Are reviews redundant?

When you decide which kit to build next, how much of that decision is guided by media and Online assessments?

“A kit may well be wildly inaccurate, but I can say with some conviction that though that will be important to some — quite rightly — to others it will be completely irrelevant”

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Throughout my career in this industry, I’ve more often than not described myself as a kit ‘reviewer’ and the articles that I complete, ‘reviews’. Thinking about those two descriptions over the last few weeks or so, I’ve started to consider both to be rather untrue, the description ‘kit builder’ and ‘builds’, being rather closer to an accurate description.

So why is this and what has suddenly made a reappraisal of my role worthwhile?

In short, I don’t really think that modellers in the main, give two-hoots about in-depth reviews any more. I think the vast majority of modellers want a cool kit to build and they want to be inspired by seeing great models painted to look amazing in their display case. Art has overriden accuracy in most minds and whereas in years gone by discussion often centred around accuracy of outline and detail, these days it’s more likely to concern highlighted finishes and whether or not paint chips are appropriate or not.

So where does that leave the humble review?

A review should in its broadest sense offer a modeller a number of things: an impression of what’s in the box, how the kit is moulded, features that are supplied, how the bits and pieces go together and finally, how accurate the kit is from the box. For the purists out there the final aspect is always the most important part of any review. Quite rightly, a core part of our hobby is concerned with accuracy of shape, outline, dimension and detail and that’s what they want to read within the body of any review or build feature that is published, be it online, or within the pages of a magazine. But, as important as those modellers are, it seems to me (as I have thought for some time) that the vast majority are more interested in how a kit goes together and how much fun they can have with the basic contents of the box, than they are with absolute accuracy.

Now, before anyone jumps all over me raining blows onto my head with Biblical levels of violence, let me point out at this juncture that I’m NOT saying that either approach is right or wrong and no, I’m not saying that you can’t have fun if you are interested in accuracy – far from it. Modelling is a very personal hobby and you have the right to approach it any way you want. If your thing is to create the perfect miniature, accurate in every way and only the most accurate kit will fulfil that role: great. If you want to grab a kit and just build and paint the contents with no concession to accuracy: great. This is not about splitting modellers into groups; this is just about what I see day to day, nothing more, nothing less and how that then relates to the creation of modelling features going forward.

The biggest driver to this debate has been the rise of Facebook within our community and the number of modelling pages that have popped up to serve people of all skill levels. From absolute beginners though to the very best in the world, there are hundreds of pages that allow enthusiasts to come together and share their love of model making. Though many of these pages feature discussions about new kits and issues with them — good and bad — the vast majority seem to feature the work of modellers that are simply enjoying the building of a plastic model kit and they have no time and even less inclination, to discuss anything more than how to glue the parts together and paint the results.

Years ago a particularly famous modeller and shop owner, sat me down to tell me at length that 95% of all modellers that he had dealt with, never bought magazines, never visited clubs or entered competitions, and never showed off their work to others. The silent majority as he described them, were happy just to sit at the kitchen table after a hard day’s work and build for the sake of building. The results were not as important as the journey through the project and because they only ever had themselves to please, they never needed to worry about acceptance from peers or negativity from critics. Those modellers he told me, were the core of the hobby and without them, the industry would collapse. The other 5% were the drivers to excellence, modellers who saw the hobby as a route to the creation of stunning builds, perfect in every detail, accurate to a fault and finished to standards that improved day upon day, week upon week, year upon year. Though important, these guys may well have been looked up to for inspiration, but they were the tip of the pyramid and not the foundations on which all four walls of the industry and subsequent hobby, stood.

As time has passed by, this ratio has been proven time and time again and now in 2017, I feel that it is exactly how the hobby breaks down.

