In the second part of my review of 10237 Tower of Orthanc, I am going to take a look at the construction of the set and the tower itself. For the first part, where I reviewed the box, Minifigures and creatures, follow this link.
As I mentioned in the first part of the review, this set is really about the Tower of Orthanc itself rather than the Minifigures and I guarantee that with this set, you will not be disappointed. Of the sets I own, this is the tallest, the only other model which really comes close is 10212 Imperial Shuttle. When placed on its stand, that model stands about an inch shorter than the Tower of Orthanc. As one might guess, I think there are only a very few sets better for display than this one and there are plenty of fun features too.
Being almost entirely black and rather shiny, as well as the obvious size issue, made this set quite tricky to photograph. Therefore I can only apologise for one or two of the shots which I simply could not get right, hopefully they get the idea across though.
This is perhaps one of the most entertaining builds I have ever experienced. There are innumerable fascinating techniques and moments of real inspiration during the construction of this set. I love the use of a Zamor sphere as the famous Palantír and the mixture of Technic and System construction is very enjoyable.
Furthermore, the construction of this set includes some of those brilliant moments where you are not entirely sure quite what you are building until it all comes together at the last step. The ingenious creation of the ribbed appearance of the base of the tower and the four spires at the top is impressive, as are numerous details both inside the tower and, perhaps even more impressively in my opinion, outside.
The Completed Model
As soon as I completed the Tower of Orthanc, what immediately struck me was the sheer height of the model. It is the tallest of the sets I own and I cannot imagine that many other models even come close to this tower. The best set to compare this to in height is 10212 Imperial Shuttle as I said at the start. When that model is placed on the stand and placed beside this one, it still is slightly shorter than the Tower of Orthanc. The tower is 73cm in height (which is pointed out in a graphic on the box) but looks even larger in person I think, particularly beside the Ent or a Minifigure, both of which are dwarfed by this model.
Anyway, on to the actual set, I shall begin at the base where we find steps for entering the tower and the lower half of the black ribbing on the outside of the model, as well as a dungeon inside. There are several nice details in here including bones and skulls scattered on the floor, a pack of Wargs which look rather dangerous towards the rear of this section (created by a sticker) and the obligatory light bluish grey rat. A couple more stickers are used down here for a door and a grating, behind which eyes can be seen peering out of the darkness.
On the next floor is the entrance hall, and the ribbing is continued externally. A couple of banners showing the white hand of Saruman are included in this area, unfortunately using stickers, as well as double doors which open out to the steps. These doors close to a right angle which is a bit of a shame, I personally would have preferred them to close flush and parallel with the stairs. A small statue is placed on a plinth and some decorative axes also feature in the entrance hall. On the floor is a dark blue rug, which is decorated with a sticker to represent the floor tile design which is visible in the film. This rug disguises a trapdoor feature which can be used to drop unwelcome guests into the dungeon below. Last of all for this floor is a chandelier which hangs from the ceiling. This reason for this inclusion (beyond looking rather nice) will become clear with the next level.
Saruman's throne room is the area in which most of the action takes place within the Tower of Orthanc during the Lord of the Rings films. In here we see many of the features which are visible in the film including Saruman's magnificent seat, two elaborate lamps and of course the Palantír. At the sides of the room are some bookshelves which are naturally stacked with books (actually 1 x 2 tiles of varying colours). There is an envelope and a potion bottle on the right-hand bookcase, while on the left are some more potions and a scroll with a sketch of a cauldron and some tiny writing. Outside is a balcony from which Saruman can inspect his Uruk-Hai horde, as well as some arched windows and spikes. Probably the most significant and impressive feature of the set is found here as well. By pushing the chandelier upwards from the floor below, the Palantír can be lit up very effectively. Roughly one half of the Palantír is solid black, while the other is a misty sand green, through which the light brick can glow, producing an orange and black mixture which looks brilliant.
At this point, the tower can be split in two much like a Modular building which is a nice touch in case the set needs to go into storage. The next level contains Saruman's alchemy area, in which he can create explosive concoctions using various pots and pans, as well as a cauldron which can be tipped up using a gear to its right. A couple more potion bottles, a barrel and a bomb, which is also found in 9474 The Battle of Helm's Deep, are strewn around here too. On this floor are some larger barred windows, which are doubtless good for ventilation, and a pair of unlit torches, which I think is wonderful inclusion. Obviously having lit torches beside explosives is never wise.
