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STUDIO: Warner Home Video

MSRP: $19.98

RATED: Unrated

RUNNING TIME: 120 minutes

SPECIAL FEATURES:

•Commentary track

•Trailers


The Pitch

The Halomatrix! The Animalo! In beatific Haloscope!

The Humans

Directors: Shinji Aramaki (segment “The Package”), Hideki Futamura (segment “Origins”), Toshiyuki Kanno (segment “The Babysitter”), Tomoki Kyôda (segment “Prototype”), Kôichi Mashimo (segment “Homecoming”), Yasushi Muraki (segment “Prototype”), Daisuke Nishio (segment “Odd One Out”), Frank O’Connor (creative director), Mamoru Oshii (creative director), (segment “The Duel”), Koji Sawai (segment “Homecoming”), Keiichi Sugiyama (co-director), (segment “Origins II”), Takahiro Tanaka (co-director), (segment “Origins”), Hiroshi Yamazaki (segment “The Duel”)

Writers: Hiroyuki Kawasaki (segment “Homecoming”), Ryan Morris (segment “The Package), Naruki Nagakawa (segment “The Package”), Daisuke Nishio (segment “Odd One Out”), Frank O’Connor, Dai Sato (segment “The Package”), Megumi Shimizu (segment “Odd One Out”), Eiji Umehara (segment “The Duel”), Hiroshi Yamazaki (segment “The Duel”)


The Nutshell

The theatrical Halo movie fell through, so as a stopgap Microsoft produced an anime anthology of shorts. Seven different original stories, all set in the world of Halo.

The Lowdown

Full disclosure: I went into Halo Legends knowing almost nothing about
the universe of Halo. True, I’d whittled away endless ill-spent hours
one summer at a friend’s house some years ago playing Halo 2 in
4-player splitscreen mode, but in multiplayer mode you learn very
little about the world of Halo other than what the walls, floors and
guns look like. I went into this as a fan of science fiction cinema
(both the pulpy and arthouse ends of the spectrum) and animation (I
like Japanese anime, though for my money Czech animation, Trnka, Barta,
Svankmajer and Zeman, that’s the team to beat.) With that perspective
in mind, Halo Legends is the first good movie based on a videogame I’ve
ever seen.

Essentially, this is The Animatrix for the Halo
universe.  A series of short animated films set in this world; most are
told on a small, intimate scale, but a few are told on a grand, epic
scale. A variety of visual styles and animation techniques are employed
(though not as wide a variety as I’d like.) Technically speaking, the
animation looks terrific.  They’ve brought in some big names like
Mamoru Oshii (Ghost in the Shell 1 & 2) and Shinji Aramaki (the
Appleseed movies; he’s not a great filmmaker, but he certainly knows
his way around the technical end of computer animation), and top notch
studios like Studio 4ºC and Production I.G.; the former produced an
Animatrix short titled Beyond and a little-known feature film called
Mind Game (one of my favorite anime films of all time; I wish it was
more well known), and the latter produced Ghost in the Shell: S.A.C.
and the animated sequence for Kill Bill.



Tentacles! This anthology has something for anime fans of all stripes.


Origins

The
first short is for ignorant dullards like me, to bring us up to speed. Like The Animatrix‘s “The
Second Renaissance
,” Origins is a two-part narrated “brief history of
Halo,” starting with the Forerunners in the first part, and humanity’s
entrance into the galaxy in the second part. Two different visual
styles are employed; part one uses a style reminiscent of that of
French comic artist Moebius; part two uses a more slick style, with a
painterly look reminiscent of some of the more well-produced modern
Japanese animation. Since they’re two different epochs in the Halo
timeline, it was definitely a good idea to give the first and second
halves each a different look. It’s interesting seeing a film with such
a macroscopic narrative perspective (like a history textbook); it’s
more interesting that it actually works. It makes me think that maybe
an animated adaptation of Olaf Stapledon’s Star Maker might not be such
a bad idea.



The Covenant Elites were the most feared chorus line in the galaxy.


The Duel

This is the only short to actually
employ a notably unusual animation style. I do wish there was more
experimenting with style among the various shorts, but unfortunately the
different style doesn’t work in The Duel. The film is about an Arbiter
named Fal who apostatizes from the Covenant religion. The Prophets
order him put to death. Essentially, the film unfolds like a samurai
movie. The visual style is kind of blurry and impressionistic,
intending to imitate a watercolor painting. The problem is that they’ve
basically put a glazed-looking “watercolor filter” over 3D CGI
animation. They’re trying to make a 3D animation style ape a 2D art
style. In some shots it’s very striking, and does indeed look like a
painting, but whenever a character makes 3D Z-axis movement in the
frame the feeling is lost, and it’s like you’re just watching blurry
CGI through a glazed glass window. If they’d used a 2D animation style,
or even used 3D and simply used blocking and composition to avoid the
excessive Z-axis movement that kills the effect, this might’ve been
visually speaking my favorite short. As such, it’s a failed experiment.



