Lord of the Rings is rich with iconic characters and locations, few more so than the imposing Tower of Orthanc. Therefore, with the revelation of LEGO Lord of the Rings, it seemed inevitable that this setting would eventually make it into a set in some form or another. Few could have imagined that this set is what LEGO would produce.
10237 Tower of Orthanc is quite simply the best Lord of the Rings set around in my opinion. The detail and playability of the model could hardly be bettered and for display, I can think of only a few sets which improve upon this one. This marvellous model will cost you £169.99 or $199.99 for 2359-pieces, so whether or not you endorse the reliability of the infamous 'price per piece' ratio, I think this represents good value for money.
This review will be divided into two parts, in the first of which I will take a look at the box, the Minifigures, and the creatures included.
Box and Contents
It goes without saying that the box for this set is fairly large, with some rather attractive artwork on the front. A couple of scenes from the films are mixed with Gandalf escaping from Isengard on Gwaihir as in the first film, while an Ent battles with Orcs on the ground as in The Two Towers. Despite these inconsistencies, this is a great shot of the scene and it certainly does a good job of relating the height of the set, which is difficult to do on camera.
The back of the box is filled with images of the features and a view of the tower from the rear. A few cinematic shots are also dotted around as well as a gallery of the weapons included.
Inside the box are eighteen bags numbered from one to fifteen and three instruction booklets. These instructions are packaged in a plastic bag with cardboard backing along with the stickers, which is always welcome as it ensures that they will not be creased or damaged in transit in the box. The sticker sheet is fairly large, with nineteen stickers of various sizes, so should this be an issue for you, it is worth bearing in mind.
This is a set which is really about the Tower of Orthanc itself rather than the Minifigures included, however these figures are superb nevertheless.
The first of these, and for me the least interesting of the five, is Gandalf the Grey. This Minifigure has appeared many times previously (albeit never quite like this one) but is excellent despite being so common in sets. This version of Gandalf is different to most in that he comes with a hairpiece rather than his hat, which is quite a good representation of Gandalf's hair in the film. His head is printed with the same design as it is in 79005 The Wizard Battle and 79007 Battle at the Black Gate, with one smiling expression and the other angry as well as grey eyebrows and a couple of wrinkles. His beard is unique to this character and was created just for him, so naturally it looks perfect in light bluish grey.
Gandalf here wears a dark bluish grey cape. The torso is printed with a belt and various straps on the front and back while his legs are plain dark grey with no printing. Gandalf comes with one accessory, his staff, which is a simple 6L reddish brown bar.
Quite possibly the most interesting Minifigure in this set is Saruman the White, who only appears in one other set, 79005 The Wizard Battle, although in a slightly different guise. His combined hair and beard piece is fantastic, cast in rubbery white plastic with light and dark grey printing on his beard, this is a very detailed piece, and is impressively accurate to Saruman in the films. His head is also lovely with bushy black eyebrows and a small white beard printed on it. He has different expressions on either side of the head piece, one with a rather sinister smile, and the other with a more serious grimace. It is perhaps interesting to note that this same head piece was used in 75017 Duel on Geonosis on the Count Dooku Minifigure, another character portrayed (exceptionally well I might add) by Christopher Lee.
Saruman comes complete with a white cape and long white robes printed on his torso and the 2 x 2 slope piece which forms his legs. The torso is the same as the piece which appears in 79005 The Wizard Battle and is printed with some silver scrollwork and multiple layers of fabric. The design is continued on the back of the torso and on the slope which is included for his legs. It is only this slope which differs from the Minifigure included in 79005 The Wizard Battle. Saruman is armed with his staff and some plain white legs are included as an alternative to the slope piece should you wish to seat him on his throne.
The only Minifigure which is totally exclusive to this set is Gríma Wormtongue, a character who appears in several scenes throughout the film trilogy. The hairpiece used is that which was introduced with Dastan from the Prince of Persia theme, which is shoulder-length and untidy, just like how his hair appears in the film. The head piece is cast in tan and is printed with sunken eyes and wrinkled skin to reflect the sickly appearance of Gríma in the films. Two expressions are printed on the component, one angry, and the other rather miserable.
A black cape is worn and his torso is printed with various details including a belt, a fur lined jacket and a medallion hanging from a chain. The back of the piece is also printed with a belt and some more fur lining the neckline, although this is of course obscured entirely by the cape. His legs are black, with no printing and he comes with a single accessory, a dagger, with which you can recreate him stabbing Saruman as he does in a scene from the extended edition of Lord of the Rings: The Return of the King.
