If there’s one thing nerds of a certain age universally agree on, it’s this….Toys (for kids and young adults) these days SUUUCK!
Oh, sure–today’s younglings have video games that would make 8 year old, Atari 2600 playing me drop dead of a pleasure-induced brain hemorrhage. And there will always be timeless classics like LEGO (and by the way: CURSE, children of today, for having LEGO Stores!). But as far as action figures–and their accompanying vehicles, playsets, and other miscellany go: The playthings of my 1980s childhood beat the piss out of anything the 21st century has yet to come up with–it’s not even a contest.
But this feature isn’t about how much new toys blow (that’s another feature), instead, the old and decrepit among the Nerd Bastards staff have decided to present you, the reader, with a series of tributes to the overpriced hunks of plastic of yore. Magnificent toy lines that make us forget how lonely and miserable our ACTUAL childhoods were.
I have been granted the pleasure of writing the inaugural piece–honoring a line that probably never should have existed:
WHAT ARE THEY?:
It’s like this…
In the early 80s, the toy market was absolutely flooded with new action figure lines based on movies, tv shows, and cartoons. This can primarily be traced to two reasons: One, the landmark decision made by the FCC which relaxed many long-standing restrictions on children’s programming–allowing toy companies to essentially produce kids’ shows that were little more than half-hour long commercials for their products…and two, George Lucas made more money than God by merchandising his groundbreaking Star Wars Trilogy until it begged for mercy.
It was 1984–the Star Wars films were gone, but LONG from forgotten, and everybody in Hollywood wanted to be the proud owners of the next Sci-Fi Epic Merchandising Cash Cow. Enter Universal Pictures–and their glorious, magnificent, triumphant flop of a Dune adaptation.
Now, I could go on about everything wrong (and right) about David Lynch‘s vision of Frank Herbert‘s classic novel–and ask anyone who knows me: I HAVE. But I’m gonna limit myself here to mentioning that in both book and cinematic form, Dune is LESS than ideal toy fodder. The book is too complicated and heavy–and the film is too confusing, dark, and violent for a toy manufacturer’s target demographic.
However, Universal seemed to think science fiction is science fiction, so they obtained the services of now defunct toy company LJN, and rolled the dice.
Above you see pages from the old LJN catalog featuring the figures that were eventually made: (background–left to right) Stilgar The Fremen, Rabban (in mask), Sardaukar Warrior, Baron Harkonnen, Paul Atreides (foreground–right to left) Gurney Halleck, Feyd-Rautha, and Lady Jessica. Gurney and Jessica never made it into stores–but toy collector legend says prototypes are out there somewhere. The pics below are closer looks at the figures that were released (minus the Sardaukar):
Along with the figures is the legendary sandworm toy (yes, yes–we all know what it looks like…grow up!), which was advertised, but not shown on the back of the Dune figure cards. Plus one of the 3 “Sand Scouts”–small motorized vehicles that only vaguely resemble vehicles in the film, and were made, presumably, to capitalize on the early 80s fad of 4×4 truck toys. Next to it–and totally out of scale–is the Spice Scout: LJN’s attempt at making a toy out of a Harvester Factory–the giant vehicles that harvest the spice melange from the sands of Arrakis. Its design is clever and creative…but is only vaguely reminiscent of anything from the book or movie (see below for a closer look).
When a toy line fails pretty much right out of the gate, you can be sure that there were more additions to it waiting in the wings that never got released–like the aforementioned Gurney and Jessica figures
That’s the Harkonnen Ornithopter–and that one tiny jpeg is the only concrete evidence that it exists.
They also, apparently, planned to release a toy Crysknife and a weapons belt to hold it–and the Fremen Tarpel Gun (more on that later)
A stuffed sandworm was also in the works, and a part of me died when I realized something like that was conceived, but never made incarnate 🙁
Guess we’re stuck with this:
WHY WE MISS THEM:
The Dune line (predictably) did not sell well. In 1984 I imagine the only people who paid full price for these were obsessive Dune nerds who bought them for collection purposes, and confused, tragically unhip parents who thought they were Star Wars figures.
After the movie bombed these languished in cutout bins and clearance racks for years: My Dad (who is responsible for my love of all things Dune) bought the Paul Atreides figure from an outlet mall in 1988, just to give you an idea.
Regardless, these were well-made, detailed figures. LJN had the Thundercats line on their resume–and while they were no Mattel or Hasbro, they knew their shit. The figures were a good size, at about 5.5 inches, and they had levers that made them move their arms. They’re sturdy, too: My ex-girlfriend found Rabban for me on eBay (no card, no accessories), and the arm-moving mechanism still works!
I personally like them simply because the very fact that they exist is so outrageously implausible. This is a line that ONLY could have come to be in the fallout of Star Wars: At any other period, cooler heads would have ruled, and Universal would have realized no child wants to play with an action figure of an obese, scabrous sex offender.
Oh yeah–and because of these:
The Dune toy guns are badass.
Sure, they don’t look a THING like any weapon that was actually IN the movie…but who cares?
LET’S TALK MONEY:
By now I’m sure some of you are growing tedious with the stroll down memory lane, and wanna know if the Dune figures you picked up on a whim at a yard sale are gonna put your kids through college or not…
Not, most likely.
Oh, they’re worth a great deal more than the $1.49 my father paid in 1988, to toy collectors and Dune memorabilia enthusiasts anyway, but you’re not gonna be able to use them as loan collateral or anything.
Let’s start with the figures:
Most of them are worth roughly–on card and in decent condition–between $50 and $80…based on current eBay auctions. If you’re in the market for them, a little hunting could find you carded figures for as low as $20, even $10 each. If you get your hands on the Sardaukar Warrior figure–hold on to that sucker. Only a relatively small number were made, and it’s highly prized by collectors. As mentioned earlier: Gurney Halleck and Lady Jessica figures went as far as the prototype stage, but were never released….These prototypes would be worth a mint to the right buyer, if you knew where to find them.
And if you DO find them, make sure they’re authenticated: There are a lot of homemade, custom figures out there…including this figure of God Emperor Leto Atreides II that looks like Mr. Hankey.
Uncarded, accessory-less figures are relatively easy to find, and can be had for around $20 in most places.
The Spice Scout, Sandworm, and toy guns will run you about $100 to $200. However, I’m simply assuming the price regarding the Sardaukar Laser Gun as I cannot find one for sale anywhere. Don’t be surprised if it sells for much more.
The Sand Scout vehicles are comparable in worth to the action figures.
And finally: The semi-mythical Harkonnen ‘Thopter is priceless–but I’m willing to trade my immortal soul with whoever owns it.