Tuesday, July 2, 2013

Web2Movie: BSG & Halo 4

I have an odd relationship with webisodes. I appreciate them as a medium but have not really explored them as a viable outlet. I may have been tainted by some early attempts at web TV when people were producing low(er) budget specfic TV in short bursts in the early 2000s. These pioneers were seeing what you could do with a small budget, limited locale supported by a lot of CGI and PC generated backgrounds. But the plots were scant and oh so focused on introspection. They did do one thing though --- set the precedent of micro-length episodes, usually less than 10 minutes.

As supporting material, perhaps additional content for an existing show, they worked, but for new stories they were less successful. How do you keep an ongoing narrative alive if it keeps on pausing every 10 minutes... and waiting a week? And then there was the required shooting style, assuming that people will most often watch on small screens, from PC monitors to laptop screens all the way down to mobile devices. The change of focus was both the interesting choice and the detractor.  Early attempts were distracting at best?

The smaller format must influence a director or perhaps I should say should ? We can only see so much on a smaller screen, and much in the way TV is done differently than cinema, I hope a different tactic is chosen. So far, other than in those early weak attempts where the episodes were dominated by closeups of faces and very clean, empty wide shots, I have not seen it exhibited. Perhaps widescreen TVs as portals for web content has become ubiquitous? I doubt such. As we have seen, wide release (promoted) webisodes are shot like TV if perhaps with a bit more CGI but since a lot of specfic TV already makes use of that, we cannot tell much of a difference.

So, to followup Battlestar Galactica, the re-envisioned series that ended a few years ago, we got Blood & Chrome.  Technically we got Caprica as the followup but that was a straight-up TV series, where we are told the origin story of the cylons themselves, from advanced service robot to self-aware sentient.  We are also introduced to a young Bill Adama and his connection with events. In Blood & Chrome we are given the Cylon War and Adama is brought back as the cocky viper pilot, again caught up in more than he should.

The first thing I noticed is the high quality of the CGI and backgrounds, but given the backing behind this series and the already available source material, its not that surprising. Again there is a wide variety of familiar Canadian actors including my favourite stand-by, Ty Olsson, which is amusing unto itself considering he had a recurring role as a different character on the main series. But there is weight here, a momentum that carries the short choppy episodes forward.  Skilled people do help things.

The story is one long establishing scene for the milieu that is BSG, answering questions such as what was the first war like? What did the first Cylon centurions look like in the re-imagined world?  What made Adama so famous before he even became a battlestar commander? As well, we get the fan service of seeing old style vipers and raiders in the new CGI supported combat. Its all a nice re-visit to a familiar world. And, as expected, we get a few more blanks filled in about how the Cylons went from awakened robots to the humanoid bodies that like to seduce men.  Its a decent story, gritty and compelling but really just a nod and a wink for fans.

Speaking of nodding & winking, that is all that Forward Unto Dawn is. As the milieu that establishes the Halo world is almost entirely focused on Master Chief, any expansion of the story has to be separated from him but eventually connected. So, instead of his back story or anything that could be milked officially in the actual games, we get a predecessor to the whole Covenant war.  Please note, forgive me any inaccuracies because, while I have played most of the games I am not all that steeped in the world that is Master Chief's. This one is set just before the true war begins, on a training planet, a place where cadets are being taught to fight in a war against a rebellious group of human insurrectionists.  There are no aliens in their world... yet.

This is also from the production valued people that did the above, the group of specfic actors and production people in Vancouver that produce so much of the "Canadian style" of speculative fiction TV. In fact, Ty Olsson is back in a cameo as the older version of our main character Lasky. Lasky is the odd duck among a squad of capable cadets, he brings them down with his attitude and refusal to follow standard orders, believing in his own capability more than his learning. He is mostly wrong but events teach him. The story carries the cadets through training and personal interaction until the planet is attacked by Covenant forces. Its a bit Starship Troopers and a bit Ender's Game.

The story really shines in its production values, using well design sets, interiors and makes use of the familiar forests of BC. But it really gets to be enjoyable when the invasion happens, changing from annoying CW squabbling teenagers to a true life and death situation. There is one scene, where something important is destroyed and the dead fall, that is utterly chilling and really cements that what is happening to the cadets is real.  Then Master Chief shows up and saves the remaining cadets.

There is no spin off show here, no attempt to bring Halo to the small screen. This is a small story set somewhere between a proper TV series and a stand alone web series. It works as a small budget movie and really only would appeal to someone with a passing knowledge of the game. The nod & wink is required. Still, it did lay the ground work for actually exploring the universe of Halo in a proper series. It established it could be done even if the cinema released film died in its infancy.