An Uruk-Hai is also included, which is a bonus as he could well have been omitted without being detrimental to the rest of the set. This Minifigure is particularly pleasing as it is printed with the white hand of Saruman, which has only appeared in 9476 The Orc Forge prior to this set. His helmet, printed with the aforementioned white handprint) is very accurate to the film and is cast in pearl dark grey. The head piece is printed with two different faces which is useful when displaying multiple Uruk-Hai together as it provides some variations to their appearance as it should. On one side, the white hand of Saruman is printed on the face, and on the other is some scarring. Both sides are printed with bright yellow eyes and bared teeth which look suitably menacing.
This Uruk-Hai wears a chest armour component over his torso, which is highly detailed with padding and armour plating on the front and back. The design is continued onto his hips and legs which are similarly armoured. He carries a standard Uruk-Hai sword, which is a nice piece, and the usual shield, albeit with the white hand of Saruman printed on it this time.
Finally, an Orc Pitmaster is included, who is identical to one of the Orcs in 9476 The Orc Forge and has nothing but accessories which actually distinguish him as a 'Pitmaster.' His head is printed with bared teeth and all kinds of wrinkles, as well as a few strands of hair on the back of the head. Much like the Uruk-Hai, the Orc Pitmaster's torso is printed with armour plating and spikes. The same design is continued onto the back. His legs are plain dark brown, and he carries two accessories, one large axe and a grapnel hook for taking down the attacking Ents.
Two more characters are included in this set which I can only describe as 'creatures', the first of which is an Eagle, most probably Gwaihir, the Eagle which rescues Gandalf from the Tower of Orthanc in the first film and also appears in 79007 Battle at the Black Gate. This animal consists of three parts, two wings, and the combined body and head piece in the centre. He has printed eyes and a dark tan beak, while the rest of him is largely reddish brown. The wings are cast with some feathered detail and the edges of the wings and tail feathers are dark brown, which looks excellent if you ask me.
The Eagle is nice enough, although there are a couple of flaws in my opinion, most notably the rather serious scaling issue. This Eagle is far smaller than he ought to be beside the Minifigures, a brick built model would have been far more suitable, perhaps similar to 31004 Fierce Flyer as many people have suggested. Also, I think that the character's claws look a bit odd, being fused together and with the ability to attach to studs. From certain angles the Eagle looks great, but either a creature of a similar size to the dragon in 70403 Dragon Mountain or even better a brick-built model would have been preferable.
A huge draw to this set for me is the Ent, who looks fantastic and stands almost 23cm high. I do not believe this is a model of any particular Ent from the books or films, it certainly does not look much like Treebeard to me at least. His feet are huge and look as though they could quite easily crush an Orc if need be. There are a few leaves and a mushroom attached which look great and on the top are some leafy branches. I love the detail of his printed eyes being askew and the dark green vines which form his beard.
On the back of the Ent is a gear which can be turned to activate what I like to call the 'Orc hurling action' (it is rather reminiscent of Buzz Lightyear's 'karate chop action' if you ask me). This is a nice feature and it does not take too much away from the displayability of the model. He is poseable at the ankles, hips, shoulders (although the left shoulder is on a ball joint while the right just swivels) and the elbows. His fingers are also moveable and can grip Minifigures with ease. I really do love this figure, a lot of character is related through the crooked eyes and he certainly is fun to pose. Even the 'Orc hurling action' is fun!
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!
20 out of 20 people thought this review was helpful.
You've read the book (maybe). You've seen the movie (probably). You've taken a look at the official renders and the amusing developer video. And now you are poking around LEGO's shop@home and you're wondering if Orthanc is worth the two hundred clams that LEGO is asking for. Make no mistake: this thing is expensive, and you'd best know what you're getting yourself into. I'm going to try my best to help you out.
There are not one but three licensed "expert builder" sets out this year, and Orthanc follows hot on the heels of Arkham Asylum (10937) and will be succeeded a little later by the mind-bogglingly expansive Ewok Village (10236), and it really is kind of amazing that we're getting this many "expert" sets all at once. Orthanc is right in the middle of the pack too in terms of price, clocking in at slightly more than Arkham Asylum but quite a bit less than the Ewok Village. All the same, I think it might just be the case that Orthanc ends up being the third most expensive set of the year, being behind Ewok Village and the soon-to-be-legendary Sydney Opera House (10234). TLC clearly does not want us to get off its wild ride.
So, in the interest of brevity, I'm not going to insult your intelligence by retracing information that you can easily find out on your own right here on this excellent website. Instead, I'm going to give a couple of my personal impressions regarding the building process and the finished product that may not be obvious from what LEGO wants potential buyers to see/know.