Without sounding elitist, check out any page Online and amongst the handful of excellent builds, you will find many more that fit within a much larger average category where models are nicely built and finished, but perhaps not up to the same standards seen from the hands of the world’s best. Dig deeper and you will see something else that defines this group more than any other: the number of older kits that are being built. It’s becoming something of a feature of the Online world that many modellers are choosing to build ancient kits — seemingly en masse — and not caring that there are no reviews of these sometimes forgotten tools. Other than the occasional complaint from a modeller about Airfix daring to release a 40-year-old kit in 2017 and then finding that it’s not up to the standard of a Tamiya offering, many of these modellers seem to be more than happy to convert sows’ ears into silk purses and that’s where my question about reviews of new kits comes in. Their hobby and thus by definition the bulk of modellers, is about building kits and accuracy simply does not form part of their bigger picture. That being so, is it my job to improve their skills by offering technical guidance, or is it my job to always offer information regarding negative issues, despite feeling that that information is rather redundant? Should reviews only ever deal in-depth with new tools and not with reissues where you have to view those repackaged kits through the prism of passed time?

There are of course no simple answers to this because no one group should be alienated at the expense of another. I would certainly hate modellers keen to read about new kits warts and all, feel that my work was of no interest to them and that I was skirting issues for the sake of simplicity and playing to the gallery. That being said, my feelings, unscientific though they may be, are pointing me in the direction of being slightly less concerned with absolute accuracy and more focussed on the nuts and bolts of the hobby, such as construction and painting.

But of course this has a knock-on effect in how I deal with my own builds and also how I see myself. Over the last twelve months almost every kit that I have bought has been a minimum of 30 years old. Though I’ve grabbed a couple of new releases, many of which have come from the Airfix range, the vast majority have been old tools from the likes of Monogram, Revell and Matchbox (my latest being a Monogram F-20!)140618-12192-30-pristine.

Yeah, I know, much of that has been driven by my well-publicised nostalgic leanings, but many of those decisions have, much like the modellers that populate Facebook and the like, been the result of wanting to actually build those old kits and often that has been at the expense, both monetarily and in terms of time, of newer, more accurate releases. Accuracy has it would seem become less and less important to me. All of which places me not within the upper 5%, but firmly within the 95% that see beyond the latest and greatest and into a forgotten world of dusty old boxes waiting to be opened and enjoyed.

So it’s a tough call as to which way to jump. Should we be less concerned with nuts and bolt reviews that discuss the minutiae of the kit’s accuracy and let modellers make up their own minds, or maintain the status quo? Recently I saw a Blogging friend of mine complete a new kit that I know is way overscale, but he really liked the kit and the resulting model. Nowhere could I find that he’d felt short-changed by the manufacturer’s errors, the project being every bit a success in spite of them. I liked that; it seemed as though he’d clued into the innocence of the pastime and that serious issues had been left to the day job, just as they should be. Equally though, one of my reviewers had built almost the same kit and highlighted all of the issues and I enjoyed that as well! It’s an utter minefield.

Our job is always to tell the truth about a kit, but that has to be tempered by the needs of the readers and whether they feel that issues are important. A kit may well be wildly inaccurate, but I can say with some conviction that though that will be important to some — quite rightly — to others it will be completely irrelevant. To me, I tread the line between both camps, though as many will tell you that is often subject driven; give me an inaccurate MiG and I may turn a blind eye; give me an inaccurate Harrier and the hackles will rise with every passing minute…

Now, if you don’t mind, I need a lie down!

See you next time.

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15 thoughts on “Are reviews redundant?

  1. Francis Gallemi April 20, 2017 / 5:39 pm

    Interesting observations! For myself, I prefer a kit that is generally accurate in shape and dimensions. If it has a good level of detail, then great! I’ll probably get one someday. However, what has always got me wandering is why would anyone buy a kit with so many obvious faults in shape and dimensions that require hours to correct and still be labelled as “highly recommended” simply because it comes from a major manufacturer. To make matters worse, these people then go out and spend 3 times the price of the original kit in after market parts of which none address the errors! While some reviewers make it a point to outline the mistakes (including yourself) most will simply overlook the issues and claim it will make a great addition to anyone’s collection. The Classic Airframes Martin Baltimore come to mind.

  2. jimatkins April 20, 2017 / 6:33 pm

    The main thing I look for when I need a review is buildability. Is the kit engineered to go together, or is it going to fight me tooth and nail until it goes on the shelf of ignominious defeat. I like accuracy, but I’m in this to have fun, not a wrestling match with ill-fitting parts. The Kitty Hawk F-35B about killed me.

