Tuesday, April 12, 2016

Halo: Nightfall review

    The good folk at Microsoft have tried numerous times to create a Halo movie but their attempts have been a decidedly mixed bag. For example, their original attempt with director Neil Blomkamp fell through with much of the props intended for it used, instead, for District Nine. Forward Unto Dawn was an excellent movie but somewhat overwrought with its attempts to tell a deep as well as engaging story about Halo.

    Halo: Nightfall is another attempt at doing a Halo movie without having the budget to do it. Personally, I think the best solution would be to do an animated or CGI movie. Still, I was intrigued by the prospect of another film set in the Halo universe. The fact it would star Jessica Jones Mike Cotter as Agent Jameson Locke.

Mike Cotter is one of the movie's few bright spots.
    The premise is, after the events of Halo 3, Earth has a shaky treaty with the Covenant. The Office of Naval Intelligence (ONI) sends agent Jameson Locke and his team to look for signs the Covenant has violating their part of the agreement. Discovering a smuggling ring run by aliens, the ONI agents chase the recipient of a mysterious package only to fail in stopping its opening. Hundreds of humans on the planet Sedra are killed as a result, including the daughter of the planet's military commander Randall Aiken (Steven Waddington).

    Researching the toxic substance, they find out comes from a ruined fragment of the Halo ring destroyed by Master Chief in Combat Evolved, Locke's team is forced to join a group of Sedran soldiers on a joint mission to destroy the toxic substance. Tensions almost immediately rise between the two groups which threaten to explode when they're marooned on the Halo shard with monsters pursuing them as well as a ship that will only carry a few of them to safety. So what did I think? To be honest, I liked this movie better when it was called Pitch Black.

The Elite section is one of the best parts of the movie.
    The movie is all about a group of misfits in a survival situation turning on one another with a bunch of CGI monsters (in this case: Hunter worms) coming after them. There's a time limit with the fact they have to get off the planet before sunrise or they'll all be toasted but some rather superhuman folk fighting to keep them alive. To distill as much of Halo's expansive universe down to the bare minimum, they, essentially, just make it a generic sci-fi universe with some Halo trappings.   

    The movie is full of plot holes from beginning to end like the fact they know for a fact the mystery element is found only one place in the universe, they need to go down to the planet to deposit a nuke on it versus flying over it to drop it, that there's only two spots open on the evacuation craft despite the fact the craft had brought a horse (seriously), and other little tidbits which get routinely lost in the shuffle.

The setting is underdeveloped but a good job.
    The movie had one interesting idea in, "What will people do in a survival situation where they need each other but also must eventually turn on each other." Unfortunately, everyone turns on everyone else with very little prompting. A few of these scenes are entertaining like when a grieving father leaves one of his rivals to die but most of them are pretty tame.

    Steven Waddington and Mike Cotter give the only really memorable performances with the former channeling Sean Bean's Sharpe while the latter struggles to find some depth to a two-dimensional character. Christina Chong's Mace is also endearing but doesn't get much of a chance to shine. It's weird two of the most memorable performances are from a pair of Indian colonist smugglers who show some of the few cases of genuine emotion from the cast.

Most of these people are going to die. Which is good because I really don't much care for the majority.
    I will say the CGI for the Hunter worms was well done but I think it's strange they chose to use that bit of Halo lore versus the Flood since that would have been more appropriate for the implacable alien enemy the movie seems to want the worms to be. Likewise, Randall is an ex-SPARTAN-II but his heritage is almost unimportant to the story. They also waste the setting of a Halo fragment with no reference to the Forerunners or Master Chief's destruction of the Covenant forces there. Hell, we don't even learn much about Jameson Locke, who is the co-protagonist of Halo 5.

    I can't help but think the movie would have been actually been better if they'd attempted to focus on what actually makes Halo interesting. It's a military-science fiction shooter. With that sort of setting, shouldn't the focus be on, well, shooting? Making a B-horror movie from the material is a strange choice. The movie also treats its subject matter with dead seriousness that I can't help but think is dissonant with the material.

Christina Chong's Mace should have had more screen time.
    There's some worthwhile attempts by the director and production staff to work around their budget with filming in a volcanic ash land certainly creating an atmospheric environment but it's too little too late. I can't help but think the movie would have been better if they'd just figured out a way to make decent aliens and set it in a bunch of corridors. I should note this movie was supposedly overseen by Ridley Scott but my own research indicates it was, "he was in the room on occasion when we pitched ideas" versus serious involvement.

    Despite all this, there's some really good bits and I've watched worse science-fiction movies. Sadly, I'm of the mind this is something which I would have skipped if not for its connection to the Halo franchise. I'm glad I gave it a watch but you aren't missing much if you give this one a pass.


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