Saturday, 14 July 2018

DotM Mechtech Ironhide (Voyager)

As a member of the core cast of the first three films, it was almost inevitable that Ironhide would receive multiple interpretations in plastic. Oddly, though, while some characters were completely remade in most size classes between the first and second movies, Ironhide had to wait till the third movie's toyline for an entirely new Voyager class figure, with only Legends class updates in between.

By and large, the original toy was adequate - not the best of the bunch, but not the worst, and suffering only from a few loose joints, some less-than-perfect Automorph features, and the general level of inaccuracy to the CGI that afflicted all the figures in the first movie's toyline. When Dark of the Moon rolled out a while new mold for the character, I was happy to see it, and quick to snap it up... but was the new version all that much better?

Vehicle Mode:
The first thing to note is that the new version is smaller than the original, but generally much cleaner - gone are the massive weapons, slung under the sides of the vehicle, protruding horribly, artificially increasing the ground clearance and mucking up the proportions.

Where the windows on the original were all translucent grey plastic, this version only has translucent plastic for the frontmost set of windows. The rear set are sculpted into opaque black plastic and not even painted to differentiate them from the surrounding panels. The paint job at the front is much the same as the original - while the indicator blocks are now translucent blue plastic with opaque orange paint over the front face, the headlights and grille frame are painted silver as before, the GMC logo is painted red again, while the sculpted bumper details are still unpainted. At the back, the Autobot insignia has been highlighted with some dark metallic paint and, while the tail lights are painted red, the silver frames are absent - though this is actually closer to the look of the real vehicle. The GMC logo is absent from the loading hatch, but the same was true on the original. Down the sides, there's a mixture of new paint applications - the running boards are now silver, as they should be - and an absence of decals, particularly the '4x4' logo that should be over the rear wheel wells (present, but misplaced on both the original movie toy and the DotM Leader class figure), and the vent on the righthand side of the bonnet is unpainted. The exhaust pipes are also unpainted, but are at least molded in a shade of grey plastic intended to represent silver/chrome, while the row of lights on the front of the roof are just unpainted bumps without any real detail. Similarly, and unsurprisingly, none of the smaller lights - on the front and rear bumpers, or the indicators on the rear wheel wells - are painted in.

One of the strangest changes to this version is that the wheels are molded in a blue-ish/teal-ish grey, rather than black... and this is the first sign that robot mode will look a bit weird. What's interesting is that the Leader class version's wheels were molded in a similar colour of plastic, but then painted with two kinds of black to better resemble the vehicle in the movie... Whether that was the plan here, but it just got budgeted out, I'm not sure... but having wheels/tyres in that colour looks decidedly odd. It's also more apparent in the photos than in real life that the black plastic used for the rear passenger doors is darker and/or glossier than the black plastic used just about everywhere else.

This being a Mechtech toy, naturally there are 5mm ports on the vehicle - one on each side, below the passenger 'windows', then one in the centre of the roof. None of them are spring-loaded, so they're actually 5mm ports added to the surface of the vehicle, which does have a slight negative effect on its overall look. Since Ironhide was packaged with only one - ginormous - Mechtech weapon, three sockets seems more than a little extravagant. Nevertheless, the weapon can attach to any of these three points, but always looks like a miniature spacecraft rather than a weapon. That said, the Mechtech gimmick is probably easier to operate in this form than in robot mode, as the vehicle is rather more stable.

Robot Mode:
You may notice a 'slight' difference between the photos of vehicle mode, above, and the photos of robot mode, below. This is largely because I took the original batch of photos back in 2011, but only noticed recently that I had Ironhide mistransformed in all the robot mode photos. I'd also started thinking, in the intervening years, that his double-jointed knees could be used to make him look less lanky and closer to the look of the movie CGI... Then again, of all the movie 'bots (with the possible exception of Deluxe class Jazz and the '76 Camaro Bumblebee), Ironhide seems to be the one that's somehow most difficult to get right at any size class.

So, what I've done with these new photos is fold the knee back on itself, so the kneecaps now protrude further forward, and he has a slight forced 'squat' to his posture, but no longer has excessivly long legs versus the bulk of the upper body. The squat may not be accurate, but it makes his legs appear more bulky because the thigh becomes substantially shorter. You're still left with a robot that has a massive upper body and shoulder pads that almost look as if they've come from Rob Liefield's sketchbook, then a super-thin waist, and fairly narrow hips, but you get more of an idea of what he's supposed to look like this way.

