For the hordes of video game fans who clamor for a property like “Halo” to get the big live-action treatment it deserves, the execution of the action sequences remains at the top of their priority list. But when it comes to taking the largely run-and-gun approach of a first-person shooter – which, by definition, relies on a critical level of player interaction – and the translate into the more passive medium of television, obstacles quickly arise. which have hit many video game adaptations over the years.
So where does “Halo” land on this unsightly spectrum? To tell the truth, fans may be shocked at how little action there is in these first two episodes in the first place. What little there is, however, is not encouraging.
The first, titled “Contact” and directed by filmmaker Otto Bathurst (“Black Mirror,” “Peaky Blinders,” “Robin Hood”), begins with that aforementioned Madrigal pre-credits sequence. Here we meet Kwan Ha (Yerin Ha), the rambunctious daughter of rebel leader Jin Ha (Jeong-hwan Kong), and essentially the viewer of the story. When she and her friends stumble upon a Covenant invasion by the elite’s ferocious alien forces (a species known as the Sangheili, if you’ll let me roll up my glasses), what follows is a largely grounded and surprisingly bloody fight. to death as the rebels unsuccessfully attempt to repel the immensely superior enemy. You already know what happens next – Master Chief (played with commanding presence, if one note by Pablo Schreiber) and the rest of Silver Team (Kate Kennedy as Kai, Bentley Kalu as Vannak and Natasha Culzac as Rice, usable and unremarkable so far) dropping onto the battlefield at the last moment and quickly showing off all their superhuman abilities.
While the copious amounts of alien CGI are convincing enough, and the fight choreography seems to come straight out of the game engines (regenerative armor and melee attacks, precise plasma rifles and airships!), this whole sequence unwittingly highlights the inherent restrictions of bringing hardware designed and created for video games into the uncanny valley of live action. No matter how the sound design tries to sell it, neither Spartans nor Elites carry any real weight or dramatic weight. We watch footage of Spartans flipping dozens of feet through the air or Elites sweeping vehicles with little effort in wide-angle shots that portray the action cleanly, but we’re left physically and emotionally distanced from what happening on the screen. The frequent cutouts of Master Chief’s helmet view attempt to compensate for this, but mostly come across as inconsequential references to gameplay footage from “Halo’s” perspective and little else.
Worse still, the filming of this sequence highlights the disconnect at the heart of “Halo.” The Spartan reinforcements are filmed as vaguely “cool” and “badass” as possible, with the sun reflecting off their waterproof armor and each instance of battle choreography ending in a figure-ready pose. But, to put it bluntly, the cheesy macho posturing and inauthentic feel of the set design itself (though much of the footage could probably use some editing, one can’t help but wonder how The Volume and the use of projected screens may have helped) just don’t live up to comparable scenes in, say, “The Mandalorian.”
As noisy and inert as this first sequence seems, standing out all the more because it is the only a centerpiece so far, it also evokes the feeling of a show at war with itself. Through the extremely sympathetic lens of human rebels contrasted with the downright fascist depiction of the UNSC – an organization that orders the cold-blooded killing of humans without a second’s hesitation, installs puppet regimes with disreputable characters (played by the always lovely Burn Gorman!) to mine resources on Madrigal and justifies it due to “falling fuel prices”, and, oh yeah, started the extremely unethical Spartan program in the first place – our loyalties are firmly against Master Chief’s superiors, as he seeks to break free from his lifelong conditioning and regain some semblance of consciousness. Yet when the text alleges a disturbing notion about these veritable killing machines (the backstory linking John-117 to Kwan Ha is rightly tragic and unexpectedly damning), and the action shows us quite another thing, viewers will inevitably feel like they’re being pulled in. in two distinct directions.