Monday, 25 May 2015

N.E.S.T. Global Alliance Bludgeon

Bludgeon will always seem to me to be a weird addition to the live action movie toylines. Originally a G1 Pretender, his shell was a ghostly samurai in orange armour (because Pretender technology makes for a perfect disguise!) and he transformed from a dumpy robot into a dumpy tank. The first movie Bludgeon appeared in a two-pack, as a repaint of Wreckage packaged with a repaint/remold of Blackout as Whirl. For the extended Revenge of the Fallen toyline, something entirely new was created, going back to his roots, but in a startling and original way.

Vehicle Mode:
OK, I know, a Decepticon transforming into a tank hardly qualifies as 'startling and original' - hell, it's not even the first live action movie tankformer - but bear with me. While Brawl transformed into a high-tech, contemporary tank, Bludgeon looks like something from World War II (though it's actually based on a surprisingly contemporary Japanese tank). Much of his colourscheme is not far off the standard 'olive drab' military green, but he has an odd splash of orange right on his front and on the rearmost wheels in his treads. There are also odd splashes of pale grey, from the tip of his cannon's barrel to the supplementary weapons on the turret (which I can almost understand) to a single wheel near the front of his treads and a block of tank surface just above (which I can't). Oddly, this part cannot be grey simply due to paint budget restrictions has Hasbro made the bizarre and wholly unnecessary move of adding green paint to some of the protruding panels above his treads on each side and a random block on his turret. They were already greenish, now they're merely a different shade.

Still, the molded detail on this tank is incredible - outdoing the larger Brawl from the first movie by quite a large margin.  It has the usual tank feature of a 360° rotating turret, along with a freely moving machine gun mounted atop that. Just for a change, the treads are partly molded in soft rubber and, in those sections, entirely separate from the wheels within them. Sadly, the treads don't move and, like just about every other TransFormers tank of a certain size, the underside features a set of tiny plastic pinned wheels to facilitate movement.

Unusually, for a tank of this size, there are no spring-loaded weapons on Bludgeon. The reason for this becomes clearer in robot mode and, while I never feel that spring-loaded weapons are a necessary addition to a transforming robot toy, it nevertheless seems disappointing that this toy wasn't overburdened with gimmicks considering how gimmicky this toyline became.

And, since lights and sounds are the preserve of Leader class toys, there are no cannon/missile/gun fire effects anywhere to be seen (or heard). On this one point alone, Bludgeon makes it pretty high up my list of all-time favourite TransFormers tanks. In fact, as far as his vehicle mode goes, the only improvement I could think of would be giving him a black wash to bring out more of the copious molded detail.
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Robot Mode:
One must surely wonder about the minds at work on TransFormers toys when a movie-related toy referencing a G1 Pretender ends up transforming from a tank into... a ghostly samurai robot. That said, first impressions of Bludgeon are excellent - and if you don't consider it at least somewhat 'startling and original', I'd have to wonder about your mind as well.

Given the blocky alternate mode, most TransFormers tanks end up looking quite blocky in robot mode. Not so with Bludgeon, whose body seems skeletal, almost as if he's a tiny, skinny robot inside large chunks of transforming armour. The arms almost seem ridiculously slim, and I do wish they'd found some way to use a bit more of the vehicle mode's otherwise untouched mass to bulk them up a bit. The legs are at least covered with armour panels, so their skinniness is somewhat disguised. His 'Mech Alive' feature is that the exposed grey parts in his thighs rotate along with the joint just above his knees... Minimal, but effective.

Since G1 Bludgeon's shell was largely yellow and orange (or perhaps two shades of orange), movie Bludgeon transforms from a green tank into a robot that looks mostly orange... albeit only from the front. He also features more than his fair share of black plastic, so he looks much darker than his G1 predecessor. I find the design of his chest rather odd, in that it looks like another skull design. This would have been less apparent had the 'eyesockets' (which stick out rather than sinking in) were painted either orange or grey (making him look more like his G1 self), or if they'd been decorated in any other way, such as having the raised diagonal strips painted over to highlight them. The upper legs could have done with some paintwork to bring out their details and, while I see why the shins were painted orange, it does leave an odd-looking section of tread in vehicle mode.

