Thursday, January 22, 2015

Toy Review: Alien Xenomorph from NECA

Sometimes it takes me a while to get around to reviewing action figures, especially if they are in some way retoolings of figures I have already reviewed. This is why I have essentially stopped reviewing Masters of the Universe Classics figures (although I am considering starting up again since this is the last year). It’s also why it’s taken me something like six months to review this guy.

I love the Alien franchise and I particularly love all of the various designs of Xenomorphs. I was an avid collector of Kenner’s Alien line of toys. I started when they were at regular retail and went nuts with them when they hit Kaybee Toys. The Aliens/Predator toy line is another one of those that I really wish I had kept. I can’t even remember everything that I got rid of, but some years ago I took about ten storage containers worth of stuff to a dealer and accepted some paltry sum of money for it all because I needed to get my car fixed. This was probably the early 2000s, when I wasn’t even thinking about future kids or anything. I know those boxes held older Toy Biz Marvel, Aliens/Predators, pre-25th Anniversary GI Joes, and who knows what else. I try to comfort myself by thinking about the fact that it all reeked of cigarette smoke and I wouldn’t let my son play with any of it anyway. Which is true. No amount of washing gets that stink out.

For the record, I like the idea of Xenomorphs having different appearances based on the creatures they hatched out of. I’ve had this discussion enough times to feel like it needs to be addressed; possibly even as an episode of the Needless Things Podcast. But for now I’ll just say that I think it’s a neat concept and I enjoy seeing the Giger design applied to varying biological entities.

This particular Xenomorph is probably what most would consider to be the baseline creature. While Prometheus showed us different, this is the first one we as an audience saw and it hatched from a human. I think to most it is considered the primary, neutral form.

I bought a couple of the Warrior Aliens that NECA released and was quite pleased with those. I had to have this one because it is the original, because of the translucent head and the skull underneath, and also because black just seems like the right color to me. As I’ve mentioned before, I saw Aliens before I saw Alien. In the modern age we have not only the internet to reference high-quality behind-the-scenes pictures and records of the actual props used, but also high-quality toys that are based on those very props. The lengths that some toy manufacturers go to in order to recreate the exact looks of movie monsters, props, and costumes these days is incredible compared to what we saw in the eighties.

So back when I saw Aliens and for years after, I never realized they weren’t black. And it’s not because I’m like Stephen Colbert and don’t see color. It’s because I only ever saw shitty VHS transfers of both of the first movies and just had no idea. It wasn’t until Alien 3, and/or the Kenner line that the thought of multicolored xenomorphs even occurred to me. Heck, I didn’t even know they were called xenomorphs at that point, although there is some debate about the usage of that term. I just like anything that begins with an “X”. The Quadrilogy DVD set gave the species' binomial names as Internecivus raptus, which means “murderous thief” and sounds awesome.

Without getting too hyperbolic (me? NEVER), I think Giger’s design is one of the greatest monster designs of all time, if not the greatest. My own internal debate on that is that xenomorphs look way more awesome than Greys, but that they don’t scare me as much on a purely visual and primal level. At the same time, if I came face to face with either in real life I think I would have the same reaction – to cry and curl up in a ball on the floor. Both species are just as likely to put things in me that I don’t want in me, but I suppose the Greys’ invasion is generally more survivable.

I’m going to stop now and review this figure.

FIRST GLANCE

That skull, man. And it’s not just the skull. It’s the translucent dome on top, too. It’s such a creepy, unearthly look. The rest of the figure is fairly familiar for those of us that purchased the Warrior Alien from the first wave.

PACKAGING

It’s a clamshell. You know me and how I feel about clamshells. They’re ugly, they’re dangerous, and they’re a pain in the ass to open. NECA does a great job with the graphics, but it’s still a piece of paper shoved into a dangerously sharp plastic casing.

That’s a fine bio. What else could you really say about this particular figure? Looking back on Alien and taking it in on its own with none of the following movies is interesting. Nothing was explained. All of this batshit crazy stuff was found and six human beings met horrible ends. There was no origin story for the xenomorph. This wasn’t even its home planet. And the sole surviving human (and her cat) fly off into an unknown and dubious future in an escape pod at the end. They aren’t rescued. It just ends.

So my point is that there’s literally nothing else to say about the alien. Which is creepy and disturbing.

