Monday, 9 November 2015

Revenge of the Fallen Sideways

One of the most objectively interesting things about the TransFormers movie franchise - for me, that is - is the way it has introduced lots of new characters without ever giving them any characterisation. One fine example of this is Sideways, who appeared in Revenge of the Fallen for less than a minute, largely to introduce a bunch of new Autobots by having them chase him down and murder him horrifically. He's parked near Demolishor for reasons never explored, flees the scene when discovered, and spends his few remaining seconds of screen time trying to escape, never uttering a single line of dialogue. We never learn anything about him, least of all why a Decepticon who never actually tries to defend himself short of running away, actually deserves to be literally cleaved it two by Sideswipe (another newly introduced character who transforms into a silver car, just to make things easy to follow).

And yet Hasbro made a toy of him, meaning some poor bugger had to develop some sort of character for him in the associated comics and the novelisation because, let's face it, who'd actually buy a toy for a character who gets offed in the first few minutes of a story and is only seen in robot mode for a few seconds..?

Vehicle Mode:
Sideways in the movie transforms into an Audi R8 but, lacking the license to create that car's likeness for the toy, the designers created a car that's very similar to the Audi R8, but with sufficient differences to avoid any kind of legal action over it. Hence the front grille doesn't have the four interlinked rings of the Audi logo, but it does have a coincidentally similar pattern of four (unpainted) squares neatly highlighted by part of the toy's Automorph feature. To be honest, as made-up cars go, this is comes across enough like an Audi that I didn't initially realise it wasn't a licensed vehicle.

The vehicle mode is covered with an extensive layer of silver paint - and how ridiculous is that, when you consider that Jazz was left as bare grey plastic? - with only a bit of black striping down his sides and the Decepticon logo stamped on the rear. He doesn't even suffer from the usual malaise of a Deluxe with extensively painted bodywork - the lack of painted head/tail lights - because both are molded in transparent plastic. The tail lights and all of his windows are tinted pink and, while the engine detail molded onto the inside of the rear windscreen isn't painted, the detail itself is enough to ensure it stands out and is recognisable, almost glowing when the light catches it the right way. The hubcaps are also painted silver and, it may just be my eyes, but it actually looks like a different shade to that of the bodywork. What this model lacks, versus the movie character, is the glossy black bonnet and roof with four silver pinstripes leading to the Audi logo, several other bits of matte black detailing on the front and rear, as well as what appeared to be a gradient running from the 'scoop' parts in front of the rear wheels, along to the front wheels.

One thing the movie toylines tended to get right was the minimising of obvious seams and, for the most part, Sideways' seams have been carefully designed to minimise their impact, particularly with all that silver paint around. The most obvious seams are those of the two hinge pieces connecting the rear windscreen section to the roof, where the translucent pink is visible around their edges.

Like most Deluxes from the Revenge of the Fallen toyline, he's not inundated with accessories. On the upside, this means no huge 5mm ports to spoil the look of the body, but a large open space between his folded up legs seems to me to imply a missing weapon of some kind. The other downside to looking at Sideways from below is that it becomes quite apparent that he's something of a shellformer...

Robot Mode:
Based on his few seconds in robot mode at the beginning of Revenge of the Fallen, some folks initially erroneously believed that Sideways was Barricade with a new vehicle mode. The designs certainly have their similarities but, given a more extensive examination, there are plenty of differences. For one thing, the arms are far chunkier, the legs far slimmer, and the feet are among the tiniest I've ever see on a TransFormers toy. Perhaps the strangest thing about him is the colourscheme, with bright red parts forming his torso revealed during transformation. Given that everything else is black, silver or gunmetal, the use of scarlet plastic in such a prominent place doesn't make sense, especially since it's entirely unpainted. The CGI model implies a red glowing section in the centre of his chest, but everything else looks bare metal. There's plenty of molded detail on his robot parts, but they look terribly out of place in red.

His silhouette is pretty odd, not least because it's not entirely clear - even having seen some of the movie CGI - how one is supposed to position the car doors and the headlights. Both are on ball joints, so they can be shifted just about anywhere, but the instructions were rather vague and photos online show them positioned all over the place. His entire lower body is also pretty odd, with legs that look possibly digitigrade, but with long armour panels that dangle from the knee to the ankle. The hips also seem excessively wide given that the groin is already quite a wide block beneath the waist joint and the hips basically start on balls either side of it. I'm not sure why, but his legs always make me think of the G1 Insecticon, Kickback.

