Despite the Halo franchise being a huge success for Microsoft, it never really expanded out past the video games in which it originated. Sure, there were novelizations and other books released to accompany the video games when they were released, but the long talked about film adaptation that was to be helmed by Peter Jackson eventually fell apart so thoroughly that fans shelved their hope that they’d ever see the Spartan warriors outside of the video game world. But those hopes were revived when Warner Bros. Animation announced that it would be teaming up with various animation studios to produce a seven-part direct-to-video animated feature that not only told the origins of the Halo story, but also delved into some new material, both of the comedic and action packed variety.
This 8 episode anthology of 10-15 minute length each, explores the origin and historical events of the HALO universe, and various characters inhabiting the world. Like Animatrix and Batman Gotham Knight, each of the 8 episodes will be created by a separate prominent Japanese anime producer.
I should mention from the start here that my exposure to Halo is very limited. I played the first game on the PC and a little bit of the second one, but I hadn’t touched the third. It’s not that I didn’t like the series, I just got kind of burned out on FPS and the multiplayer element of it didn’t appeal to me at the time. So while I’m not incredibly familiar with the series, I do at least know what made it such a breakout hit as that first game was truly something to behold (especially the Flood level…man that was fun).
Halo Legends is essentially the same thing as The Animatrix or Batman: Gotham Knight (as noted in the official synopsis above), with a series of different shorts by different animation studios that each tell a different story from the the Halo-verse. It starts off with Studio 4°C’s two-part Origin which tackles the vast majority of what the games (I imagine, at least—it touches on all the major bases from the first game so I’m going to imagine it went straight through to the rest) themselves covered. So even if you’re unfamiliar with the Halo lore, this two-part will definitely bring you up to speed and it is quite frankly one of the best segments on the disc…which isn’t really all that good to say this early on as we still got six others to go through.
Production I.G. brings “The Duel” up next and that one focuses on two separate stories at once. It’s a neat little way of telling the stories with two similar-yet-not-so-similar situations going on at once. Sadly this short is the first sign that the rest of the shorts won’t be so user friendly. There’s a kind of “you have to a fan to really enjoy this” air about this short and the rest continue on that way. Which is absolutely fine—I’m all for fans getting more of what they love, but if you aren’t really comfortable with the Halo-mythos after the two-part “Origins” intro, you’ll either find yourself bored or simply disinterested in what goes on with the rest of these.
If the sudden dip into fandom with “The Duel” didn’t throw you then Toei Animation’s “Odd One Out” definitely will. There’s an incredibly comedic twist brought upon the segments with this one and anyone who wasn’t already drawn into Legends at this point will likely be thrown out of it with great intensity. It’s a really goofy segment and is really the only beacon of light in an otherwise dark collection of animation, but I question whether such brevity was even really required. It’s such a strange segment and the title is certainly more than apt…but since there’s three left it really didn’t faze me much by the time the next segment started up.
Studio Bones’ “Prototype,” Studio 4°C’s “The Babysitter, and Casio Entertainment’s “The Package” round out the rest of the collection with a much closer feel to the video games than we got from the previous shorts. The action is ramped up and there’s a ton of gunplay, in-field combat, and even some airborne action to pile it all on at the end. “The Package” was almost too brief in story as it truly did feel like you were just watching a video of gameplay from one of the games themselves. It’s still entertaining and the trio are definitely more akin to what I was expecting from this collection going into it.
Overall I’m not a diehard fan of the franchise by any means and as previously mentioned my exposure to it was nearly zilch. But I did still enjoy this collection of shorts, although that may have had more to do with my general enjoyment of watching absolutely gorgeous animation from some of the top animation studios in the world for an hour and a half. In the end this is a Recommended collection for fans of the series or of anime in general, but those who are not familiar with either may not even find it worthwhile to rent it as it’s relatively closed off in terms of accessibility to those not already at least mildly familiar with the series.