  3. tcinla April 20, 2017 / 6:35 pm

    Time to bring back “The Superczynski Rule.” The late Al Superczynski, one of the “Great Presences” on the old Rec.Models.Scale discussion forum back in the late Triassic, had a sig line: “Build what you want, the way you want it.” Which became known as The Superczynski Rule. It’s elegant in its simplicity and guaranteed to lower one’s blood pressure regardless of where they come down on this. There is a guy who posts at one of my favorite places to go (which shall remain unidentified further) whose models are the equivalent of fingernails on the blackboard of my mind; I often can’t get past the first picture to look at the rest. Often my first reaction is a variation of “How can you *do* that???” Well, he does. And he has fun doing it. And other people who visit like him, and his personality is such that he makes a positive contribution to the atmosphere there. So, am I supposed to post that response to his work? (Despite what some may think, I only respond negatively to the pompous – really!) It’s taken awhile to recognize the truth of the Superczynski Rule, and often I have to struggle to remember it, but it is a profound truth, and keeping it in mind does contribute to anyone’s enjoyment of what is (to the rest of the world) a very strange thing for older males to be doing – playing with what are essentially plastic children’s toys (no matter how dressed up or expensive they get). I also notice that nowadays I far prefer a new Airfix kit to some triple/quadruple the expense Uber kit of the same subject. New Airfix is what I thought old Airfix was 50 years ago when I was a kid and fist discovered them.

    • tcinla April 20, 2017 / 6:40 pm

      And I find enough “thank yous” in my e-mail in-box from guys who have read my reviews and found their enjoyment of that kit increased for having done so, that I do believe reviews that point out problems and then present solutions are indeed useful.

    • wellington1965 April 20, 2017 / 7:27 pm

      This.

  4. wellington1965 April 20, 2017 / 7:18 pm

    As a recent returner I have to say that reading reviews of modelling perfection increases the pressure to a point where all I can do is read, sit in awe and wonder. I suspect if Leonardo (the painter, not the actor) were telling the internet how he painted his Mona Lisa then Picasso might just have been a fisherman.

    Then I did what any man would do, took my wife’s advice. I bought a model, jumped in – a Tamiya 1/48 Spitfire Mk.I since you ask, it appeared from the reviews to go together with minimum fuss. It’s still in progress, but I have stopped reading reviews until I finish it. I’ll improve with each model, then I’ll pick up little details from reviews, challenge myself a little more. Likely I’ll mess up the cockpit glass I always do, but my goal here is to reduce stress, not increase it.

    I still like looking at the Mona Lisa, but glad I didn’t have to read a review about it.

    I like to read reviews that are well written, humorous, adventurous, informative – for their entertainment value. I spot the occasional arrogant reviewer who is clearly doing something pretty advanced, and dismissing it as easy… those tricky WWII Japanese camouflage patterns.

    When I read about the quest for perfection I often think about those audiophiles that used to (still do?) spend a fortune on speaker cable. I smile to myself and remember I’m on a different path.

  5. Juan Francisco Mollinedo April 20, 2017 / 7:32 pm

    Again me making unsolicited comments, but I wanted to say I am squarely part of that 95% you mention, and frankly, I am very happy to hear we’re the majority in the model building community. I love new models from AMK and Tamiya, don’t get me wrong with that, but I have over 300 kits back in my cave that need to be built, patiently waiting for my attention since 1979 and I suspect that is why so many of the colleagues love the not-so-good models.

    It would be really nice to have a step-by-step article once in a while having a Monogram or Matchbox kit built using the techniques you use in the latest releases. I would learn a lot.

    My two cents…..Again.

    Wish you the best

    Juan Francisco Mollinedo
    Guatemala

  6. Steve April 20, 2017 / 8:56 pm

    I’m an average modeler with a couple hundred unbuilt kits in the closet bought over the last 30 years. I really don’t need to ever buy a new kit, but that’s no fun. I rely on reviews to point out the pitfalls of new tool kits to decide whether or not it’s worth buying to replace something in the stash. Just because it’s new doesn’t automatically make it the better choice for me. I don’t mind a little scratchbuilding, scribing or throwing PE and resin at an old kit. At the same time, I don’t see the point of buying a grossly misshapen poorly engineered turd just because it’s new. Shape issues that I can see and never un-see will make we skip a kit if I think it’s beyond my ability to fix. I would like to rely on reviewers to point out these problelems.

