Saturday, 12 January 2019

TransFormers (Movie) Landmine

Possibly the most exciting thing about the 2007 TransFormers movie's toyline was that, while the movie had a surprisingly limited cast, the character roster was bolstered dramatically in plastic form, and under the thinnest of pretexts: certain Sector 7 vehicles were actually robots... in disguise.

Of course, given that the shadowy government group had equipment able to detect Cybertronians (and the radioactive residue of having been near them), this seems exceedingly unlikely unless Sector 7 actually were as incompetent as the movie made them seem... And if one of their government issue SUVs can be a Decepticon, why not let one of their attack buggies be an Autobot?

Vehicle Mode:
Sector 7's buggies are apparently based on a real-world vehicle - the Chenowth Desert Patrol Vehicle - but heavily modified with additional armour over the basic chassis, and a full windscreen rather than just an extensive rollcage. It's a cute little vehicle, and the toy is surprisingly fully-featured given that it's a Deluxe class car. Due to a quirk of design, Landmine is one of the only toys outside of the Human Alliance subline of Revenge of the Fallen to feature seats inside his cockpit... even if there are no figures small enough to take advantage of them.

Molded largely in a suitably drab, military green that disguises many of his seams, most of the shell of the vehicle is pretty plain. It's livened up only with a few black Sector 7 insignias, the number 52 (which appeared on the buggy featured in one of the movie's battle scenes), and a black and white American flag alongside his unit ID number at the back. The front, rear and side bumpers appear to represent the underlying chassis, and the built-in lights - both front and back - are painted in. In between the two angled armour panels on the front is a jumble of mostly unidentifyable parts alongside a circular lamp which, sadly, isn't painted in to match the headlights. The back of the vehicle features six small exhaust pipes protruding upward just ahead of the bumper, along with a pair of details that look as though they might be gas cannisters - in the sense of pressurised butane rather than the liquid fuel Americans call petrol. The roof of the vehicle features what looks like part of a hatch over the open rear, just behind the socket for mounting his weapon. The weapon has handles on the back that are in roughly the right place for it to be operated by someone standing or sitting in the area of the hatch. The gun can rotate freely in its socket, and also has a couple of hinges allowing it to be raised and tilted up or down.

One of the coolest and most unexpected features of this vehicle is the independent spring-loaded suspension on each wheel. It's of little practical use in a toy like this, but it's a neat addition nonetheless - the only other TransFormers toy I'd seen with this feature at the time was the original Masterpiece Optimus Prime. It's almost tempting to leave this one in vehicle mode, since that's what its most impressive features are tailored to.

Robot Mode:
Much as I like the movie aesthetic, there were times - particularly in the extended toyline - where it went a little too far, and I think Landmine is one of those times... From his nightmare-inducing, four-eyed, hockey-masked visage to spindly limbs and terrifying claws, everything about him says "Decepticon"... yet this and two other uses of this mold without even a change to the head sculpt, were all released as Autobots. The overall impression is of a very skeletal robot wearing armour parts scavenged from a military dune buggy... and it's really, really weird. I mean, technically, he follows the old G1 Autobot pattern of having a chest formed from the front of the vehicle mode, the legs from the back of the vehicle mode, and the arms coming out from somewhere in between, but he couldn't look more different... and, broadly speaking, that's a good thing... but, as an Autobot, did he have to look like some kind of alient slaughter machine? The proportions are all over the place, with stick-thin arms and thighs, flared lower legs and a torso that ends up looking quite portly thanks the the way the front of the vehicle sits there.

Coming out as part of the AllSpark Power subline of the first movie's toy range, the few visible vehicle mode paint applications are supplemented by blobs of the hideous 'AllSpark Blue' that Hasbro decided to liberally slather about on their toys for a while. It turns up on his throat, his cuffs and his groin and is, mercifully, quite sparingly used - applied to specific details rather than dumped over large areas of sculpted armour. Sadly, it's still a terrible colour, and stands out in all the wrong ways on a figure like this one. Other than that, there's an application of drab, military green paint on the angled panels on the fronts of the thighs, but the colour is virtually indistinguishable from the grey plastic of the thigh unless you're really looking for it.

