Throughout the first half of the twentieth century, Universal Studios built their reputation on horror films. The “canonical” Universal Monsters are Dracula, Frankenstein(‘s Monster), the Wolf Man, the Mummy, and the Gillman from Creature from the Black Lagoon. However, there are other Universal Monsters who aren’t quite as well known; Quasimodo from The Hunchback of Notre Dame; the Invisible Man; and the subject of today’s review, the Metaluna Mutant from the 1955 science fiction extravaganza This Island Earth.
I have watched This Island Earth many times – far more times than any other Universal Monsters movie, even Creature. However, I’ve never seen the “official” film – the version I’ve watched is the one found in Mystery Science Theater 3000: The Movie. Partly due to the film’s mocking at the hands of the MST3K crew, I have a hard time thinking about it as a good movie, but it’s a fun, colorful film featuring a monster straight out of the pulp comic covers of the era. [Fun fact: the Outer Space Man figure Orbitron was based on the Metaluna Mutant.]
There have been a few Metaluna Mutant toys and model kits over the years – in the Universal Monsters TMNT line, there was even a “Mutant Raphael” figure. But for some time now, the gold standard for the under-12″ scale has been Sideshow Toys’ 8″ figure. Now that Diamond Select Toys (DST) has taken over the Universal Monsters license, there’s a new contender in town.
You can get your Metaluna Mutant in two flavors. There’s the specialty store version (the subject of this review), which includes the “Interocitor” device from the film. It will run you about $19-$20. Then there’s a basic version with no Interocitor that’s available as a Toys R Us exclusive for $16 and comes with a small display stand. Given the meager price difference and the fact that the TRU version doesn’t appear to differ in any other way other than lacking the accessory, you’re certainly better off with the specialty store version.
I’d like to thank sculptor Jean St. Jean for sending along this figure to me, and for agreeing to add his “sculptor’s commentary” to the proceedings. His comments can be found in the blockquotes.
Design & Sculpt: The sculpt is excellent (and not just because sculptor Jean St. Jean is commenting on this review, I swear). It’s a highly-detailed representation of a fun, goofy alien monster. The figure’s slightly rough matte texture feels realistic. DST has been getting better and better at reproducing the detail of their prototypes in production pieces (e.g., Amazing Spider-Man Lizard), and that shows here.
But these days, one of the main tests of a sculpt of a movie monster is how accurate it is to the film. Unfortunately, I couldn’t find any good reference pics except for one decent upper-body pic at the bottom of this page. With that little to go on, all I can really say is that St. Jean seems to have added some extra “veins” on the shoulders and arms compared to the film look.
JEAN ST. JEAN: When I’ve approached the Universal monsters my main concern has been for accuracy. Typically, as in this case I screen-capped almost frame by frame all the mutant scenes.) And I have to admit I’ve only seen the original version, I’ve always despised MST3K. When ever I’ve tried to sit through one of their episodes I feel like “ just shut up so I can listen to the flick!” ) Consequently, I was able to put together a pretty comprehensive set of turnaround reference shots on the whole creature. Also the head shape has never really been captured accurately so I wanted to be sure the proportions were spot on. With the more over-the-top creatures like the Mutant and the unreleased It! The Terror from Beyond Space! I decided to render the costumes and prosthetics in all their ridiculous glory. I was even able to find original sculpt and costume pics, such as shots of the feet molds.
Texturally, I pretty much was able to glean quite a bit out of the movie and then found areas where I could offset some of the crosshatching and other scribing work with a more subtle matte finish on the clay, or a smooth texture such as on the pants. The factory has been doing a spectacular job capturing these details.
As someone who’s not exactly a diehard fan of This Island Earth, these differences don’t bother me, but I wanted to mention them because I know some people are sticklers for accuracy in their movie-based monster figures. (For what it’s worth, in his review UM superfan Michael Crawford gives the sculpt four stars.)
This wasn’t one of those UM movies I had seen a zillion times, but a lot of these movies I’m kind of rediscovering as I have to approach each one as a sculpture. I pretty much study the relevant scenes almost frame by frame and do extensive research. It’s pretty rare when I get reference that is comprehensive enough to do the job thoroughly.
At the time I was working on all the Mutant and the Phantom and all their accessories and bases. The two figures couldn’t be more different which is nice because there’s sort of a balance between doing the normal proportioned human figure of Chaney and the exaggerated deformed style of the Mutant. I spent a lot of time studying Chaney’s face and the musical instruments, but the Mutant’s head and the interocitor were pretty complex pieces. I’m finding that I’m falling in love with the atomic era creatures because they are so off the wall and fun to do. At this point I’ve done the Bride, the Wolfman, the Metaluna Mutant, the Phantom, and in the next wave: the Hunchback, the Mole Man, Dr. Jekyll/Mr.Hyde (Karloff from Abbott and Costello meets Dr.J) the broad variety of proportions and characters is the challenge; maintaining a consistent flavor and still representing their individuality.
