Tuesday, 26 July 2011

TransFormers (Movie) Blackout

One of the first TransFormers to be seen in the live action movie, Blackout set the tone for the look of the Decepticons. He was a new character invented for the movie, though he exhibited some characteristics of Soundwave (jamming radar/communications, carrying a 'minion'), so he was an easy fit into the mythos, even if the creation of new characters when such a wide and varied selection from the multiple continuities already existed did raise concerns about the movie.

There was something very ominous about the silence of the MH-53J 'Pave Low' as it made its first appearance, being led to the SOCCENT Forward Operations Base by the resident humans, who hadn't the faintest idea what they were allowing into their fold... Blackout was one of the first movie toys I bought, and the vendor assured me I would not be disappointed.

Vehicle Mode:
There are two things that first leap out at you when handling Blackout's toy. The first is that, for a Voyager, he's actually pretty small. This is actually fairly common for aircraft TransFormers, and particularly the helicopters... so, while it's disappointing that such a massive chopper has become such a tiny toy, it's not unexpected. Fans have been clamouring for a Leader class Blackout since 2007, but it looks increasingly unlikely to happen.

The second thing is that he's awesomely detailed, with - mostly - cleverly concealed seams. The proportions seem right - those rotor blades certainly look the right size - and, while it's a little lacking in decoration, the flat, sober blue-grey suits the vehicle perfectly. Windows and other details are picked out in black, yellow and gold paint, and there's a very half-hearted black wash on a few other parts, but most of the model shows off the flat plastic colour.

The designers also managed to include the almost ubiquitous button-activated rotor-spinning action rather more subtly that some other toys have managed, with a black plunger protruding from the tail. It's a shame this couldn't also have been geared to also spin the stabiliser, but the tail fin is pretty slim, and widening it accommodate the necessary gears would have been detrimental to the overall look. The rear flap has a large molded support making a mess of the tail section but, considering the length of the flap, it was a necessary structural addition.

Also, taking cues from Blackout's big attack scene at the beginning of the movie, a tiny Scorponok figure is included, held in a cage towards the back of the chopper. The cage is supposed to spring to open and eject Scorponok when a small button is pressed, but the mechanism is weak and floppy, and sometimes doesn't work too well - either flopping open without the button being pressed, or refusing to open when it is. The figure even has a spring-loaded tail that is supposed to fling him out when the cage is release, but it barely moves, and the figure is molded in rubber anyway.

One cute feature of this model is that Deluxe Scorponok can attach to the bottom, and his gears connect with Blackout's so that activating the rotor blades also spins Scorponok's claws. Out of proportion it may well be, but it certainly adds play value.
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Robot Mode:
Bearing in mind that this toy came into my possession before the film hit cinemas, I wasn't quite sure what to expect. Blackout is like nothing I'd ever seen before - every helicopter TransFormer before him had stuck to much the same pattern, making tradeoffs between one mode or the other to reach a happy medium. Blackout, meanwhile, looks far more like I would expect an alien robot to look when it disguises itself as a terrestrial vehicle. I particularly liked that the entire rotor assembly becomes a feature of his back, sitting above and behind his head, with the rotor blades hanging down like a cape.

Less attractive is the entire tail section hanging down behind him. Looking at the model in robot mode, it becomes obvious that the transforming robot is made from the cockpit and the underside of the chopper - everything else just kind of sits there in robot mode. I'm sure that, had Blackout's toy been made specifically for Dark of the Moon, or even perhaps Revenge of the Fallen, that tail section would either have been better utilised, or collapsed into the back more throroughly. Naturally this would have been at the expense of the geared rotors, but it might have encouraged the designers to make the rotors detachable - as they are in the movie, and almost every other TransFormers helicopter - for use as a weapon in robot mode.

But, still, Scorponok's cage rotates round so that it's in approximately the right place, but with the hinge now at the top, it's even less inclined to open successfully when the release button is pushed.

The Automorph gimmick on this model should, in theory, be awesome. When the cockpit is collapsed back into place as the robot's chest, gears should automatically reveal the head and lower the legs... but in practice, it all needs a helping hand.

It's difficult to judge how good the head sculpt is because it's so small, and because it suffers from the worst attempt at a black wash I've ever seen. Blackout is rarely seen in any detail or for very long but, going by the CGI artwork on the internet, the head isn't a very good match. It does have excellent light piping, though, which works well in spite of the large protrudance from his back. The legs probably lose most in terms of accuracy to the movie model - they're very square, and the toes are curved inward rather than out, but they did try to balance this out by including little panels that flap out when the kneecap is pushed into place.

Poseability is generally good - better in the upper body than the lower - but the large block of helicopter hanging off the back does get in the way somewhat... Though, on the upside, it's long enough to act as a further support for some of the more extreme poses. It can also be detached from his back and plugged into his shoulder, giving the toy access to an approximation of Movie Blackout's rotor blade weapon, albeit vastly more bulky and unwieldy.
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Scorponok Mini-Figure
This is the millstone hanging from Blackout's neck. Were it not for this, more of the body of the chopper could have been turned into robot. It's to the right scale, certainly, but it's molded in entirely the wrong colour of rubber, and the, despite being a reasonably detailed model, the paint job is insultingly weak - just a touch of gunmetal over the tail.

The tails is sprung so that, in theory, Scorponok will launch himself out of Blackout's back, as he did in the movie. Sadly, the spring isn't strong enough, and the rubber is too flexible, for this to be effective.

As a first-generation movie toy, Blackout is, of course, very flawed... but he's also pretty bloody awesome. Were it not for his size - tiny compared to other Movie Voyagers - he'd still be one of the finest movie toys thusfar released. He was repainted several times for the first movie and the second, and as both Autobots and Decepticons.

Aside from the glitchy Automorph gimmick, his transformation couldn't be simpler or more effective, though I suspect a contemporaty remake of this character in any size class (preferably larger!) would exhibit many improvements in design and execution. He probably only has waist articulation because it's necessary for transformation, but it does add to the model.

It's unfortunate that he has no additional weaponary, other than the excessively bulky rotor assembly, but all Blackout's weapons in the movie were internal - one in gun in each arm, and another in his chest. By comparison, the inclusion of a mini-Scorponok seems like a huge waste.

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