Let me get the obvious out the way: Orthanc is HUGE. Yes, I watched the developer and read the statistics as well, but there's something about actually having this model in front of you that says so much more than a few numbers. It's so big and so tall that I'm actually mildly concerned about the long-term effects, if any, on the bricks sitting right at the bottom. This is obviously not the first time that LEGO has put a big set together for retail, but I find that it's relatively rare that a retail set goes for height more than anything else, with oddities like Night Lord's Castle (6097) being kind of the exception. Yeah, this set absolutely dwarfs any other set that I have - heck, I feel that it's even dwarfing some of the furniture around here. Have you ever taken a look at those insane MOCs you see at conventions or on the Internet and wish that you had the time/talent/money to make one on your own? Orthanc can make it happen for you. It feels that good.
Now, I was concerned that the build would be boring, especially considering that the entire exterior is jet-black. I think the designers did a really good job here at breaking up any potential monotony by alternating between building the cute little rooms on the inside versus the texturing on the outside. It's actually quite exciting, too, to see the model get progressively larger as you go through bag after bag (I'm quite sure the entire build took me at least three hours over the course of a Saturday), each time thinking, right, that's surely the last level. Nope. Saruman likes 'em tall.
Speaking of Saruman, the Minifigs are probably the weak point here. I believe the only real exclusive here is the sort of forgettable Grima Wormtongue, who looks nice as a Minifig but is not much of anything as a character. I'm stretching my brain to think of who else might have made it into this set, but perhaps there isn't anyone else who would feel appropriate - Merry/Pippin with a different outfit, maybe? (As if we all don't already have them.) Anyway, if you have any intentions of getting this set at all, do yourself a favour and DON'T buy the Wizard Battle (79005). The exact same room is one of the floors of Orthanc, only much nicer. Think about it as though you've shaved $12 off the cost.
Much has been made of the Not-Treebeard Ent included with this set, and not all of what I've heard is positive. I have to disagree. I think this guy is amazing. Does he look like a mech? Well, sure. But come on. This is LEGO. Use your imagination. I think it's a wonderful design that's charismatic, recognisable, and even playable (even if the rest of the tower really isn't). For scale, here's the Ent vs. Lex Luthor (6862):
A few final words on the build. Yes, there are stickers. You could avoid applying them, of course, but I think they do add a lot of character to the rooms, especially on a build that is essentially 95% black and dark bley. Fortunately, they're all pretty easy to apply - the pickiest one would probably be the "white hand" wall hangings on the second floor, and perhaps the basement decorations. None of them are absolutely essential, it's true, so a complete purist could leave them alone. But I think that would be a bit of a waste.
Finally, once this tower is built, it is built. What I mean by that is that unlike the Creator main street sets, this baby isn't coming apart once it's put together. This, I guess, has its pros and cons. On the one hand, the finished tower is completely sturdy, which is very important for a tall tower. Unfortunately, it means not only do you have to transport it fully built, but you're also going to have to do a bit of prying apart if you want to put it in storage (like you would ever want to). That's just something to keep in mind.
I will not begrudge anyone for thinking that $200 is expensive for a toy, because it really is. For me personally, this set was a convergence of several things: firstly, anyone who has had the misfortune of reading any of my other reviews knows that I am a big fan of "evil" structures, so Orthanc really hit the mark for me. Secondly, I do like fantasy and the Lord of the Rings especially, so having this is a dream. And thirdly...I don't know. I have nothing else to spend my money on or something. Anyway, the bottom line is that this really is a beautiful model and an absolute treat for LOTR nuts. It's a nice long build that leads to a very attractive end product that really can be displayed anywhere. And you get an Ent to go stomping around town with. You decide on your own what that's worth to you.
34 out of 35 people thought this review was helpful.
I mean, if I was a minifig, I'd want to live in the Tower of Orthanc, too (if Bag End from the Hobbit theme was already taken, that is).
I got this set during its VIP exclusive period, and it is arguably the best set in my collection (and certainly the best in my Lego Tolkien collection).
But why is that? Well, I'll start with the build. After you open the box you are greeted by a 15-bag, 3-instruction book cascade of that wonderful thing all of us Lego fans genuinely adore--ABS plastic molded into quality Lego pieces. In a few hours (depending on how fast of a builder you are; I'm slow and it took me about 5 hours) you have an Ent, a Great Eagle, 5 minifigs and one humongous tower.
But how enjoyable is the build, that process which transforms your purchase from parts to a cohesive whole? It is very fun. You start by building the Ent, and then you build the tower, which uses mostly studs-up building but has some SNOT in it too (which is used mostly for decoration).
You build the dungeon and entryway first, put the large panels on the outside, and then you build Saruman's throne room onto your steadily growing tower. You then build the alchemy and study rooms as one unit and add it onto the bottom of the tower. You then complete the build with the attic and the very top of the tower.
It's a very enjoyable and lengthy build.
