Review: 79007 Battle at the Black Gate
This is a set which will divide opinion I should imagine. There is certainly a lot of fun to be had here and the Minifigures are excellent, however, the actual gate is weak in terms of accuracy as it does not capture the sheer magnitude of the setting in the book or the film. This model, 79007 Battle at the Black Gate is priced at £59.99 or $59.99, and I have to say, that seems rather expensive to me.
My complaint is not with the Minifigures or the appearance of the gate, both are superb. The actual accuracy of the gate on the other hand is lacking, this is a set which really needed to be sold at a higher price point in order to do the scene justice. The most notable exclusion is a second tower to attach to the left end of the gate, and for this, there is no excuse in my opinion. To be honest, I feel the second tower could have been squeezed in at this price point.
Nevertheless, it is certainly not all doom and gloom with this set. Read on to find out more...
Box and Contents
This box for this set is exceedingly wide just like that of 75019 AT-TE and is fairly attractive. It features the Eagle, Gandalf the White and Aragorn attacking the Black Gate while the Orcs hurl rocks at the men on the ground. The artwork certainly gets the gloomy and intimidating appearance of Mordor across with Mount Doom visible far beyond the gate. The Eye of Sauron peers out from the top border of the box and there is the standard Minifigure gallery showing off the five figures included.
On the back of the box is an image of the Black Gate from the rear, allowing one to see all the details hidden atop the battlements and inside the tower. Some of the features are also demonstrated here and a couple of nice cinematic images complete the packaging.
Inside one finds two instructions booklets, and four numbered bags. The instruction manuals are not packed with cardboard backing, but this is understandable since no stickers are included, therefore making the instructions the only thing here which could be damaged, although this seems unlikely as the box is so tightly packed with parts.
Five Minifigures are included in this set, three of whom are all new and exclusive to this set. I will begin with perhaps the most desirable of the Minifigures, Gandalf the White. This is a truly brilliant figure in my opinion, featuring the same combined hair and beard piece as Saruman, although on this occasion without any printing, thereby making it entirely white. The head piece is the same as that which appears in 10237 Tower of Orthanc and 79005 The Wizard Battle, printed with two expressions, one angry and the other smiling. His eyebrows are dark grey and he has plenty of wrinkles printed for added detail.
Gandalf wears a white cape and his torso is printed with some fairly simple robes, although they look wonderful nevertheless. There is some accurate silver scrollwork and a rather attractive cape fastening towards the top (which is mostly obscured by the beard) as well as a narrow brown belt which is continued onto the back of the piece. His legs are plain white and he carries a white pole, the same mould as that which appears accompanying other Gandalf Minifigures. This is of course a very popular character, and I think that the LEGO Minifigure is an excellent representation of Gandalf the White.
The next Minifigure, who is just as good as Gandalf in my opinion, is Aragorn, here in his Lord of the Rings: Return of the King attire. This version of Aragorn is far superior to the one included in 9472 Attack on Weathertop and 9474 Battle of Helm's Deep, which was quite disappointing in my opinion. Here he has the same hairpiece, which is cast in dark brown and looks suitably unkempt. The head is printed on both sides, with one side displaying a determined expression, and the other quite neutral. Both sides feature some stubble and brown eyebrows, just like the alternative Minifigure.
Aragorn comes with a dual coloured cape which I love. On the inside it is dark red to simulate velvet and on the outside it is black, exactly as it is in the film. His torso is printed with a dark blue tunic and buckled belt, as well as a rather nice tree-like design on the front. The back is dark blue with some folds in the fabric and a continuation of the belt. This blue shirt is also printed on the hips and legs components, finishing with gold and red trim at the bottom. He carries a standard pearl grey sword. Some may disagree, but I would like to see a couple of swords created which are specific to one character, Andúril for Aragorn here would be nice.
My favourite Minifigure in this set however is the Mouth of Sauron, who appears for only a few minutes in the extended edition of Lord of the Rings: The Return of the King. Nevertheless, despite his brief involvement, the character does a very effective job of riling Aragorn to the extent that he mercilessly beheads this Wraith like creature. It is the helmet which makes this Minifigure stand out in this set for me as it is supremely accurate and detailed. The spiked shape is perfect and I love how the overlapping plates armour over where his eyes should be have been captured. The entire piece is cast in a slightly rubbery plastic which actually gives it a bit of a shine, thereby only augmenting the accuracy of the helmet. The head piece is printed very nicely with an enormous mouth (as one would expect) filled with vile teeth and a few wrinkles which are hidden by the helmet on the front and back.
A black cape is worn by the Mouth of Sauron and his torso is similarly dark, printed with some creases and a metallic silver buckle of some kind. His hips are printed with a belt and there is a sheath for his sword hanging from here printed on the legs, which is a lovely detail in my opinion. He carries a pearl dark grey Morgul blade just like the Ringwraiths in 9472 Attack on Weathertop. A horse is included for the Mouth of Sauron to ride.
