Halo Legends Blu-ray ReviewFebruary 15, 2010
The Halo franchise follows in the footsteps of The Matrix with Halo Legends, a collection of short stories told within the Halo-verse by the top animation studios in Japan. It is a journey that no fan of the Halo Xbox 360 games should miss, but one uninitiated movie fans will be dumbfounded by.
Halo Legends is broken into seven stories that begin with 'Origins,' the only two-part entry in the batch. 'Origins' begins shortly after the events of Halo 3 with Cortana filling in a dormant Master Chief about the creation of the Halos and the war with the Covenant that followed. The Forerunners make their visual debut here in a simplistic yet elegant animation style and a lot of new information about the Halo rings is presented. By its conclusion, both parts of 'Origins' feel like a crib notes version of the entire Halo mythology but will surely spark debate amongst hardcore Halo fans for its glossing over of some key events and revelations in others.
'The Duel' is a throwback to old Samurai movies where an Arbiter chooses family over war only to see his wife murdered and subsequently seek revenge. It is an important story in the Halo lore for explaining why the 'Arbiter' name is frowned upon during the Halo games and also for showing a 'human' side to the Covenant enemy. The beautifully rendered animation presents itself as a cross between watercolor and stained glass making it the most visually unique story to watch.
Focus shifts to the Spartans in 'Homecoming,' a similarly-themed tragic and emotional journey as in 'The Duel' but told from the opposite side of the war. A Spartan mask comes off to reveal a female and through flashbacks we learn about how Spartans are chosen and the difficult life they must lead. It is a somber story that shares parallels with The Last Starfighter, only without the happy expected ending.
'Odd One Out' is literally the odd duck in Halo Legends with a story that veers into goofy comedy, animation style and direction seen in Dragonball Z. It is a deliberately fluffy story amongst its emotionally driven companions that follows Spartan 1337 as he falls out of a drop ship and lands on a planet with goofy children, their pet dinosaur and a Covenant Brute to deal with. On one hand 'Odd One Out' helps lighten the mood after two straight depressing stories, but on the other it breaks the continuity and feels far removed from the exploits of Master Chief.
Halo Legends gets serious and somewhat depressing again in 'Prototype,' the story of a UNSC soldier named ghost whose past is marred by death and emotionless act and present lies within manning massive prototype exoskeleton armor to take on a Covenant assault by himself. The action builds to a huge firefight climax, but a series of eerie flashbacks dictate only one logical conclusion that can play out.
'Babysitter' is my least favorite story despite the unusual pairing ODST troops with a Spartan warrior for an assassination mission. It sets up a nice rivalry between the arrogant ODST and understated Spartan, but the payoff circling back to the opening scene lacks the emotional punch of the other stories.
The fan favorite in Halo Legends will undoubtedly be 'The Package,' a story designed for adrenaline first and story distant last. Master Chief steps into a starring role alongside a squad of Spartans for a highly dangerous mission to extract a package from a large Covenant fleet. High quality CGI-animation makes Master Chief and the Covenant look better than they ever have as Spartans zoom around on Booster Frames (i.e. space hot rods), massive ships break apart and Covenant soldiers learn the hard way why Spartans are to be feared. 'The Package' also includes a nice nod to the Halo games with a couple FPS HUD perspective shots mixed into the action as a perfect signoff for Halo Legends and reminder to go play the games again.
Halo Legends on Blu-ray is presented in a squeaky clean 1.85:1 framed 1080p transfer. Being entirely animated the expectation is for excellence in high definition. But segments like The Duel with stylized animation like looking through a smoked glass shower door offer opportunities for the transfer to stumble. Final affirmation of the strong overall transfer comes from The Package where a manic space battle full of camera movement and explosions is beautiful to behold.
While Halo Legends benefits greatly from high definition video on Blu-ray, the audio is no better than what is available on the DVD version. Warner chose to stick with a 5.1 Dolby Digital lossy track rather than bump up to Dolby TrueHD or DTS-HD Master Audio. The result is gunfire and explosions that simply cannot reach as deep or far as a lossless track can, made more evident for me having watched many consecutive Blu-ray titles prior with lossless audio.
One reason Warner might have chosen Dolby Digital audio is to cram in some high definition bonus features rather than utilize a second disc. All the included features are smart and informative supplements to the film even casual Halo fans will find hard to turn off once entering.
BD Exclusive: Halo: Gaming Evolved (21:46, HD) – Game journalists and developers reminisce about their first experience with Halo and how it has affected gaming since its release. This segues into how Halo has branched off from its original game into other forms of media, including Halo Legends. It is mostly interview snippets but immensely informative for Halo followers, especially when predictions are made about where Halo might be headed in the future.
The irony of this featurette being exclusive to Blu-ray is that it is playable on Playstation 3 and not Xbox 360.
Halo: The Story So Far (23:56, HD) – The first two segments of Halo Legends touches upon the history of the Forerunners and Halo, but this featurette goes much further to take the story from its earliest beginnings through to the completion of Halo 3. Imagine a Wiki page about Halo animated with narrators and that is what is offered here. It is well worth watching for Halo veterans and rooks that might have been confused by the story as presented in the Halo games.
The Making of Halo Legends -Nearly an hour's worth of making-of material spread across each of the Halo Legends segments. There are some cool clues dropped about the franchise which watching these help identify, but don't fully explain. Each making-of piece can be watched individually or as a whole with the rest.
Audio Commentaries - If The Making of Halo Legends is not technical or detailed enough for you, Halo Franchise Development Director Frank O'Connor and Halo Legends Producer Joseph Chou offer commentary across all the Halo Legends segments. They discuss how each segment began as an idea, was developed and evolved, and finally executed into the final product. They can be a little preachy with praise but also offer a lot of technical information and their personal insight into why decisions were made.
Also included is the first Halo Reach Teaser Trailer and a standard definition trailer for Justice League: Crisis on Two Earths.
Halo Legends is not the most even journey through the Halo-verse but it is must-see entertainment for its audience: the fans. 'Package' alone is worth the price of admission, while several other stories digging into the past of Spartans, the Covenant and even Forerunners are sure to peak interest. If nothing else, Halo Legends should quench the desire for more Halo before Reach is released later this year.
- Dan Bradley
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February 09, 2010
5.1 Dolby Digital