In the beginning, there was 'The Animatrix,' and it was good (but not great). Then came the animated tie-in to 'The Dark Knight' from the same studio, with 'Batman: Gotham Knight,' which soared to the same heights, but fell to the bottom of the sea like Icarus. Apparently Warner felt another animated anthology from a variety of animation studios/factories and directors would be a good idea, and as such, 'Halo Legends' is born.
Adapted from the game series that put the Microsoft console family on the map, this collection of "seven stories from the heart of the 'Halo'® universe" is hardly original, and as such, hardly awe-inspiring or riveting. It's like anime for the ADHD crowd, which may very well define the hardcore 'Halo' audience.
After a completely unnecessary introductory/title sequence that shows tiny snippets of each segment to come, the varying tales from the world of 'Halo' come blaring at a rapid clip. Tales of the universe, concerning human proliferation and colonization of other planets, the Covenant, and the Flood are to be found early to put the viewer into the world, even if they're not a fan. From such historical/documentorial settings come duels between warriors, tales of Spartans and their sacrifices, war between species, prejudices between members on the same side, and daring attempts by the heroes on both sides of the battle as seven snippets dream to enrapture their viewers into a whole new universe.
With seven different directors and production teams (anime studios) helming these seven tales (though one is two part), continuity and regularity are as missing as they were on past efforts in this vein. As such, tones change completely, drastically, and abruptly, while the styles of animation differ tremendously between stories. Results are also varied.
Hideki Futamura handles 'Origins I' and 'Origins II,' the tales that set the viewer into the world, with an expansive history crammed into less than thirty minutes. There is no real point being pushed, no mood or theme, as these are more informative tales, which show the characteristics of the species, so that they make more sense when they get their own features. In a sense, these bits are mirror images of 'The Second Renaissance' segments of 'The Animatrix,' and are enjoyable, even if they lack a distinct attitude.
'The Duel,' directed by Hiroshi Yamazaki, is easily the best short in the show, and the first to portray a real story. This tale of close quarters combat is a transplant of samurai tradition and legend into a science fiction world, where corruption and honor clash. With a thick granulated stylization that is impossible to ignore, this feature is also the most visually appealing and engrossing, with a story that would work well as a full length feature or a miniature as it is shown. Almost as powerful as 'The Duel' is 'Homecoming,' a tale by Koji Sawai that puts the past lives of the men and women in the Spartan suits to the forefront, unveiling the hidden human aspects of the usually faceless warriors, showing those who could not handle the sacrifices it took to take it to the next level. Amazingly, 'Homecoming' has a nice sense of sadness to it, in its portrayal of innocence lost, and the extreme deceptions made for appearance's sake.
'Odd One Out,' from Daisuke Nishio and Toei Animation, is just what the name implies. A stark contrast to the serious nature shown before, this short attempts to fuse the 'Halo' universe with a sense of comic relief, and fails, miserably. I don't mind seeing Spartans co-mingling with dinosaurs or electric apes, but the segment feels like a horrific rip off of the 'Dragon Ball' universe, so out of place that it's possible that only character designs were lifted and used in this filler piece. Garbage, utter garbage. 'Prototype,' from Yasushi Muraki, gives the viewer a sense of urgency and loss in the war between the humans and the Covenant, with government bureaucracy entangling and complicating necessity and survival mechanisms. This story of redemption and personal demons is neither hit or miss, as it has a great story element, that may have worked for a few minutes, but was stretched out too far for its own good.
'The Babysitter' (by Toshiyuki Kanno) is the only tale involving the relationship between varying factions on the same side of the war, as Spartans and the ODST (Orbital Drop Shock Troopers) have to overcome prejudice and jealousy to perform a vital mission together. This story is somewhat stereotypical, in that it has the classic message of learning about oneself through others, as the ODST members must forget the past and accept their roles, even as backups, in this mission, and life itself. 'The Package' wraps up this package in a very rushed and sloppy fashion, as Master Chief must helm a group of Spartans in recovering a package from the Covenant ships in a limited window of time. While this short is the only one to feature any FPS (first person shooter) elements, a mainstay of the 'Halo' gaming series, it is nothing more, and nothing less, than a computer animated onslaught. There is no real story, just action, action, explosions, and action.