The next floor is probably my favourite. In here are five portraits of the five wizards of Middle Earth, Gandalf, Saruman, Radagast, Rómestámo and Mohrinehtar. There are some rather odd inconsistencies here, most notably the fact that there seem to be two grey wizards and two brown. I believe it is the three wizards who are placed on the back wall in this area are Radagast, Saruman and Gandalf, while the other two ought to be blue really. This is not too much of an issue though, just getting the paintings is a brilliant and very welcome inclusion! In here are also more bookcases, a small table, some torches, skulls, and a few scrolls and books. One of these books is placed on a stand in the centre of the room, and it appears to have the Eye of Sauron on the front cover which is a little disconcerting. A small light fitting is on the ceiling, and much like the chandelier on the second floor, this is important for a function of the set.
The final floor has yet more spikes on the outside and by this point the tower has tapered from a width of 26 studs at the base, to 12 studs up here. Despite the smaller size however, this room is no less interesting. This area betrays Saruman's loyalties utterly and is complete with a set of Uruk-Hai armour (further to the one which is included for the Uruk-Hai Minifigure), a painting of the tower of Barad-dûr which looks much like a shrine, as well as a couple of fantastic touches which reference the films. These wonderful details are a pair of keys and three wizard staffs, inspired by Saruman's line "what do you want Gandalf greyhame, let me guess, the key of Orthanc, or perhaps the keys of Barad-dûr itself? Along with the crowns of the seven kings and the rods of the five wizards!" This is quite possibly the greatest Easter egg I have ever known in a LEGO set, and if there is one thing I like, it is an Easter egg.
Also on this floor is a folding ladder which can be released by twisting the light fitting on the floor below. An identically designed ladder is found in 10228 Haunted House and this one works just as well as that, comfortably reaching down to the floor below.
The final level is the summit of the Tower of Orthanc, where Gandalf is held captive before he escapes with help from Gwaihir and whence Saruman makes his defiant speech prior to his death (at the hands of Gríma Wormtongue). The four spires are also featured up here, and they look absolutely fantastic. The accuracy of this area is amazing and the detail is brilliant. Simply put, this is lovely way to top things off.
I own quite a few of the more iconic sets of this kind of size from recent years, 10188 Death Star, 10228 Haunted House and 10212 Imperial Shuttle spring to mind in particular. This set certainly joins those as among the best sets in my collection. Simply put, the detail, playability and displayability for this set are all outstanding and this is by far the best set of the Lord of the Rings theme.
Parts: 5 - If you are looking for black or dark bluish grey pieces, then this is the set to buy. There are plenty of brand new pieces too which are wonderful to see.
Playability: 5 - There is a huge amount of fun to be had with this set, every room has some brilliant details and features.
Building Experience: 5 - One of the most entertaining construction experiences I have had with a set.
Value for Money: 5 - I think £169.99 or $199.99 seems quite reasonable for this set, particularly with the inclusion of an Ent and the Eagle.
Overall: 5 - An almost perfect set, there are no significant flaws and I give this set my utmost recommendation.
Note: Many thanks to Telcontar who has kindly informed me of some further Easter eggs which I had missed on the model.
Firstly, in the second room from the top, one can find a 2x2 tile with a sticker on it. On here is some Elvish writing (which is meaningless as far as I can tell having tried to translate it via an online Elvish dictionary) and a drawing of the Ring of Barahir. At one point in the Two Towers film, Saruman can be seen reading from a scroll similar to this one briefly, so this is a nice little inclusion.
The final room is even more interesting however. As well as the keys and staffs which are located in here, there is also another possible Easter egg, accidentally included or otherwise. As I mentioned in the main section of the review, a picture of Barad-dûr dominates this area. However, by removing this panel (a 2x4 tile) one can reveal a small area which could be a reference to a moment from the 'Unfinished Tales' when Aragorn and Gimli discover a secret compartment, possibly for the purpose of storing the One Ring of Power. Make up your own mind about this one, but it is a real treat for Lord of the Rings fans!
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