With the third series of Stranger Things ready to drop on July 4th 2019, there is still time to get hold of this set and put it together while catching up on previous episodes… here are my scattered thoughts and photographs.
Back in 1983, I was fourteen years old. Going to school, riding my bike around to catch up with friends, playing the occasional game of Dungeons and Dragons. But nothing happened to me in a way that would be as weird as the goings on in Hawkins, Indiana, at that time, during which the first series of Stranger Things was set.
When I first heard rumours about this set, I was sceptical. Why would a LEGO set based on program with supernatural content be reaching the market months before the arrival of an in house range, also featuring a supernatural theme – Hidden Side. It felt a little like LEGO was trying to compete with its own market, until I realised that the two lines are aimed at very different demographics: Hidden Side is aimed at younger, digitally focussed children, and focusses on game play. The Upside Down, on the other hand, brings highlights from an adult focussed series: that exploiting the nostalgic feelings we have for a not so bygone era, a metaphorical and literal shadows and soundtrack heavy on analog synthesiser. For many of us, that might have merely been our own childhood.
A Model for Mature Builders
I was also a little surprised, as the series comes across as darker, scarier, and a bit more mature than most third party properties chosen for LEGO sets. Yet, in reality, while the series features a number of jump scares, some implied nudity and some of the things that go through all teenager’s minds as they grow up, perhaps the majority of the content is not significantly more intense than aspects of Star Wars: Revenge of the Sith; Rogue One or even the Avengers. Let’s not even explore aspects of the Dark Knight Trilogy from Christopher Nolan, as these were certainly fairly intense, and one might argue not appropriate content for younger viewers.
Indeed, in Australia, an M-Rating was awarded to those particular Star Wars and Marvel films, as well as Stranger things. What does this mean? Here is the Australian Government’s point of view on an M- Rating:
The content is moderate in impact.
Films and computer games classified M (Mature) contain content of a moderate impact and are recommended for teenagers aged 15 years and over. Children under 15 may legally access this material because it is an advisory category. However, M classified films and computer games may include classifiable elements such as violence and nudity of moderate impact that are not recommended for children under 15 years.Australian Classification Board.
And now let’s look at the box. The 16+ label says it all. These age recommendations on LEGO sets are not just about whether or not your child can safely play with elements without eating them; or indeed being patient enough to string multiple bricks together with a level of patience befitting a saint. Some times they are there as a marker of the recommended age range for the content of the set itself. And so it is with Stranger Things. In fact, after the typeface for Stranger Things, the age guide is printed using the largest font on the box – even larger than that used for the brand name in the logo for the LEGO logo.
Looking at the box, you can be readily accused of feeling that Things are indeed a little Stranger than with previous LEGO Boxes. The model is clearly demonstrated, in a way few have been seen before. This is a dark, moody box. Normally when a LEGO set starts to get a bit moody like this, there is something to offset it like a comical cartoonish ghost. There is no such relief here.
While the build focusses on the Byers house, this set is all about the atmosphere communicated with the minifigures, as well the Upside Down, It is in this shadowy netherworld where Will Byers has been trapped, along with the demogorgon, ready to leap out at quiet points in the narrative, and wake a viewer up!
It’s a big set with 2,287 pieces. On opening the box, I found, somewhat unsurprisingly, lots of bags within, including a bag containing 2 manuals and two sticker sheets. The stickers are all fairly square/rectangular and as such are relatively easy to apply as the time comes.
The manuals give us details about the designer (Justin Ramsden) and Graphic Designer (Crystal Fontan) as well as intermittent call outs to Easter eggs contained within the television series.
One thing is highlighted in the instruction manuals…There are a number of ways to build this set.
One is linearly: start at bag one, and move to bag eleven, one after another. This would make sense to most people. I did not follow this option.
The design of the instructions is also suited to let you team up with a friend: One building the building the ‘normal’ Byers’ house (Bags 1-5) and the other tackling the Upside Down house ( Bags 6-11) simultaneously, comparing and contrasting as you progress, sharing notes and looking at the different ways of building it. These both sound like solid, quality ideas.
However, while approaching this set based on a tale of the paranormal, full of suspense and intrigue, I chose to do neither. The truth is, I couldn’t find a friend or family member available to share the build at the time. But the parallel building struck me as appealing.