Plastic & Paint: Often the bane of a highly-detailed mass market figures, DST has made been getting better and better at their paint applications. For the most part, the paint work here is quite good, especially at capturing the mottled, dyed-eggshell look of the creature’s skin. The pants are light green/blue with a kind of sheen to them, which may or may not be accurate to the film (again, no good reference pics) but looks great and adds that 1950s sci-fi touch.
The red paint work tends to be a little thick and there’s some unevenness around the edges, probably because so much of it consists of little skinny lines. There’s also a small bit of slop just below the right claw where some of the keratin-colored paint was wiped.
The deco work on the UM figures has been improving. At times I think the factory may try to save a little in the budget by combining a few steps and many times we have to remove a few paint hits to bring the cost down a bit. It’s a drag when the shortcomings of the paint work manifest in the form of sloppyiness, so we try to learn from the effects that didn’t work or were too expensive in production and come up with a better solution the next time. I was happy on the Mutant that they captured the subtleties in the various blues we put into the prototypes. And all in all they painted the veins pretty well. That kind of target shooting isn’t always that successful. Originally we had more of a maroon red, which I thought looked better, but Universal really wanted a true red so had to concede that point.
Articulation: After the first two series of Universal Monsters were virtually immobile, DST has gotten on board the Articulation Train for the third series.
This change in philosophy started with the series one Munsters. Diamond really wanted a lot of accessories and articulation to broaden the line’s appeal. When I took over UM, I suggested we continue with that approach.
Some of the joints are a bit difficult to identify due to the restrictiveness of the sculpt, but here goes:
- I head is a swivel joint.
- The shoulders could be ball joints but are very restricted by the shoulders, which, it’s worth pointing out, is exactly the same situation faced by the actor in the rubber suit in the movie.
- There are two ball-and-hinge joints at each elbow. These are the best points of articulation and really allow you to create some character when posing.
- H-hinge hips
- Hinged knees
- Swivel ankles
This particular character needed pretty specialized articulation. I knew I wanted to continue the leg articulation plan I used when I revamped the style of the UM line. The upper body and neck was somewhat problematic because of the huge contiguous cowl piece on the shoulders and the bulbous head, which sits in between with fairly little clearance for movement. My default solution was to best represent the range of motion of the actor in This Island Earth. I ball-jointed both segments of the lower arms (you’ll notice the length is appropriately longer than other toy versions of this character) as compensation for the basically trapped shoulder movement. The head operates only as a swivel as any other solution would take away from the aesthetic of the head to shoulders geometry.
I agree with Poe, the sticking point would be the ankles. I typically work all the articulation out and then consult with Diamond to review the factory process to be sure they capture what I’m looking for. They send me tooling shots to review and ask questions. In the end I decided the diameter of ball joint I would need in the ankle to operate as a hinge would not be structurally sound, and I didn’t want to gamble on breakage. Also due to the extremely top heavy nature of the figure with his big bulbous head and shoulders I could just picture him rarely being able to stand. Nothing frustrates me more with highly articulated figures then when they just keep flopping over due to weak ankle joints and having to use an ugly doll stand or lean them against something in my display. So although I also miss those ankle joints, I felt it prudent to exclude them in this case.
Accessories: The Mutant comes with the interocitor, an intergalactic communications device featured in the movie (as well as a plot device in some of the host segments in MST3K: The Movie). The screen can swivel, but otherwise it doesn’t have any moving parts. It’s part accessory, part diorama, and it more than adds the extra $2-$4 value (depending on where you buy the figure) over the TRU exclusive version.
With this wave of Universal Monsters (and also the 2 waves Munsters figures) I started getting more into fabricating all my own weapons and mechanical accessories. So the Interocitor and the Phantom’s vast array of musical accessories are part of my move into expanding my repertoire outside of traditional clay and wax work. I like the variation and also it allows me to maintain a consistent style between the figures and their environments. I really like the contrats of the organic qualities of the creature compared to the stark geometry of the interocitor. As a side note, if you look at the debris base (which represents the all out destruction at the end of the movie) you can see parts of the wrecked interocitor amidst the debris.
Quality Control: No problems.
Overall: I found the paint issues trivial, but I did deduct a half-raven for the lack of hinged or ball-jointed ankles.
While the sculpts have been consistently good, I skipped most of the previous DST Universal Monsters offerings due to the lack of articulation (I do have the Gillman because I always buy the Gillman, but haven’t even opened him yet). By adding articulation, DST has made their figures far more appealing to me, and here they’ve made a great figure into a great toy as well. The Metaluna Mutant is just an all-around fun monster toy, and perfect for a Halloween review like this.
Where to Buy: