Tuesday, January 7, 2014

Comparisons: The Original Chakram (I of IV)

Hey guys!

So here it is, at last! :)

It's taken me a long long time to finish this (macro)entry! It's quite large, plus it got erased all by itself a couple of times. Quite an odyssey! But I trust the post was worth the effort, and you'll find it interesting, if not useful. I've split it into four parts to make it a more manageable reading.

As with the Xena sword comparisons I did a while back, my goal here is comparing all the different versions of the Original Chakram that we can find in the market, and to help you correctly identify them all by yourselves. To that end, I'm going to analyze the six replica brands I find most notorious, and rate their accuracy respect the genuine props seen onscreen.

Of course, my most sincere thanks to all the collectors that have ever studied, written or posted either info or photographies about Xena's original chakram. You all made this entry possible!

Let's start!



- THE ORIGINAL PROPS

As always, the original props will serve us as the main reference to compare the accuracy level of any replica. More or less. I'd better say the "idealized chakram" that all props represent will serve as such reference, because not every prop used on set looked exactly the same.

I know it might be obvious for those who know about this, but let me explain a little bit for those who don't. The original chakram as we know it appeared for the very first time in the Season 1 opening episode, "Sins of the Past". From then on, it continued to be Xena's trademark weapon until the beginning of Season 5, when during the episode "Chakram" its design changed to the Yin Yang version. Across all those episodes (92, to be exact) tons of props were made, used and discharged. And the process to make the chakram (along its design itself) was altered and refined.

That's why the perfect chakram as we imagine it probably doesn't correspond to any prop. Our mental image is made up of many details from here and there, which most of the time are not altogether present in any object fit for real screen use. However, that doesn't mean we can't put together a list of the things that make a chakram be the real deal.

What makes a chakram be the perfect chakram?

> The Size: The real props are usually bigger than most replicas, so size's always a good starting point in any comparison. I took all the measures in centimeters, though, so don't trust too much the inches (I made a quick conversion, they are merely approximative).

- Outer circle: 25cm - 9,84 inches (aprox)
- Inner circle: 18,5cm - 7,30 inches (aprox)
- Blade width: 3,25cm - 1,27 inches (aprox)


> The Materials: The chakram is made of a silvery metal (normally aluminum). It should be solid, relatively heavy, and cold to the touch. Its shine/polishing degree varies, but it shouldn't be mirror-like (among other reasons, that'd be unpractical for on-screen use). The inlays are paui, New Zealand shells (green and blue) and NOT mother of pearl (white). The golden parts are ALWAYS painted - they are not made of any other metal nor a different material. Don't believe anything about alloys, it's plain gold paint, even in the most refined versions.

New Zealand paui always have green and blue hues, never white.

Contrary to what many people believe, prop chakrams seldom meet these guidelines. Many weren't even metal, as resin, foam or even wood chakrams were easier to produce and much safer to throw around. Metal chakrams were exclusively used for close-up shots.

Original Resin Prop: Normally used for stunt purposes. This is the real undamaged finish.
Photos by Otsillac.
Screen-caps: You can compare it to the previous pic and see the same rough surface.
Original Metal Prop: The look is completely different, better finished and much more elegant.
Left photo by Otsillac.

> The saw-like pattern: The saw-like pattern (also known as the jagged pattern or fire pattern, as some fans call it) is one of the most iconic visuals of the chakram, and also my personal favorite. Its design is comprised of nine golden bolts (or flames, or jags, or saw teeth... as you prefer), each with their respective paua inlay. The voids or empty spaces among the bolts look to have their same width, and almost the same shape too (only reverted). Thanks to that, each golden bolt looks equidistant and somehow perfectly balanced respect the others.

Although simple, such design is also very distinctive. The saw-like pattern is usually the easiest part to tell apart in any chakram, and thus the first thing to take into account when trying to identify any version. Every creator or replica maker that has ever done a reproduction of the chakram has left behind subtle differences and variations that give away the origins of the piece. I like to consider those "interpretations" a signature of sorts, identity marks, each unique in their own way.

