Deconstructing Lego is a blog that analyzes Lego sets under a variety of lenses, sometimes comparing similar sets from different years or creating a story based around a set or analyzing the implicit message that a set creates.

Saturday, January 15, 2011

4793: Ogel Shark Sub

4793:  Ogel Shark Sub comes from the Mission Deep Sea subtheme, which falls under the larger Alpha Team theme.  The submarine, unlike most, has two arms, one with a claw and one with spinning blades.  This is interesting because several of the Aquazone submarines also came with arms attached to the subs, so I wonder if they were designed by the same people, or possibly paying homage?

As you can see it has a very sleek design and is pretty awesome looking, but we can't ignore the fact that a submarine with arms is just absurd.  It's generally much too dark underwater to see anything, rendering such weapons useless.  Additionally, submarines are generally used for long-range combat against boats, which would make arms pretty useless.  But who cares, this is a really fucking cool submarine.

Shit, look at the dude it comes with (three of them!).  He has a fucking skull for a head and a trans green helmet.  Intense guy.  Anyway, overall it's a really cool set, but not very practical.

Thursday, January 13, 2011

7477: T-1 Typhoon vs. T-Rex

This 2005 set came from the Dino Attack theme.  A very sophisticated helicopter is attacking a Tyrannosaurus Rex.  I have no idea why.  It just seems kinda rude (but this helicopter is fucking awesome).

According to Brickpedia, the dinosaurs are mutants and are in the future and therefore must be stopped.  These dinosaurs appeared in the year 2010 (which just ended!!!).

What's really interesting about this theme though is that it was only released in the United States.  Elsewhere it was released as Dino 2010.

7298:  Dino Air Tracker is more or less the same set but with a large cage instead of large guns.  The US versions were military themed, while the European versions were much more peaceful.  Very interesting!  This is the only theme that I know of where there were major differences in how it was released and marketed for different regions.

Sunday, January 9, 2011

The Evolution of the Castle: The 1990s

This is part three of a four part series on the evolution of the Lego castle.

6081:  King's Mountain Fortress

The King's Mountain Fortress was released in 1990, and is the first Lego castle to feature a raised baseplate, a dramatic shift from the flat baseplates and regular flat plates that housed previous castles.  As a result, this set has significantly fewer pieces than some other castles, especially castles for the Lions faction.  Other than 6059:  Knight's Stronghold (released in the same year) this is the first set with molded wooden doors, as opposed to earlier sets that only had a drawbridge or makeshift grate to block the entrance.

Like many sets, this one includes towers, a drawbridge, flags, and knights.  Two interesting inclusions are that of the maiden and of the ghost minifig, which began appearing in sets around this time.  Compared to a lot of castles it is a bit lacking, but it does have a small courtyard which is rare among castle sets.

6086:  Black Knight's Castle

The Black Knight's Castle from 1992 also features a raised baseplate, the same baseplate from 6081, but the castle itself is much more impressive.  This Dragon Knight castle features the first molded gate piece along with the requisite drawbridge.  Take a look at the color scheme compared to past sets.  While there is an overwhelming amount of black, there is now a fair amount of grey to offset it, along with a beautiful red roof that really catches the eye.  Not only is this castle large, it is also much more aesthetically pleasing than past castles, and is a much more complex build compared to the square castles of the 1980s.  Lastly, check out all the horsemen!  Very much like the original yellow castle, having so many horsemen.

6090:  Royal Knight's Castle

The Royal Knight's Castle, released in 1995, features a new and very large baseplate and is one of the most impressive castles that Lego has ever released.  This castle features several very tall towers and some new play features like a catapult.  Additionally, it is one of the first (maybe the first??) castles to not have a drawbridge, opting instead to have doors and a grate.  This Lions faction set makes me nostalgia hard and is one of my favorites of all time.  It also features a king with chrome sword and crown, which will become more popular in the 2000s.  Lastly, there is a cloth flag and a cloth cape, two items which became popular in the 1990s.

Next will be the final installment, focusing on the 2000s.

Saturday, January 8, 2011

4950: The Loader-Dozer

Moria.  You fear to go into those mines.  The Dwarves dug too greedily and too deep.  You know what they awoke in the darkness of Khazad-dum...shadow and flame.

The Rock Raiders theme, released in 1999, contains a series of sets wherein members of the LMS Explorer dig for energy crystals.  According to Rock Raider mythos, the LMS Explorer was on its way home when it ran into an asteroid field and was badly damaged.  After being flung towards the Planet U, members of the ship dropped down to the planet to extract ore and Energy Crystals.  The series has the same goal of many themes, collecting crystals.  Rock Raiders, however, has a much greater backstory, with comic books and a game that explain why they need the resources.

