Halo: Season One – Limited Edition Steelbook (4K UHD Review)
DirectorCreated by Kylie Killen and Stephen Kane
Release Date(s)2022 (November 15, 2022)
Studio(s)Showtime/343 Industries/Microsoft/Amblin Television (Paramount Home Entertainment)
- Film/Program Grade: B-
- Video Grade: A+
- Audio Grade: B+
- Extras Grade: B-
Developed by Kylie Killen and Stephen Kane, Halo is a Paramount+ military/science fiction streaming series inspired by (but not directly adapted from) the popular Bungie video game franchise created for the 2001 launch of Microsoft’s Xbox system. Its story depicts the many travails and heroic exploits of a cybernetically-enhanced super soldier serving in the United Nations Space Command in the year 2552. Master Chief Petty Officer John-117 (Pablo Schreiber, The Wire, First Man) leads Silver Team, a squad of fellow “Spartans” in the UNSC’s war against the Covenant, an alliance of technologically-advanced alien races determined to wipe out humanity.
Unknown to the UNSC, the Covenant is being advised by a young human woman named Makee (Charlie Murphy), who was abducted as a child and raised by the alien Hierarchs as a “Blessed One.” Makee possesses the rare ability to activate incredibly powerful technology left behind by the ancient Forerunners, a race of advanced beings that predates both the Covenant and humanity. But it turns out that John has this ability too, a discovery that convinces Dr. Catherine Halsey (Natascha McElhone, Ronin)—the scientist who created the Spartans—that the United Earth Government must find this technology first, particularly the Halo, a Forerunner “ringworld” that could be the key to defeating the Covenant once and for all.
Though the series’ writing is somewhat uneven, to the extent that Halo works, it’s due in large measure to solid performances and a compelling production design that helps to render its world believable. The supporting cast adds much to the mix here, including Bokeem Woodbine (Jason’s Lyric), Burn Gorman (Torchwood), Kate Kennedy, and Yerin Ha. 2001 actor Keir Dullea appears in a small role as well, and Jen Taylor makes an interesting contribution as the voice of Cortana, an implanted artificial intelligence meant to control John who frequently whispers in his ear. But some fans of the Halo franchise have been dissatisfied by the degree to which the series diverges from its source material, and there are times when the visual effects have an “uncanny valley” quality that certainly feels game like, but too often breaks the series’ verisimilitude.
Season One of Halo was captured digitally (by cinematographers Karl Walter Lindenlaub—Stargate, Rob Roy, and Eric Kress—Taken 3, Niels Arden Oplev’s The Girl with the Dragon Tattoo) in the ARRIRAW format (at 4.5K) using Arri Alexa LF and Mini LF cameras with Arri Signature Prime lenses. It employs a 4K post-production pipeline and is finished as a native 4K Digital Intermediate at the 2.00:1 aspect ratio for streaming on Paramount+ here in the States. For both streaming and its release on Ultra HD, the series has been graded for High Dynamic Range (only HDR10 is available on the discs). The resulting image offers excellent overall detail, clean and refined texturing, deeply dark shadows, and bright highlights. Colors are vibrant with pleasing nuance, though are highly stylized depending on the environment depicted (the planet Madrigal is bleached and hot looking, UNSC FleetCom on planet Reach is a cool, steely blue, etc). The imagery is never particularly natural looking, but then it’s not really meant to be. It is, however, pure and dazzling 4K eye candy. (Save for the anti-piracy logos that first appear when you pop each disc in your player, strangely, which look like badly-upconverted SD.)
Primary audio on the 4K discs is included in English Dolby Atmos format. These are solid mixes of the action/sci-fi TV variety—not super aggressive, but still robust, as well as lively and atmospheric. The soundstage is medium wide, with nice lift in the height channels during set pieces. Dialogue is clean and clear, accompanied by buttery smooth panning, and firm bass. The surround channels are employed mostly for music and atmospheric effects, along with the occasional directional cue. English Audio Description is also available, along with optional English subtitles for the Hearing Impaired.
