Friday, January 15, 2010

Star Trek Toys, Past and Present - Part 2

Yesterday I talked about how, despite the fact that I had no real intention of ever buying any toys from the 2009 Star Trek movie, I ended up in possession of a playset of the USS Enterprise bridge from, you guessed it, the 2009 Star Trek movie. Though it came with a James T. Kirk action figure, as a collector and completionist it just wouldn't be right to let Kirk preside over an empty bridge.

That's precisely why Kirk isn't in charge of the Enterprise this time around. I happen to know an excellent captain with a very complete crew that could occupy the bridge. We go way back, you know.

It wasn't long after I had opened the package and assembled the playset that Captain Picard and his crew took their places on the bridge.

They had been waiting a very, very long time for this.

NuTrek bridge playsetYou see, back in the late '80s, Galoob (remeber Galoob and their commercials with the superfasttalkingspokespersonguy?) made a series of diminutive Star Trek: The Next Generation action figures: Picard, Riker, Data, Geordi, Worf, and even Tasha Yar--this was the late '80s, so we're talking first season. Allegedly there are a few other non-Starfleet action figures from a set that was released later on, but I can't say with any certainty that I've ever seen them.

The action figures aren't incredibly articulated, but they're more than adequate for something their size. Heads swivel a little bit and threaten to snap off; legs move forward and backward and bend at the knees; arms move up and down and can even spin around in unrealistic circles. As an added bonus, the figures come with an incredibly-easy-to-misplace tricorder accessory. Because their hands aren't designed to hold removable accessories, the tricorder hangs on their shoulders or around their necks like a noose.

Galoob new Star Trek action figure comparisonNow, I'm not sure whether this was intentional, but the smaller action figures from the 2009 Star Trek movie are very close in size to the Galoob TNG figures. So much so that both generations of action figures might be able to peacefully coexist on the same bridge. As long as they both seemed to be of comparable craftsmanship and appearance, I reasoned, there would be no aesthetic reason to keep them separate.


Upon closer inspection, the old TNG figures are easily the winner in the quality department, at least when compared to this particular Kirk figure. The faces of the old figures look remarkably like the people they're representing--Kirk's whole head looks bewilderingly generic.

Command stationsThough the old figures are designed more for sitting and standing than striking cool poses, they have a much broader range of movement than Kirk, who can't sit in his own chair without starting to slip out of it. Even though his limbs are highly articulated, I can't move them very far without worrying about breaking them off. I really don't want to repeat what happened with Tasha Yar--her arm snapped off several years ago, and though I was able to reattach it with superglue, she can't move it anymore. Remind me to never become a surgeon.

However, Kirk's legs move around at the knees pretty freely, so I was able to move him into all sorts of funny poses. Getting him to hold the phaser accessory that came with him, however, was a challenge. His right hand doesn't seem to be capable of holding much of anything, and I wouldn't trust that phaser holster he's got around his waist, because the moment I put anything in there is the moment it falls out and disappears forever. A neat accessory, but too impractical for a figure so small.

Star Trek toy shuttleThen I started looking more closely at the bridge itself. Unlike the bulky, plastic, completely enclosed bridge playset I have for my 4.5-inch Star Trek action figures, the NuTrek bridge consists of a few objects that you put on a placemat. And there are some conspicuously open gaps on that placemat. My playset had a viewscreen, two "plexiglass" computer terminals, and the command area where Kirk, Sulu, and Chekov all sit; the package shows another two plexiglass terminals and a number of other workstations with chairs.

Guess what? Packaged with almost all of the new tiny action figures is a piece of the bridge playset. In order to have a complete bridge, you need to have a complete crew, including the one or two figures you might not otherwise want to buy. How sinister!

Ah, but it doesn't end there. The more I stared at the playset, the more I began to think that Playmates was in it primarily for the money and not for the joy of small children (and grown-up Nathaniels). Certain elements made me suspect that they cut corners just to save a buck.

Crooked plexiThe decal stickers on the plexiglass screens are a little crooked, one much more so than the other. The few doodads on the armrests of the astoundingly bland captain's chair consist of little more than a few lazy strokes of blue paint. There's a thin border of white paint around the viewscreen that is similar in texture and precision to some of the mostly careful paint jobs I did on a few of my toys when I was a pre-teen. The placemat, which was originally neatly rolled up to avoid big creases from being folded into parts, turned out to have been folded in half before being rolled up.

Captain's toy chairThe worst part is that the main command console and chairs required some assembly and needed to be snapped into place. The chairs clicked in with no problem at all, but the console ended up breaking through the little nub it was supposed to fit into. Now, instead of being firmly anchored into place, it wobbles out of place if you bump the surface it's on. Not cool. Otherwise, the chairs are pretty decent, and the decals ond the console look exceedingly nice.

Broken navigation consoleMaybe it's just too much nostalgia, but I honestly feel that my toys from the late '80s were crafted with much more care. While the bridge does look pretty cool if you're just walking past it, closer inspection reveals the get-rich-quick motives of the toymaker that I perceive exist.

Misgivings aside, perhaps the most impressive part of this playset is the actual viewing part of the viewscreen; it's a translucent, movie-quality image of the Narada, plus all the computer readouts that appear on the viewscreen alongside it. With the right lighting behind it, this looks very, very cool.

New Star Trek viewscreenSo, even though it's a little gimmicky and rough around the edges, at last I have a place to display my TNG figures in a more fitting manner.

The whole crew of the Enterprise-D had been cooped up for nearly two decades in a modest shuttlecraft toy that, every few years, lost another part, usually when my family moved. The poor shuttlecraft is no longer spaceworthy; the phaser cannons are missing, but more importantly, the two side doors that protected the crew from the harsh vacuum of space are long gone. Worse yet, some of the stickers are peeling off!

Quite frankly, they deserved better.

Damaged shuttlecraftIn the end, it all works out quite nicely. I finally have a true home for my long-suffering crew (a home where Mr. Data doesn't need to sprawl out across the laps of the three people crammed into the shuttlecraft's cargo hold), and I no longer feel the need to go out and buy all the tiny action figures from the new movie.

Of course, it might not hurt to buy a Scotty action figure...

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