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Submitted on
September 1, 2013
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Aug 31, 2013, 1:22:29 PM
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Assault Phaser: Playmates vs. Copperhead (2) by galaxy1701d Assault Phaser: Playmates vs. Copperhead (2) by galaxy1701d
This is "Part 2" of the comparison between the late 1990's Playmates Toys version of the Assault or "Burning" Phaser seen in Star Trek V/VI and the "Copperhead Special" variant created for me by Casey Sullivan of Triple-Fiction Productions, a fan film and propmaking company based in Florida.

The Playmates Toys version of the prop, which I bought from eBay for only $32.00 (that's a steal for one of these), was never made in very large quantities even when it first came out. When I was a child, I remember only ever seeing one of them on the shelf at Toys R' Us - and, of course, my parents wouldn't let me have it. These days, this popular design is so rare - and coveted - that it tends to start bid wars on eBay the moment a listing pops up.

The toy-prop is not full-sized. It's probably only about 2/3 the size of the real prop, which was built from prop versions of the Beretta M93R machine pistol and still retains parts of the frame and controls from the 20th century handgun whose functions as "Phaser components" were not and still haven't been fully explained. Therefore, it looks notably smaller than the Copperhead Special, and does not feel quite right in my hand as it's a bit too small, causing me to grip the very top part of the detachable "magazine" (the battery compartment) when holding the prop.

However, it does have some "functionality." The Playmates toy has an opening slide (although there is no Phaser 1 inside that can be removed). Two "firing modes" can be selected. One triggers a single burst, the other a triple-burst. When the trigger is pushed, the prefire chamber, barrel tip and force setting indicator on the rear of the weapon all light up (this indicator is replaced by a green decal sticker on the "Copperhead Special" stunt prop). Even the battery cover could be counted as "functional" because the real prop used a magazine-like power cell that dropped like the magazine of a real-life handgun. Unfortunately, it doesn't have a belt clip and therefore I have to find a way to holster it when I'm carrying it around (the real ones were worn by threading their handles through loops attached to an actor's uniform, usually somewhere on the belt).

On the other hand, the "Copperhead Special" is a totally unique prop. It is a hardwood piece, so it has much more weight and feels far more solid than the Playmates toy, which is largely hollow - but it is a "stunt" or "dummy" prop, which means that it's pretty much entirely solid wood and has no functionality whatsoever. It's proportionally larger than the Playmates prop, but does not really look like it's bigger at first glance because part of the simplification that went into this design involved eliminating the oversized bottom part of the magazine that extended past the bottom of the handgrip, consequently reducing a good portion of the prop's height.

The redesigned color scheme, including silver highlights on all control surfaces and exposed knobs, was intended to make these details - and the prop's "layered" texturing - stand out on camera and give the piece a more "dynamic" appearance compared with the plain flat black of the Playmates toy and the real prop, which tends to drown out all of the details on the piece. Furthermore, the "Copperhead Special" has no need of a holster. I can easily carry it on my belt because it's got a belt clip attached to the right side of the weapon by two screws.
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I'm sitting here wondering if maybe the toy was just made to be more comfortable in smaller hands.  I wonder what ages they were targetting.  Surely fans of all ages would want one though.
Trust me, fans of all ages do want the Playmates Assault Phaser simply because of how rare it was.  It was never made in large quantities, so whenever one pops up on eBay, it tends to start a vicious bid war and so, even if they don't have the packaging or the included paperwork, they often sell for anywhere from $60 to $80, shipping included.  I was lucky to nab mine from a Buy-It-Now listing (so no bid wars) at only $32.00 plus shipping.  I couldn't believe it and to this day I'm still convinced that seller didn't know the true value of what they were parting with.  I've only used my Assault Phaser once, at Ichibancon 2012.