“Those experiments they did on us were bad enough, but now they’re wearing Bret Hart sunglasses all day, indoors! Even for evil scientists there should be limits.”


Homecoming

On
a story level, my favorite of the shorts. Most of the shorts are pulp
science fiction; this one is more of a serious science fiction story
(Pulp science fiction is about how awesome it is to be a super soldier.
Serious science fiction is about how hard it is to be a super soldier.)
This follows a high-powered “Spartan” soldier, touching upon what the
military did to her to turn her into a powerful killing machine, and
her coming to terms with that past. The animation isn’t particularly
special; it’s fairly typical of modern, slick anime made with a decent
budget. But it does look good, and more importantly, the story works.



Like all of the great stories of world literature, this one ends with a giant gorilla getting its head stuck in a spaceship.


Odd One Out

The
one comedic short, Odd One Out is the story of an incompetent soldier,
“Spartan #1337,” who falls out of his transport ship and crashes in his
powered-armor suit onto a nearby planet. There he encounters a weird
group of caveman children who live in a crashed spaceship and ride a
pet dinosaur. It’s a shift in tone for the anthology, and it works.
It’s an agreeably silly little short. Some of the comedy is kind of
broad (Daisuke Nishio, director of Dragon Ball Z, is behind this one),
the movements are exaggerated and the characters are more cartoonishly
drawn, but I found it pretty funny, and was glad to see some variety in
tone.



In case you’re wondering, the answer is: yes, if every short had giant gorillas in it, every one of these screen captures would be of a giant gorilla.


Prototype

The tone shifts again, this time becoming
po-faced and trite. Prototype is my least favorite of the shorts. It’s
visually lush, with a painterly cel-animated style like that of Origins
part 2
, but lacks a good story to match. It’s about a soldier who loses
his platoon. It opens with him cradling the last surviving member as
she dies. He says something like “Don’t you die on me!” and she says
something like “Why can’t you just be human? If you could just do one
human thing.” But he can’t be human, because he’s a soldier and this is
war! But then he redeems himself later, by putting on an awesome mech
suit and blowing up lots of bad guys and then blowing himself up.
Whatever.



ZOMG SAMUS IS A GIRL!


The Babysitter

The Babysitter concerns an ODST
sniper forced to work with a Spartan on a mission to assassinate a
Covenant Prophet. Apparently the ODSTs resent the Spartans. But certain
tragic events of the mission make the ODST sniper see the Spartan in a
different light. It’s not a great story, but a decently compelling one;
certainly a good sight better than Prototype. The animation is nothing
special, reminiscent of that of Homecoming.



“Alright! We’re surrounded by Covenant, but safe inside this impervious space igloo! Now what?”


The Package

This
is the most videogame-like of the shorts. It’s cell-shaded CGI,
directed by Shinji Aramaki who has a few cell-shaded CGI features to
his name. Basically, it’s an assault on a Covenant ship to retrieve a
special important something. It’s practically wall-to-wall action. The
cell-shading looks great (if Origins is “The Second Renaissance” for
this collection, The Package is “The Last Flight of the Osiris“) and
the action is really well choreographed and shot. There are even a few
FPS POV shots.

All in all it’s a really solid anthology. Even if
you’re not a fan of Halo, I’d say it’s worth at least a rental if you
like scifi or animation. Maybe I’m missing some breaks with Halo canon that would piss off the fans, but my friends who are more familiar with the franchise didn’t notice anything. Anyway, the anthology works as a movie, and that in my opinion is the important part. I’m as surprised as anyone to be writing a
positive review of a video game movie, but if one should make video
game movies at all, this is how it should be done. A straight-up
adaptation of a game is essentially at best a remake of a story that’s
already recently been told in a visual medium. But something like this,
where you take a game with a reasonably well-put together world and
tell some other stories from that world, can be really worthwhile.

The Package

A
great transfer of course, all anamorphic widescreen, a couple of the
shorts are 2.35:1 , the rest are full 16:9. English and Japanese audio
tracks, lots of different languages of subtitles including English.
Extras include a pretty good commentary track by anthology director
Frank O’Connor and producer Joseph Chou. It’s a pretty informative
track, talking about the development of each story, the stylistic
decisions and what it was like working with each director. Also there’s
trailers for Halo Reach and Justice League: Crisis on Two Earths. We were given the single disc version to review, there’s also a 2-disc DVD and a bluray, with additional extras.

7.8/10