Few film franchises have amassed such a devote following as Peter Jackson’s The Lord of the Rings trilogy. Launched to rave reviews with 2001’s The Fellowship of the Ring, movie goers could not wait to see the next two installments based on J.R.R Tolkien’s legendary fantasy novels: 2002’s cliffhanger The Two Towers and 2003’s epic conclusion, Return of the King.
Riding the wave of LOTR’s success from the start, Toy Biz captivated collectors with their extensive line of 6-inch scale action figures. Each new film brought exciting new characters to life in toy form for a total of 200+ figures by the end of its run in 2006… with the sole exception of one: the Balrog. Not for a lack of trying , Toy Biz did propose “Durin’s Bane” as an action figure. While out-of-scale, a 14-inch prototype was shown to the press at 2002’s New York Toy Fair and LOTR collectors rejoiced to the news online. Mass market retailers, however, balked at the idea. Despite LOTR’s popularity, stores saw the Balrog as a risky investment. Large, pricey figures at the time simply took up too much shelf space and were a gamble to sell. As a result, Toy Biz’s Balrog project received a “you shall not pass” from retailers.
NECA Balrog PR Image
By 2004, interest in everything Lord of the Rings was still strong and fans still demanded a Balrog action figure. You don’t tease collectors with an anticipated character toy and then pull the plug – it only makes them want one even more. Alas, similar to Gandalf’s battle with the Balrog on the bridge of Khazad-dûm and being dragged to his apparent demise , it looked like all hope was lost for a Balrog figue being made… until a small miracle occured. NECA came out of the blue and surprised everyone by announcing that they would be unleashing a Balrog action figure as a direct-to-consumer, speciality market release (utilitarian brown cardboard box packaging and all). Ah, but this wouldn’t be just any Balrog figure. This Balrog action figure would be IN-SCALE with Toy Biz’s existing 6-inch LOTR line! Like Gandalf conquering the demon and being reborn as Gandalf the White, figure fans freaked out.
NECA’s Balrog of Morgoth is a beast – hands down, the largest action figure I own. Heck, it might very well be the largest action figure ever made, looming tall at 23-inches. The only figures I can think of that even come close are NECA’s very own 22-inch ALIEN Big Chap and SOTA’s equally tall Lord of Darkness from Legend. However, it’s not just the Balrog’s height that makes this figure so huge. It’s also the Balrog’s bulk and impressive 42-INCH WINGSPAN. These aren’t cheap, flimsy wings, either. Like the rest of the figure, the Balrog’s wings are cast in a very solid, durable plastic. Once these bat-like appendages are plugged in, the entire Balrog action figure weighs in at a whopping 12 POUNDS (one pound shy of my fat cat Gizmo).
You’ll need some serious shelf real estate to display the Balrog, but the payoff is an awesomely sculpted figure to admire. Movie accurate good looks aside, I particularly like the sculpted flames, further accentuated by the wonderful paint job. I stagger with the thought of the Balrog being re-made with NECA’s brilliant mixed use of translucent plastic, similar to their Kenner Aliens Tribute Series Rhino Alien.
To take on Gandalf, NECA armed the Middle-earth creature with a 13-inch flaming sword and cat o’ nine tails whip. Both weapons fit in the Balrog’s right hand, albeit very loosely, and I much prefer the look of the sword over the awkward-looking limp whip (bendy posing wires were needed). To help you achieve some varied poses, the Balrog features nice ball-jointed shoulders, hinged elbows and cut wrists. This allows you to raise the Balrog’s arms up high for a powerful sword swing, or placed down low for anticipation of battle.
While not as useful, other articulation points consist of a swivel head (which you’ll want to leave alone so it aligns with the sculpted flames on the Balrog’s neck) and waist (again, really not needed due to this figure’s massive size and attached wings). Cuts at the Balrog’s hips, ankles, as well as the tail, are primarily there to help you properily balance this beast on display. The hips and ankle joints are actually detrimental to the Balrog standing over time; slowly slipping out of place and putting the figure off balance (read: shelf dive). I’ve long since glued those joints permanently shut to prevent the creature from careening over (that and I always lean my Balrog against a wall). One of these days I’ll get around to making a permanent display base.
Lastly (as if a massive Balrog action figure wasn’t enough!), NECA threw in some electronic features. The two AA batteries (not included) on my figure are long dead, however, when they worked the Balrog featured lights and sound effects. By pressing a button on the Balrog’s back, his flaming “mane” would light up and the demon would emit a roar. Actually, there were two roaring sounds – one short and the other a longer sequence. There’s also an On/Off switch. As with most action gimmicks, I can easily live without the Balrog’s electronics, though for the time this was like the cherry on top of a very expensive cake and a joy to play with.
Priced at around $100 (with shipping and handling), the Balrog was not a cheap toy for 2004. In hindsight, with NECA’s Balrog now going for upwards of $500 + $50 s&h on eBay, it’s pretty funny that collector’s once thought $87 + $20 shipping was too much. I wish I had a toy crystal ball back then – I would have bought 10 Balrogs, kept one and sold the rest for a small fortune. As it is, owning just one Balrog is a dream come true for this passionate LOTR fan. Plus, where the hell would I even put 10 Balrogs in my house?
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