at least one common problem. The arms are slightly less poseable, though only because they won't hang straight - for whatever reason, the last ratchet on the shoulder joint leaves them out at a slight angle. The legs have an excellent range, but slightly weak rotation joints at the hips can make him topple backward in some cases. The biggest problem, just like Optimus, is the limited mobility of the feet. Whereas Optimus has ball-jointed ankles (slightly loose on mine) which are obstructed by parts of his shin, Sentinel has an arrangement of ratchets and hinges, and his 'toe' piece is an entirely separate part, on a hinge far too weak to offer any real posing support. Vehicle parts on the heel clash with the back of the leg, and the knee doesn't have quite the same range as Optimus so, while he can be posed very effectively, he does have a tendency to teeter as if he's about to fall over, and it can take some time to arrange the feet to his best advantage.

Just like RotF Optimus before him, DotM Sentinel Prime demonstrates what can be achieved - even with electronics and the need for a large battery compartment - with careful thought and planning. While I'm not a fan of all the panels that go to make up the vehicle mode, it's certainly not a shell-former to the same extent as the Voyager version, and all the 'shell' parts are used effectively in robot mode, with sculpted detail representing Sentinel's 'cape' things. The crippled voice chip is a disappointment, but it's typical of Hasbro's European releases. This thing deserves to go down in TransFormers history as a classic, even though it's not the pinnacle of form and function that the second Leader Class Optimus Prime represents.

I feel quite weird about the missing lance weapon, because it seems strange to actually want a Mechtech weapon. Most of them were too large and ill-suited to the toys they came with... and yet the one time some kind of spring-loaded Mechtech weapon would have been appropriate (not to say desirable), Hasbro ignored the opportunity.

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