Among Landmine's very strange features is the suggestion that he rolls around on the TransFormers equivalent of Heelys. The vehicle's rear wheels peg in to the back of the shin plate, and the small gas cannisters are hinged into place as 'toes', each with a small plastic wheel embedded in the underside. It's lucky these (probably) wouldn't be real gas cannisters on the real robot, as it'd mean he has potentially explosive toes. Another little incongruity is the oversized, razor-clawed hands, which look like a cross between a mechanical digger and movie Bonecrusher's attack claw. He doesn't so much have a thumb as an articulated plate but, weird as it looks, he'd probably be great at hand-to-hand combat.

The weapon can be used in one of two ways - it can either remain plugged into the socket on his roof (now on his back, below his right shoulder), or it can be wielded in his hands. The latter option is a little frustrating, in that the upper part of the gun's mounting arm/handle isn't quite long enough to fit all the way through the hand, and the bulky the hinge at the mid-point means he can't wrap his fingers around it tightly enough. The protruding section also can't be made to rest firmly against the underside of his forearm for stability and, in the right hand, at least, the short ammo belt gets in the way of the fingers. It fits slightly better in the left hand, but requires the hand to grip the hinge mounting on the base of the gun so that the lower part can fold up against the forearm. It works best mounted on his back but, even there, the ammo belt clashes a little with the frame of the windscreen or the armour sunshade.

The head sculpt is a horrifying mid-point between a Sci-Fi Jason Vorhees and Bane from the Batman movies by Christopher Nolan... only worse, because he has at least four eyes (three more unpainted bobbles are visible on his forehead, slightly concealed by the mask, and one can only hope these aren't supplementary eyes). I had to unscrew the head to be sure, but it's basically featureless behind the mask, and most of it is painted AllSpark Blue, while a separate panel over the back is painted silver. It's easily the strangest head sculpt in all the movie lines, and really would suit a Decepticon more than it does an Autobot.

Surprisingly, Landmine does stick to the tried-and-tested formula for car transformations, just with a few flourishes and complications. At the back, when the legs connect, the gas cannisters both swing over to the lefthand side of the vehicle while, at the front, the wheels are spring-loaded to collapse into the torso in robot mode, so they have to be pulled back out and hooked onto the upper arm's armour panels, which end up forming the sides of the vehicle. The forearms have to be twisted into the body of the vehicle, with the hands twisted back and folded up into the form of seats on both sides of the cockpit. Landmine is probably one of the fussier figures in the first movie's toyline, but he's still pretty fun to transform, and very sturdy in his vehicle mode. The only issue I've had is that one side of the rear bumper/knee cap seems to like to pop off - neither one is glued on place, but it's the left kneecap that suddenly pops out of my hands if I'm not careful.

Fiddly and weirdly skeletal as he is, the way he's put together means he's remarkably well articulated. The arms have a series of ball joints from wrist to shoulder, which is then attached to the body via a hinged rod that allows a huge range of shrug. The hands feature two hinges each on the 'finger' and 'thumb' side with no limit on their range of movement beyond the presence of the next segment, the waist can turn a full 360° (making Landmine one of a handful of figures whose backpack does not impede his movement), the hips are ball joints leading straight into upper thigh rotation, and the knee bend is part of his transformation, so it's as close to 180° as you can get. The only reason he's not perfectly stable is that he's balanced on wheels, but he does have a rudimentary ankle joint, formed of two transforming parts that peg together, which allows him to tilt his feet up and down. Once he's balanced (ideally so that his weight leans him forward), he tends to be pretty stable, but can easily be made to fall over backwards if his weight is more centred or toward the large wheels on his heels. Whether he's better or than the original Sideswipe or worse, in that respect, is probably subjective... but Landmine at least technically has two wheels per foot to balance on.

Landmine isn't one of those figures that I'm constantly pulling off the shelf and fiddling with and, in all honesty, I remember him being far more of a pain to transform than he was while I was writing about him. The spring-loaded Automorph feature is fairly low-key compared to some other figures, and he was really well designed... but whoever decided to give him that awful head sculpt really should have been asked to reconsider, especially since none of the repaints ever presented an alternative. He may look terrifying and skeletal, but he's a lot of fun, and probably one of the better toys created around one of the unlicensed, non-Cybertronian movie vehicles.

In a parallel universe, where the original live action movies actually made sense and had some form of internal continuity, a character based on the Landmine toy might have appeared in the second or third movie, perhaps created as a result of human research with Decepticon remains... Kind of like the KSI drones, only better...

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