So, I set out to build the houses, comparing similar aspects of the build one after the other. Essentially I built (in order) Bags 1,2,6,3,7,4,8,5,9,10,11. In doing so, I saw similar parts of the build develop, in daylight and in shadow. To add to the experience, I set about watching the television series from the start. Not such a bad idea: series three is coming out in July, and I had not watched the first two series since they initially became available to stream on Netflix. There was a fairly similar correlation with the idea of Building one bag over the course of an episode, typically running from 45-50 minutes each. Perhaps I ended up pausing a little at the end of each bag to take some photos, and to stretch my back. Perhaps I also became a little distracted by the narrative at various points.
If you don’t like this order, I recommend printing this article out, and performing a cut and paste into your preferred order. However we intend to approach this problem, we should still start at the beginning, and finish at the end. So we shall. It’s just that the road in between might be a little…convoluted. But before we embark on that winding road, let’s look at the minifigures.
The selection of minifigures in this is excellent, and includes most of the main cast: all of the boys, Eleven, Joyce Byers, Sheriff Hopper and the Demogorgon. There are a few other figures – Steve Harrington, Nancy, and Jonathan Byers – that could have been included, but this particular set is not lacking much in their absence. Perhaps there is scope for a future set. Perhaps with a car.
The set comes with a single stand which can hold four figures, including a large sticker with the logo, placed on a 6×8 slope
Should there have been a second stand, or room for all the figures? I think what we have is about right, but it would not be difficult to expend using relatively common elements. The final model can get a little crowded with all eight figures on, so this becomes a useful place to leave any figures not attached to the buildings.
There are so many things to love about these characters: the way the period details of their clothes are captured, their headgear – be it Dustins cap, Will’s Bowl-cut or Joyce’s crazy shock of hair. Perhaps Lucas could have had a hairpiece that better reflected his har, rather than a piece typically used to represent a bald head with a bandana. Alternate faces are provided where they can be, and add to the range of emotion that is able to be expressed by our characters. Only Hopper and Eleven do not have an alternate face. I am particularly fond of Dustin’s cap, as well as his toothy grin and concerned expression.
I appreciate the way in which the Demogorgon has the leaflets of its mouth closed, and can be given an open look, by adding the head cover element. Hopper’s coffee allows for sweet contemplation in the morning, while Joyce looks scared and bewildered. Her hair is just perfect. I appreciate Eleven’s look in the dress, looking to channel her best ET while cruising for the best Eggos she can find. Will Byers is channelling his inner Marty McFly with his parka.
The figures are well accessorised, with torches, slingshot, a compass and Walkie-talkies. Joyce also carries an image of Will the Wise: a picture from his younger days.
Lets take a somewhat rambling look at the build as I approached it. At this point, I loaded up stranger things on Netflix, and pressed play. I broke from the build from time to time to take photos, and occasionally to be drawn in by the drama.
Chapter One – The Vanishing of Will Byers.
On his way home from a friend’s house, young Will sees something terrifying. Nearby, a secret lurks in the depths of a government lab.
The first bag contains parts for the minifigure stand, Jim Hopper and his Police Cruiser as well as Will Byers’ black bicycle.
The build proceeds simply enough, with great use of the 8×6 sloped brick as there target for the large sticker bearing the Stranger Things logo. We assembled the black bicycle, making its debut here, and then start work on the Police Cruiser. I was surprised as I built it: there is a 2×4 plate with holes in the recessed part. I cannot see how this plate will be able to be readily removed in the future.Perhaps I should read this as a sign that this vehicle is one designed to be built and stay built!
There is a nifty piece of SNOTWork (studs not on top), with a 1×2 plate with a clip on the side, used to attach the side windows. The lines of the windows are completed with the use of stickers.
We also place a pumpkin in the back of the trucks, calling out to scenes in the second series.
A few more stickers confirm this vehicle as part of the Hawkins Sheriff’s department. The placement of the final sticker coincided, somewhat nicely, with the end of me watching the first episode.
Chapter 2 – The Weirdo on Maple Street
Lucas, Mike and Dustin try to talk to the girl they found in the woods. Hopper questions an anxious Joyce about an unsettling phone call.
Bag two starts us off on the landscape and floor for the Byers house. We have a mixture of olive green, tan, and dark tan. The olive wedges are making their debut in this colour. The layering of the plates defines the area of the build nicely, and impresses because of the way it is taken off the grid. The floor for the Byers house is predominantly medium nougat, with some sand blue as well.