In earlier seasons, mostly S1 and S2, the pattern was rougher, less defined. There were
visible "mistakes" that made the design something more organic and handmade.
Later versions, like this one (seen on Season 5) have a much
sharper design. The pattern lines are clearer and crisper.

> The greek squared pattern: The squared pattern is also equally memorable, and complements the fiery strength of the other side with its cold and stony austerity. Like its opposite, it's made up of nine golden squares, with nine paui and nine voids or empty spaces in-between them. The position of the paui exactly match the ones on the other side.

The most remarkable feature of this pattern is the nature of the squares: they are not completely regular, but slightly trapezoidal. The perimetric lines of the golden areas are extensions of the circumference's radii, and thus point towards the invisible center of the chakram. This means the upper sides of the squares (the ones closer to the outer circle) are wider than their lower sides (the adjacent to the inner circle). I know this might seem like a trivial fact, but it actually helps a lot to signalize some fakes. I've seen quite a few chakrams that instead of having these lines correctly pointing outwards have them pointing inwards.

Here you can see the lines pointing towards the center.
Look how the squares are actually trapezoids. 
Some fake chakrams show the wrong line disposition.
Ironically, the logo for official Xena merchandise sports a fake chakram.

> The Blade edge: The last characteristic to consider is the blade edge of the chakram. Now, there's a bit of a debate about this point. In theory, the chakram is sharp-edged. That's why it cuts throats (and fish!) and kills people. But then, how can it be that Gabrielle scratches her back with it, or that Xena makes it spin over her bare index finger? That should be a bloody mess! It could be that the chakram is harmless unless thrown, but then, why are they always saying just how sharp and dangerous it is?

As you can see there are quite a few contradictions, so it's up to everyone to decide which version they prefer. I myself choose to believe the chakram is razor-sharp, and those other moments are just for comical relief.

Some close-ups evidence that many props had a blunt and thick edge.
All things considered, that's logical: easier to make and to manipulate.
On the other hand, other props (above all from early seasons) do present
a very thin blade edge - not really sharp, but closer to the spirit of the chakram.

>> EDIT: You can check some first-hand photos of an aluminum crew chakram here, thanks to fellow Xenite Lara Vezzani aka Kimba.
____________________________________________________________

With that much clear, let's begin analyzing the replicas, and seeing just how accurate they are. I'll be doing the reviews in chronological order, from the first replicas that appeared many years ago (the ones from Icons Prop Replicas) to the ones being made and sold today.

- THE ICONS REPLICA

The Icons Logo, courtesy of the Icons Museum

Icons Prop Replicas was a company from Southern California specializing 1:1 scale replicas of film and television props. They started in 1995 replicating props from Star Wars, which were followed by replicas from other blockbusters like Aliens, Predator, Terminator, Independence Day, Men In Black, Jurassic Park, or Batman. They were also the first company to ever produce official chakram replicas.

As I stated a while back, Icons chakrams are rare. They were commissioned by Universal Studios in late 1996 early 1997, but were not available to the public until much later. They were for sale for about two years, until the Spring of 2000, when the company closed its doors and ceased all production. Although they had a license that covered 5000 units, they barely reached the 600, and the line was never finished.

Anyhow, they are well-know for being the "original" chakram replicas. That (along their cool rock base stand) is the reason why they are a very sought after item. But what about their accuracy?

> Versions of the Icons replica: The Icons replica went through at least three different versions, all of which deserve to be review separately.

1.- The Prototype

An Icons prototype with a later version of the rock base.

The Icons prototypes were made at the very beginning of the production process, when the company was still trying to figure out how they were going to proceed. They had been given a screen-used chakram by Universal, and it seems developing a plausible replica looked like a difficult and expensive task at first. Their earliest approach was making a white metal reproduction, much heavier, thicker and larger than their later (and better known) products. 

Quoting the Icons Museum article on the matter "(the Prototype) was cast in solid white metal at an outsourced metal casting company and then engraved, and the Abalone shell accent recesses placed. This version was then polished, stenciled with a computer rendered pattern that replicated the screen-used original and then hand painted". Also, it's important to highlight that the design lines of these first prototypes were a bit more primitive and rough than later versions (much like what happens with real props).

