Halo: Nightfall the ‘movie’ is an edited version of Halo:Nightfall the ‘digital series’ which has been available since late last year for anyone unfortunate enough to buy the half-broken Master Chief Collection on Xbox One.
Pitched as a bridge between the games Halo 4 and Halo 5: Guardians, the film starts with a wall of text to get any non-Halo fans up to speed. Basically, there was a war with aliens, and now there isn’t. Got that? Good.
Nightfall follows a group of ONI soldiers (space marines) stationed to the backwater planet Sedra, who uncover a plot to wipe out humanity with a biological weapon, the components for which are found only on the wreckage of the titular Halo space station. Reluctantly accompanied by the local militia and led by the charismatic (not really) Locke, our intrepid band of military jargon babbling heroes head to Halo to destroy the deadly weapon. Sorry, they form up on my six and lift off in ten, ASAP oscar mike something something. Also they can only go at night because reasons, hence Nightfall. Oh and Halo was destroyed so much that the entire place is now just a bunch of rocks that look not unlike, oh I don’t know, maybe a disused quarry that might be cheap to hire for a few days filming?
The nicest thing to say about Nightfall is that they sure did make the armour and guns look a lot like the armour and guns in the Halo games. The director plays to this strength with a series of long, slow pans over peoples forearms and gun sights, fetishizing the equipment to the point that the talking heads poking out of the top seem almost an afterthought. This is a smart move because Nightfall’s dialogue is basically a series of banal chunks of exposition, the highlight of which is the gruff Sean Bean-a-like army colonel declaring ‘No more proper nouns’, or perhaps the emotional climax of the film hinging on the line ‘Let the beads decide.’ I’m guessing there’s a good reason Master Chief, the star of the Halo games, doesn’t talk much.
Oh right, Master Chief, iconic helmet wearing tough dude- he doesn’t appear at all here. He’s mentioned once, and one of the characters may have been mates with him or something, but otherwise this is very much a side story. In fact, other than the armour (which they take off half way through the film) there really isn’t much Halo in this Halo at all, one brief glimpse of the fan favourite Elite enemy from the games aside.
Instead the soldiers are a predictable collection of action movie cliches: the leader, the nice one, the bad one, the mad one and the girl. I think we are supposed to root for the Sedrans, because those ONI guys are space racists and make fun of their hokey-cokey religious beliefs (and then precede to shout ‘Oh God’, ‘So help me God’ etc. pretty much throughout) but the entire cast is so dull its hard to invest in anyone. It doesn’t help that when, half an hour in, it’s revealed only two people are getting off Halo alive, you could stop watching there and know exactly who is sticking around for Nightfall 2 (please don’t be a thing.)
The reason everyone’s going to die? Killer worms have infested Halo, killer worms that love technology so much they eat it! And they eat people too maybe? I don’t know, they’re bad news anyway, not least because they seem to have been found on the hard drive of a CG department that went out of business twenty years ago. The whole production has a cheap ‘90s TV vibe to it, playing out more like a rejected episode of Space, Above and Beyond than a blockbuster Ridley Scott Executive Produced 21st Century digital extravaganza. The first act set on Sedra could probably pass for Space Precinct 2040, right down to an alien smuggler with a terrible latex mask.
So its a Halo film without much Halo, which leaves a sci-fi story without much of anything. After the armour goes the next hour is spent following the soldiers as they walk over the same few rocks over and over, picked off one by one in hilarious fashion by the marauding CG worm army, gradually approaching the ship that will let them escape this tedium. We find out little about what the worms are doing there, what the mysterious colonel’s past is, why we should care about this Locke guy, all we learn is that horses look predictably ridiculous with Halo stuff on them. Yes, horses. Nightfall even makes a mexican standoff boring, as each participant’s gun isn’t working (because of those pesky worms), and the entire scene is basically everyone explaining how they will contrive to turn their gun back on (Spoilers: no one turns their gun on).
The Halo franchise is a sprawling sci-fi epic that holds enough good ideas to make a great film, in fact Neill Blomkamp was at one point apparently doing just that, if the released test footage is any indication. Budgetary constraints on Nightfall, and possibly a reluctance to step on the toes of the forthcoming Halo 5 and rumoured Halo TV series, have probably not helped make this something more interesting, but even a small-scale story of people trapped on a planet trying to kill them has been done better countless times before- Pitch Black (from which Nightfall steals its night time conceit) springs immediately to mind. If you absolutely must see real people in computer game armour, watch the first half of Nightfall, or hang around at a sci-fi convention. If you’re coming to this for anything else, don’t even bother.