Of course the Rock Raider crew also ran into their own troubles, namely the Rock Monsters.  They feast on crystals, just as the Rock Raiders need the crystals to power their ships, and are only aggressive when their crystals are in jeopardy.  While the Rock Monsters are seen as brutish enemies, they are really only protecting what is rightfully theirs.  However, the crew of the LMS Explorer is not merely mining crystals for profit, exploiting the Planet U, but rather need to in order to successfully escape and return home.

So, unlike many crystal-collecting themes, the Rock Raiders may be disturbing the natural habitat but are only doing so in order to survive.  A stark contrast to the Aquanauts and Aquasharks who are disturbing the natural ocean environment for their own gain.

Regardless, the vehicle here is clearly used as a bulldozer of sorts for moving around ore.  The crew member appears to not be deliberately attempting to hurt the Rock Monster, but rather is attempting to escape and leave the monster alone.  While he could easily use the dynamite on top of the vehicle to destroy the Rock Monster, he decides instead to merely flee the otherwise peaceful creature.

The rich mythos of the Rock Raiders gives us more to work with and allows us to see them not as capitalistic exploiters of the resources of a distant planet, but as shipwrecked explorers.

Friday, January 7, 2011

The Evolution of the Castle: The Late 1980s

This is part two of a series on the evolution of the Lego castle.

6074:  Black Falcon's Fortress

This set, released in 1986, is another mid-sized castle which can open up.  One interesting aspect to this castle (which I only know about because I own the 2002 re-release) is that the outer walls of the castle have holes for pegs, meaning that you can connect other sets to it in order to create larger castles.  Otherwise, this set is a fairly standard design.  The front entire front of the castle is raised up which is something different, but not something significant.  One oddity, however, is the lack of any swords.

6085:  Black Monarch's Castle

Released in 1988 (the year of my birth!) 6085:  Black Monarch's Castle is a dark monolith among other Lego castles.  It's an enormous set, with two towers in the back and a two-story gate tower in the front.  This set also uses a flat baseplate (the last major castle to do so) and has hinges so that it can open up for play.  The attached army is the first iteration of the Dragon Knights, another faction among many.  There's not much else to note, except again the lack of swords, which I do not understand.

6059:  Knight's Stronghold

A simple expansion to 6085:  Black Monarch's Castle, this set is the epitome of the "Battle in a Box," with both Black Falcons and Dragon Knights.  Fairly basic design, but the ability to add it to an already existing set and the inclusion of two warring factions makes this an interesting set.  Additionally, it calls me to question which of these factions are to considered good and evil.  More than likely it is futile and immature to label these factions as being good or evil, when really they may just exist as opposing factions fighting for land and glory.  It may not be until 2000 with Knight's Kingdom I that we can with certainty assume that one faction is good and the other evil.

Part three of this four part series will be on Castle sets in the 1990s.

Thursday, January 6, 2011

2555: Belville Swing Set

The Belville Swing Set was a promotional set released in 1998, available only at Shell gas stations.  Like any Belville set, it features a number of rare parts, such as the apples, basket, chrome piece on top of the swings, and two cats.

First, note the suggested age.  5-12 is nothing surprising, but the addition of the caricature of a small girl not only indicates that the set is for girls, but rather that it should only be bought for girls.  Later Belville sets, such as those released in 2008 dropped this, indicating only the suggested age (as all Lego sets do).

Additionally, note the inclusion of hearts.  Hearts are generally seen as being something that young girls like, but it is interesting that the two girls in the set also have a heart around them.  Are they in love?  Or are they in love with their cats?  Will they one day grow old as cat ladies?

Most interesting however is the fact that this is a Shell gasoline promotion.  Though Shell has not experienced any oil spills that were extensively covered in the media, such as the 1989 Exxon Valdez spill or the 2010 BP Gulf Coast oil spill, Shell has a history of spills in Nigeria (note that these spills, according to some estimate, have been much larger than any other in history SOURCE).  

So, even if Shell has not been targeted in the media for causing any oil spills, it doesn't hurt to be proactive, right?  Which is exactly why a gasoline company would sponsor a Lego toy that feature clean crisp water and a beautiful white dolphin.  Oil spills are often associated with images of sea animals covered in crude oil, which is why the set comes with a completely white dolphin, instead of the more common grey dolphin that Lego more regularly produces.  

