The Halo series blew up beyond expectations, especially for those making it I suspect. Millions around the world fell for the Master Chief, and millions continue to hang on every Covenant bashing adventure. He’s humanity’s last, best and only hope, all the while remaining an unexplored mystery, hidden away inside his suit. Halo: The Fall of Reach, an animated account of Eric Nylund’s novel of the same name, is the first filmed attempt to shed light on Microsoft’s poster boy.
You’d think by now the Chief would be a known commodity. And he is if you look outside the games, but not when it comes to filmed action, animated or otherwise. Aside from District 9, the orphan child of an attempt to bring Halo to the big-screen, only two live action mini-series’ have followed. Fall of Reach is a welcome addition to this limited canon, and the first time the Chief has been seen on screen, game or otherwise, in which he hasn’t yet become the Chief.The Fall of Reach, developed alongside the recent Xbox One release of Halo 5, draws heavily on parts of Nylund’s novel to fill in details of the Chief’s past. The book, an impressive example of cogent storytelling in a video game adaptation market full of pulp rubbish, goes back to the beginning to show how a six-year-old boy became the faceless hero of the multi-strand Halo universe. This hour long animated version takes the Chief up to his first encounter with the Covenant, filling in numerous details along the way.
There’s the emergence of his leadership abilities, the reason behind his intimidating size, super strength and general military awesomeness, and even detail on the famous suit he’s never seen out of. It’s a well-managed exercise in background information that forms a perfectly adequate measure of throwaway entertainment.
One thing it’s not is the big budget Halo blowout tantalisingly promised in various forms for years. The animation has certain charms, but it’s rough around the edges, full of indistinct shapes, smooth faces and rounded borders. It’s the stuff of Saturday morning cartoons, aware of limitations and careful never to stray from the comfort zone.Other elements are handled in the same vein. The voice acting is perfunctory at best with a lack of emotion present in many of the key scenes. The screenplay is also overly fond of blunt force, happy to drop in glaringly portentous lines summarising the Chief’s early potential, discovery of his latent leadership qualities, and his willingness to do anything for the soldiers he leads into battle. It’s all a little too derring-do even for a metal clad demon almost single-handedly capable of taking on a dangerously belligerent and impossibly powerful alien civilisation.
In a way it doesn’t really matter. While unlikely to bring in many, if any new fans, the feature length animation, running to just over an hour, is designed for existing enthusiasts to wallow in a world they already love. It’s the Master Chief of a thousand Halo inspired dreams, not the more troubled figure of Nylund’s tragi-triumphant novel. There’s little agonising over the horrific experiments inflicted on the Chief and his comrades in order to create super soldiers, nor much effort spared on any subsidiary characters. Familiar names – the Halsey’s and Keyes’ of this world – pop up more as a nod to the discerning fan.
Don’t read too much into the title either. This is the birth of the Master Chief, not the fall of humanity’s last staging post on the road to Earth. That battle, the best story in the Halo universe to date, will have to wait for another day. Microsoft and 343 Industries have done a decent job laying the foundations. If they can maintain this form it will be a story worth continuing.