They made very few of them (about 10 units, of so I've heard), which were only sold when the company closed.

2.- Early Official Replica

Both sides of a typical Icons replica.
Photos by Justevan1129.

Quoting a section of their text once again "upon much examination, discussion, polite debates, heated arguments and knock-down drag-out-fights amongst Icons staff, it was decided to abandon the solid metal cast version of the Chakram and instead go with an all aluminum polished version, which proved to be much more elegant in design, lighter in weight, easier to manufacture and control quality".

In short, aluminum was a much ductile and cheaper material than white metal, and also less fragile (some of the prototypes broke by themselves due to internal imperfections in the metal). Once they had an updated design figured out, it was the best choice to make a long run.

A curiosity: Icons advertised their replicas as 1:1 scale reproductions, but it turns out they were not. The Icons replica is smaller than a prop. However, the prototype matches the real size.

3.- Late Official Replica

Some later Icons replicas have thicker and blacker contour lines.
Photos by Otsillac.

This might be just me being picky, but I've noticed some Icons replicas (above all later numbers of their limited production) show a peculiarity that earlier numbers don't share: they have much thicker and darker lines contouring the golden areas of both patterns. Why is that? I have no idea. It might be due to different people being involved in the painting process (let's remember it was manual) or due to having been made in a rush.

All in all, the fact is there are some models noticeably different, and that buying an Icons replica doesn't alone guarantee a strictly closed design. There might be visible differences, not all to our liking. Some people might prefer this variation to the others, or the other way around.

> Accuracy level: Now that we've seen the three different versions of the Icons replica, it's time to evaluate their accuracy. Just how accurate are they compared to the props and the "real chakram"? For these purposes, I'll be exclusively rating the chakram itself: I won't take into consideration any extra feature that comes with it. That comes later.

For the sake of objectivity, I'd like to give a score based on the five different points above mentioned. But to keep it simple, I'll only be explaining the rating of the Late Official Replica, given it can be considered the "worst-case scenario" in accuracy terms when getting an Icons repro.


       1. Size: Incorrect. The official replica is smaller than the original prop.
       .......................................................................................... Score: 0,5/1
       2. Material (shine & color): Incorrect. It presents a mirror-like finish.
       .......................................................................................... Score: 0,5/1
       3. Saw-like pattern: Incorrect. The lines (a) are too thick, and the bolt 
       frontal angle (b) is smaller than it should.
       ............................................................................................. Score: 0/1
       4. Squared pattern: Incorrect. The contour lines are too thick as well.
       .......................................................................................... Score: 0,5/1
       5. Blade edge: Correct. The replica has a thin blade edge.
       ............................................................................................. Score: 1/1

       ____________________________________________TOTAL: 2,5/5

I insist this is the "worst case scenario". According to these parameters, the Early Official Replica would score 3,5/5 (due to the correct thickness of the contour lines), and the Prototype would score 4/5 (due to the irregularities and rougher aspect of the patterns). Overall, we can say the Icons replica is a good chakram, though just how much will depend on the model we get.

Now let's see some of the bonuses that come with the chakram.

> Additional features: Icons replica chakram has an advantage respect some other replicas: it comes with a stand. The rock base. And it certainly is a very cool and distinctive feature.

The rock base is made of plastic, I believe, and airbrushed to look like real stone. It has a recessed area to introduce the chakram, lined in black velvet. The display's base is covered in velvet as well. It comes with a numbered plaque that shows the official Xena merchandise logo (yes, the one with a fake chakram in it lol) that marks the "front" side of the stand.

Here you can see both sides of the rock base stand.
Photos by Beatlesrock.
The replica chakram and the rock stand in their original box.
Photo by Beatlesrock.

The rock base definitely adds bonus points to the replica as a whole set. So much that, actually, most fans recognize this brand only for the display. 