There are a number of sockets for small ‘mixel’ ball joints – 12 in all – around the ‘ground plate.
The Minifigure included in this bag is Mike wheeler. It is at Mike’s house that we first meet the boys, and it remains a significant setting as the boys hide the presence of Eleven from any adults.
Chapter 3 – Holly, Jolly
An increasingly concerned Nancy Looks for Barb and finds out what Jonathan’s been up to. Joyce is convinced that Will is trying to talk to her.
I moved to bag six next. In this bag, we commence construction of the Upside Down, the shadow dimension to which Will Byers ( and indeed Barb) have vanished too. Like bag two, we see the floor of the house take form, but in a variety of shadows that you might perceive in darkness: dark blue; black; dark stone grey, medium stone grey, as well as some dark brown elements, whose function will become apparent later.
Comparing these versions of the house, it would appear, at first glance to be a mirror image of the the landscape constructed for the Byers house. At present this is probably the case. This might change as we progress our build.
Chaper 4 – The Body
Refusing to believe that her son is dead, Joyce tries to connect with her son. The boys give Eleven a makeover. Nancy and Jonathan form an uneasy alliance.
Moving back to bag three, we have a variety of elements in a variety of colours. Yes, it’s time to furnish the main living areas. We get a collection of Cool yellow plates, as well as some windows. designed to look as if the windows have been papered over. There is also a printed element featuring Will the Wise. Had we built this bag during the previous episode (as the linear order suggested), we would have been placing the yellow telephone around the time that it rang, scaring Joyce somewhat. However, I did not build it at that time.
Otherwise, this bag sees us constructing Will Byer’s bedroom, as well as the living room of the Byers house. I appreciate the detail given to the furniture in the bedroom, as well as the living room. the bedroom features a dark blue quilt, a boom box, as well as standing light, and desk lamp. I really like the design of the desk lamp
The walls in the living room also go form the panel where the Christmas lights are hung in the episode. It did not take long for the lights to start going up on the wall, even if they are on a sticker. This seemed to coincide with the lights springing to action on the television screen. It felt truly stranger!
The construction of the external wall reveals a lot of studs, waiting for the weatherboard cladding to be added. The papered over windows allows the internal aspect of that wall to be covered by the detail of what would have been the back wall of the actually living room.
Chapter 5 – The Flea and the Acrobat
Hopper breaks into the lab, while Nancy and Jonathan confront the force that took Will. The Boys ask Mr Clarke how to travel to another dimension.
Bag seven returns us to the upside down: we have an emphasis on the upside down version of the living room, and Will’s bedroom. This is where we start to see a divergence in the elements available for the two sides, with the addition of foliage (in earth blue/Dark Blue) and Dark Brown – Colours that I haven’t seen used before.
The foliage is used, in conjunction with the dark stone grey ‘steer horns,’ to convey part of the creeper/vine infested nature of the Upside Down. The printed windows used in this version have a slightly different design from those in the Byers house – the newspaper is torn.
I love the use of the colour palette in this bag, mirroring the previous one in a way reminiscenct of how you would see the scene, just as things start to get dark.
And, like the previous bag, this one is also ready for the weatherboard cladding on the outside.
Chapter 6 – The Monster
A frantic Jonathan looks for Nancy in the darkness, but Steve’s looking for her too. Hopper and Joyce uncover the truth about the lab’s experiments.
Bag four returns us to the Byer’s house. We add a wall, some furniture to the patio, as well as the weatherboards. The chart is cleverly attached in an offset plate stud, and forced onto an angle to avoid a clash with another stud on the patio surface. You can also see a couple of hinges added to the roof. I’m sure we will find out what they are for shortly. I failed to capture it here… but we also add a lan-ee-boy and come extra furniture into the third room.
Chapter 7- The Bathtub
Eleven Struggles to reach Will, while Lucas warns that “the bad men are coming.” Nancy and Jonathan show the police what Jonathan caught on camera.
In bag eight, we complete the third room of the upside down, furnish the patio and attach the weatherboards, much as in the previous bag. At this stage, the series is starting to get quite exciting, and I admit, I might be building a little slower that I need to.
Here is side by side view of the furniture seen in the main living room, the sitting room, and Will’s bedroom. As you can see, they are mirror images of each other. Well almost: the potter plant from the upside As I said before, I really like the muted colour palette of the upside down. the additional trans black round tiles, and the oozing foliage provide lots of atmosphere here.
