It took me awhile to write this review, largely because of how long it took to build this monstrosity. The Tower of Orthanc is the crown jewel of the Lego’s The Lord of The Rings sets. Towering above the rest at 2359 pieces, I knew I had to get my grubby hands on this set as soon as it was announced. This is the closest Lego Lord of the Rings fans will probably come to a UCS-scale set set in JRR Tolkien’s fantastical universe of Orcs, Elves, Dwarves and Hobbits.
Name: Tower of Orthanc
Set Number: 10237
Price: AU$279.99 (Shop at Home link)
Exclusive to: Unknown At This Moment
Theme: Lord of the Rings
Year of Release: 2013
I’ll preface this review by revealing that this is the biggest Lego set I have ever owned and built. Upon opening the box, I was treated to a whopping 15 bags of Lego parts, all neatly numbered. Numbered Lego parts bags have been a revelation to fans as they’ve made the building process so much more streamlines and methodical. With Orthanc, I got a little confused at times because there were a few bags that had the same numbers. I would’ve preferred Lego just assigning unique numbers to each bag and not have them share numbers, seeing as how we have to deal with so many bags.
We get 3 instruction booklets for Orthanc, each one of them sharing the same illustration as the box cover. They come packaged in a separate plastic bag with a hard cardboard cover backing it, so you’re ensured of them being in good condition.
Here’s the customary sticker sheet. They’re all used for enhancing the interior trimmings and don’t feature on the exterior which is great. These stickers are alright in my book because they server to enhance the interior aesthetics instead of being design centrepieces.
The minifigs play second fiddle to the structure (as it should be) but I wished that they had given us more. 5 minifigures for a 2 thousand piece set is pretty dismal, seeing as how the set serves as a very neat playset. The only ‘exclusive’ minifigure in this set is Grima Wormtongue, Sauron’s sallow skinned advisor. He’s hardly a popular character and I doubt that he’ll be an extremely coveted minifigure except for the most hardcore LotR collectors. Honestly, even if they couldn’t create new characters, I wouldn’t have mind if they had given us Merry and Pippin or even more Uruk-Hai warriors.
Here we have the master of the house, Saruman the White. He’s sort-of-exclusive to this set, because we get him in a
dress wizard robe instead of the white pants he sports in the smaller Wizard Battle set. For the most ardent collectors, Saruman’s full wizard garb is a must-have. I felt that it’s a great way to make the Saruman minifig in this set ‘exclusive’.
I feel that Saruman is the best minifig in the entire Lord of the Rings line, perfectly encapsulating every single defining feature of Christopher Lee’s portrayal of the iconic wizard gone bad. From his bushy black eyebrows to the greyish accents on his beard, Lego have done an amazing job shrinking the movie version of Saruman into minifig size. His wizard robes have a very distinctive look, but I am pretty disappointed that his torso print doesn’t line up properly with his dress slope piece. I’m hoping Lego fixes this problem for future models.
Here’s the back view of Saruman featuring a cheeky grin. Again, I’m impressed that Lego has done such a good job replicating Christopher Lee’s features onto the minifig head. The back of his torso is printed but it will be mostly obscured by his white cape. The white cape that was included is a standard-sized cape, which makes it look a little short, due to the slope piece making him taller than regular minifigs. It would’ve been nice if Lego had given us a longer cape to make everything look balanced.
Gandalf is Gandalf, having not changed much since his debut in minifig form in Gandalf Arrives, shedding his wizardly hat, this time showing off his luxurious grey locks. Visually, he’s almost nearly unchanged, except that he has a fiercer ‘battle’ face which will come in handy if you’re reenacting his duel with Saruman.
Grima Wormtongue is the only fully exclusive minifig in The Tower of Orthanc. The sallow-faced, slimy advisor of Saruman is depicted pretty well in Lego form, with a unique yellowy skin tone for his face and arms. Grima has Dastan’s (from the Prince of Persia series) hairpiece in black and a matching black cape to round out his sinister sneery villain look. I have to say that the detailing on his torso is very tastefully done, with his necklace thingy and woolen collar looking very crisp on him.
As an exclusive minifigure, I doubt he will be the sole reason to buy The Tower of Orthanc, but because he’s squirreled away in such an expensive set, expect him to be quite elusive. He’s currently going on eBay for about AU$40 bucks!
We’ve also got a Mordor Orc, which I’m assuming is one of Saruman’s workers who were busy digging up Uruk-Hais and making armours and weapons in the forge. I believe that the Orc is your standard-issue Orc minifig and shows up in a number of other sets like the Orc Forge, so he’s not too rare but with these types of soldier type minifigs, more is always better.
