Halo empire expands to mini-series – review

Halo is a big deal. A universe that spans games, books, comics, anime and now internet television, it’s a multimedia juggernaut comparable to The Matrix or Star Wars.

Usually when a franchise becomes this big it becomes an ugly and unwieldy cash cow (think Yoda in the Vodaphone adverts) but thanks to tight creative controls, Halo has stayed extremely faithful to its original vision and to fans.

A five part mini-series that acts as a prequel to the Halo 4, Halo: Forward Unto Dawn is a more grounded and human take on a franchise usually more concerned with intergalactic spectacle than emotive storytelling.

Indeed the series’ deliberate pacing, with three episodes of build up and an explosive two part finale, allows considerably more time for characterisation than the games ever have.

It also grants the show time to explore the morally questionable aspects of the Halo fiction, from the fascist beginnings of the United Nations Space Command to the kidnapping and brainwashing of children to make them into Spartan soldiers.

Although the show centres around adolescent and child actors, the majority of whom put in believable performances, it’s definitely a darker take on the Halo universe.

Its attempts to humanise the universe doesn’t mean the show is devoid of spectacle however, there are frequent action set pieces and, while the cinematography leaves something to be desired, the special effects and performances are top notch.

There’s something profoundly satisfying in seeing alien creatures who began life as a jagged collection of videogame polygons over a decade ago brought to life (and swiftly shot dead) in spectacular detail.

The portrayal of series protagonist and lead sociopath Master Chief is appropriately detached and credit must go to Anna Popplewell who, while only given a relatively simplistic role as female lead and love interest, acts everybody else off the screen.

The show’s production values are enormous and every dollar shows on screen. Indeed, the show rose from the ashes of the cancelled Peter Jackson film adaptation so the many sets and props are tremendously detailed, lovingly crafted for a blockbuster that never happened. It’s especially remarkable then, given the show’s sheer production quality, that the entire series was launched for free on YouTube.

With steadily declining ratings and the rise of online video, producers are being forced to rethink their business models and the very definition of television itself.

Series producers 343 Industries and Microsoft are clearly at the forefront of this consumer friendly revolution. There’s an undeniably sinister contradiction at the centre of the series in that it is effectively an prolonged advertisement for Halo 4  but given its self contained narrative and satisfying conclusion, it never feels exploitative.

This is some of the best sci-fi television around and, at under two hours and completely free, you’d be a fool to miss it.


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August 2022
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