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Manufacturer: Master Replicas (www.masterreplicas.com)
Already famous for their movie prop replicas from Star Wars and other well-known science fiction franchises, Master Replicas has recently obtained the license to produce high-end collectibles from the Lord of the Rings movie trilogy. The first in this line, the Sting Sword FX Collectible, was released this month. An electronic Sauron One Ring (with finger) will follow in September, but two previously-announced replicas, the Staff of Gandalf the White and the Light of Earendil, appear to have been put on hold for the time being.
Coming hot on the heels of the popular Star Wars Force FX Lightsaber series, the Sting FX sword reproduces the Elvish short sword wielded by Frodo Baggins and Bilbo Baggins before him in the fantasy world of J.R.R. Tolkien's Middle-Earth.
Sting's packaging is simple but effective. It comes in a long, sturdy box with a glossy finish. Superimposed over a dark brown map of Middle-Earth are the movie logo and a nearly life-sized photograph of the glowing sword. The front and back of the box are identical, while the sides list features, electronics information and various warnings (Sting is intended for Hobbits aged 12 and up only). Within is a lidded styrofoam tray, with the sword wrapped securely inside (the plastic display base is set into the back of the tray and may fall out when removed from the box). The instructions manual is straightforward and well-illustrated, and includes a page of questions and answers about the product.
There are three parts to the display base: the base itself and a pair of support arms. All are cast in black plastic with a rough texture that may be intended to resemble wrought iron. There are two sets of holes for the arms, one allowing you to display the sword horizontally on a flat surface, the other designed to let you mount the base on the wall with the sword hanging down by its crossguard. The base features a raised, stylized vine pattern and seems sturdy enough, but the bare plastic clashes a bit with the realistic look of the replica. It would probably have benefited from some paint or a wash to bring out the details.
But enough about that. On to Sting itself!
Scale is a tricky thing in a world of Hobbits, Dwarves, Trolls and Men. What looks like a long knife to an elf or human can be a more formidable weapon in the hands of a halfling. Master Replicas has chosen to reproduce Sting in "Hobbit scale," where you are the Hobbit, so at 27" in length, it's actually quite a bit larger than it would be in the real world. But really, who wants a knife-sized Sting?
Cast from the molds used to make the actual film prop, Sting faithfully reproduces every raised swirl and Elvish rune of the original. Although the blade is made from translucent polycarbonate plastic, a brushed-steel finish gives it the appearance of real metal, if not quite the heft. The edge of the blade is quite flat, with a rounded-off tip, so there's no risk of nicks and scratches.
The cross-guard and pommel are solid, heavy metal, with a dark wash to bring out the embossed runes. The handle itself is die-cast metal with a painted wood grain finish. While it doesn't perfectly mimic the look of real wood, it's quite close and should hold up a lot better than the real thing. The silver filigree work of the "real" hilt is replicated in sparkly metallic paint. It looks very realistic from more than a couple of inches away, although I'm a little concerned that the paint may wear over time.
Battery installation is simple. Rotate the pommel 45 degrees counter-clockwise and it pops right off, allowing you to slide two "123" 3-volt Lithium batteries into the hollow handle. Twist the pommel back into place and you're all ready to fight the dark forces of Sauron or to scare off that pesky paperboy. [Editor's note: ASM does not endorse the scaring of paperboys]
Master Replicas has done a good job of minimizing the elements needed for the sword's FX feature. There's a small plastic switch at the top of the handle, colored to match the wood grain, and a narrow slit beneath the pommel on one side for the sound effects to come through. The switch has three positions: Off, On, and Orc.
Use your thumb to slide the switch to "On" and you'll activate the battle sounds feature: when struck, the sword will produce one of several clash and clang sound effects. Multiple impacts will cause successive sounds to interrupt each other, producing a very nice variety of metal-on-metal clashes. A good solid tap is all that's needed; as with the lightsaber, the manufacturer does not recommend engaging in full-on swordplay with the replica.
But the real selling point for Sting is the "Orc" setting, representing the movie sword's behavior whenever orcs appear nearby. When the switch is set to this position, the electro-luminescent core of the blade gradually brightens to a glowing blue over the course of a second or so. It's a wonderful effect, enhanced by a magical hum tone that plays as long as the blade is lit. Because it's only the core that lights up, the edge of the sword remains dark, but it's otherwise a spot-on rendition of the movie sword's glow. You can still activate the battle sounds in this mode (they'll play concurrently with the hum), and when the sword is deactivated again, the light and sounds slowly fade until the blade looks like simple polished metal again.
As impressed as I was by the Force FX lightsaber, I think that Sting has surpassed it. With its realistic feel and accurate detailing, it's a great movie prop on its own, but the FX feature puts it over the top. If you're a Lord of the Rings fan and the price isn't too daunting, this may be the perfect grown-up toy for you.
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