Halo's Arms Race, or when live-action is more dead than CGI

In an obvious move, Peter Moore concluded Microsoft's E3 keynote with a trifecta of Halo data. But what we're still a bit befuddled by, is the 1 minute, 52 seconds of quasi-live-action footage, presented as a collaboration between Bungie, director Neill Blomkamp, and WETA.

Moore introduced the footage as "a chance to see what they've been working on, and a new chance to believe." It's a fuzzy statement, to be sure, and one that was not clarified once the live-action spot, and the keynote, ended. Admittedly, we were perplexed. Was this an indication that the Halo movie was back on track? Or something else?

Bungie later clarified the matter on their website, giving the footage a name ("Arms Race"), and describing it as "the first digital short depicting humanity's struggle to save Earth." Further clarification came from the forums of fansite Bungie.org, with an official Microsoft e-mail confirming "Arms Race" as the first in a series of short films being released throughout the summer, leading up to Halo 3's September release on the Xbox 360.

So no more mystery: the short piece was not a teaser trailer for the Halo feature-length film. Nor was it, as several of us surmised, a last shot at convincing film studios that the franchise had the fortitude to reel in those Hollywood big bucks. No, "Arms Race" is nothing more than the beginning of yet another marketing campaign for the megaton, über-anticipated, HALO 3.

And we couldn't be more relieved.With its teletype terminal commands, and reckless blending of copious CGI effects with scant real-world elements, "Arms Race" would be more at home on the Sci-Fi channel, rather than inviting comparisons to Bungie's stellar in-studio work, produced almost always out of real-time, in-game models.

Aside from the few assembly-line shots of sniper rifles, the only things live-action about "Arms Race" were the barely-breathing actors, trying to look rough and tough despite being dressed in ridiculous, ill-fitting costumes and standing next to purple explosions.

We're amazed that WETA, Peter Jackson's own special effects and prop workshop, would have had anything to do with the juvenile approach to science fiction seen in the short, but we're more inclined to place the blame squarely on the shoulders of director Neill Blomkamp.

Yes, Blomkamp has made a few arthouse flicks. But what fewer people mention is his day job as a 3d animator for television shows like Smallville, Dark Angel, and Stargate SG-1. What might be fine on broadcast cable over an analog signal just doesn't fly in high-definition, viewed on a flat-screen monitor or an HDTV. The seam between CGI and live-action in his work is entirely transparent, and despite Blomkamp's best attempts to mask the short's shortcomings with quick cuts, it's still readily apparent when something's real, and when it's just a big blue screen.

So sure, we're relieved that "Arms Race" isn't that Halo blockbuster we were hoping for. There's definitely a right way and a wrong way to do Halo, and though we'll reserve our final judgment until the last of the short films debuts, we're just not sure if Blomkamp is on the same page as the rest of the "Halo Nation."

This article was originally published on Joystiq.