Tuesday 26 April 2022

Alien Day toy bug hunt

It's Alien Day celebrating all things xenomorph on LV-426.

So what better time to examine the plastic fantastic incarnations of the monster that first terrorised the ill-fated crew of the Nostromo.

Nick Smith, our resident US-based collectable guru, goes on a toy bug hunt.

Guest post by Nick Smith

The internet can be a deep, deep rabbit hole, fluffy tail and all. While immersing myself in the intense video game Alien: Isolation, I was compelled to check out the toys that have accompanied the Alien saga.

I find it fascinating that there are toys associated with such a visceral, fatalistic franchise, proof that America never misses a chance to prize making a buck over childhood innocence. Sure, there have been monster movie toys since plastic was mouldable; Aurora Monster Scenes were rattling around in the ‘60s.

But the monster movies that spawned those toys were not the R-rated equivalent of plastic reliquaries for kids.

Picture little Johnny’s playroom, where tiny terrible xenos with two sets of jaws and acid blood take on Disney stablemate Buzz Lightyear. Or imagine toy developers going wild, creating alien shapes that have burst from different animals.

Fox’s films have always struggled to merge rollercoaster horror scares and iconic characterization with marketable monsters and space action that appeals to teens – and since the paintings of H.R. Giger formed the basis for those monsters, the way the Alien films have been developed and marketed is a quintessential example of art vs commerce.

Thanks to nerd culture, you don’t have to be a kid to play with action figures, as long as you don’t mind getting a few strange looks down the pub. My own online research was spurred by the recent appearance of Alien tie-in toys in my local Wal-Mart, where you’re more likely to see a hillbilly in slippers than a space marine.

The action figures are an eye-catching surprise, considering the last movie, Alien: Covenant, is four years old.

The toy range retains the late, great and rather sick H.R. Giger’s artistic xenomorph design, which helped the original Alien film transcend its B-movie trappings to become an eternally watchable classic. But there have been other, more faithful figures through the years, as well as goofy caricatures and cute Lego-like chestbursters.

Reports of Corporal Hicks’ death in ALIEN³ may have been exaggerated, since he turned up as a Kenner toy in 1992, the same year David Fincher’s gloomy movie was released. Most of Kenner’s toys were based on the earlier Aliens movie, and the figures included a gorilla alien, a snake alien and a queen hive playset.

Sadly, the toys were not remotely as popular as Kenner’s Star Wars range, probably because its target buyers weren’t even supposed to be watching the Alien saga. Kenner dropped the line in 1995 and it was a long time before we got new figures from a new company.

NECA (National Entertainment Collectibles Association) first caught the attention of collectors in 2001 with a range of 7” figures based on the Tim Burton film Beetlejuice. These were followed by toys based on Tron, Ghostbusters, A Nightmare on Elm Street and many other popular properties.

By 2013, NECA was hatching various Alien toys and figures, with a big push for Alien’s 40th anniversary in 2019. The wide range includes a replica of the original Alien and the sinister foes from Alien: Isolation. The attention to detail is excellent, although there have been reports of a limb or two coming loose in packaging. Let’s blame it on the acid blood.

The Minimates aliens are intricate and charmingly chunky, as all Minimates are designed to be. However, they are as flimsy as the plot point that brings Ripley back to life in Alien Resurrection. The alien’s tail and paws fall off at the drop of a space helmet, so keep close track of the pieces or they’ll be lost in the space behind your display cabinet. But these figures are still a lot cuter than a sci-fi horror movie toy has any right to be.

When I spotted a Funko Pop! of Katherine ‘Danny’ Daniels from Alien: Covenant in a bookstore bargain bin, I had to pick her up. In hindsight, the astoundingly popular, ridiculously bug-eyed pieces of plastic are my fave thing about that movie (sorry, Sir Ridley).

The Lanard Toys Aliens may be the wrong colour, but it’s a joy to see them on the shelves when I visit my local superstore. Their kid-friendly green colour is apparently deemed less disturbing than the glossy, crustacean black of the movie aliens. They lurk in Wal-Mart, waiting to draw some unsuspecting pre-teen into their nihilistic world. My favourite in the range is a glowing, semi-translucent alien that ties in, intentionally or not, with Marvel Comics' Aftermath.

As the Alien franchise has aged, it has gained a split personality, trying to please target-age cinemagoers and veteran fans who’ve been loyal since the ‘70s. Neither of these age groups is going to rush to Wal-Mart to pick up a kid’s toy.

Veterans are more likely to drop dollars on NECA’s realistic figurines. The ironically goofy-looking Minimates and Funko Pops! might appeal to 18-25-year-olds.

If Lanard Toys' Alien line is successful, maybe we’ll see more unlikely movies turned into toys. Hey kids, do you want to play a game with Jigsaw?

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