Warner tosses Halo Legends onto Blu-ray with a standard Elite Blu-ray case housed underneath a reflective foil/embossed slipcover. Inside the case are the usual assortment, a Blu-ray for the film and a disc containing the digital copy as well as inserts containing the digital copy code and a sheet telling you to keep your player’s firmware up-to-date. It actually didn’t even dawn on me until I was waiting for the disc to load that I was going to be watching this on my PS3…which made me chuckle as no doubt a few hardcore Xbox 360 users no doubt will condemn for using a PS3 to enjoy some Halo content.
And enjoy it I did! Of course I enjoyed most of the segments themselves, but it was actually the VC-1 encoded transfer that brought me the most enjoyment. I will tell you that this is pretty much a nearly flawless picture. 99% of the time you will be drooling at the absolutely stunning clarity and detail of the animation from start to finish. There are some instances of aliasing in some of the segments, however, that made the picture appear less than pristine when being tossed onto a big LCD or plasma screen. Also present are a few instances of banding, but I consider that more a limitation of the animation and not really anything to do with the transfer. So while there are issues with the transfer, they’re so minor and you’ll be so focused on the overall clarity, the intensity of the colors, and the deepness of the blacks that you won’t really care.
Next up is the sure-to-be fantastic audio mix for the film and….crap. Warner Bros. once again tosses a DD5.1 track as the sole source of entertainment on this film. For whatever idiotic and stupid reason they had, this production features no lossless audio and like the DC Universe titles that are plagued with the same fate I find myself lamenting the giant wasted opportunity that the lack of a TrueHD track has brought upon this title. I mean there is a seriously hardcore bit of action animation going on towards the end of this production and to have it in compressed DD5.1, as great as it is, is really almost a waste of time. Why they would slap this on a 50gb disc and leave out the second most important component of a Blu-ray out, I don’t know. Nor do I know why they continue to do this on their animated releases that come straight to DVD/Blu-ray. As is the DD5.1 track is good, with a decent surround spread and some LFE output, but I’ve heard the differences between DD and TrueHD tracks on animated productions before and like the bump in quality the video receives because of the Blu-ray format, the audio upgrade is almost as important. I mean it’s not like you don’t have an uncompressed master sitting around already, it…just boggles the mind.
Thankfully there is a heavy dosage of extras, including:
Audio Commentary with director Frank O’Connor and producer Joseph Chou
The Making of Halo Legends (54:49, 1080i)
Gaming Evolved (21:46, 1080i)
The Story So Far (23:56, 1080i)
As a fan and reviewer of the DC Universe titles (of which there is a trailer for Justice League: Crisis on Two Earths on this disc too), I have to say I am both impressed and pissed off at the selection. Warner doesn’t give those titles nearly the spread that this title’s received, as they’ve recently even cut out commentaries for the thing. Here we get a full-length commentary that covers a myriad of bases that made up the production of the film and then on top of that there was an actual making-of documentary that lasted nearly an hour. An hour. You know how long the making-of for the DC Universe titles lasted? Zero minutes, because there weren’t any for any of the films (well there was some for Superman: Doomsday when that got re-released, but still…). So kudos to Warner for providing such a healthy spread for fans (the other two featurettes are definitely worth checking out as well, as they talk about the video game series as well as the current story that the games are following…although most of that was covered in Origins too), but at the same time as a really big fan of the DC Universe titles I just feel kind of ripped off now. Although DC Universe titles don’t get TrueHD tracks either, so it’s not like Warner’s exactly playing favorites here. Microsoft/whoever else helped fund this production probably just wanted and paid for more thorough extras.
In any case this is a Recommended release. Again, you have to be a fan of the series or of anime/animation in general, but if you follow under those criteria you should be pretty entertained by this. Although how an M-rated series spawned a PG-13 set of animated films, I’m not sure. Seems kind of backwards…
Halo Legends arrives on DVD and Blu-ray on February 16th.