Gandalf the Grey is one of the most iconic characters from the epic Lord Of The Rings/Hobbit series of books and movies. He’s also one of my favourite literary characters of all time. He is the right level of down to earth and mysterious, a delicious blend of childlike mischief, old man crankiness, absolute love for his friends, and sarcastic retorts that bring a tear of joy to the eye of this middle-age, Middle Earth fanboy. Sir Ian McKellen played him perfectly, and I’ve been trying to match that performance with my own work with the character ever since. I finally found the right figure for the job.
First, the horrendously long backstory of my history with Gandalf figures…
As a toy photographer I have always struggled with finding figures that lived up to the look and feel of the LOTR movies. The 6-inch Toy Biz line that came out with the movie releases were… well, let’s just say they existed. I purchased the Toy Biz Gandalf, but its posability was limited to having his arms wide open. You know the scene in Fellowship of the Ring where Gandalf holds the sword and walking stick in front of him and yells at the Balrog “You shall not pass?” The 6-inch figure looked like it was posed not for that moment but about five frames before that it, when Gandalf held his arms wide open and looked like he was trying to give the Balrog a hug.
Asmus did come out with a 12-inch Gandalf from The Hobbit movies, but the head sculpt was decidedly meh. For one, the hair was moulded in hard plastic, which never looks good for such a long-haired, bearded fellow, and the less said about the horrendously large nose they gave him, the better. The head looked more like Gandalf’s drunken uncle. However, the rest of the figure looked fantastic.
By the time I found out that the original 1/6 scale Asmus Gandalf figure existed, I was too late for the retail market, and the collectors after-market was expensive. Like, “Do I make a mortgage payment or buy this figure?” expensive. But I am a fanboy sucker, and was about to drop the cash for the figure on the secondary market when I got an announcement email that Asmus was making another 12-inch Gandalf figure. The preview had a head sculpt that looked like Ian McKellen, and had real hair—none of that moulded plastic stuff. Better yet, I could preorder so I would get the retail price. Perfect!
At the time, the due date was just a few months away in January 2020… and, well… I think you can see where this is going. Long story short: worldwide pandemic, global health crisis, ships stuck in canals, and massive supply chain issues ensue. As a result, the delivery of this Gandalf was delayed 18 months (by far not the most important event of the pandemic, but it did delay this review, and test my patience significantly.)
Eventually it made its way across the ocean and into my hot little hands, and now that I have this new Gandalf figure in my fanboy mitts, I can say the figure was well worth the wait.
Let’s get to the review…
I am going to cut to the chase and simply say this figure is, hands-down, the best looking 12-inch figure I have ever seen. Everything about this figure is exactly how one would expect a Gandalf figure from The Lord of the Rings films to look. If someone told me Weta used this as a model for some shots in the films themselves, I would not doubt it for a moment. Needless to say, everything is as close to perfection as one could want.
Just to avoid me saying the words “stunning,” “gorgeous,” and “totes amazeballs” over and over, let me say those phrases apply to pretty much every aspect of this figure. (There are a couple places that only rate a regular amazeballs. To increase suspense I will refrain from saying what those are right away.)
As I mentioned, the face sculpt is a great recreation of Ian McKellen. Also, the hair has individual strands, so it looks completely believable as real hair. In fact, it acts like real hair so much I spent half my shooting time combing it down, and trying to get it to not blow in the wind.
The head attaches to the body via a magnet. The hat (see below for photo) attaches the same way.
All of the clothing bits, including the robes, traveling cloak, shoes, hat, and bag, are all made out of cloth, which is perfectly aged for that “I’ve been wandering around Middle Earth for the past couple of thousand years” look.
If this figure has a flaw, I would say it is the hat. Unless placed perfectly, it sits just a tad too high on Gandalf’s head. I may try to stretch the fabric under the hat a smidge to let it sit better. However, the hat itself is well crafted and the correct shape.
As is common with high-end figures, this Gandalf comes with many different hands in various poses. The hands are made of a softer plastic, almost like a hard rubber. This makes them more flexible than other 1/6 figures I’ve seen. In some ways it makes adding the accessories to the hand easier, but on the other…ahem…hand, the accessories don’t always stay exactly where they are placed. The sculpt of the hands look good, but they still come off as plastic in camera. This is common for most action figures though—hands simply are not easy to make natural looking (my personal theory is a lack of pores, hairs, and sub-surface scattering). These hands are about as good as I’ve ever seen action figure hands be, but they are still not perfect. This is really just an issue for the camera though, and not so much in person.
This brings me to my favourite feature of the figure.
The eyes move!
Yeah, that’s right. The eyes are posable! See these two little joysticks on the back of the head?
Those control the direction of the eyes. I don’t know if this is a new invention for this figure, but all I can say for certain is that *I* have never seen this in an action figure before. I am not sure if its going to become a standard feature of high-end figures, but I really hope it does!
Let’s talk accessories
The figure comes with a lot of accessories. First, this old book, which is Balin’s book from Moria, including the Orc sword marks.
His sword, called Glamdring or the Foe Hammer, is well crafted, and actually made out of metal. As such, it doesn’t do that warpy, bendy thing that a lot of plastic swords end up doing. It also catches the light like metal, because it is! Win.
In the box are two staffs—one with a crystal and one without. Otherwise they are pretty much identical.
He also comes with a pipe (for what would a Middle Earth wizard be without his pipe?). Finally, the figure comes with a highly detailed stand, (not pictured) which is a really nice diorama of Bilbo’s gate at Bag End that reads “No admittance except on party business.”
So, how is it for toy photography?
Surprisingly, despite being beautifully crafted, this figure completely sucks in front of a camera…. kidding! It’s as wonderful in front of the lens as it is on the shelf. I ran it through its paces in front of my camera.
Over the course of a few days (I was waiting for the right lighting conditions for one of my shots), I captured the following images. I could have done a lot more, but as I write this I am finally back in Canada after 19 months. While I love you all, my homeland awaits, so these will have to suffice for now.
The inevitable conclusion
I cannot overstate how much I am in love with this figure. The artistry that went into making this representation of Gandalf is masterful. I am stoked to finally have this in my collection, and it will be a cherished possession for years to come.