Publisher: 343 Industries / Microsoft Studios
I remember when Microsoft first announced they would be making an animated feature out of the first – and some would say best – novel in the Halo franchise, The Fall of Reach. I was excited. What Halo fan wouldn’t be? It was the origin story of the Master Chief, and all of the SPARTAN-II commandos that would singlehandedly turn the tide of the war with the Covenant. It was the perfect setup to the first game, and set the tone for the rest of the expanded universe over the next fourteen years. If any Halo movie were to get made, it would likely need to be that one.
Well, The Fall of Reach is finally here, and I can sum it up in one word: tragedy. It deserved so much better than this, and to be quite honest, so did all the fans who’ve been patiently waiting for this book to come to life.
Let me give what positives I can to the three-episode movie-that-isn’t-a-movie; it nails the tone of 70% of the book’s key events, right down to the letter. That’s a great deal of reverence to show to the source material, and initially, that had set the stage for a moment where I thought that they would go page-for-page. That moment passed, and while the missing 30% of that total is incredibly and amazingly crucial, I don’t want to stop the good vibes train just yet. This feature’s art style is quite enchanting when viewed as single still frames, and the environmental artwork is nothing short of gorgeous. However, that’s as far as the positives stretch. Really, that’s it.
The negatives, though – well, we’re going to be here a while. The whole production comes off feeling like it was made just to get it out there and appease the fans. The problem is, doing this project right would have accomplished just that. Instead, we get multiple live-action series – Forward Unto Dawn and Nightfall – that are new side stories that introduce new characters, and yet, 343 Industries can’t seem to get the origin story of the franchise’s most iconic and pivotal character right. The same level of attention wasn’t given to this project, and it shows in every single possible way. Budget can be spent on introducing new characters into the timeline, but the budget just can’t be spared for the origin story of the hero that is seen as a mascot for a console manufacturer. Even though the Super Mario Bros. movie is terrible, at least they threw something substantial at it. You’d think Microsoft could pony up the cash to do something this important some actual justice.
The first of my problems with The Fall of Reach involve the animation quality. While I can understand that animation would be the easiest medium in which to tell this story (as animation removes physical barriers required in making a live-action piece), the whole “motion comic” motif has never been flattering. Ever. I don’t care what property you’re working with or why, if you’re going to make something in a “motion comic” vein, just be honest with the fanbase and say you don’t feel like dedicating a larger budget to a higher-quality feature. That’s all you ever need to say. You’ll get your feedback early on, the fans will have their say before the thing releases, and at least someone will have respect for your genuine aproach. Now, I appreciate the artistry put into the designs, but when it’s in motion, it just looks…nauseating. Gross, even. Simply put, it is not a pleasure to look at. Movements are stiff and jerky, and everything looks “cartoony” rather than near-realistic. This works against the project at each and every moment.
Secondly, the running time. Three twenty-minute episodes are what comprises this feature. One whole hour. This story deserved more than that, and the rushed nature of the storytelling makes that blatant to anyone who’s ever read the book. Now, there’s always a “well, the book is always going to be better because blah blah” argument to be found at a moment like this, and to be fair, that argument has merit. But that doesn’t mean that the project shouldn’t at least try to flesh things out a bit better, slow things down, let certain moments have dramatic weight rather than speed through them with a “yeah, yeah, if you’re watching this, you already know what happens, so who cares” attitude. The people who are watching it are the fans you supposedly support. The film – which is a term used VERY loosely here – deserved more than this. Believe me when I say that nothing exemplifies this complaint more than the final point I must raise.
Third, and lastly, the film is titled “The Fall of Reach.” The book it’s based on has the very same title. The most major difference found between the two is that only the book details the actual fall of the planet Reach. The film does not. In fact, once they strike their first real win as a team against the Covenant, the story gets wrapped up in a ridiculous rushed bow that comes off feeling cheap, contrived, and worse, flat-out disrespectful to loyal fans. The Fall of Reach – the novel, mind you – goes into great detail about the SPARTANs’ first battles and how their exploits were the only thing that stopped humanity from losing the entire war at, coincidentally enough, Reach. Additionally, it goes into the first meeting between John (Chief’s real name) and Cortana, and it sets the stage for their relationship. A relationship that the current game in the franchise’s plot completely and absolutely hinges on. So yeah, it’s kind of important to show how that started. It happened in the book, but not in the movie. That’s like watching Star Wars and never having Luke meet Obi-Wan.
That’s a pretty good analogy, if I do say so myself. I think I’ll lean on it twice:
343 Industries could have named this movie anything at all. Halo: Rise of the SPARTANs. Halo: THE ORIGIN. Halo: Hey, Now You Definitely Know Who Blue Team Is, You’ll See Them In Halo 5. Naming this thing The Fall of Reach and not including the titular battle is like watching Star Wars without the Rebels blowing up the Death Star at the end. Without it, the Empire has no reason to “strike back.” The Battle of Reach is the endcap that this story requires, because the next piece of media that follows it in-universe is a direct continuation of that story, which happens to be the plot of Halo: Combat Evolved. Which, of course, everyone should know at least something about by now.
In closing, this project smacks of two things; wasted opportunity and unapologetic disdain for the fanbase. 343 Industries has a pretty great game in Halo 5: Guardians, but when it comes to The Fall of Reach, this is probably going to rank as the worst piece of Halo material that I’ve ever seen, read, listened to or played. It’s my favorite Halo novel, and I’d always hoped that they – 343, Bungie, whoever – would have taken the requisite time and care with this particular story. The fact that they didn’t paints a bleak picture for how much reverence I can expect from 343 in the future. Personally speaking, seeing them botch it in a manner like this is disheartening, and it makes me lose a significant amount of hope in the future of Halo‘s expanded universe adaptations as a result.
More like The Fail of Reach.