Halo: Nightfall is the latest production from 343 Industries following ONI Commander Jameson Locke and UNSC Colonel Randall Aiken on a mission to destroy the source of new element that’s been turned into a biological weapon against humans. 343 Industries’ previous film, Forward Unto Dawn, was a wonderful and near-perfect introduction to the Halo universe, but Nightfall ultimately fails to live up to its predecessor.
While the cinematography, score, costumes, and effects are easily the film’s high points, along with the casting of Mike Colter as Locke, unfortunately there’s more wrong with the movie than is right.
The opening narration from the tortured Aiken (the reasons for which are only somewhat revealed later) is meant to be thought-provoking, though it comes across as more preachy than anything. This trend continues throughout the film, only easing up in the beginning until the two teams (ONI and UNSC, similar to Special Forces and regular military personnel, respectively) head off on the mission. Along with the preachiness about soldiers playing god on the battlefield, there is a lot of repetitive talk about what it means to be a soldier and the concept of choice.
Another thing Nightfall failed in was making the characters interesting enough to care about. Locke certainly earns the most emotional investment with the majority of the credit going to Colter’s acting skills. Aiken (played by Steve Waddington) is the secondary focus and comes across as more of a brooding hardass than a sympathetic character. As the film progresses, his characterizaion goes all over the place from annoyed leader to questionable interrogator to better leader to savior. The rest of the team members, with the exception of PFC Macer, are simply there with little reason given as to why the viewer should care about them. One of them has kids. Okay, so? So do many soldiers. Given how quickly they turn on each other by the end, none of them seem like particularly good people to begin with.
The biggest obstacle to making this as good as Forward Unto Dawn is how little is explained. A non-Halo player doesn’t know what the halo rings are, where they came from, how they got there, and why they’re a threat. Nor would they know why the war started, what the Covenant are, what an Elite or a Zealot is, what a Spartan is, or how the ceasefire came about in the first place. Granted, this is a film aimed at fans who are already familiar with all of this. But there are plenty of ways to explain important aspects of a franchise for those with little to no previous knowledge without “dumbing” it down or patronizing longtime fans. A simple line of dialogue or shot of files documenting the war or the Covenant could have solved some of that. If a viewer has to go to Wikipedia during a scene to understand what’s going on, there’s a problem.
343 Industries should take a look back at Forward Unto Dawn for their next project rather than repeat the mistakes they made with Nightfall. Mainly cut out the preaching, make the characters more fleshed out, and don’t forget that there are fans of the films who don’t necessarily play the games.