Moving on to the design, I'll continue by describing the minifigs. The Orc Pitmaster is a standard bald Mordor Orc with a single-bladed Gimli-style long axe and a grappling hook thing. The Uruk-Hai is, well, an Uruk-Hai. He has White Hand-printed accessories, which makes him more desirable than most of his fellow Uruks, but he's still exactly the same as the Uruk from the Orc Forge set. Still, both Orcs are very well designed and make great army builders.
Now we move on to the main 3 minifigs--Gandalf, Wormtongue and Saruman. Gandalf is exactly the same as every Gandalf fig in the first LotR wave and the first Hobbit wave, except that he has gray hair instead of his hat. It looks good on him. Next, we have Wormtongue. It's nice that they included this character here, as we probably won't have a chance to get him anywhere else (unless they decide to make an Edoras set). He has a black cape, black Prince Dastan hair, good torso printing and a standard knife. Great fig. And finally, we have Saruman. He's exactly the same as the Saruman from The Wizard Battle set, except that he has printed robes to interchange with his plain white legs if you so desire. He looks great in his robes, and they go well with his printed torso piece. Overall, he's my favorite fig from this set.
The Ent is surprisingly large and well-designed. You can turn a gear on his back to raise or lower his right arm, and unlike some of the '01 Bionicle figures, his arm stays in the position you raise/lower it to be in. He kind of reminds me of the Crystal King set from Power Miners, except with not quite as much mobility and a more stable design.
The Eagle is larger than I had expected, and the only points of mobility on him are the wings. His talons function as the bottom of a 2x2 brick/plate and he has four studs on his back. He's a pretty good eagle, although not perfect.
Finally, we get to the Tower. It's huge, and by far the tallest Tolkien tower to date (the Helm's Deep tower is insignificant compared to it). The exterior looks great, with all of the architectural detailing and the almost completely black color scheme. The staircase, gray door and balcony look very good, as does the top of the tower and the 'teeth'.
The inside looks almost as wonderful as the outside. The heavily-stickered dungeon looks suitably creepy, and the trapdoor function right above it works very well. The entry hall looks somewhat bare, but I think the simplicity works for the room.
Saruman's throne room is, in my opinion, the best room in the Tower. If you pust up on the chandelier in the entry hall, the palantir in the throne room (which is, by the way, a Bionicle Zamor Sphere remolded with two 'swirly' colors, black and translucent olive green) lights up red, and this looks absolutely stunning. The throne room also contains Saruman's throne, two large lamps, bookcases with cleverly-constructed decorative books, and other accessories. The balcony branches off of this room, as well. The two things I don't like about this room is that 1. There's no door to the balcony, so it's just an open archway; and 2. The palantir tends to roll around a bit on its stand (it's not connected to the stand at all).
Above the throne room, we have the alchemy room, with a tipping cauldron, the Helm's Deep bomb, some flasks/jars/etc., and some torches. It's a nice room, but not too remarkable.
The study is pretty nice, as well, but perhaps a little crowded. Here you have the (sticker) portraits of the Five Wizards, some more decorative books in a bookcase, two 'real' Lego books (with stickers), and two scrolls. It's a nice, but somewhat small, study.
Last but not least you have the attic. The secret ladder is a nice touch and folds down to the study to allow Saruman to climb up into the attic. This room, even smaller than the study, contains a banner with a (sticker) picture of Barad-Dur, a barrel containing 3 wizards' staffs, and an Uruk-Hai shield, sword and helmet (the shield and helmet both have the White Hand printed on them). It's a nice addition to the tower, and contains some nice items.
At the top of the tower, you have a nice little space for Gandalf to pace around while waiting for the Eagle to come rescue him. It's a pretty simple but nice space. One thing I don't fully understand is why Lego included a round 'turntable' piece on top. The space would look fine without it.
Of course, the 'teeth' of the tower surround this little floor, and they really finish off the appearance of the tower.
Overall, this set is awesome. It looks great, has good playability, has a great build, includes 5 great figs, and represents the Tower from the movies very well. I recommend this set to all Tolkien fans and any Lego fan looking for a good set.
12 out of 13 people thought this review was helpful.
This set is the flagship set for the entire LotR line (at least for now, Barud-dur coming later?). It's incredibly detailed with fun surprises that will make big Middle-earth fans squeal with delight. It's also sure to please movie-only fans too (since it is based on the movies). To start off this lengthy, in-depth review of possibly my favorite set I'd like to quote a passage from The Two Towers to give you a back-drop on how Orthanc is described in the book:
"It [Orthanc] was black, and the rock gleamed as if it were wet. The many faces of the stone had sharp edges as though they had been newly chiselled...
