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Blu-ray Review: Halo Legends

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I’ll admit straight off that I don't own an Xbox and I have never played Halo. I am not sure if that makes me the best or worst person to review the Warner Home Video release Halo Legends. The distributor sent me a screener, though, so I am going to jump in regardless. Besides, Warner is presumably hoping that buyers won't be restricted to devotees of the titular console game. With that in mind, here’s a non-fan’s view.

Halo Legends consists of eight short animated films that provide background on the characters, races, and history of the Halo universe. These films vary in length from 10 to 17 minutes and each is directed by a different renowned Japanese animator.

The personnel hail from highly regarded anime studios that were responsible for productions such as Ghost in the Shell, Batman Gotham Knight, and The Animatrix. These companies include Production I.G., Toei Animation, Bones and Casio Entertainment. Names among the credits on Halo Worlds that may be familiar to fans of this genre include Shinji Aramaki, Hideki Futamura, Daisuke Nishio, Hiroshi Yamazaki, Toshiyuki Kanno, Koichi Mashimo, Koji Sawai, Tomoki Kyoda, Yasushi Muraki and Dai Sato.

Aside from the links to Halo, this collection will interest anime fans because of the diversity of animation styles the directors have used. In some cases the look will be familiar to anyone who has seen even a small amount of anime. Some directors, however, have used a more unusual approach. The story entitled "The Duel," for instance, is essentially a series of animated watercolour paintings (with some sequences being more animated than others). The details are washed out and the characters' movements are limited. It is an unusual style that, like anime in general, won't appeal to everyone.

The films cover a range of moods from somber to comedic and the quality of the stories is also variable. The opener, "Origins," which is in two parts, is an epic tale that starts in the distant past and charts the events that led to the original construction of the halo weapon and the subsequent emergence of humanity. It is an action-packed and intriguing science fiction story that can be enjoyed with no prior knowledge of Halo. "The Duel," on the other hand, is clichéd and not particularly involving.

Anyone not experienced in Halo will find the characters and races unfamiliar and may become confused by the complexity of their changing relationships. "Origins" provides a useful primer, however, and should definitely be the story seen first by newbies.

The Blu-ray edition of this title provides the best possible representation of the animators’ work. There is not the depth of detail that HD brings to the likes of the Disney-Pixar films and the striking colour palette achievable in hi-def is not evident in many of the stories (largely because the content doesn’t lend itself to that). In most cases, though, the visuals benefit from the crispness and clarity of the Blu-ray format ("The Duel" being an exception because of the style of animation used). The soundtrack, it should be noted, is Dolby Surround Stereo, so don’t expect to give your 5.1 or 7.1 surround sound receiver a workout.

In addition to the short films that make up the legends of the title, Warner has also included various special features on this release. The two-disc DVD version has "The Making of Halo Legends" (an introduction followed by a making-of segment for each episode), "Halo: Gaming Evolved" (a history of the Halo phenomenon), and audio commentary with Halo franchise development director Frank O’Connor and Joseph Chou. The Blu-ray edition comes with all of these as well as "Halo: The Story So Far." For anyone not steeped in Halo lore, this additional supplement provides more background information on the game’s mythology. There is also a single-disc DVD edition that includes only the audio commentary.

Halo Legends Heroes Journey Sweepstakes

To coincide with the release of Halo Legends, Warner Home Video is giving fans of the franchise a chance to win a 3-day/2-night trip to 343 Industries in Redmond, Washington. The winner will attend a private screening, have a chance to meet some of the Halo Legends creative team, and receive an Xbox 360 Elite and Halo Legends on 2-Disc DVD or Blu-ray. The Halo Legends Heroes Journey Sweepstakes starts February 28. Fans can enter at Halo's official sweepstakes site. The sweepstakes centers around a virtual trading card game hosted as a Facebook application.

Halo Legends is one of two animated Warner releases this month that will appeal to gaming and comic book fans. The other, Justice League: Crisis on Two Earths, is released on DVD and Blu-ray on February 23.

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