Monday, 29 February 2016

Halo: The Fall of Reach

I loved the Halo games growing up. I’m very far behind now – the last one I played was Halo 3 – but I have fond memories of whiling away the hours on the original trilogy with my cousin and my friends. It was a simpler time. 2001’s Halo: Combat Evolved took the shooter genre and breathed new life into it with unprecedented graphics, a strong narrative and a rich world full of exciting locations and interesting characters. At least, that’s what game historians say. While it is true, when I played it I didn’t care about any of that. I just liked shooting things. What can I say, I was a normal young boy. 
As the years went on, the Halo franchise became enormous – with 5 games in the Master Chief saga, several spin-offs and a whole lotta merchandise, it’s like the Star Wars of the gaming world. Out now on DVD & Blu-Ray comes Halo: The Fall of Reach, an unusual animated film looking at how a young boy named John became the hero we all know and love – the Master Chief. This isn’t the first time the Halo universe has reached our screens in a non-gaming capacity, after Halo Legends, Forward Unto Dawn and Nightfall in the last 5 years. But The Fall of Reach stands out for several reasons. 

Firstly, it gives us the origin story of the game series’ hero. Based on the novel of the same name by Eric Nylund released back in 2001 alongside the first game, The Fall of Reach shows us the events which led up to the first game and explains the origins of the SPARTAN II super soldiers. We see the young John, among other children, kidnapped and put through brutal military training and augmentation to ultimately become the Master Chief we love. We see him change from self-centred little kid to responsible, strong leader. We see his first mission. We see the first interaction between man and the Covenant. All exciting, right? Not really.

The film’s main downfall lies in the technical side. The animation is quite appalling at times, and extremely flat. It’s trying to be stylish but just comes off as amateur, with the film having the appearance of a painting – one that moves, but barely. Characters and backdrops often remain stiff and stilted while the mouthing is often way off the dialogue, making for an extremely uncomfortable viewing experience. It just feels like a cut-scene, and not a very good one. The voice acting itself is passable but lacks any punch or depth. Some visuals – the Master Chief’s suit, for example – look decent enough but the majority just look cheap and…well, shit. Maybe if this film had strong visuals, it would be a more exciting and engrossing watch. But the aesthetic of The Fall of Reach stopped me from being sucked into its world.

I haven’t read the book on which it’s based, nor have I touched a Halo game in years. But from what I’ve read online, the film actually messes with the source material a lot and changes things from the novel and things within the Halo universe itself. Die-hard fans of the saga should be warned of this. But for me, a casual viewer, The Fall of Reach was just a downright predictable origins story of a character whose charm was, and maybe still is, his mystery. Remember the ending of Combat Evolved when the Chief took his helmet off, but the ‘camera’ pulled away at the last second and we didn’t see?! We loved that shit back in ’01. So now, learning all about his childhood and seeing his little face for 65 minutes (yes, it’s that short) feels a little strange. Mysterious characters are the best characters. Look at Clint Eastwood’s iconic character ‘The Man with No Name’. A film about his childhood would be terrible because his mystery is his character. I get that sort of feeling here. I guess when the novel came out, the world didn’t know how big the Halo franchise would become and how important the character’s mystery would be. But to adapt it for screen now? Seems a little daft.

But hey, what do I know? I haven’t played a Halo game properly since ’07 and am coming to this as strictly a film critic. Maybe as fan service, The Fall of Reach will go down well – I’d love to hear from anyone who has good things to say about the film, from an avid gamer’s perspective perhaps. But for me, The Fall of Reach left a lot to be desired and felt largely unnecessary. But I did feel a little bit of joyful nostalgia seeing some of the Halo iconography again after all these years.

Halo: The Fall of Reach strives for quality but doesn’t reach it. 2/5.


Sam Love

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