In the set, I’m guessing that his only part to play is to get bashed and stomped on by Treebeard. The Orc is unfortunately bald, evidence by the few strands of hair he has left on the back of his head, which is a nice touch instead of giving us a 2-sided face. I would very much prefer we get this treatment for minifigs rather than have a neutral and an angry face as it just injects so much more flavour into the minifig. He’s also got decent prints on his torso and
We get another standard issue Uruk-Hai soldier included in the Tower of Orthanc, which makes sense seeing as how Saruman has been breeding them like bunnies to achieve his goal of Middle-Earth domination. He’s got the White Hand of Saruman stamped on his helmet and shield like any well meaning Uruk-Hai should have. It’s still an excellent minifig and just like the Mordor Orc, you can never have too many of them.
The build was fantastic. It took me about 6 hours of combined time to put this whole thing together over the span of about 4 days, savouring every single brick snapped into place. As I mentioned earlier, this was the largest set I’ve ever built, having never dabbled in massive Modular/UCS type sets before this.
In the first few bags, we first piece together a treant who for all intents and purposes I am going to assume to be Treebeard. He’s built together with a bunch of brown, dark brown and dark green accents, with a little foliage thrown in to give him a leafy look. His body is built like any other mech, with ball joints and hinges giving him a certain degree of flexibility and poseable-ity. The standout feature of Treebeard, exactly like how the ancient Ent is describd in the books – by his thoughtful subtle eyes. Although they look a bit loopy in Lego form, they give him a pretty unique Entish look. Thankfully the eye tiles are printed and are not stickers!
Flipping him around and you’ll notice his play feature, a little knob that you can twiddle around to rotate his right arm around. It’s a little weird feature to have tacked on, because they sacrificed Treebeard’s ability to be truly poseable. It kinda reminds me of old toys like Street Sharks where you had a “hammer-hand” that you can swing up and down. Overall, the Ent is a nice addition to The Tower of Orthanc, so you’re able to reenact the Last March of the Ents, where Treebeard and frends descend upon Isengard to exact revenge for Saruman and his Orcs burning and chopping down Fangorn Forest.
Since the build was pretty long I didn’t want to drag this post on by posting pictures of completed polybag, so instead I made a GIF to illustrate how the tower goes up! Basically, each bag completes one floor of the tower and it was very very satisfying constructing each floor and seeing it all come together slowly. First up, here’s a shot at the Interior Rooms of Orthanc as it all goes up.
This GF, showing the exterior of the Orthanc as it goes up. It’s really really impressive seeing the exterior take shape, as you start with the base and go all the way up till you finish the building off by constructing its iconic “crown”.
Going to highlight the interior rooms, which are pretty well done. I like how they made it so that it doubles as a playset from one side and an excellent display piece from the other. At the base of the tower, we’re greeted with a creepy dungeon that houses some bats, wargs as well as a rat and a couple of skeletons. Not too sure if these are Human skulls or Orc skulls, but my guess is that they belong to some lazy worker Orcs that took too many breaks.
Above the basement, we’re greeted with the main entrance to Orthanc, which opens up from the outside. Nothing too flashy, but a couple of ominous drapes bearing Saruman’s white hand and some axes round up the interior decorations. Funnily enough, with the rooms in Orthanc, things get weirder the higher it goes. Also, take note of the chandelier which plays an integral part in the next room.
Right above the main entrance, we have what seems to be Saruman’s throne room. It’s a little hard to pick out, but Saruman’s throne is in the background with its trademark spiked backrest. The main draw of this room is Saruman’s Palantir, a seeing stone of sorts that allowed his gaze to roam far and wide throughout Middle-Earth. The Palantir stones were brought to Middle Earth by the Numenorians, who built Orthanc. Because Saruman’s gaze stretched too far, he was ensnared and seduced by Sauron as he delved too deep into the dark arts.
Remember that chandelier in the entrance room? If you press it upwards, it lights up the Palantir! I love that they designed the Palantir to be translucent and when illumiunated by the light brick that’s lodged in that black well-like structure, gives off a very sinister red glow. Pretty neat detail to have an one of the best applications of a light brick I’ve ever seen!
The rest of the room is littered with bookshelves on each side, with some crystal jars on the left housing some magic potions, which Saruman probably uses for his divining/magic. I’m willing to bet that the red jar contains “essence of Uruk-Hai”.
Moving upwards, we get to Saruman’s
meth lab ballistics chamber. If you remember the Two Towers, this is where Saruman builds the bomb that takes down Helms Deep’s impregnable wall. We get the bomb casing which is filled with silver 1×1 round studs which are supposed to be what I’m guessing to be explosive powder. The room is adorned with some neat details like a barrel and a pot, which is where I’m guessing Saruman cooks up his bombs, as well as some bottles and flasks filled with mysterious purple liquid.