As for the purpose of the Playmates toy's scaling?  Most people who have the toy, myself included, actually think your idea is exactly what happened.  Although the Playmates toy/props are frequently used at conventions and photo shoots to this day, because they are readily available, often not too expensive and pretty durable, they are still just that - toys.  Playmates was making these toys to sell to kids, and so they probably downscaled the massive Assault Phaser prop to fit better in a child's hand.  It doesn't work quite that well in my 26-year-old hands, though. =(
Yeah, I'm glad you were able to get that.  Sometimes sellers don't know the value of things.  Sometimes they sell so many kinds of different products too that they don't always have time to learn.  Maybe the guy got the phaser  in a big lot of stuff and said to himself "Toy gun.  Some kid might want this.  Bet this retails for about $32 at Toys R Us" :-D
As for the prop not having "functionality", that's unfortunate, as I'd suspect that some functionality would handy in a real movie prop (for example lights that might light up on tricorders and communicators and stuff) as _everything_ is not going to be added later by the FX department (some things would just be done better as part of the prop I would think)....  Of course if a person is just going to walk around a science fiction convention with one on their belt (for example) and never actually try to "fire" the weapon ("I think I was in the autograph line ahead of you buddy :-D"), then a lot less "functionality" is actually needed.  To have anything light up on a gun when not actually in use after all is just not something The Federation would do.  After all, why expend power on a device that isn't currently in use? :-) ... A communicator, on the other hand, I'd expect to be more like a cellphone.  I might see a flashing (or perhaps not) light maybe to indicate that the device is "even on" on something.
With regard to functionality, that's a really intriguing comment because there are often big differences between "hero" and "stunt" props as "hero" props are used for close-up shots and frequently have fully functional features - usually mechanical features like the TOS Phaser's extending barrel and the lifting panel on the P1.

As for the Assault Phaser, from what references we've got, the original props did have red lights installed in the emitter tips, but those had a practical purpose as they showed the SFX people where to put the "Phaser beam" in post-production.  Other than that, the "hero" Assault Phasers also had opening slides and their magazines/power cells could clip in and drop out.  The props were actually heavily modified from prop Beretta M93R machine pistols, so I can only imagine that there may have been a number of greeblies that had function on the original Beretta handguns but no longer obviously did anything on the Phaser.  I wonder if they still did anything when pushed or toggled after they were "carried over" from the Beretta to the Assault Phaser props.
Fascinating.  Makes sense to me.  You got a cast of say 8 crewmembers in a planet scene and all of them need to have their "standard issue" phasers on their belts, but all of them don't need to actually work.  It's undoubtedly more expensive to make a "hero" prop, so as you are implying, there's no reason for most of these phasers to do anything at all :-D  ... It's not like they are suddenly going to be attacked by extra additional Klingons that weren't in the original script :-D
That's right.  Also, what about scenes where some super-strong being is shown crushing a Phaser, or if a Phaser needs to get destroyed for some other reason?  You can't wreck a Hero, they're way too expensive.  If you actually look at most of of the preserved "Midgrade" or "Stunt" TOS Phasers, you'll find that the Stunt ones look so awful that even the cheapest toy Phasers we have today would still be far better quality than the stunt prop - but the stunt prop wasn't seen up close, and chances are you, as a viewer, couldn't tell the difference on screen - so it still did its job while saving the film crew money.
Yeah... That's true.  The prop (or even uniforms) doesn't need to be anymore detailed than what the camera will capture.
I could see a toy company getting lots of flack for selling two sizes of a gun toy cause having a "kids size" specifically identified as such would be like wearing a big sign that says "We are encouraging kids that guns are cool", when in effect this is exactly what they are doing anyway :-D
Here's the other thing about that.  I can't believe that they would even expect to fool anyone into thinking that kids were going to be buying - or having their parents buy - Assault Phaser toy props for themselves.  ST:VI came out in 1991 and ST:V came out in 1989, and the Assault Phaser toy-prop wasn't produced until about 1997 or so.  Futhermore, "Star Trek" has never been much of a kid's franchise unless we are either talking about the short-lived cartoon (TAS) or some really, *really* nerdy kids, like me (I was a 4-year-old Trekkie).  I'm pretty sure almost everybody who bought one of those when they actually did come out was an adult collector. =P
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