LOOKS

Obviously NECA did an amazing job with this sculpt. There’s no denying that. This figure captures the mad detail of Giger’s design in a way that no other merchandise (aside from the previous Warrior) has. I remember thinking that Kenner’s Aliens were incredibly detailed (and they were for the time), but NECA’s are almost dizzying. I still really like McFarlane’s slightly stylized take on the creatures (and NECA will have a tough time beating their excellent Dog Alien), but these are truly excellent.

The top of the skull is transparent plastic with a white spray underneath. You can see all of the details of the inside, as well as the human-like skull at the front that is so damned creepy.

Of course, you can’t actually see any of this in my pictures thanks to the flash, but it’s all there in person.

The lower portion of the head is all tubes and ridges. The jaw is hinged and has a couple of ribbed tubes that extend back and connect to the figure’s back, which is a really neat detail. When the jaw is opened it reveals the tongue within, with the secondary set of jaws at the tip. This is another occasion where a toy has revealed detail I was unaware of – that the tongue is whitish. This, to me, seems much more gruesome and disturbing. The tongue is on a little slider and can be pulled in and out, though it’s difficult to get to. That’s fine by me because I prefer that over some big lever sticking out of the figure’s head.

Side Note: I usually think of that little mouth as the interior jaws, but in poking around the internet looking for references for this and other upcoming Alien figure reviews, I saw this repeatedly referred to as the xenomorphs’ tongues. Which is icky and more disturbing, so I’m going with it.

The torso consists of two layers of insanely detailed plastic. The upper portion features the ribs and dorsal protrusions in the firm but pliable plastic used in most action figures nowadays. 

Like the Warriors, the upper central protrusion can be removed to allow for more head poses.

The lower abdomen is a soft plastic sheath that covers the hip joints and ascends up under the upper abdomen. It’s just as detailed as the rest of the figure and the colors match the rest exactly, despite the differing materials used.

The tail is highly detailed soft plastic or rubber over a wire armature. It looks fantastic and poses nicely. I’m very curious to see how all of the bendy parts on modern action figures hold up over the years. I know I had a number of bendy toys when I was a kid in the seventies and by the eighties had a number of rubber toys with broken wires inside them. It’s worth noting that this xenomorph features a sharper, more needle-like tail rather than the flatter, blade-like tails of the later aliens.

The arms and legs are nicely detailed and I’m sure we’re going to see them several more times over the years (which I have no problem with). Every part of the aliens looks like a portion of a killing machine, but the spurs on the backs of the elbows seem particularly menacing to me. Although I guess if you’re close enough to see those in person you have other, more pressing problems.

Aside from the top of the skull the paint is fairly uniform. The base plastic is black and there’s a wash of grey all over the figure to bring out the details and create texture. It looks great and – more importantly – is uniform across the figure. There aren’t any spots where it seems too thick or thin. The wash is evenly distributed throughout.

ACCESSORIES

The xenomorph does not include any accessories. That's somebody else's guitar.

While it might have been neat to pack in a facehugger or an egg or a Chestburster, I really feel like I got my money’s worth with just the alien. Maybe NECA will release a mini aliens pack with all of that stuff, kind of like they did with the excellent Predators skull pack. 
 
FUN

As beautiful as the figure is, I feel like the real accomplishment is the amount of articulation NECA was able to build in, as well as how useful that articulation is. Every joint feels like it has the maximum range of motion except for maybe the hips. If the legs could move up a bit further you could get a true crouch out of the figure. But there’s really no way to have done that and maintain the profile that is created by the soft lower abdominal piece. As it is, that ingenious piece of sculpting creates a great look and allows for more functionality than would otherwise be available.

The hinged jaw is a bit loose, but it stays put well enough. The tongue extends as far as it needs to and is honestly a little gross to touch and manipulate. Everything else works nicely and – bottom line – this figure can achieve far more poses than the movie version ever could or did. 
 
The nature of the joints and the build make it a bit difficult to achieve a truly neutral standing pose, but that’s something I’m not really interested in doing, anyway. These figures from NECA are fun to mess around with and tend to stay on my desk for a good length of time.

OVERALL

Well done, NECA. I can’t imagine getting a xenomorph figure that beats this one in combining aesthetics and playability. There’s just not much more to say.

5 out of 5

Go buy one and help us pay the bills!:

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