On the eastern side, in the angle of two piers, there was a great door, high above the ground; and over it was a shuttered window, opening upon a balcony hedged with iron bars.... [the door] was the only entrance to the tower; but many tall windows were cut with deep embrasures in the climbing walls: far up they peered like little eyes in the sheer faces of the horns." (The Two Towers, Book III, chapter 10, paragraph 12-13)
The box is huge, the biggest of any LotR or Hobbit set yet. I don't really like how they displayed the tower though. They tried to make it look like you're looking up at it but to me the proportions just look wrong. Anyhow, the back is like other LotR sets with little pictures showing off the set's many play features. The instructions come in 3 books total. All the bags are numbered from 1 to 15 which is so nice when building a large set like this. In the back of the last book are ads for the video game and other current LotR sets. There's also an advertisement for the Helm's Deep board game which, I believe, isn't available yet [as of June 2013].
The parts selection consists of almost entirely of black. Sometimes a blue or yellow brick is thrown in when you're building parts that won't be seen when finished. The ent provides some diversity as well with some browns and green accents. There are a few special pieces worth mentioning though like the Palantir. It's a lot like a marble really in terms of size and feel. The green swirl looks so much like the film and it looks really cool when lit up. Some chemicals in bottles are nice additions in some rooms plus we get some more Uruk-hai armor with the white hand printed on it (which before was only available in the Orc Forge set). One of my favorite pieces in the building itself (not accessories) are the new pointed arch pieces which are really nice. It adds a bit of a gothic element to the tower which I love. (Next we need these pieces in grey so I can build some cathedrals.) The big spikes (teeth pieces) look very menacing and are also a great addition. I could talk about the pieces all day long but let's go on to the next part of the review.
Saruman the White: He's exactly the same version we get in the Wizard Battle set except for his printed robe piece. It's a 2x2x2 slope with the rest of his white garment printed on the flat, vertical side. When you look really close you can tell the lines don't quite match up between the torso and the slope piece but at a distance you can't tell. The design on both pieces [torso & "legs"] is wonderfully done and looks exactly like Saruman from the film. His head resembles Christopher Lee very nicely. The three toned beard is probably the best part of him. I love the detail! His staff is nicely done and he also comes with a white cape. A spare pair of normal white legs are also provided so you can swap them out. I assume this is so you can pose him better in different parts of the tower.
Grima Wormtougne: Worm comes from an Anglo-Saxon word which means "dragon" or "serpent". In the case of Grima his name literally means "serpent tongued" to reflect his crafty, malicious, manipulative counsels while "serving" King Theoden of Rohan. He looks incredibly like the Grima we all know and love from the films. His torso isn't too special but it is nicely done. Not extraordinary but sufficient. The black and dark browns fit with his character perfectly. His hair and cape are also black. His double sided face (neutral/angry) and hands are (I believe) new pale, yellowish, sickly type color which looks stunning on him and completes the look. Overall a great minifig that LotR collectors will have to have. He also comes with a knife which he uses to stab Saruman.
Orc Pitmaster: He's exactly the same as any other Mordor orc we've gotten thus far, but I suppose his accessories make him higher in command than other orcs. He comes with a large axe and a rope with hook. The orcs tried using both these tools to combat the ents. (Neither of them worked too successfully.) His printing and head are very orcish like every other time before. Not a super exciting minifig, but an essential one.
Uruk-hai: This is exactly like the Uruk-hai we get in the Orc Forge set with the White Hand of Saruman printed on the shield and helmet. Every time I get one I'm amazed by the detailing put into the torso on the front and back! The head is double sided with angry and super angry. The latter has the White Hand printed on his face which explains the extra rage. He's a bit more exciting than the orc but completely essential since Isengard was where Saruman's Uruk-hai came from.
Gandalf the Grey: It seems like every Middle-earth set comes with Gandalf. This Istari isn't a bad figure because of it though. He comes with a grey cape and his printing is very nice but the beard really sells him. Without it he looks nothing at all like Gandalf. His face is double sided this wave (neutral/focused & angry) like in the wizard battle set and thus comes with hair. I guess the only disappointing thing about him is his staff, too simplistic for the only wizard that returned to Valinor.
Only Saruman and Grima are the really exciting minifigs in this set. The others we can get in other sets pretty easily. In some ways this is a good thing. Licensed sets always seem to revolve around the minifigs. It's nice to get one where the minifigs compliment the set, not the other way around.
The build was one of the best ones I've had in years. There are so many little techniques that are just a joy to implement. There was quite a bit of repetitiveness but this really can't be helped. If you're thinking about getting it I wouldn't hesitate but just be prepared for looking at a lot of black pieces! I wouldn't recommend building it on a dark table, that could get confusing! :-)
The Completed Model
The Ent: This ent (who isn't necessarily Treebeard) is very "mechy" but that doesn't bother me at all. It allows for much more playability and pose ability. There are some rare olive green colored pieces in in it along with the dark green which complement each other nicely. On his right foot there's a mushroom growing which is quite amusing. The eyes are printed onto 1x1 tiles which is so much better than stickers. The orc throwing feature is fun but you have to make sure his fingers aren't holding onto the minifig too tightly or else the helpless orc won't fly off. Overall an excellent figure which is such a nice addition to the set. If LEGO doesn't make a Treebeard set it won't be too hard to modify this guy to look like everyone's favorite ent.