Weirdly, from behind, I always think Sideways looks like a peculiar mecha-rabbit, with the car's side windows being the ears, the indicator lights its eyes and the exhaust pipes... its teeth? Seriously, look at it... I guarantee you'll never be able to un-see it.

Sideways' Mech Alive gimmicks are operated by bending his elbows, but it's easy to miss them in action. The wheel on the outside of each arm, just above the elbow, will rotate, and a tiny window in each bicep shows a small grey piece rotating within. The right forearm also shows signs of a possible removed gimmick - there are molded details that look like the kind of geared button system used to rotate things like rotor blades on helicopters but, while the forearm looks large enough to have accommodated such a gimmick, the saw blade mounted on the back of his hand rotates freely on a pin. Likewise the fake wheel on his left hand.

Aside from the saw blade on his hand, Sideways is completely unarmed, and doesn't even have the means to hold any other standard weapon. The hands are molded partly open, but the left has the space between his thumb and palm filled in, and the right, while open, is of an odd shape. And just to highlight how strange his hands are, the fingers on his left hand are painted silver, but those on the right are not.

The head sculpt does have quite a few Barricade-like features, but it's clearly unique. It's also as nondescript as the overcomplicated design allows - there's no character to his face, and it just looks like a vaguely insectoid mass of small pieces, the very worst of movie Decepticon design. His beady eyes are light piped, but they're so small and lost in the crazy molded detail of his head that they might as well not have bothered. There's an application of silver paint to some of the molded details, too, but I'm not sure that does anything to improve his look, or whether it just confuses it further.

With a large number of outer car shell panels dotted about, getting Sideways back into vehicle mode isn't the simplest process, and the spring-loaded Automorph feature that releases his waist piece and retracts his front wheels can make switching those pieces back to their vehicle mode positions quite tricky, Things do fit together quite well, though, and some aspects of the transformation are cleverly designed. The way he compacts down into the car shell is well done, even if it does leave the robot looking decidedly odd. Several elements, such as the tiny panels at the back of the bonnet that need to be flipped up for robot mode, almost seem redundant, as if those sections could have been designed better to reduce the parts count, but my main gripe about transformation is how vague some of it is. It took quite a while - and seeing several photos online - for me to realise that Sideways' backpack actually pegs in to his back so that the rear of the car runs across his shoulders rather than over them.

Given that his shoulders, hips and ankles are ball joints, and that he has waist articulation, the only limiting factor to Sideways' poseability is his miniscule footprint. Even then, he's actually surprisingly stable as long as his feet are flat against the ground and his stance is balanced. This is helped by the rotation joint right at the top of the hip, which supplements the range of the hip ball joint. The knees are pretty awkward, in that they look double-jointed but aren't. The arms on mine tend to be a bit floppy (mainly at the joint that swings them out from their vehicle mode position, which doesn't lock into place in robot mode) but they can hold a pose... and the bicep swivel works quite well despite its tendency to clash with the car door panels, depending on how they're posed. The head, sadly, is pinned in place rather than on a ball joint, which limits it slightly, giving the impression that he's always looking up due to the angled molding of his head.

I don't quite know why, but this was actually one of my favourite RotF Deluxe molds... possibly, in part, because it's packed with more features than a Deluxe can really make truly effective use of - as if he was originally intended to be a Voyager. Some attention has clearly been lavished on the design and execution, of this model despite Sideways' negligible role in the movie. He doesn't quite match the CGI from the movie, but he's a very distinctive and stylish robot, albeit also extremely odd-looking. On the strength of this model, I also bought RotF Dead End, and I'm very keen to get the more recent Dino figure, a Japan only interpretation of the character briefly glimpsed in Dark of the Moon, released as part of Takara Tomy's Age of Extinction line. Sideways may not be everyone's cup of tea, and the plastic colours used on robot mode just don't make sense... but, with a limited cast of Decepticons from the movie series, he's a decent addition to a collection.

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