Take a step back and examine this set further.  It is a swing set, there is no mention of a coast or water or anything of the sort.  All that it took to turn this set into a seaside swing set was the inclusion of a dolphin, four pieces for the dock, and new cover art.  Shell is clearly associating themselves with clean water and untainted sea life so that younger generations will choose them when going to the pump.  This is a genius piece of marketing.

Monday, January 3, 2011

The Evolution of the Castle: Early Beginnings

The Castle theme is one of the most popular and longest running themes that The Lego Group has produced.  Stretching back from the late 1970s all the way up to the present, it's a theme that many remember fondly.  Castle construction itself has evolved over the years, from simple fortresses to mountainous strongholds.  Today's castles have come full circle, imitating the infamous "Yellow Castle" released in 1978 with a similarly square and baseplate-less design.  I will now take a look at how the castle has changed throughout the years in a multi-part series.

375:  Castle
The first Lego castle, dubbed the "Yellow Castle" by many, serves as the prototype for many of the castels that The Lego Group produced over the years.  Note the inclusion of horses (though most sets come with one, maybe two) and a bevy of soldiers (but no archers, which is interesting).

Moving onto the castle itself, we see a number of features.  A drawbridge with a winch that can pull it up (some castles use this technique, but there are several other methods of drawbridge operation), towers, a back door, and ramparts along the top of the walls.  While the castle clearly belongs to the Crowns faction (which made a surprising reappearance in 2009), note the inclusion of several other factions, all of which seem to be allies, which is a stark contrast to modern "battle in a box" sets.  Thought unseen, the set has hinges which allow it to open up, another feature seen in many other sets.  Lastly, the set includes a large, flat baseplate which becomes uncommon in later years.

6073:  Knight's Castle
Released in 1984, this small Black Falcon outpost resembles the "Yellow Castle," along with other castles to be released later, in several ways.  Both feature the basic design of a square fortress with a drawbridge (and raised Gatehouse) along with battlements on the walls.  Additionally, we again see a large back door and the ability to open up the castle as both a play feature and as a method to expand the size of the castle.

Although the design is similar, there are two major improvements.  First, the castle is grey and even has some parts with stone details.  This makes the castle not look absurd.  Secondly, the horses are now molded pieces, as opposed to constructed ones.  These look a lot better, and are the same molds used today.  Unfortunately, there are much fewer minifigures in this set.

6080:  King's Castle
Another set from 1984.  This set features the Lions faction.  The mid-1980s had two major factions, the Black Falcons and the Lions.  The Black Falcons would eventually die out and be replaced by other factions, most of them evil.  The Lions, however, have appeared in several different iterations, the most recent being the 2010 Castle theme.  The 'good' faction generally gets the big castle, while the 'bad' faction gets the small one, so it can be surmised that the Black Falcons are enemies.

Regardless, here we have another large, grey castle with a drawbridge, square design, and the ability to 'open up.'  One key addition, however, is the introduction of the portcullis (the large grate-like structure which can be lowered and raised vertically) which will appear in later sets (but as a specialized piece).

Ultimately, this is the largest castle up to this point, with twelve minifigures, four horses, and nearly 700 pieces.  Both of these 1984 sets also introduced archers to joins the ranks of soldiers with swords, axes, and spears.

This concludes the first in a series of posts examining the evolution of the Lego Castle.

9348: Community Minifigure Set

A new Lego education set was recently released, featuring members of the community.  Unlike most sets, it actually has an even number of men and women.

So this set is marketed as an educational product, displaying different roles that people play in the community.  Really glad that they included such an equal distribution of men and women.

In terms of gender roles, this is actually a really great set.  We have a female police officer and a female fire fighter, two roles that are generally seen as being male-dominated (fireman and policeman).  Even more interesting, the sole construction worker is also a woman.  Moving onto the hospital workers, the woman has a stethoscope and white scrubs, while the man does not.  Is the man a nurse, and the woman a doctor?  Again, defying gender roles.

So as you can see, this is a really great set if only because of the strides that the Lego Group made to defy gender roles.  A huge difference from the Paradisa and Belville sets of the 90s.

However, one interesting thing that I noticed (and this is probably due to the fact that female hair pieces block the other side of minifigure heads) is that every woman has an angry scowl on the reverse.

This is the only fault of the set, that it enforces the stereotype of women being upset and making such a face.  But I digress, this is one of the most progressive sets that the Lego Group has ever released.