Only one episode to go… what happens next?
Chapter 8 – The Upside Down
Dr Brenner holds Joyce and Hopper for questioning while the boys wait with Eleven in the gym. Back at Will’s, Nancy and Jonathan prepare for battle.
I found the final episode had a bit going for it: at fifty four minutes, it was the longest episode of the series – I do like the way Netflix allows programs to run a little but over or under from time to time.
I also found myself putting bag five together a little faster than I had planned: In this bag, we have the elements for the roof, as well as some artefacts hidden in the ceiling, including Will’s Wizard hat, Jonathan’s video camera and picture of Will’s, fore shadowing the looming creature from season two.
The roof is a mixture of ramps, and plates with reduced numbers of studs. as they came together, so did the Dustin figure, with one of the most awesome hat/hair elements that I have seen for some time.
We also install a light brick, designed to simulate the Christmas tree lights, through the use of a unique filter panel. I think it is quite effective in achieving what it sets out to achieve. We also string up some lights, and install some verandah poles.
We add the modified brick/plate with the upright peg to the front yard, and it will serve to hold the Sheriff’s police Cruiser in place, as the building is moved around.
Opening Bag nine, I came to realise that I was almost there. The roof of the upside down is a much spookier affair that that seen on the normal house: Dark Blue and black. We have vines wrapping around the verandah posts, and sinister foliage on the roof.
I think I got this part together and was distracted by the on-screen goings on. I certainly liked the depiction of evil here, as well as the atmospherics. As I got this together, I started to marvel at the job done by the design team in achieving the twilight upside down palette.
And now, with the demogorgon banished, I have a problem. Not the least is that I am yet to build the demogorgon, who comes with bag ten.
I pause to see how the two houses might come together…matching socket joints on the front of the house are joined with
Series 2: Episode 1: MADMAX
As the town preps for Halloween, a high-score rival shakes things up at the arcade, and a skeptical Hopper inspects a field of rotting pumpkins…
Bags ten and eleven are almost identical in content, except for the minifigures. We have the Demogorgon figure with bag 10, and Eleven with …bag 11. Here we build the trees, which stand so ominously next to the house in this set. It becomes rapidly apparent that they also serve as stands for the set, attaching at each end, ready to support the building either right side up or upside down. The trees attach via some technic pins, and then have some additional slopes and curves placed to reduce the ‘slippage, and improve the look of the set. the trees also feature ‘Missing person’ posters for Barbara Holland, dragged into the Upside Down, back at the end of episode 2. I am particularly fond of the shape of the tops of the trees: broad enough to serve as a support for the MOC, and also great to use as landscaping, particularly the writhing vines to be found in the tunnels where the barrier between the Upside Down and reality breaks down.
And finally, just as episode one of season two is coming to an end, I complete the build. I probably could have gotten it all done in time for the end of the series, except I became a little too engrossed as the series reached its climax.
And now for the really clever part: joining the two houses together. This is the thing that sets this set apart from all others: connecting the houses to each other via the mixer joint sockets. Just the right size for a 1M Beam with three balls attached(6055629) – previously seen on this blog as part of the cockpit for the NEXO Knight Battle suits – this element fits the four plate gap, back to back, perfectly.
There are also a series of sockets on the side for connector the mixer joints: as you bind the trees to the houses, allowing them to be supported, and indeed inverted.
The final result is quite stunning. It is robust, and can be rotated fairly easily, without fear of the Cruiser falling off, or an undesirable toppling.
Photographing the Upside Down
In recent months, I realise that my personal creativity in photographing sets that I have built has been fairly pedestrian. Little in the way of atmosphere, mood, or taking advantage of the events depicted in the set.
I found the entire set difficult to capture in its entirety: it is just too big. Difficult, but not impossible. Of course, in doing so, it becomes hard to not just make your image an attempt to recreate the box art.
I found that that the Upside Down has provoked me to explore some of this once more. The trees especially – the dark and gloomy foliage from the Upside Down – can start to feel, very much, like the actual surface of the tunnels underneath Hawkins that our heroes find themselves exploring. – particularly Chief Hopper, when he heads off from the lab into the Upside Down in a Hazmat suit. Fortunately I have a Hazmat Suit Guy from series four collectable minifigures here. I’ll quickly substitute in Jim Hopper’s head, and see how we go from there.
