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Halo: Legends – Blu-Ray

Posted by Luke Brown On February - 14 - 2010

I’ve always enjoyed the Halo video games. They’re a great deal of fun, and even though the formula hasn’t changed that much over the years, I still find myself drawn to the Microsoft shooter. That said, my knowledge of the Halo universe only extends as far as the stories related to the games.

The world of Halo has plenty of depth, and with expansive novelizations and comic books revealing more about the universe’s backstory, there’s no shortage of ways to learn more about the Forerunners, Covenant, and UNSC. Until now, I’ve never had the desire to seek out more about why the world is the way it is in the Halo video game, but I’m a sucker for an anthology movie, and there was just no way I could miss out on Halo: Legends. Combining the talents of seven highly respected Japanese anime directors with the narrative direction of 343 Industries, Halo: Legends not only explores the Halo universe in an interesting way, but it manages to be captivating even for those who’ve never played the game, but love science fiction.

The film’s first two shorts, “Origins I” and “Origins II”, get things off to a bit of a slow start. These opening segments set the foundation on which everything else follows, so the way in which they present the information is much more linear and dry than the subsequent portions of Legends. Not being incredibly familiar with the lineage of the Forerunners, or how the Flood became such a huge threat to the universe, I did find both of the “Origins” sequences enlightening, but I wish there had been a bit more personality infused into the way in which they were told. Both of the “Origins” portions also suffer by being the least visually impressive of the eight shorts included. It’s not that the two “Origins” are poorly animated; it’s just that the subsequent shorts are all much more aesthetically interesting.

Following “Origins II” is a fantastically animated story about one of the first Arbiters entitled “The Duel.” The style is reminiscent of an impressionist watercolor painting come to life, and is one of the more unique approaches to animating a story you’ll see in this movie. The story itself is interesting, and not only sheds a bit more light on the origins of the lineage of the Arbiter namesake, but it also gives a bit more insight into just how radical the zealotry inside the Covenant really is. It’s interesting getting a look at one of the earlier Arbiters, since in the games you never really get an idea of their real role in the Covenant society other than the fact that they’re branded outcasts.

“Homecoming” is the first short where we get a look at the human side of the conflict, and it’s a doozy. As any fan of the Halo series can tell you, Master Chief is a member of the Spartan III program, but the games do little to explain the earlier military operations like the Spartan II program. Here, we get our first in depth look at the Spartan II initiative, and just how far the humans were willing to go in order to create super soldiers. It’s a harrowing tale, and illustrates the cost of war like we’ve never seen before in a Halo story. I don’t want to spoil the tale, but I will say that even I didn’t expect the future leaders of the world to go to the lengths they do with the Spartan II program to try and win the war.

The film’s fifth segment is a bit of a light-hearted adventure from Toei Animation aimed at younger Halo fans entitled “Odd One Out.” Centering on Spartan 1337, “Odd One” is packed with humor you don’t usually associate with the Halo franchise like bumbling Spartans, dinosaurs, and giant Covenant apes. It’s easily one of the most enjoyable stories in the lot, and even though it skews a little young, anyone with a sense of humor will get a kick out of it. The animation style even resembles that of a Saturday morning cartoon more than the others included in this anthology, and combined with the comedic relief, proves to be a pleasant change of pace to the more somber and serious segments. It also provides a nice break between the first four pieces and their narrative driven stories, and the last three segments, which are incredibly action packed.

“Prototype” starts the ball rolling for the action intensive final third of the film, and follows the last stand of a UNSC platoon as they try to evacuate a test facility that’s been overrun by the Covenant. While there is a modicum of backstory involving the platoon’s commanding officer, most of this tale revolves around incredible combat sequences involving the titular prototype Spartan suit. It’s an interesting piece, mostly for its animation and design sense. The technology at play on the battlefield may be a bit beyond what die-hard Halo fans are used to, and even a tad bit fantastical, even for this sci-fi franchise, but it never feels out of place. I was actually surprised by how naturally everything fit despite how foreign it seemed in this universe.

The final two animated tales, “The Babysitter” and “The Package,” are the most rooted in already established Halo mythology, and feature characters fans of the games will be immediately familiar with. “The Babysitter” is my favorite of the eight pieces included in Legends, and focuses its attention on a group of ODSTs, including Dutch, who have to escort a Spartan on a highly covert assassination mission. Nothing goes right from the start, and the director Toshiyuki Kanno squeezes the most out of every second he’s given to tell his story. Getting to watch ODSTs interact with a Spartan is just one of the reasons to enjoy this story, but the closing moments really solidify “The Babysitter” as one of the elite tales not just in this movie, but in the overall landscape of Halo mythology. Though the ending may be a bit too obvious from the very beginning of the tale, the way in which it’s told more than makes up for its lack of surprise.

“The Package” will be the most remembered tale, not just because of the stellar computer graphics, but also because it’s the only story to focus primarily on Master Chief himself. Shinji Aramaki is given the best material to mold his story around outside of “Homecoming,” and he gives no quarter to your senses, making sure each and every frame is packed with stimulating imagery. John-117 and a small group of Spartans are tasked with retrieving a highly sought after military secret that’s fallen into the hands of the Covenant, and the team’s assault on an entire fleet of the alien threat is nothing short of impressive. There are tons of nods to the game, including a brief first-person sequence, and by the time all is said and done, you will be picking your jaw up off the floor. The producers have clearly saved the best for last, and even though many of the other shorts are highly enjoyable, “The Package” is the reason you’re going to want to watch this movie.

As for special features, the “Making of Halo: Legends” is pretty interesting, as is the commentary featuring Frank O’Connor, the Franchise Development Director for 343 Industries. The real money though, lies in the Blu-Ray only “Halo: The Story So Far” documentary, which goes to great lengths explaining the history of the entire Halo universe up to and including Halo 3. It’s a great way to get caught up with everything that’s occurred in Halo’s future, and for someone like me who doesn’t eat, sleep, and drink Halo, it was the perfect additional feature to find out the intricate details of the start of the war and what the great mystery of the Forerunners is, and it was easy to see after watching just how expansive this world that Bungie created was.

Each of the animation studios and directors involved brought something different to the table, and like any anthology piece, there are going to be sections that are better than others. Though Halo: Legends gets off to a sluggish start, the completed work is quite good overall, and provides a good reason to get into the expanded universe of the franchise outside of the five current games. Obviously, if you’re a huge Halo nut, you’re going to check this movie out, but even if you’re not, this is still a great science fiction movie. It’s not likely that watching this will give you a bit more perspective on the Halo phenomenon, but you will get a better appreciation of how it is so many people can be drawn into a world like this. Halo: Legends is a great step in the right direction for expanding the brand, and hopefully there’s a sequel in the works. There are so many stories to tell in this universe, and I’d like to hear them all.

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