All spaced out in Legoland
January 31, 2004
by JAMES JEFFREY
WHAT'S the easiest way to tell that something's really made its
mark in the public mind? When you can buy it in Lego form.
There's nothing quite like being recreated as a vision of Lego
glory. Those plastic Danish bricks and the little yellow, smiley-faced
chaps with the pincer hands that go with them have manifested
themselves in forms as diverse as aircraft carriers, NBA basketball
teams and that great boozarium from Star Wars. I'm holding out
for the Lego Kama Sutra, but in the meantime I'll have to make
do with the latest addition to the range – the Lego version
of NASA's latest Mars rover, Spirit.
It's a nice little boost for the space agency, battered by a
string of mishaps, catastrophes and that magnificent cock-up a
few years ago when some hapless NASA employees suffered ultimately
expensive confusion about the difference between metric and imperial
It's a risky business, and it appears Lego was wise to wait until
NASA's latest effort had become comfortable on Mars and made a
call home to its masters.
As Associated Press noted, a similar gamble didn't go so well
back in 1999 for toymaker Mattel. Mattel put out an action pack
featuring miniature versions of NASA's Mars Climate Orbiter, Polar
Lander and the twin Deep Space 2 microprobe spacecraft. Remember
them? If the details are a little hazy, there's a good reason.
A few weeks after the action pack went on sale, all four of the
spacecraft were lost. Apparently, one of the sets later turned
up on the eBay auction website, drolly advertised as a NASA Crash
Mattel was contacted by the Jet Propulsion Laboratory to see
whether they fancied making a toy version of this season's mechanical
Mars explorer but, funnily enough, it never replied.
As for Lego, it has managed to go interplanetary – both
of the bona fide Rovers carry DVDs, fixed into place with Lego
bricks, carrying the names of 4 million people (possibly al-Qa'ida
suspects the White House hopes will get blitzed by Martian death
rays). Each of the discs bears the image of one of those little
yellow Lego men, a course of action that may give any Martians
something of a misleading first impression.
Still, at least they've got everything up and running, unlike
the poor old British whose bicycle wheel-sized Mars lander, Beagle
2, remains obstinately missing in action. Yes, we all know what
the Brits are thinking: "If only we hadn't built it out of
I wanted that wretched thing to work for them, I really did.
I didn't want Ronnie Corbett's old gag about British cars being
ideal for people who like walking to end up applying to their
spaceships as well. They seemed to have the space thing more or
less figured out in Doctor Who and Blake's Seven; surely they
were ready to tackle the real thing.
I wanted to hear Beagle 2's nine-note call signal sound across
the void. (It was composed by the band Blur, though a neat "Get
f---ed, all right?" from Oasis would have proclaimed its
UK origins less ambiguously.) But at this rate, it appears the
call signal will live on only as a ring tone in mobile phones,
where it will at least have the chance to encounter some vacuums,
albeit of a lesser magnitude.
The press conference given by the Beagle boffins after NASA succeeded
was one of those visions that would have shaken the hardest of
hearts, so deeply etched was the misery on their faces. Especially
the bloke who said in a near suicidal voice that yes, obviously
they extended their congratulations and – sigh – best
wishes to their colleagues across the Atlantic. He had muttonchops
so ferociously huge they'd probably keep him safe during atmospheric
re-entry, should he ever, in a fit of English stoicism, attempt
such a feat.
Should he opt for religion as a way of soothing the pain in his
soul, he could always turn to www.thebricktestament.com, a website
that presents the stories and some of the harsher lessons of the
Bible in Lego format.
No, I didn't see that one coming, either.
The Brick Testament is the handiwork of Californian Brendan Powell
Smith, a man with an apparently endless supply of time on his
hands. In the word according to Smith, it all began one day in
Taco Bell when the voice of God boomed out from a flaming burrito,
instructing Smith to illustrate the Bible entirely out of Lego.
Smith's objections, based largely on the grounds that he's an
atheist, didn't wash with the Big G. "Then you are especially
unqualified to question me," God allegedly thundered, adding:
"Now get to work."
This scenario is not unfeasible – I'm pretty sure I saw
the Archangel Gabriel dancing with Francis Bacon late one night
in a fast food joint after I'd indulged in a particularly ill-advised
apres piss-up burgerfest (with onion ring chaser, to make my shame
But Smith got God instead, and he got cracking. A couple of years
later, he's still pouring out Lego-illustrated versions of Biblical
tales, ranging from the Garden of Eden and the exodus from Egypt
to instructions on proper behaviour for newlyweds and slave owners.
Smith may be an atheist, but he's certainly blessed. Have you
ever wondered just how bloody tricky it would be to convincingly
depict a good old-fashioned stoning or locust plague using nothing
but small plastic blocks? Look upon Smith's works and marvel.
It even made my heathen heart beat faster. Apart from everything
else, it serves as a solid reminder about what a tetchy deity
God was in the Old Testament, forever smiting and cursing and
sneakily creating temptations for his creations, then pouncing
on them with an "Aha!" when they took his bait. It's
also fun to learn just how comfortably the Bible sits with slavery,
the subjugation of women and the slandering of innocent shellfish,
swine and camels. Then there's the stunningly large number of
scenarios in which it condones putting people to death with rather
Some people have been upset by the frequently violent/bloodthirsty/sexual
(delete where applicable) nature of Smith's ouevre, but hey, that's
the Bible for you.
All in all, though, it should get those Martians antsy about
God-fearin' Dubya's promise that those little Lego-bearing probes
will eventually be followed by real live humans. But unless the
astronauts have bright yellow skin, etched-on smiley faces and
pincer-shaped hands, they'll probably be perfectly safe.