> Certificates: To finish this recap of the Icons replica, and before we move to further chakram versions, let's analyze what papers or certificates came (and will still be included in some cases) with the set:

From left to right: The plaque, the COA, the Instructions and the Icons Guarantee.
Photos by Otsillac.

- The Rock Base plaque: Most likely included if you get the rock base.
- The COA: It usually comes with the set. I've seen quite a few Icons replicas being sold during the years, and most of them included the COA.
- Icons Guarantee of Quality: Not so common, but a nice detail to have. Though it serves no purpose nowadays, given Icons doesn't exist anymore.
- Chakram Instructions: Another neat addition. Mostly care and cleaning instructions. I've only seen it included a couple of times.

Papers are a funny thing for us collectors. We want to have them, but still we don't look at them twice. We store them in a drawer and rarely think of them again. But they clearly add extra value when selling or buying the item... Hence entirely up to you if you like/want them or not.

> Conclusion: Very briefly, what can I say? I like the Icons replica. In most cases it has an acceptable accuracy level, and it was the first replica of the chakram ever. That counts for something. In short, a big part of Xena's merchandise history, and an item that many fans will like to have.

***

And that's all for now! 

READ NEXT PART: Comparisons: The Original Chakram (II of IV)

Note: All photomontages by me. Original pics by collectors Beatlesrock, Justevan1129, Otsillac and me.

14 comments:

  1. That was a wonderful read...thank you...

    ReplyDelete
    Replies
    1. Thank you for the comment! :) I'm glad you liked the post! More like this coming in the near future.

      Best regards!

      Delete
  2. Vicente!!! Just loved it. I'm just like you when the subject is the chakram. I can't tell you how those differences between the chakrams bother me. I hate when the jagged side is "wrong" and when the square is like the official lohlgo one... great job! Huge hug. =] ♡♥♡♥♡♥♡♥♡♥♡♥♡♥♡♥♡♥♡

    ReplyDelete
    Replies
    1. Thanks Pow! :) It's great to see other people see it the way I do! You and me are gonna have fun when I do the Y&Y chakram comparisons haha

      Delete
  3. Is the one you did on the sword still available ? I have a Xena sword with green stones...Carpe Chakram

    ReplyDelete
    Replies
    1. Hey Carpe! What do you mean, the comparisons? If so, the link is above, but I paste it here again: http://xenaproptreasures.blogspot.com.es/2013/12/sword-comparisons.html

      Delete
  4. Very interesting read. Thank you very much. As someone who lives in heart of Xena country it is inspiring for someone so far away to put so much thought into this subject. Thank you for educating me. There are not any fakes around here that I have seen so would have no idea what was real or not from the internet. I can see I should send you some pix of my items that will be for sale after next years Xena convention which will be held here in NZ!

    ReplyDelete
    Replies
    1. Thanks for your words, they're really appreciated! The original chakram is Xena's most copied, reproduced and faked item of all times, so if my efforts result useful that's all I can ask.

      You can send me the pictures whenever you want, my mail address is in my profile info. Cheers!

      Delete
  5. Totally loving reading ur blog. The Chakram comparisons is such an awesome and interesting read. I totally love the Chakram, its such a beautiful and unique weapon especially the ying yang version.I collect Xena props and costumes and own several different Chakrams from set used to Icons to Creations. Keep up the great work!

    ReplyDelete
    Replies
    1. Hey DavesXenaFever! I'm glad you like it :) I actually used your pics in the second part to illustrate the final design of the Creation replica.

      I'll be doing the comparisons with the Yin Yang chakram once I finish with the Original. I love it as well!

      Delete
  6. Very good information...This is years after the last post, but I am going to try anyway...do you know who the original creator of the chakram is? I mean, who was the original blacksmith commissioned to make the prop for the show?

    ReplyDelete
    Replies
    1. Hello mcdrmbldr!

      As far as I know, the chakram was designed and built by Roger Murray (the head of the Propmasters department working on Xena) and his team. You can find some good extra info here:

      http://whoosh.org/issue54/imurray1.html

      Cheers!

      Delete