The Eagle: This eagle of Manwe is exactly like the one we get in the Black Gate set. When I first saw him in pictures he looked ugly, but I'm pleased to say that he's grown on me since then. His golden beak and yellow eyes are very well done and I love his two-toned wings and tail feathers. On his back are four studs which Gandalf (or whoever) can sit on. The only part I still don't like about him are his talons which on this guy aren't really talons at all. Instead he has a big flat plank which you can use to attach onto some studs.
Basement/Dungeon: There's no mention of a dungeon in Orthanc so LEGO is taking some liberties here, but it's a fun play feature and adds to the evil of the place. Along the back wall are stickers of prison doors, peering eyes, and wargs. On the floor are some bones and skulls, remains of unfortunate guests. There's also a rat along with a chain. The trap door is constructed unlike most LEGO trapdoors. It works well but when it's in "normal" position (floor level) it tends to droop a bit on the one end, especially when anything, anything, touches it. If this bothers you it's not hard to put a plate underneath to hold it up.
Entrance Hall: This (or the dungeon) is probably the simplest room inside the tower. On the walls in the corner are some banners with stickers of the White Hand on them. There's a micro-figure which serves as a statue and some axes. The important chandelier is here too (more about that later). The main feature is the door which leads out to the steps which go down to ground level. On the exterior of this room and the one below are the iconic, long, black "beams". I don't know exactly what to call them, but they look very cool, just like the movie and Alan Lee's paintings. This was the really repetitive part as you have to build the same black slopes over and over again. But the end result is definitely worth it.
Palantir Room (Throne Room): This is like the main room of the tower and as a result it's the biggest. The throne and lights are almost identical to the Wizard Battle set. The throne is a bit different in that it doesn't have the axle through the back to launch Saruman at Gandalf. The Palantir is in this room as well and rests on a black stand just like in the film. Inside this stand is the red light brick which can be lit up by pressing up on the chandelier on the lower floor. The Palantir only lights up if the green swirl part is pointed down towards the light brick (it is possible to get it lit up with black side down but you have to put it in exactly the right spot). On the left and right, along the walls, are some book shelves which are ingeniously done. There are also some "potions" in bottles here too. On the book shelves is a brown tile with a sticker on it. It appears to have something to do with astronomy but I'm not 100% sure. The balcony that Saruman comes out on to arouse his Uruk-hai is on this level too. There's a 2x2 tile with a stud in the middle so you can attach Saruman with his robes on. Along this room are 10 or so 1x3 arches. Above that are dozens of lined 2x2 bricks which add a lot of texture. At the very top of these walls on the outside is a row of spikes which, as I said before, are very evil looking. If I could change anything about this room I'd cover up the grey technic beams on the inside with black tiles like on the outside.
Alchemy Room: No, Saruman's not trying to make gold. Instead he's making the bomb that will blow up helm's deep. The big pot in the middle can be tipped so you can easily dump things in or dump things out. There are lots of bottles on the shelves and the famous bomb is sitting on the floor. There are torches on the walls but they aren't lit (so they don't ignite the bomb). I had a few extra flame pieces in the kit so I suppose I could light them up. Behind the pot is a skull which doesn't make much sense. I guess it makes it looks more evil. The walls in this room employ lots of those newer pointed arch pieces. The windows aren't completely open though. There are tons of black bars which, are not only accurate, but add to the overall look of the tower so nicely. These big windows are one of the first things you notice when looking at the tower and they look absolutely wonderful.
Study: This is where Saruman studied the Rings of Power, their making, powers, and disappearance for years. There are two book pieces. Once has The Eye on the back and cover (with stickers naturally) The other is intrinsically designed, but not with anything that is particularly Middle-earth related. On one bookshelf is a tile with a sticker design of a map. Again, this doesn't appear to be necessarily Middle-earth related so we could see it again in other themes. The other tile with a sticker has the ring of Barahir on it along with some elvish writing. (The ring of Barahir was Aragorn's ring and it was passed down from father to son for generations. Elendil eventually received it and then Isildur. From there it went to the kings of Arnor who passed it down until Arnor was dissolved and the Numenoriens there became the Dunedain. After that it was kept in Rivendell until Aragorn received it. Sorry for going down the rabbit trail :-) ) Saruman looked at this page in the Two Towers film so this is definitely a nice touch for fans. Along the walls are pictures of the 5 Wizards. Saruman, Gandalf, and Radagast look like the ones we've seen in the films but for the Blue Wizards the graphic designers had to invent their own designs. I think they look pretty good and the one on the left is holding something especially interesting (more on that later). Behind the book stand in the middle of the room are two more skulls. Saruman really likes having skulls lying around doesn't he.