The use of the darker elements – foliage and trans black tiles – in the upside down helps to convey the mysterious environment. I added some mysterious sparkle through use of dark red sparkle paper. Once photographed, I reduced the exposure, and image temperature to enhance the gloomy atmosphere. I made a selective edit over Hopper’s face to give the impression of a light in the helmet, lighting his face. A narrow depth pf field and a lurking domogorgon complete the effect.
Using Light room, I was able to apply a selective edit to add further gloom to the upside sown, compared to the ‘real world.’ This could then be used to compared contrast the upside down with the real world…
And a few quick shots to show off some of the stickers tiles used in the set. I appreciate the humour in the missing person’s poster, as well as the revised, licence free, movie poster in Will’s Room.
Finally… I imagined what might happen if the Demogorgon learned all about the rules of engagement from the Game Master’s guide…
I have not photographed everything seen in the set: I would like to leave some surprises and enjoyment for you as a builder if you decide to build this set.
I have found reflecting on this build an interesting exercise: it is a good six weeks between the time that I build the set, and the time that I am completing the write up.
And as I think about it, I realise that I really like the finished product. The two houses, with their contrasting atmospheres, combine nicely. The build is solid. It needs to be when the primary play feature involves repeatedly flipping the set over!
But was is it I really like about this set? Beyond the contrasting colour schemes and weather boards, I found the house itself a challenging build – the highlight lies with the use of alternate colour palettes, details in the furniture, and shoutouts to small details from the series. The addition of foliage and vines to the sombre colour palette of the Upside Down heightens the mood, especially with regard to the trees acting as supports for the back to back houses. I also appreciated the design of the Police cruiser – and there are some clever building techniques involved in building this. the land around the house is a nice addition, and the method of binding the two sides together is inspiring.
The choice of minifigures is great, as is the overall design.
I really loved the alternative colour palettes used for the opposing sides of the build.
The thing that impressed me most, however, was the way that the portions of the build seemed to align with each episode of series one, as I built it. This might have just been me: I’d love to know your results. Justin Ramsden, the set designer, refused to be drawn on the subject when I briefly had a chance to talk to him about the set at the Fan Media Days in Billund in May 2019.
The set acts as a reminder that sometimes the recommended age range on a LEGO set can refer to the nature of the content, rather than just the complexity of the build. As such, this is truly a set designed to appeal to adults. I appreciate that this is a set that has been designed for a Mature audience, and still manages to be true to the typical values that LEGO sets aim to adhere too.
I enjoyed the first two series of Stranger Things, and will be watching the next series as soon as I find time. As such, I award this set four point five out of five Arbitrary Praise Units. I especially appreciate the minifigure and furniture design, the technique for binding the two houses back to cack, the different colour palettes used to convey the mood and lighting of the Byers house and the Upside Down, and finally the little details that have been included in the model based on events and items in the program. Without these, it would just be a couple of houses and a car.
With 2287 elements and costing $AUD349.99, it is a significant investment in time, parts and money. If you are interested in the furniture and colour design, but not a fan of Stranger things, you may just wish to examine pictures, or the instruction manuals. And you might not score the set so highly. That said, you might enjoy the other elements presented in the set for their pure unadulterated LEGOness: the sand blues, trans blacks and olive greens have not been seen in some of these elements previously.
You still have a little time to get hold of this set, and build it while reviewing the first two series, before the next series debuts on July 4th. I’d love to know how your timing of the build compares to mine!
What do you think? Would you build this while you watch the series? Or just lock yourself in a room with the soundtrack going? Why not leave your thoughts below, and until next time… Play Well.
This set was provided by the LEGO Goup’s AFOL Engagement team for review purposes. All opinions however, are my own.
Hi thanks for stopping by…it’s been a little quiet here lately. Sorry about that. I went on a trip recently to the Recognised LEGO Fan Media Days, in Billund; a trip to LEGOLAND Germany and the Fan weekend at Paredes de Coura…taking in a little detour via some continuing professional development for my day job. There is no end of new material coming up – and I’ll have some more together before too long. This review has been a little while coming – it was well underway before I headed off on my trip, but took a bit of nudging to get back in shape. I’m glad I took the extra time. Thanks for your support, and taking the time to read the words I write – Richard.
The font used on the opening image is ‘Eighties Horror’, by Darrell Flood