    My biggest complaint is a lot of online reviews are not much better than a product announcement. Many gush praise and skip the criticism. I can forgive a reviewers that just isn’t that knowledgeable about a particular subject missing subtle details, but some of Kittyhawk’s fiascos are so easy to see if you just Google some pics of the real aircraft. I love flamewars over kits just because I usually learn more from the rivet counters than I do from reviewers.

  7. Gary Vikar April 20, 2017 / 9:50 pm

    Interesting article I have to say. About a month and half about I started a build. It was an 1979 release of monograms P-47D razorback. When it was released everyone loved. The Squadron in Madison Hgt , MI couldn’t keep the kit in stock. We only costed 5 buck a piece. The kit is stock except for a spare tamiya cockpit. Heck it was fun to build. It should be done shortly as I got side track on P-51D build that end on the shelf of doom. Mustang ended up there because of a never trying silver paint from Mig. Article like this one: http://www.hyperscale.com/2017/features/f106b48dwa_1.htm By David Aungst is what I like. It is about the build. Spending hour to make a model perfect becomes a drag. No one rarely see my work these days. Your you tube video and the blog are great… Keep up the work

  8. atcDave April 21, 2017 / 8:10 pm

    I have no claims to anything other than being an average builder. For myself, I feel like I know what I’m pretty good at, and where my skills are lacking. Of course that means I’ve settled on a quality level that makes ME happy, not necessarily anyone else.

    As smug as all that sounds though, I still see published reviews as a huge resource. Buildability and accuracy both matter. I’m generally more interested in the subject than in the kit as such; but figuring out which kit best meets my needs can be a big deal. Especially with certain major types being well represented by several companies. Sometimes its a big deal to figure out exactly which boxing of a kit I’m looking for — like what are the best options for putting an Aeroproducts propeller on my Mustang. Again, not to say its a huge issue; but given a choice I’d rather get it right than wrong!

    Balancing details with keeping things fun is always the trick for me. More than once I’ve found myself fussing too much and getting nothing done… which leads to boredom, and pursuing other other interests…
    Which all makes me feel like its time to head back to my model bench!

  9. Christian Atkins April 25, 2017 / 8:55 am

    Nicely said and well done for outing the proverbial ‘elephant in the room’. Reading what you have eloquently espoused places me firmly in the same grouping as you, which was a bit of a surprise, but also rather comforting.
    It is always good to remember that a hobby is for enjoyment and if it is not then you have to ask why you are doing it. Different people, different answers. Now back to the bench.

    Christian

  10. Bob Sikkel April 25, 2017 / 12:34 pm

    Hi Spence,

    As usual an interesting, thoughtful (those two go together) musing.

    “Our job is always to tell the truth about a kit, but that has to be tempered by the needs of the readers and whether they feel that issues are important.”

    I don’t quite agree with that statement (in toto). To me the primary purpose of a review is to be educational (or informative)- to tell the reader more than they were previously aware of. Therefore to tell them only what you think is important to them might defeat the whole purpose! I’d rather be given all the information the reviewer has to offer, then I can take from that what’s important TO ME, and I might even learn something I (or you) didn’t think I cared about.

    Reviews are important for me, because they do give me a chance to know something about kits, and they often stimulate my interest, even when “problems” are exposed! (I guess a case of the old saying that any publicity is good publicity.) For that reason, I think the argument that nit-picking is hurtful to the industry is largely wrong. But then, I’m not a fervent member of “the Cult of Pollard”, I naively think that I make my own mind up about things! (No nastiness was intended in that sarcastic statement.)

    There’s a chap in my local club who builds those ancient kits, and is quite dismissive of reviews. I guess he’s right for himself, but that doesn’t mean his “right” is the same answer as mine.

    As I say on Hyperscale, “Ignorance is bliss, but I find learning more interesting.” May we live in interesting times!

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