However, I mentioned that the strange choice of plastic colour for the tyres was an early indication that robot mode would look a little adrift... the reason being that Ironhide in CGI form was largely black, with a few metallic accents and paint scuffs here and there... but Hasbro, for some reason, decided to mold the robot mode parts of this toy in two additional, lighter shades of the teal-ish grey, plus a flat grey plastic, and then add paint detail in black or gold/copper. Granted, the CGI does exhibit some signs of gold/copper detailing, but it's all very sparing. Most of the contrast - most of what gives you an idea of where one black part ends and another begins - comes from the scuffs on the edges. A black vehicle that suddenly develops teal-ish legs, gold highlights on the hips, a grey belly and grey forearms just doesn't look like the CGI anymore... and that's before getting into the inaccuracies of the sculpt. Another oddity is the extent of the silver paint on his feet - covering the whole centre section from the ankle to the tip of the middle 'toe'. Some silver paint is appropriate, but the toes should have been left black... That said, even the Masterpiece version seems to get this wrong, with the two outer 'toes' on each of its feet painted silver. It's also worth mentioning that I did complain that the original movie Ironhide toy, molded mostly in black plastic, looked too bland... but this isn't quite the 'improvement' I had in mind...

Overall, the mechanical detailing is far better than that of the original toy... but still quite a bit has been misinterpreted from the CGI. Some of it, like the way the sides of the truck bed wrap around the lower legs, is a simplification of CGI details, but actually works well and bulks up the lower half of the figure... if only some of it could have remained attached to his thighs. Other bits, like the mechanical parts on the insides of the front wheels, are the right idea, but in very much the wrong postion. The detailing of the thighs and forearms is surprisingly deep and extensive, though you'd be hard pressed to identify specific details of the original CGI.

The enormous Mechtech behemoth of a weapon can attach to either arm via its 5mm peg or socket - it appears as though the socket is intended for use to connect the weapon via the pegs on Ironhide's forearms, with the claw facing forward, while the peg on the gun plugs into the socket near his elbows to use the 4-barrelled cannon and the active Mechtech feature. Being rather large, the gun tends to make Ironhide's forearms droop but, with some careful adjustment, he can hold it pointing in some directions... it just never looks as though he's aiming it.

The head sculpt is a massive improvement on the original, but still not entirely correct. For one thing, it seems far too small, and mounted too far back. The details are nice and sharp, but Ironhide's face always seemed asymmetrical to me, and this one is almost perfectly even, allowing for some imprecise paint applications. Predictably, this toy appears to feature Ironhide's battlemasked face but, given that the only difference seemed to be a marginal reduction in the amout of panel detail around his schnoz, it could easily just be that what little face he has is simply missing its silver paint. The head, being molded in black plastic, should have had quite a few silver details painted in, particularly on the sides, but he only has a strip of silver on his chin/lips, the silver 'horseshoe' on his forehead, and some coppery/goldy details around the eyes and mouth along with the requisite cyan paint blobbed over his eyes. The overall shape is pretty good, though it does seem to taper in a little too much toward the chin.

I'd have to say this is one of the worst - or most misguided, at least - Mechtech weapons from the entire Dark of the Moon line. The idea is that it's a double-ended weapon with a three-fingered claw/blaster thing at one end and a spinning, 4-barrelled gun at the other. Pushing the claw end into the body of the gun pushes the other end out and an internally-geared mechanism makes the barrels spin, giving the impression of the barrels moving in and out as the weapon fires. The central part of the claw end can be twisted to lock the other end in its extended position, but there really doesn't seem to be much point to that, as it won't spin perpetually and, while the internal tech detailing is interesting to see, I don't think it's designed to be seen all the time.

It has a semi-neat feature in that, when activated, the 'lit up' areas on the main body of the gun appear to change colour... but it's actually just that the three orange painted details get pushed out the front, and similarly-sculpted details pop into place behind the holes in the main body. It strikes me that this is possibly the wrong way round, but perhaps the paint is intended to represent the weapon in its fully-charged state..?

The gun is molded in grey and blue-ish grey plastic, with chunk of armour on the front painted matte balck, and the four-barrelled gun section painted silver... I honestly would have preferred something more like the original toy's weapon - a two-part thing that can plug into either arm separately, or one arm when combined - as this thing is simply too large and unwieldy for a figure of Ironhide's size... particularly with the limitations imposed on his articulation.