Trophy Room: By pulling down the folding staircase you can reach Saruman's secret trophy room with all sorts of goodies inside. On the left rests a complete set of Uruk-hai armor (with the White Hand printed on it). On the right are the staffs of 3 wizards (Radagast and the Blue Wizards). In the middle are hung two keys which symbolize the keys to the two towers (Orthanc & Barad-dur). In between them is a tile with a cool sticker of The Eye. What's really interesting is that if you take the tile off there's a tiny little compartment with a beam in the back. This beam, which is used for supporting the walls but also looks like a shelf, has special significance for big Middle-earth fans. In the Disaster of the Gladden Fields segment in the Unfinished Tales there is an interesting passage about Aragorn searching through Orthanc after the Lord of the Rings. Below is part of this fascinating paragraph: "Then all the secrets of the tower were searched. Many things of worth were found, jewels and heirlooms... At last behind a hidden door that they could not have found or opened had not Elessar [Aragorn] had the aid of Gimli the Dwarf a steel closet was revealed. Maybe it had been intended to receive the Ring; but it was almost bare." Whether designers put in this little chamber by accident or purposefully it's an exciting little area for big Middle-earth fans.
Speaking of the Blue Wizards, it's interesting that their staffs (and Radagast's) are included here. Very little is known about them but we do know that they ventured east and that their names were Alatar & Pallando. LEGO could be suggesting here that Saruman killed them and took their staffs. We know Saruman journeyed east quite often so it's not too far-fetched. There's a rumor going around fan communities that Saruman will kill Radagast in one of the upcoming Hobbit films so it's interesting that his staff is also included. In a letter written in 1958 Tolkien said that "they failed, as Saruman did, though doubtless in different ways; and I suspect they were founders or beginners of secret cults and 'magic' traditions that outlasted the fall of Sauron." So apparently Saruman probably did not kill them. The Blue Wizard pictured on the left in the study room is surrounded by stars while holding a crystal ball which has much more significance after reading this sentence. Whatever the case it's an interesting addition which sparks some thinking for me as a big Tolkien fan.
(Near the end of Tolkien's life he wrote in another letter that the Blue Wizards succeeded in their task. But this contradicts everything else written in the Silmarillion and Lord of the Rings.)
Pinnacle: This is probably the most iconic part of Orthanc. It's seems a little too big compared to the rest of the tower but it's beautifully engineered and looks stunning. This was the only really repetitive part of the build except for the bottom but like before it is soooo worth it when finished. If you're like me and don't like the round plate on top tacking it off won't compromise structural integrity. I know this word is over-used, but it really does look cool.
This is the set to get if you're a LotR fan. It has incredible detail, tons of playability and looks amazing as a model. One of the neat things is that you can practically re-create every scene with Orthanc from the films: Gandalf's capture, Saruman's conversations with Sauron, the bomb, the study, the Uruk-hai, the famous Last March of the Ents, etc. The age of 14+ is fitting since it is quite a large and somewhat complicated build. A determined 12 year old could probably do it though. Smaller kids probably won't care for LotR things anyway but for anyone older I wouldn't hesitate to get it. It's definitely worth the $200 price tag. If you use the 10% coupon from the magazine or wait for double VIP points that would be an extra bonus. I don't know what else LEGO has in store but this set will go down as a classic in the long line of licensed LEGO sets.
Agoreg vae LEGO!
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Fifteen numbered bags make the assembly very smooth. In the first two bags we get Treebeard and some orcs for him to trash. This ent is a mech with a brown coating in various slope and speeder bike plates with dark green accents and twigs and even a mushroom. He was a little tricky in the torso to keep pieces from flying off when adding new parts.
Now on to the tower! We build an under structure and basement, which has the dreaded stickers on some panels. Ok it’s a dark basement, it won’t show if they are a little crooked. Throw in some bones, rat and skulls. And intriguing technic assembly sticks out of a corner and the inevitable trapdoor has a nice mechanism for opening and closing (not the usual pin and cone.) There is another sticker here over a tile like a rug on the trapdoor.
Our fourth bag brings us the Main Reception Room with brick build doors in a corner. We build up the walls and add some decorative items (White Hand banners – stickers.) There is some variety in black and dark grey pieces and we are teased by the snot receptor bricks on the outside.
Bags five and six have the parts to build the snot panels decorating the outside of the first two levels of the tower and build the stairs. The stairs attach to the technic assembly in the first level. It is looking and feeling really substantial.
