It’s actually kind of surprising that the Halo franchise has been bereft of a film adaptation at this point; considering the massive amount of acclaim the series has garnered, bringing it to the screen, big or small, has been a curious process. A few years back, it looked as if Halo was making definite strides towards a movie: Peter Jackson was tied to the project with promising newcomer Neill Blomkamp tapped to direct. A short film directed by Blomkamp surfaced around E3 2007 depicting a battle between human soldiers and Covenant troops and it was widely praised. After that, though, the Halo film got caught in development hell and it has since been canceled.
The next mention of a cinematic Halo came at ComicCon 2009 where Microsoft announced the creation of 343 Industries, an internal company focused solely on the management of the Halo IP. With former Bungie veteran Frank O’Conner leading the newly formed team, 343 showed off a trailer for Halo: Legends, a collaborative effort with several renowned Anime companies.
Comprised of seven short films, all about ten minutes in length, Legends promised to give an in-depth look at snippets of the Halo universe, including a peek at the oft-mention but curiously absent Forerunners, the race that built the titular ring-shaped space stations of the series. A couple of the shorts were released as a preview on the X-Box LIVE exclusive Halo Waypoint, with the full retail version hitting stores on February 16. Now that the whole product it out in the wild, how does it stand up?
The answer is, unfortunately, not that well. While Anime is often given a fair bit of grief over here in North America, there’s no denying that there are some worthwhile Anime productions like Ghost in the Shell, Cowboy Bebop or Akira. Even though a couple of the studios involved in Legends are responsible for some of the most popular Anime films of all time, the process of transitioning Halo into a animated form seemed to be too tough of a task for these companies.
The main problem with the shorts is that none of the stories are interesting or add anything significant to Halo lore. They all feature cast-off characters solely designed, it seems, to tell a bland story and then promptly be killed at the end of it to ensure that their exploits don’t muck up the established Halo setting too much. More than that, all the characters are very typical of Anime; mostly generic, angsty protagonists who either complain too much and too loudly or are just plain unlikeable. The only character that you might not feel dismissive of is SPARTAN-1337, a non-canon protagonist who comes off more like Deadpool from Marvel Comics shoved into a suit of Mjolnir armor. He’s supposed to be silly and irrelevant, however, so it’s kind of disappointing that he isn’t considered a part of the mythos. It’s also sad that the archetypes chosen for the lead roles are sort of becoming rote for pieces of Halo media: the ODST who isn’t a team player but learns a valuable lesson, the Spartan who resents what the UNSC did to them, and the marine who comes to value humanity through hardship.
Even the stories that aren’t about humanity’s struggle during the war come off as either boring or suffer from a severe lack of exposition which is sure to disappoint many a Halo fan. Origins, the two-part re-telling of the history of the Haloverse should have been an exciting affair for rabid fans and the casually curious; instead, it’s a dry cliff notes version of what anyone purchasing this movie probably already knows. The Forerunners build the Halo rings to combat the Flood, they both disappear, humans fight aliens until the Covenant unwittingly releases the Flood and the UNSC teams up with the Elites to stop it. While it is accompanied by some eye-catching backgrounds, listening to Cortana do a bland overview is hardly a compelling tale.
Another area where Halo Legends suffers is sound design: with ten years of audio files and other pieces of auditory goodness people associate with Halo available to them, the various studios decided to use their own sound effects for their shorts and the result is something that feels like a quick sci-fi rush job with a coat of Halo paint slapped on. By this point I’m sure we’ve all heard the clatter of the ubiquitous assault rifle or the whine of plasma weapons, so stripping the recognizable sounds away from something Halo creates a disconnect that can’t be bridged. Voice acting also suffers and, when paired with the classic Anime problem of poor lip-synching, it becomes almost unbearable. The vignettes do crib some of Martin O’ Donnell & Michael Salvatori’s excellent soundtrack work, but its uses are few and far between.
One would think that the action would be main saving grace of Legends, and it’s here too that the film falls short of something that is synonymous with Halo. The Package, a computer animated story about Master Chief raiding a Covenant fleet should have been the stand-out piece for the slam-bang action endemic to the series; instead it’s a tiresome sprint down a long corridor which feels more like a gaudy Doom than anything else. The short titled Prototype probably has the most cohesive visual designed, but the firefights in the short are punctuated with bright strobe lights and blurry camera shots. Watching the two together hurts the eyes more than it entertains, which is unfortunate; the visual design is so strong in comparison to the other films that it’s a shame it gets lost in extraneous special effects.
This is a less than stellar first attempt from 343 Industries, and will definitely attach a stigma to any Halo product associated with them in the future. I doubt that 343 will try to go the animated route again anytime soon, but if they do I’m sure they’ll find that people are less willing to give something like this a try. Once bitten, twice shy I think the saying goes. Did any of you check out Halo: Legends, and if you did, what did you think? Are you as down on it as I am? Are any of you going to view it out of morbid curiosity?
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