As a whole, 'Halo Legends' falls a hair flat, as it is only as strong as its weakest element, and damn are there some weak links in this chain. The mix can be frustrating at times, with flirtations of promise being deluged by uninteresting stories or bad storytelling. As is the case with any of these animated compilations, it will strike some fancies more than others, but the conversations it can bring up, in discussing one's favorite or least favorite segment, can be more valuable than the film itself, which is twenty minutes too long, a few years too late, and a few stories too awful.
The Disc: Vital Stats
'Halo Legends' comes to Blu-ray on a BD50 disc from Warner Bros (in other words, it is more than likely region free). There are two trailers before the menu: 'Justice League: Crisis on Two Earths,' and the video game 'Halo: Reach.' That's right, there's a menu, and no automatic play prompt when inserting this disc. Warner, you've done us a solid. The main menu allows viewers to play the film as a whole, or select it from its eight portions.
There are a few retailer exclusives for 'Halo Legends,' with Best Buy offering the film in a steelbook, while Target sells it with a "collectible" film cell. Those who go the basic route can enjoy the embossed and foiled slipcover.
'Halo Legends' is presented with a VC-1 1080p encode that reflects the material appropriately: varying and ever changing. The constant change in aesthetics in the film (or collection of shorts, however you view 'Halo Legends') makes some determinations difficult, but there are strengths and weaknesses that stay constant throughout the program.
Colors are bold, powerful, incredibly ranging, and vibrant, with the only dull moments being obvious choices in production for mood. The hyper-stylization in some segments (particularly 'The Duel') make grading the video a near impossibility since the tiles and colors shift, but are meant to, and with the tiny fragments, any visual error would be masked. There are also many moments with obvious color bleeding that is intentional, which can distract from any time that may not have been. That said, in the more traditional animated sequences, color banding can be a massive distraction, while there were some occasional bits of artifacting that were troubling, particularly in the opening of 'Prototype.' Aliasing can be a bit of a problem, as well, as solid lines can at times never appear straight, while some lines pulse or lightly shimmer with even the slightest pan. Detail is amazing, particularly in computer generated settings, and the above list of technical issues does not take too much away from the visual appeal of this film. It's not a headshot, or a one shot one kill situation, but this transfer can win most any match it is put in.
Anyone who has played a single FPS game on the PSN or XBox Live should not be bothered by the following outburst: What the hell was Warner thinking in the audio department?!! They need to get their shit together, and fast. That, or they should just STFU and GTFO.
Anyway, the above means I'm not too happy. Warner Bros "blesses" 'Halo Legends' with a wide assortment of Dolby Digital 5.1 tracks (and a very, very wide range of subtitle tracks), with not a single lossless mix to be found. The track itself isn't horrible by any means, but this practice is a humongous step backwards (one that they've repeated again with the new 'Justice League' feature...), and does not sit well with me one bit.
The lossy track does sport clear dialogue, with a nice amount of rear presence, but the entire experience feels stunted, and doesn't even come close to enveloping the viewer in the film. There is little high range to speak of, while the low end is obviously restrained like Hannibal Lecter in his straight jacket and mask. This film should rumble the entire room, possibly house, with world-changing explosions and vehicle engine roars and takeoffs. Instead, it's somewhat like Droopy trying to do the MGM lion roar. Movement feels incredibly clunky at first, but improves in fluidity and frequency as the program wears on. The score can occasionally be overpowered, growing very faint, but it does the job. I was shocked more than anything at the lack of gunfire movement, but the amount of localized effects in the latter half of the film make up for it.
Hey Xbox owners, 'Halo' just came to the PS3. Where is your god now?!?
Trolling aside, PS3 and Blu-ray owners didn't exactly get something all that special when they wrestled 'Halo Legends' away from the Microsoft console. The show is about on par with the other animated features of this sort, with some high peaks and very low valleys creating an uneven experience. The video is quite nice, but the audio is last-gen, and the extras wear thin, and wear pretentious. This title may be worth a purchase, but it's aimed mostly at Xbox owners.