Bag seven through nine has Saruman and his Palantir Chamber. The throne and two flanking torches are the same as the smallest set of this wave. Exactly. Not that there is anything wrong with that. I like it. The palantir however is different. A round platform is built up over a hole in the floor with a red light brick activated by a chandelier added to the chamber below. A dull green ball sits on display and turns a translucent red when lit with dark swirls. You can almost feel the evil emanating from its depths. There are also some nice bookshelves on each side with accessories. We finish the chamber with walls of arched openings mainly in 1x1 bricks. On the outside, the corner over the stairway gets a balcony while we add shark teeth to technic brick holes for menace.
Bag ten brings Grima Wormtongue and adding bag eleven gives us the Lab Room. At this point the tower has gotten pretty tall (eleven inches), so I was relived to build this level on its own floor plates. The Lab Room has shelves using fence pieces and curved plates. The walls are very open made with bars from lances in cones with spiral staircase supports in the corners. A tipping cauldron, a bomb, bottles and miscellaneous tchotchkes finish this floor.
Bag twelve brings us the Room of Wizards and MORE STICKERS. We build sloping on the outside, picture on the inside walls with black 2x2x3 slopes. There are five wizard portrait stickers. A slanted book display has a book with a sticker design for front and back. A different designed sticker book sits under a shelf. With some torches to light the portraits and three map/instruction tiles (stickers) to build up Saruman’s reference library, we are ready to call this section a wrap and add it to the tower.
At eighteen inches we have really got some height as we open lucky bag thirteen. Gandalf the Grey is here ready to pace the pinnacle of this tower if we get it completed. Again we put the main tower aside and build the floor with plates creating trapdoor with a folding ladder on top. As we have gone up our floors are getting smaller in dimensions and walls are completed with a lot of grill decorated black 1x2s and some 5 high pillars. A few snot bricks poke out to add exterior decoration. Inside this room has a bunch of interesting stuff. A helmet and shield with white hand design some wizard’s staffs in a barrel in the corner. Keys hang in front of a banner with an all-seeing-eye design (surprise – it’s a sticker!) on a long blue banner. A swiveling plate is added to the underside of the floor to secure the “secret ladder”.
Bag fourteen adds the final tower section to the previous Key Room. A top down schematic is provided to make sure you have your studs lined up before building on up. We add exterior decoration to this section - lots of shark teeth. Next we use large wedge pieces and castle panels to build up the height. We have clip pieces on four sides awaiting something good and the final roof/floor is added. The tower at this level is no longer open-back. It is finished on all four sides.
Bag fifteen has the pieces to build the four teeth of the tower surrounding the platform where Gandalf paces. We clip them into the prior section and are done.
Overall the build was very pleasurable. Each section was made with different pieces and a slight asymmetry with the basic half cross shape and stairway in the corner saved repetition. I like the new Lego strategy of spreading the minifigs throughout the bags instead of assembling them all up front. Breaks up the build and they are like Crackerjack prizes.
Gandalf is nice with grey hair instead of the floppy hat. We have seen him before.
Saruman has two leg options. One is a standard white leg assembly and the other a slope with silver design that continues from his torso to imply his robed state.
The eagle is elegant, but a little static and small.
Treebeard the ent is very pose-able and his printed tile eyes and seaweed beard give him a sweet expression. He can swivel at the waist move his arms and is stable on his feet in many positions. One arm is moveable with a mechanism in his back and both hands have articulated fingers to pick up and dispose of pesky ocrs.
The two orcs are ones we have seen before, but one has a new grappling hook weapon and the other has the White Hand on helmet and shield.
Grima Wormtongue is new and excellent. He has same “evil-human” sick green skin tone as the Mouth of Sauron. This is a different shade from orc. He as a careworn/evil-worn face in plain and angry. His hairpiece is the same as Aragorn in black. His torso is printed in fur and chain design. He is finished off with a standard knife and a black cape.
The ent was so playable, I played with it and I don’t PLAY with Lego. There are lots of possibilities for posing the characters in the building. The stairs and the balcony are iconic parts of the story. Pushing on the chandelier to light the palantir is amusing and lights up the scene well in the dark. Don’t forget the trap door and secret staircase.
The completed build is stunning, massive and a compelling addition to the Lord of the Rings line. Like others, I was disappointed to hear that the building would be backless. However, it is so big I think that is a feature not a defect. You can see through the openings and catch a glimpse of the action inside. On display you aren’t aware that there is no back, and when you turn it around you can enjoy the various chambers' contents. The ent is more mech-like (I hate mechs) rather than tree-come-alive-like (I’m a bit of a LOTR purist), but, as said before, very playable.
My only complaint is stickers - at least the flat 2x2 tiles could be printed. For as many stickers used and the price of the set, I think a second sticker sheet should have been included.
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