Sunday, 8 June 2014

Revenge of the Fallen Skids

The twins caught a lot of hate in the second live-action TransFormers movie. It began when concept art of their faces started turning up on fan websites and, while any complaints at that point were rather premature, they were understandable. Bumblebee's movie look had had a predominately negative reception, but even he looked pretty in comparison to Skids and Mudflap. To begin with, I thought the concept art was part of a practical joke. Surely such monstrosities could never be placed side by side with the movie designs for Optimus, Ironhide, Ratchet and, yes, even Bumblebee?

Then the movie actually happened and, quite honestly, I feel that they turned out to be among the least crappy things about the film. The allegations of racist stereotyping overshadowed pretty much everything else about the characters, but Hasbro still brought them out as toys... in several size classes... and in several colourschemes. Clearly the concept of striking deceased equidae has never entered their collective consciousness


Vehicle Mode:
The twins' alternate modes were a clear sign that GM were really getting into the idea of TransFormers movies as advertising for their vehicles, in Skids' case, the Chevy Beat concept car. Trouble is, it's just not as interesting or as sexy a car as the Camaro or the Stingray. More like the kind of car a teenager wouldn't complain about borrowing from their parents for a Friday night on the town with their friends. It's a self-consciously cool, compact vehicle, but it doesn't have the 'wow' factor of Chevrolet's other concept cars from around that time... It just feels too 'safe'.

Aside from its acidic green colour scheme and weird 'tattoo' things on each side... they're clearly meant to be all 'trendy' and 'tribal', but they're just Cybertronian hieroglyphics stretched out to look that way. As far as I know, there are no sufficiently complete resources on these characters to determine what they actually mean but, considering they pretty much littered the bodies of all the robots in the movies, and much of the scenery, in RotF, they're almost certainly supposed to mean something.

I have to admit that I'm quite impressed by the headlights: rather than being a single piece of plastic painted to look right, these things have clear plastic bubbles over grey plastic 'lights'. It's all pretty simple stuff, but very well executed, and the effect is great.

It's fairly obvious from the start that a good portion of the paint budget went on covering the translucent cyan plastic parts of the car shell with green paint which actually matches the green plastic so well, it doesn't even show up as different in my photos! The side window frames and the entire bonnet are painted black, and it strikes me as curious that the bonnet wasn't just molded in the same plastic as the wheels... but I'm sure there's a good reason for that. All the grilles, front and back, are painted black, while the main front grille is rimmed with silver and has the Chevrolet logo painted silver too. The rear, meanwhile, has its lights painted red, the numberplate in cyan and - miraculously - the rear Chevy logo is also picked out in silver. Comparatively speaking, Hasbro really went to town on Skids' vehicle mode...
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Robot Mode:
...which, of course, means robot mode is comparatively plain. In fact, aside from the silver paint of his 'monocle', the black (representing silver, naturally) of his face and 'hair', his gold and silver buck teeth, and the silver Autobot insignia stamped on his crotch, there isn't a single lick of paint unique to robot mode. That doesn't make Skids look plain, though, as he has four new colours of plastic... athough three of those are variations on grey. I do find it a little baffling that Hasbro chose to introduce a second shade of green as there's really no reason for it. The robot parts could - and should - have been the same green as the car shell... I mean, after all, that's what the robot mode should be made out of, right?

His legs are short and skinny, unlike the stumpy legs of the CGI, and the pieces of car shell wrapped around behind his shins really don't substitute for true bulk very well. His lower legs look hollow from the front and from behind, while they just look plain wrong from the sides. The strangest aspect of this figure has to be the arms... Similar to RotF Megatron, he has one small, skinny arm (though not quite so ridiculously shrivelled-looking as Megatron's) and one gigantic murder arm, which houses a spring-loaded feature: tap the protrusion near his elbow and his enlarged fist shoots forward by just over a centimetre. As spring-loaded features go, it's a bit of a disappointment. On the upside, there are separate pinned joints for his fingers and his thumb... That counts as additional articulation, right?

But that's not the end of his spring-loaded features. For no accountable reason, Hasbro/Takara Tomy decided that what this model really needed was a flexing chest... and so, when the car's front grille is pushed in, the green bits surrounding it move about and his neck tilts forward. It's a fun feature, sure... I simply don't understand why the time and effort was wasted on such a strange addition to the model.

Given the source material, the head sculpt is as good as one could hope... which is to say it's seriously ugly. Add to that the poor paintwork and you have a problem that not even excellent light piping can fix. Coincidentally, Skids does have excellent light piping, but it's clear, colourless plastic with only the eyes painted translucent cyan... which tends to suggest that, actually, that's what the windows are... So more of the paint budget got wasted on unnecessarily recolouring Skids' windows too. Way to go, Hasbro...
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Say what you will about the character in the movie and his awkward portrayal, the transformation for this toy is pretty amazing. It's very complex for its size, yet the vehicle mode is largely an empty shell wrapped around a very compact robot. The only real disappointment is that, the way the 'doors' are hinged, they cannot open outward... yet I'm pretty sure that only a minor modification to a couple of parts would have permitted this extra feature. On the other hand, opening doors would only have shown how empty the inside of vehicle mode actually is... and probably would have adversely affected the toy's stability in vehicle mode. One of the strangest aspects of the transformation is the folding of the central part of his front bumper up into his belly... if you follow the instructions precisely, he ends up looking less accurate than if it's left in its vehicle mode position...

Skids is yet another one of those movie molds that's very well articulated in theory but, in practice and in plastic, it just doesn't work out. The pinned knee joints in particular tend to be floppy so, with his large backpack, Skids has a habit of falling over backward. Some of this can be avoided by using the car sides, wrapped around his lower legs, as additional heel supports. His arms are fine, with the car panels kept far enough out of the way that they don't hinder their movement in any significant way. One particular car panel does manage to hinder the movement of his ball-jointed head, however... because it's plugged in right behind his neck.

Barring the awful head design, weak knee joints, weird gimmicks and the rather clumsy backpack, Skids makes for a pretty decent toy. That said, much of the car shell feels very brittle, yet some of the pegs - particularly those on the multi-panel car roof - are incredibly strong, which can lead to stress marks on some of the plastic, most notably at the top of the windscreen on mine. It's not as screen-accurate as the Human Alliance version but, for a Deluxe, the designers have done an excellent job... it's just a shame that the character and the movie he's from weren't as well-conceived.

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