Wednesday, 9 May 2012

Hunt for the Decepticons Highbrow

I'm not sure whether it's obvious from this blog yet, but I'm a huge fan of anything oddball in the TransFormers line. Be it the outlandish live-action movie designs (Demolishor, Rampage, and the RotF 'Wheelsnakes' are huge favourites of mine) or the bizarre animal choices from the Beast Wars lines, I always appreciate the effort that goes in to fitting a robot into an unusual disguise, particularly if the results are asymmetrical. Aeroplanes tend to draw the short straw when it comes to TransFormers, with many ending up as planes with boxy robot undercarriages that turn into robots with planes hanging off their back (Silverbolt - G1, Classics/Universe and Combiner Wars - Universe Darkwind and RotF Jetfire, I'm looking at you)... but every once in a while, TransFormers brings the world something truly special - an unusual plane that becomes an excellent robot with minimal wastage...

Vehicle Mode:
I know not whether this is based on a real plane - there are similar things, but nothing quite identical as far as I can determine - but it's truly awesome. The central part looks like some kind of jet engine or turbine with a cockpit stuck on top, but it sits between two full-length propeller-driven fuselages. Adding to the fun, these propellers are geared/sprung to spin when the goldish-painted engine intakes are pushed down. They don't spin very freely, but it's a cute addition and, just for once, doesn't have a massive impact on robot mode.

There's one rather obvious flaw with this plane, though - the cockpit is quite far back on the central pod and, based on the angle/curve of that pod, it seems to me that the pilot would only ever be able to see forward while diving... Not exactly ideal for flight... It would also probably have a tough time taking off or landing - its undercarriage is a pair of wheels on either end of a Y-bar which flips down from the central pod, along with a single wheel roughly in the middle of each of the outer fuselages. I wouldn't be surprised if the tail took a fair amount of damage from the ground, if this was a real plane.

It's a very well-armed plane, though. There are a couple of wing-mounted Gatling guns and missile racks, and the molded details right above the nose could easily be another couple of machine guns. Despite the strange design, this bird is clearly a fighter.

It's largely molded in a flat, military green, with P+10 tampographed on the sides of the cockpit area, and the underside is quite extensively painted in a pale sky blue, so it's sort-of camoflaged if seen from above or below. Not quite sure what the beetle-like markings on the tail wings are all about, but they're an interesting addition. There's plenty of molded detail, from panel rivets to engine parts, and metallic paint - goldish, silver and a darker, gunmetal colour - is used where most appropriate. From most angles, anyone who wasn't familiar with the model might easily mistake it for a toy plane, rather than a TransFormer.
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Robot Mode:
To look at the plane mode, even from the underside, you'd be hard pressed to figure out how it changes into a bipedal, broadly humanoid robot, so props (har har) to the designer for making one of the most interesting transformations I've seen in quite a while. Interesting, and yet simple, and resulting in a very well-proportioned robot.

And the really cool thing is that he looks like a robot that disguises itself as an old-fashioned plane... It's not that large amounts of the plane are obvious and just hanging off the robot - this is probably one of the most economical designs I've seen in a while - just that he looks old-fashioned.

Adding to this look is the head sculpt which, for the most part, doesn't quite suit either the live action movie aesthetic or that of the Classics/Universe line... in many ways, Highbrow looks more like a weird offshoot from the Star Wars Transformers, where the robot's head sculpt was intended to look like its pilot. This robot even has a flying helmet with goggles... which can be tipped back on the head to reveal more of his face. It's strange... but it works rather well.

The propellers as forearms hark back to Incinerator and the dinky Springer dual-rotor helicopters from the original live action movie's toyline. Thankfully, though, Highbrow does have proper hands, and the propellers don't get in the way too badly. They do leave his forearms at a rather strange angle, though.

Highbrow's feet, while formed from the plane's tail section, manage to offer excellent balance in a wide range of poses... just another cool feature of an excellent model. The oddest part, perhaps, is that the cockpit section splits open to reveal a kind of jet pack thing, which is hidden just below the pilot's seat in plane mode.
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Highbrow is an absolute joy to transform - nothing fiddly, but plenty of satisfying twists and turns. The entire lower body of the robot splits and swings outward to form the outer fuselages, held in place by the arms, which form the very front of the plane. The cockpit section seems a little wasted, becoming a couple of large, otherwise redundant panels sticking up out of the back and something resembling a rocket engine, but the rest of the model is very well designed.

It's also surprisingly poseable, considering how rigid the vehicle mode is. The feet may not look that great, but they're very stable, and have enough tilt at the ankles to support him well. The only gripe I'd have is that the arms are perhaps a little stubby, and the massive forearms don't look great... but even those arms are well articulated.

Loosely speaking, this is an offshoot from the Revenge of the Fallen toyline, using the name of a Generation 1 HeadMaster. The character and name might not fit the model (the original Highbrow was a very simplistic dual-rotor helicopter), and the model might not fit the movie line that well (obsessed, as it mostly was, by the hottest, latest General Motors cars), but it's an excellent, somewhat eccentric model in its own right, and stands up well against the rest of the line.

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