Compared to most TransFormers tanks, and most movie line figures, Bludgeon doesn't seem very well armed. Robot mode has access to no guns (apart from the turret's machine gun and missile launchers, now mounted - almost uselessly - on his back) but he does have a pair of swords - one long, one short - to complete the 'samurai' look. What's rather funny about this is that swords were the only thing missing from the samurai stylings of the G1 Pretender shell. These swords can be stored in their vehicle mode slots or slid into a couple of rings molded into his hip armour. Naturally, they can be wielded in either hand, though it's a struggle to get the longer sword into his hands as it has to be slid in between his thumb and fingers, and it's a very tight fit. That may explain the otherwise mind-boggling decision to mold both weapons in tough rubber rather than solid plastic, which leaves both swords - but particularly the longer one - prone to bending over time. The two blades can also be connected - the hilt of the smaller blade slots into the gunbarrel on the end of the hilt of the longer - making for an odd, vaguely spear-ish weapon, but that's nothing special, and he can't hold it any differently.

The big pull - or big turn-off, depending on your preference - is the head sculpt. Paying further homage to G1 Bludgeon's Pretender shell, he has a robotic skull face inside a simple, somewhat angular samurai-style helmet. The eyes are huge, opaque and very red, the nose is wide open and it's difficult to understand quite what's happening with his mouth. To be honest - it's a real mess. Are those teeth? Mandibles? Is the whole thing some bizarre robotic mask hiding ever more terrifying grotesquery? No-one really knows, but a fair few people were deeply unsatisfied by Hasbro's attempt at a robotic skullface, so there were at least two third party replacements made - one more skull-like, the other more robotic. Curiously, this is one of those models which has a separate part for the back of the head which would have given Bludgeon excellent light piping had it been molded in a translucent plastic rather than the opaque pale grey used here. Granted, there aren't any other pieces in translucent plastic, so light piping wasn't an option unless some other parts (the upper arms and inner thighs, plus a few bits in his backpack) were also translucent.
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Bludgeon certainly breaks the mold for tankformers - literally none of the usual tricks were used in his engineering. and, even though the turret just ends up on his back, it serves a worthwhile purpose while it's there. The fact that the turret ends up on his back is nothing unusual, but the fact that it's used for storing both his swords is: the longer one is the tip if his main cannon, the smaller can be tucked away inside the turret case and deploys via a clever hinging mechanism. Transformation is reasonably complex for his size and works very smoothly apart from getting his legs into place, since the hips open out and fold around a structural piece that slides into the body, and parts tend to want to occupy the same space, or just get stuck, at that point in the proceedings. Bludgeon does end up with a lot of tank shell pieces dotted around, but they're pretty well utilised as samurai-style armour and seldom get in the way of his movement.

Popular as they are in the TransFormers toyline, the use of a tank as an alternate mode tends to introduce problems when it comes to articulation. In the early days, it was just that the toys generally were blocky but, even now, the bulk necessary to make a convincing tank tends to end up restricting joints one way or another. With Bludgeon being so skeletal, though, he somehow manages to make far better use of his available joints even than movie Brawl, not least because, while comparatively small, his feet are sufficient to support him in a variety of interesting 'battling samurai' poses. His arms are basically made of joints from shoulder to elbow and, while he has no wrist articulation, the freedom of movement elsewhere means he can actually wield his larger sword two-handed. Really, the only downside is the head, which can only move from side to side. Some upward tilt could have made a huge difference, and allowed for a slightly more menacing look.

In spite of its spindly limbs, this is one of the most creative (and possibly one of the most impressive) TransFormers tanks in the history of the toyline. The mold has since gone on to become movie Banzaitron, two variations of Megatron (both in the Asian market only) and, thanks to the Collectors' Club, Gigatron/Overlord, but Bludgeon is really the only character who truly suited the mold. It's certainly not without its flaws - not least those awful, floppy, rubber swords - but definitely an impressive addition to the movie toy lineup.

That said, I display mine along with my Classics toys, as I feel it makes for a better fit there, along with another Pretenders reimagining, Generations Skullgrin... even though their scales don't match.

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