Freed from the Automorph gimmicks of the original movie's toyline, this new Ironhide's transformation is far smoother and a touch more intricate, with a much smaller backpack. In his default form, he's way too lanky - partly because his legs are just so damned thin, but mostly because there's just too much of them in terms of length. Honestly, the only way to make him look anywhere near 'right' is by hinging the knees back on themselves the way I've done in my new photos, above. Another whinge is that the chest - while handled very cleverly - is very finicky. Unlike the original and the Leader class figure, the two halves of the bonnet remain connected throughout transformation, and the piece that joins them has to hook onto a tab on the inside of the belly plate, but it's not a very secure connection and can pop out with the least provocation. There's also the side windows/car panels that end up on his back, almost like wings - it's not entirely clear where they're intended to be in robot mode. The windows are mounted on ball joints and connect to the vehicle's side panels via a hinge that's pinned in place. On mine, one of them is loose enough that the panel can be rotated slightly, but the other is too tight, so I'm assuming the movement of one is unintended. The ball joint is fairly limited in its range of motion, but none of the positions available really look right... and it's not helped by the concept art for Ironhide being so inconsistent. All that said, it's far simpler to grasp the transformation of this figure compared to the 2007 Voyager, and the only thing that really bugs about it is the way the front bumper ends up split between his arms, where the chest features a fake folded-up bumper intended to match the CGI, but molded in entirely the wrong colour of plastic. The way the front wheels transform is slightly closer to the design of the CGI, but the mechanical details on the insides cannot be manoeuvred into the correct positions - facing almost directly foreward with the wing-like parts butted up against the faux-bumper on the belly - because the wheels are too large to collapse entirely into the chest cavity (the shoulders and the internal structure of the chest itself get in the way) and the orientation of the transformation joint is basically about 45° adrift. Attempting to force them into a position any better than show above leads to the wheels simply popping off their mushroom peg mountings.

Articulation above the waist is where this figure starts to fall down: the legs are great, whether in his lankier form, using the double-jointed knee as intended, or in his stockier form with the knee folded back on itself - it actually has remarkably little impact on his poseability. His feet are mounted on ball joints which are, in turn, mounted on a swivel joint for transformation, so he's able to keep his feet flat on the ground in an astounding range of poses... but the arms are barely mobile. Similar to the ankles, the elbows are ball joints attached to a hinge, but neither offer a particularly natural range of movement, and there's so much forearm mass sticking out behind the joints that their range is further inhibited. The shoulder rotates sort of diagonally out/forward, due to being mounted against the inside of one of the vehicle mode panels which is folded round the back, but the joint is so tight that trying to pose his arms will invariably dislodge the chest. There is a bicep rotation joint just below the shoulder, but it's constantly butting up against car panels the shoulders are mounted on. Even if the shoulder had a better range of movement available, its forward motion would be curtailed by the wheels, which don't quite fold far enough into the chest. Due to the frankly baffling arrangement of joints in the arm, he can't reach forward, and the elbow joints aren't strong enough to support his enormous, overcomplicated and surprisingly heavy Mechtech weapon. The hands are on ball joints, but don't really need to be for transformation, and they don't offer and real advantage in robot mode. On the upside, the head is on a ball joint, giving it a far greater range of movement than the previous one, but it's a little loose and wobbly on mine... and I honestly can't see how Ironhide ever managed to survive in battle given how much of his field of vision is taken up with his own chest and shoulders...

Mechtech, as a gimmick, was never really a huge success, but coupling such a large and unwieldy weapon with such a (comparatively) small figure, with such limited arm poseability was a terrible idea. Even ignoring the size and weight of the weapon, the simple fact that it's a single - albeit double-ended - weapon rather than Ironhide's traditional pair of arm-mounted cannons means the figure always looks unbalanced. While the vehicle mode's 5mm ports are still available - one on each 'wing' and one on his back - none of them are especially useful for supporting the enormous cannon. I'd have thought the better option would have been including two different, pre-exsiting weapons, such as the gun/chainsaw packaged with Roadbuster and the gun/rotary saw packaged with Ratchet, or the wierd engine/gun used by Nitro Bumblebee. More than any other figure in the line, this one exemplifies the folly of the oversized, spring-loaded gimmicks Hasbro insisted on adding to the toys.

There's no denying this is a massive improvement on the original movie Ironhide, and it's such a shame that it took four years to get this new figure, followed by another seven years between this and the Masterpiece and Studio Series versions, neither of which have solved the problem of what to do with the front bumper... Given the engineering of this one, I'm rather surprised by the way it handles the bumper, as hinging and folding up the actual bumper may well have simplified and solidified certain aspects of his transformation. Even so, this Voyager class figure is leagues better than the Leader class version released the same year, in spite of its many shortcomings, but probably not one to go searching for now there are two entirely new interpretations of the character on the way, with vastly different price tags. That being said, this version tends not to be extortionately priced on eBay, so it does at least represent good value for money...

No comments:

Post a Comment