Paramount’s Ultra HD release is a five-disc set. Discs One through Four include two episodes each, while Disc Five includes only one episode. This allows each episode to feature very high data rates (averaging between 40 and 50 Mbps, with peaks in the 70s). Over five hours of bonus content is also included. The disc by disc breakdown is as follows:
- Episode 101 – Contact (4K – 112:17)
- Episode 102 – Unbound (4K – 53:31)
- Halo the Series: Declassified 101 (HD – 19:49)
- Halo the Series: Declassified 102 (HD – 20:37)
- Episode 103 – Emergence (4K – 54:21)
- Episode 104 – Homecoming (4K – 54:24)
- Halo the Series: Declassified 103 (HD – 22:36)
- Halo the Series: Declassified 104 (HD – 27:01)
- Episode 105 – Reckoning (4K – 39:31)
- Episode 106 – Solace (4K – 48:28)
- Halo the Series: Declassified 105 (HD – 27:47)
- Halo the Series: Declassified 106 (HD – 24:55)
- Episode 107 – Inheritance (4K – 50:34)
- Episode 108 – Allegiance (4K – 47:48)
- Halo the Series: Declassified 107 (HD – 26:38)
- Halo the Series: Declassified 108 (HD – 32:10)
- Episode 109 – Transcendence (4K – 48:11)
- Halo the Series: Declassified 109 (HD – 36:36)
- Dissecting the Battle of Madrigal (HD – 10:01)
- The World of Halo (HD – 8:49)
- The Culture of the Covenant (HD – 9:43)
- Adapting Halo (HD – 13:08)
- Becoming Spartans (HD – 8:06)
- Creating the Costumes of Halo (HD – 9:20)
- Weapons and Vehicles of Halo (HD – 10:20)
- The Making of Cortana (HD – 4:56)
- The Lake of Eternal Life: A Song from Halo’s Score (HD – 2:44)
Halo the Series: Declassified is basically just the series’ after show as seen on Paramount+. Hosted by gamer/YouTuber Sydnee Goodman, it features Zoom-style interviews with members of the cast and crew (almost certainly produced during COVID protocols), along with behind the scenes footage, and banal gab of the typical “Hey gang!” variety. Fortunately, this isn’t all you get.
Also included are a series of behind-the-scenes featurettes that offer a more focused look at specific aspects of the production. Here the content is more informative and interesting. Adapting Halo and Becoming Spartans are highlights, but the costume, weapons, and vehicles segments are good as well. The editing of some of these featurettes is oddly lacking in energy, but that’s picking nits. Audio commentaries or deleted scenes would have been nice, but sadly nothing of the like is included. Still, fans should appreciate these featurettes.
The packaging itself is an attractive Steelbook that holds all five discs on two hubs (a non-Steelbook 4K SKU is also available in regular Amaray packaging). Given that this a Paramount+ exclusive series, there’s unfortunately no Digital copy code. But you do get a set of character art cards outside the packaging (you’ll find them under the back wrapper that lists all the features).
A side note: With Paramount releasing this series in 4K Ultra HD, not to mention the Amazon Prime Original series Reacher and Jack Ryan, it remains to be seen if any of the recent Star Trek series will find their way to the format. Star Trek: Strange New Worlds would certainly be welcomed by fans on 4K disc, as—one suspects—will be the forthcoming Picard: Season Three. But that’s probably a can of worms for Paramount, because then fans would ask about Star Trek: Discovery and the first two seasons of Picard, and it’s hard to imagine those would sell well given the dismal reviews for each. Still, if Paramount started with Strange New Worlds in 4K, the studio would probably be surprised at how many units they moved. In any case, it seems likely that these initial TV series releases in 4K are meant to test the waters. So here’s hoping they do well and we see more of them.
With its debut season now complete and available for full consideration, it’s fair to say that while Halo is a bit generic and derivative, it’s also more than solid enough to hold one’s interest. The action is fun, the characters are largely compelling, and there’s plenty of room for the story to grow in complexity from here. Most importantly, this series looks and sounds fantastic on 4K Ultra HD. For casual viewers of TV sci-fi, Halo is well worth a look on Paramount+. And for actual fans of the series, Paramount’s new UHD release is definitely the best way to enjoy it.
- Bill Hunt
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