Earlier today at the San Diego Comic Con, the next LEGO Cuusoo model, 21103 Back to the Future DeLorean, was unveiled. It became a review qualifier in June 2012 and passed review in December. It's taken just over a year then to be turned into a retail set. In the interim, licenses have been acquired and legendary designer Steen Sig Andersen has turned the original submission into a model suitable for becoming a boxed LEGO set.
I am certain that the LEGO Cuusoo team would have liked today's unveiling to have been the first time the model was seen but unfortunately the LEGO marketing department had other ideas and published a photo on the July store calendar which found its way into the public domain a few weeks ago. Thus we have all had an opportunity to form an opinion on this set and unfortunately much of the talk has been negative. [Note that this review was written several weeks ago before the official images emerged earlier this week.]
Anyway before reviewing the set, let's remind ourselves what the model submitted to Cuusoo, and the car in the movies, looked like...
It captures the essence of the vehicle well, particularly the long shallow-sloped bonnet. It's a bit crude and blocky in places, and there are a few 'illegal moves' evident. It will be interesting to see then, (a) whether the model that made it to production improves on the original submission and (b) how much of the original model has survived.
Box and contents
For some reason, Cuusoo models are packaged in much higher-quality boxes than normal LEGO sets. It's about 25 x 19 cm and features a folding lid. The picture on the front is that which appeared in the store calendar.
Interestingly, the French name of the film is printed on the side. Why not also the Spanish, German, Japanese, etc., I wonder?
The back of the box reveals something that comes as a nice surprise: the model can be converted into three versions of the vehicle, as seen in all three parts of the trilogy.
Once the plastic tabs are cut, the lid opens cleanly to reveal the contents....
Five unnumbered bags of parts, a few loose plates (401 parts in total) and...
A thick, 112-page, instruction manual, 20 x 12 cm. It's perfect bound and more like a book than a normal instruction booklet. The instructions inside are printed on a black background. One problem with the perfect binding is that it's impossible to lay it flat which is a problem when you're building the model, and also made it impossible to photograph the inside for you :-)
Emptying the bags revealed no new pieces, or even pieces in new colours (as far as I could tell) but it was very pleasing to see that there are no stickers: all decorated parts are printed. Mind you, there's only four of them: the flux capacitor, the time machine control, a 1985 licence plate and a 2015 barcode licence plate, for the version of the car in the second two movies.
The more astute among you will notice that the time machine shows a date from 1958 and not 1955, which as far as the movies is concerned, is incorrect. January 28th, 1958 is however the date the LEGO brick was patented, which is a pretty neat touch.
The time machine control should show three dates but I guess that would have made them all too small and a 2 x 0.5 tile doesn't yet exist :-)
It's great to see that despite initial fears when the picture appeared on the calendar sans-minifigs, the set does come with minifigure versions of Doc and Marty, and very nice they are too. Marty is wearing his sleeveless puffy-jacket from 1985 and Doc his lab coat. The legs are not printed which is a bit of a shame given that it's becoming commonplace these days.
There's a skateboard for Marty, although for some reason the gravity-defying version from 2015 is missing from the set :-)
The backs of their heads are printed with a shocked expression and the backs of their torsos are printed. I don't recall the Doc having such a prominent hazard symbol on his back but it looks cool anyway.
Building the model is very enjoyable. Unsurprisingly, you start at the bottom of the chassis and work your way up. The front and back of the construction look very similar in the early stages so, very helpfully, they've been colour coded with blue and red to avoid getting them mixed up. The way the wheels turn 90 degrees can be seen below.
The back manifolds (or whatever they are) look good.The time machine control attaches to the dashboard and...
The flux capacitor is at the rear between the seats, where it should be. Seats? What seats? There are none, unfortunately. More on that later...
The gull-wing doors fit perfectly although they are a bit fragile: the black 1 x 1 clip has a tendency to detach from the door when you open them.
Gull-wing doors open...
The finished model
Greebling, wheels and windscreen surrounds finish off the model. This is the 1985 version.
View from the front.
Here's the 2015 version with wheels folded under and the fusion reactor mounted at the back. The wheels do fold the full 90 degrees, but I didn't fold them enough before taking this photo.
It's a struggle to get one minifig in, and when in they do not sit naturally. There certainly isn't room for two.
Here's the underside. Some transparent parts are provided to enable the car to 'float'.
Here's the version from part 3. A set of red wheels is provided and one tile is removed from the bonnet to enable the orange greeble-heavy panel to be attached.
Here's the back showing the fusion reactor and 2015 license plate.
When I first saw the picture on the calendar I, along with many of you, was horrified. It looked terrible and nothing like the original Cuusoo submission which used the large slope piece for the bonnet to such good effect.
Now I've built it, what do I think? Let's go through the good and bad points:
+ The model retains the essence of the original and has kept many of its good features, such as the rotating wheels, the 'wiring' round the body and the opening gull-wing doors.
- The loss of the shallow slope for the bonnet is a major blow and changes the look of the car considerably. However, the design does allow for the attachment of the additional greebling for the part 3 model and when that's been fitted, the bonnet looks great.
+ Printed parts, no stickers.
+ The minifigures are superb and capture Doc and Marty perfectly. The submission had a cloth coat for the Doc which would have been nice but given nothing similar exists, it's unsurprising that there isn't one.
+ The addition of parts to enable the car to be converted into one of the three versions is a great touch.
- It's not possible to get both Doc and Marty inside. It's a struggle to get just one figure in. There are no seats.
- There's something not quite right with the windscreen surrounds and from some angles they look terrible. From the side, or the back, they look fine, but at a three-quarters angle, such as that on the calendar, or head on as seen above, they really don't work in my opinion. The top of the roof is just four studs wide (on the original it was six) so that doesn't help with the appearance of this area. However, I am sure that if there was a way to make it look better, Steen would have found it, and certainly my feeble efforts to try and improve it by changing the width of the roof and so on have been unsuccessful.
I can live with the figures not fitting and the change to the bonnet given the advantage it has, but the windscreen surround issue spoils the look of the vehicle, and thus my enjoyment of it, a lot. I am hopeful that someone out in the community will be able to find a 'solution' to this problem, perhaps using borderline-illegal methods, or obsolete parts, that Steen couldn't.
That said, there is certainly more to like about the set than there is to dislike and it's bound to be highly sought after. Whether it flies off the shelves like Minecraft remains to be seen, but I think it will sell well, particularly in the USA where I believe it'll be priced at $34.99. In the UK it's £34.99 which is still not too bad, I suppose.
Scores, out of 5:
- Parts: 3 -- A lot of useful small pieces but nothing special other than the printed tiles.
- Playability: 2 -- This is not a set with much playability, particularly given the minifigs don't fit inside.
- Building experience: 3 -- Straightforward. The end result is a solid, (well, apart from the doors...) parts-dense model.
- Value for money: USA: 4, rest of world: 3 -- not a bad price for 400 parts and 2 minifigs.
- Overall: 3 -- A reasonable model, but one that, aesthetically, could have been so much better
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