The last two Minifigures are the Mordor Orcs, which differ only in the weapons and armour they are provided with. Their heads are printed with sunken orange eyes, various metallic rings and piercings, and a mouth filled with jagged teeth. On the back of each head are a few bedraggled hairs and a couple of wrinkles. The torso too is detailed with leather padding and some spiked armour, which looks fairly accurate to the film. Their legs are plain dark brown, and while one carries only a huge sword, the other wears an Uruk-Hai helmet and is armed with a flail. I am always pleased to see more Orcs and two seems like a reasonable number in this set to me.
An Eagle is another welcome inclusion to this set. The exact same character appears in 10237 Tower of Orthanc and I have the same complaints here as I did with that one. The actual appearance of the Eagle is predominantly fine, although his talons are not ideal, being simply a 2 x 2 surface at the end of his legs. The head is printed with his yellow eyes which look great, and I think the reddish brown and dark brown colour scheme looks fantastic, particularly on the adjustable wings where there is some moulded feather details. Unfortunately however, the entire assembly is far too small for my liking. A Minifigure can sit on top of the Eagle, but looks far too big in comparison with the creature as far as I am concerned.
Nevertheless, while the Eagle may fall short of being the appropriate size, it is definitely a nice interpretation of these regal birds and I am pleased that one was included as they do appear in this scene to fend off the Fell Beasts which assault Aragorn and his accompanying friends and soldiers.
Construction of this set is fairly entertaining, but being a mostly symmetrical structure, it can be repetitive at times. There are lots of details added such as spikes and armour plating to the gate itself, which look excellent and keep the build interesting, as well as the use of these black spines on their end to achieve the appearance of the intimidating pinnacles which top off the tower. There are few techniques of note, although a lot of small pieces are used and it can get a bit tricky at times. As I have already mentioned, no stickers are included, so no need to worry about those if you dislike stickers.
The Completed Model
As I have said again and again, while this model is very attractive, much like the Eagle, it is far too small. The Black Gate in the book is said to be about sixty feet high, so approximately ten people standing on top of one another would reach the top.On the model however the gate is just three Minifigures in height, which looks a little ridiculous I am sorry to say.
Putting this issue aside however, the actual detail and architecture of this model is a real treat. The ribbed armour which lines the gate is faithfully recreated and the one tower which is included looks rather nice too. Naturally, the gates can open and there is a locking mechanism which functions by twisting a brown knob on the back of the gate. Along the top are several spikes (which are definitely a theme throughout this model) and space for Orcs to guard Mordor from the battlements. A glass bottle, barrel, skull and a torch are found up here, but there is still plenty of room for Minifigures.
The tower is about double the height of the gate, which is quite reasonable given the limitations imposed by cost and strength, and is similarly detailed. There is a rather odd feature found here, a secret entrance, which can be opened by pushing down on a Technic lever at the back of the structure. I like features as long as they make some sense and avoid interfering with the aesthetics of a model. Unfortunately this function fails on both counts as not only is it completely bizarre, but the lever at the back is rather unsightly. Behind this door are a skull and a bone.
On the first floor are three dark bluish grey cylinders which can be launched from the catapult found on top of the tower. This small catapult can be removed easily to function separately from the Black Gate, or it can fit between the four spikes. Wherever you prefer to place it, it works well and can launch a cylinder approximately two feet quite easily. The entire structure is modular and can be re-arranged easily, with a pair of small rock sections to be placed at either end of the gate.
This is a set entirely of two halves. If playability and Minifigures are important to you in a set, then this is a great model. However, if you are looking for displayability and accuracy, this set is a little disappointing in my opinion.
I believe that the problems with this set stem not from the design of the model, but with the price point. Had this set been created to cost closer to the price of 79008 Pirate Ship Ambush, it could have been a highlight of the entire Lord of the Rings theme. As it is however, despite the many positive attributes to be found here, I think that there are a few major issues. Furthermore, the £59.99 or $59.99 price of this set seems high for a model which is actually fairly small, albeit densely packed with pieces and highly detailed.
It is worth noting that the back of the box shows how one can attach two of this set together, although I do not see the benefit of having two pairs of gates. However, a second set would provide another tower, and one could increase the height of the gate if you are willing to part the second model out, so it might be worth doing if you have the money. I would recommend this set to Lord of the Rings fans, although there are plenty of other sets which I would purchase in favour of this one.
Parts: 4 - If you are looking for black pieces and spikes, then this is an excellent selection, although there are not many pieces which one could not find elsewhere in similar quantities.
Playability: 4.5 - Although a feature or two are not to my taste, there is plenty of fun to be had here with some desirable Minifigures and lots of potential for playability.
Building Experience: 3.5 - There are some pleasing moments, but the build can be fiddly and repetitive at times.
Value for Money: 3 - The 'price per piece' ratio may seem quite fair, but most of these parts are very small, and the final model is smaller than I would have liked for the price. A second tower would have satisfied me.
Overall: 3.5 - The Minifigures are excellent, and the Black Gate is perfect from the perspective of appearance. However, the size of the set is a huge flaw, and this set seems expensive to me for what it is.