Night Falling on Halo
There is a lot of walking in Halo: Nightfall. Stranded on the devastated remnants of the first found Halo ring, a small group of ONI and Sedran soldiers walk. They pass rocks with an uncomfortably green sky behind them. Maybe they climb a cliff. But then they walk some more.
Limited engagement is the critical, sinking flaw of this downtrodden live action Halo side story, crushed by characters only relevant to the third act… and walking.
Situational plotting concerns a mine full of an enriched chemical, poisonous to humans, contained within the rocks on this partial ring. References to starving human colonies are inserted into dialog for negligible impact. Halo’s depth this offers not.
Intangibles are here. Despite flinching production values, the swarm of armor and weaponry recalls Halo, although not the score. The latter is a mere pittance compared to the pounding ferocity of the video games from which this is based.
It can be argued that Nightfall is an exquisite commercial. Mike Colter’s domineering performance as Locke is a lead-in to Halo 5. Nightfall is but an introduction to the extended fiction and lore. Halo continually loves branching its sci-fi to other mediums.
Halo’s depth this offers not.
Halo’s depth this offers not.
However, Halo has performed admirably in the Hollywood/marketing arena before. Forward Unto Dawn was nearly essential. Nightfall is not, which is likely why this series of episodes, bound together into film format for video, was initially included as a freebie on the Xbox One’s Master Chief Collection.
Part of it is certainly a lack of iconography. There is no Master Chief (merely side references), only one encounter with alien Covenant forces, and then the Halo itself which has been charred beyond any recognition. Now it appears as volcanic rock, depressingly dull in view and distressingly repetitive – more so when all characters do is interact with this identical looking scenery.
Nightfall is not in need of action. This is not faltering due to a lack of patience (although it is somewhat odd given the origin of Halo), rather a lack of refinement and definition. Sergeant Locke is clearly the only one of interest. Microsoft has video games to sell with his likeness after all. The rest banter or deliver middling performances, eventually turning on one another as this survival story draws to its obvious conclusion. Exploration of the Halo’s purpose or the typically unique take on religious fanaticism are removed.
What is left at this stage is unidentifiable as Halo to all but those who hold the sci-fi story dear. Then, it’s only due to references and production design. This may have made a superb short, but at a gluttonous 90 minutes, Nightfall walks to its doom.
All manner of tinkering has been applied to douse Halo: Nightfall in grays and browns. Rocks are all charred black. Scenes painted in teal are a relief of color, if equally bland. These decisions impact black levels, hitting them with a touch of overcast and robbing them of depth. Luckily, the digital cinematography reveals no noise.
Being a TV-esque production, visual effects are notably softer than live action. Scenes in space lack the vigor of bigger budget shows/movies. This lack of image sharpness carries into some of the live action as well. Oddly, Locke is consistently photographed with tight light sources pointed toward him, revealing exquisite facial definition. No one else seems to have been given the same treatment. Close-ups are flat and lacking fidelity.
When it all works, infrequently as that may be, Halo: Nightfall can be a showoff. Opening scenes on Sedra are pleasing, set in a forest with excellent resolution and clarity. Shots done on the exterior of a city are especially well rendered. Encoding work is on the high-end. When they reach the ring, everything falls apart, partially by design and partially by execution. The Blu-ray itself is capable enough of maintaining this intent.
A 7.1 track may be overwhelming for this series, a regularly disappointing mix with flagrant misuse of dynamic range and a minimal use of surrounds to establish ambiance outside of the opening chapter. Action crowds dialog with an excessive volume burst, a design lacking in precision and geared toward being loud rather than accurate. It’s not pleasant.
Saves come from the LFE, about the only aural element which saves this track. Landings/take offs of the Condor ship are thick, offering plenty of punch from the engines. The few bursts of gunfire won’t compete.
Once down on the ring, Halo: Nightfall loses itself. Despite a surface clearly breaking apart and letting off steam, it continually feels dead. While that may be true for wildlife, this is clearly not the case for the stressed ring itself.
Halo: Nightfall packs on bonus clips, but none longer than six minutes. That’s good since most are commercials for the series. Eight featurettes in total run past a half hour together without a play all option. Story recap, technology, stunts, locations, cast, the setting, Locke himself, and a preview of sorts are plainly offered. They’re fairly bland due to their purpose.
Of interest though are Second Stories, again without a play all option but offering a series of 15 varying length shorts (45-minutes in total) which extend the story. These are well done and seem to better encapsulate Nightfall and its overall narrative style.
Full disclosure: This Blu-ray was provided to us for review. This has not affected the editorial process. For information on how we handle review material, please visit our about us page to learn more.
Click on the images below for full resolution screen captures taken directly from the Blu-ray. Images have not been altered in any way during the process.