Oblong Pictures) is a stop motion and CGI animator who most recently created those thrilling Exo Suit teaser clips. New Elementary has been lucky enough to publish "exclusive first looks" at his work before, but today we're luckier than ever! Chris has reviewed 76020 Knowhere Escape Mission and has arranged for none other than Groot himself to assist.
With Guardians of the Galaxy, the Milano is an obvious choice for a showpiece set. It's Star Lord's Millennium Falcon. It's how the Guardians get around that galaxy that they're guarding. It's practically a character in its own right. You just know something like that is going to play a big role.
The rickety tower with a gun on top from the Knowhere mining complex? That's a bit more of a stretch. Who knows, it might not even make it into the film.
It didn't make it into the film.
I'll state up front that I'm not a seasoned builder of LEGO sets. As an animator, I mostly build pieces of wall and bits of scenery to go in front of them. I like detailed minifig-scale sets like the modular Cafe Corner range but otherwise I generally buy loose bricks. So I don't have a lot of experience of following the instructions. The bag breakdown for this set seemed odd though, splitting parts of the mining tower over the three bags and interspersing them with other (more fun) builds.
First off, bag 1 cuts to the chase and gives you Groot right out of the gate. That's a smart move because, let's be honest, no one is buying this set for the tower.
Bag 1 also gives you the Nebula minifig, a surprisingly faithful representation of Karen Gillan's cyborg character.
I've saved the best for last. I hope you're sitting down. Bag 1 also contains the first part of the mining tower.
The lack of stability doesn't ultimately matter because it gets enclosed in bricks and the tube is really just there for decoration. It's just one of those questionable design decisions that interrupts the flow of an otherwise fairly straightforward build.
Having ploughed through the uninspiring mining platform thing, we're on to bag 2, which rewards you with everyone's favourite creepy little beast, Rocket Raccoon.
You also get the new tail piece that connects at the waist instead of the neck like the Chima equivalents. It's a much more sensible location for butt-based attachments and now that LEGO have opened up this new connection option, I look forward to seeing how they build on it in the future. For now, this part has fairly limited applications outside of Rocket. I guess it's handy if you're a werewolf fan.
Possibly the best thing about this set is that you get to recreate that scene from the trailers where Rocket jumps up on Groot's shoulders and unleashes mayhem.
Pretty much everything you need to know about this section can be worked out from this photo. There's some trans yellow tiles in there representing mining ooze. Probably if a bad guy fell in that he would melt or drown or something. If I was a bad guy I would be really careful about building any trap doors above a pit of mining ooze like this. That would just be asking for trouble.
But enough about health and safety. When you've finished, you get to connect it up to the other bit of mining platform. Things are really starting to take shape!
SNOT look by using bracket plates. Lots of bracket plates. You basically build a box with studs on all sides and then attach things to them.
Now there's no denying that this is 100% legit SNOT building but I'm old enough to remember a time when you had to earn that look. There was space for one headlight brick and you had to find a way to offset it just the right amount in order to start building out at right angles to everything else. When you finally stepped back from your swaying spaceship, being careful not to breathe on it too heavily for fear of it all falling apart, you felt like you'd achieved something. The studless finish on the mining pod feels cheap, a hollow victory in comparison to that giddy rush of yore.
It's still cool though.
And so, with Rocket in his mining pod and Groot fighting Nebula over a pit of mining ooze, it's time to open bag 3. The final bag. This will be the bag that ties the whole model together. What wonders will it contain?
There's not much in the way of interesting building techniques here. You stack bricks until you get to the top and then you stop. I totally called it on that trap door though. That thing is an industrial safety citation waiting to happen.
Fortunately, that's not it for bag 3. You also get the standard issue Sakaaran minifig who will be familiar from the other GotG sets and a neat laser cannon that goes on top of the tower.
"Yes, yes," you're saying. "But I don't come here for a detailed breakdown of the contents of every single bag in a mid-price licensed set. What about the new elements?" Well, I'm glad you asked.
The most obvious new elements are Rocket's head and tail and Groot's upper body. Great sculpts but not a whole lot of use outside of Guardians of the Galaxy models.
The Sakaaran space gun is semi-new too - it's unique to the GotG range at the moment. It's a nice shape and there's enough connection points there to make it potentially useful for greeblers on the lookout for silver accents.
And then there's some old friends in new colours.
This set is riddled with interactive play features. I've mentioned some of them above but I think a video demonstration will give you a better idea of how they work. So let's hand over to our special guest reviewer...
The animator's perspective
Following on from Groot's little demo there, let's look at how this set shapes up for the brickfilmer.
The tower is neither here nor there. No one in his right mind is going to try to incorporate that into a film. There are too many loose connections and, well, it doesn't look very good. It doesn't really have any handy elements for building your own scenery either.
Rocket is somewhat of a disappointment too. As I said earlier, he looks great but he may as well be cast from a solid piece of ABS for all the articulation he has. If you have a story that involves him standing in one place and moving his arms a little, you're in luck. Otherwise, you're going to have to work to get any kind of performance out of him.
Groot is pretty good fun to play around with though. I had a blast making the play feature demo and working out how to make him do stuff. The lack of a neck joint is a shame but the flexibility of his arms and legs gives you a lot of options for subtle movement that you don't usually get with LEGO characters, and the ball joints and hinges are stiff enough that he'll mostly hold a pose while you take your photos.
I've been quite hard on this set overall. Looking at it as an AFOL, it's not that interesting a build experience and it's definitely not a set you're going to display on the shelf next to your Cafe Corner and UCS Star Destroyer. For a model based on a film with such a strong design aesthetic, it's a little disappointing.
There's no doubt that its intended to be played with rather than looked at. Everything does something - things knock other things over, Groot can wave his arms and legs around, Rocket has a big gun and a mining pod with grabby hands. A kid who's just watched these guys take on the assembled forces of Ronan the Destroyer will get a kick out of reliving moments from the film with this set, even if half of it never actually appeared on screen. The rest of us? Well, they could have released a $40 set with Groot, Rocket and a box of red 2X4s and I'd probably still have bought it.
Our thanks to LEGO's Community and Events Engagement Team for supplying the set.
76020 Knowhere Escape Mission retails for US$39.99 / £44.99 / €49.99.