Above his ballistics lab, we have Saruman’s study. A tiny room packed with books, maps and inscriptions of the One Ring and the centrepiece, an Eye of Sauron 101 textbook which is where I’m guessing Saruman reads up on his sinister evil ways. This also seems to be the “wizard room” as it has posters of the 5 Istari, of Wizards of Middle Earth. In the middle, in the most prominent position we have Saruman’s poster flanked by Radagast the Brown on his left, and Gandalf the Grey on his right. Rounding up the room’s posters are the two unnamed Wizards only known as the Blue Wizards, which never make an appearance in the stories.
Finally, we have the topmost room, which seems to serve as Saruman’s attic. There’s a trapdoor that opens up to allow a ladder that allows access to it. It’s pretty messy, although it houses a poster of the tower of Baradur and the Eye of Sauron. Pretty weird to see Saruman being such a Sauron fanboy. There are a couple of spare wizard staves in a barrel, a spare Uruk-Hai helmet and sword (in case he needs to cosplay?) as well as the Keys to Orthanc.
Here’s a full-sized shot of how the Tower of Orthanc looks like from behind. I personally think that it looks neat from this angle, very much like a dollhouse because of all the rooms and little details. Given the size of this set, I can appreciate that they gave it a lot of play features and a place for all the minifigs to hang out as well as all the attention to detail in the rooms, which really fleshes out Saruman’s character and Orthanc’s role in Middle-Earth.
On to the main event, the exterior of the Tower of Orthanc. I took a couple of close-up pictures to highlight some of the more interesting bits of the exterior. First up, is the base of the tower where a small staircase leads up to Orthanc’s front door. Perched above the main entrance is a balcony where Saruman famously riles up his 10,000 Uruk-Hai army in the movie.
Remember this scene?
Not bad when shrunk down into Lego size!
Removing Saruman from the balcony, I really love that you can see the Palantir from the arched doorway. This photo also allows you to see the finer architectural finishings of the tower.
The Tower of Orthanc is riddled with foreboding spikes and slopes exactly like the movie version of the tower.
Crowning the tower is Orthanc’s signature four sharp peaks. Lego have done a cracker of a job with the top of the tower, as it finishes up the entire building in fantastic fashion. There’s even a small platform on the top of the tower, where Gandalf gets imprisoned after his duel with Saruman before getting rescued by Gwaihir the Windlord.
The great Eagle, Gwaihir as he is known in the books is a fantastic addition to the set as he played quite a prominent role in the movies with his dramatic rescue of Gandalf. The eagle is crafted beautifully, with nice details on its wings, a printed face as well as a 2×2 stud area on his back for a minifig to comfortable ride on.
Here’s how Orthanc looked like in Peter Jackson’s movies.
And here is how it looks like in Lego form. Overall, I think Lego has done a smashing job recreating the look of the entire structure. As a display piece, it’s a triple A piece of work. As a Lord of the Rings fan, there was a reason I didn’t hesitate in dropping the cash to own this beautiful piece of black Lego bricks – it just looks phenomenal.
It’s incredibly massive, towering almost 30 inches high. I have it proudly on display in my room and the sheer size and scale of it always managed to impress me every time I walk into the room. Design-wise, I think they’ve knocked it out of the park, nailing all the finer details of the exterior and ensuring that it looms, menacingly, just like the Tower of Orthanc is meant to look like.
Final Thoughts: I had a huge blast putting this set together. Watching the tower go up was nothing short of awesome and putting in the little fittings here and there encapsulated everything I love about being a Lego fan. From a design standpoint, massive kudos should be given to Lego’s design team which has managed to capture the essence of what the Tower of Orthanc is all about. As a playset, it delivers with all the tiny details that give each room heaps of character and flavour. As a design piece, it’s a masterpiece. It will impress your friends and most importantly, it will look damned impressive when you put it on display.
Should You Buy It?: It’s a must-buy if you’re a Lord of the Rings fan. With the LotR theme rumoured to be winding down, you will want to own this set if you’re a collector. Due to it’s importance and recognizability in pop culture, The Tower of Orthanc is a no-brainer purchase if you’re a fan of high fantasy and the works of Tolkien and Peter Jackson. I would also recommend picking this up if you’re a Lego fan due to it’s sheer size, the assortment of parts (so many black bricks!) and the sheer amount of value you’re getting from this set from a piece count alone. Black bricks have always kinda been a rarity and to get over 2 thousand of them in a single set is great should you ever choose to disassemble it. The only drawback is the minifig department, which I felt Lego could’ve done a better job. An inclusion of maybe a minifig-sized Ent would’ve been perfect or even more Orcs and Uruk-Hais would’ve sweetened the deal.