Halo’s tricky escape from development hell

Spielberg finally figures out how to adapt bestselling games franchise.

Halo... Escaped from development hell? (Credit: Microsoft)

Steven Spielberg will executive produce a live-action series based on the cult video game ‘Halo’.  Just read that back to yourself – the most successful filmmaker in history, adapting one of the most influential videogames in history. What could go wrong…

Making movies based on videogames is a funny one - especially a game like ‘Halo’.

“Videogame movie” is a bit of a dirty phrase in Hollywood. From the passable ‘Tomb Raider’ and ‘Resident Evil’ series, to the horrors of ’Street Fighter’ and ‘Mortal Kombat’, there’s not a “good movie” amongst them.  Unless you count Bob Hoskin’s regrettable ‘Super Mario Bros.’ as “good”. Which you shouldn’t…

[Steven Spielberg to executive produce Halo series]

But ‘Halo’ could be different. Given the game’s insanely cult following, finding an audience should be easy. With its epic story arc and immersive gameplay, keeping fans entertained shouldn’t be difficult either.  And, thanks to the £2.3 billion pile of dosh that ‘Halo’s’ already hauled in, a big screen spin-off kind of funds itself. It looks great on paper. But paper’s not that great to watch.

‘Halo’s’ potential pit falls are many. Finding a story for starters, given that most video games are kind of lacking in the plot department. But the real issue is, ironically, the game’s massive popularity – meaning almost everyone has an opinion about how to do it “right”. ‘District 9’ director Neill Blomkamp found this out the hard way.

Blomkamp was previously attached to the ‘Halo’ project, with his movie-making godfather Peter Jackson on producing duties. The pair had been working on a script for around four months when they ran into the problems of popularity - derailing production before it had even started.

[Blomkamp talks District 9 sequel and failed Halo movie]

“If I was given control, I would like to do that film, but that’s the problem,” said the South-African born director, looking back on the failed production. “When something pre-exists, there’s this idea of ‘I have my interpretation of what that is’, but along with it comes like 150 other people involved with the film’s interpretation of the same intellectual property and then the entire film-going audience has their interpretation that you can live up to or fail in their eyes.

“And that part of it isn’t appealing to me. But the original pieces are appealing.”

Jackson pinned the blame directly on studio interference. “It fell over due to various politics between Universal and Fox,” said ‘The Hobbit’ helmsman, before revealing how taken back by the failure he was: “It’s almost like losing a member of the family - not that bad, but you’re emotionally committed to the movie and you’ve totally sort of gone there with your heart and soul.”

This is where Spielberg can play to his strengths, after all he’s the people’s movie maker. The man behind ‘Jaws’, ‘E.T.’ ‘Indiana Jones’ and ‘Jurassic Park’; if anyone knows how to please everyone, it’s Steven Spielberg.

That’s the pep talk over (if you’re reading Steven?), because the movie-making legend still has a literally faceless obstacle to overcome, ‘Halo’s’ iconic, but permanently masked protagonist, Master Chief.

[Spielberg’s Star Wars Millions]

Strong/silent type Chief, a genetically enhanced super-solider, is divisive amongst critics. Is he a blank (boring) canvas? Or does his characterless-ness actually allow players to project their own personalities into the game? Either way it’s an issue for Spielberg’s production. Keeping Chief vacant risks things going a bit ‘Hitman’, giving audiences the armour-clad cold shoulder. But change the iconic character too much and fans will want blood. Or at least a refund.

Maybe that’s why a TV series makes sense? It’s lower risk.

Spielberg will get multiple chances to win over fans, rather than an intense one-shot movie gamble. Plus, by serialising the story, it kind of fits the chapter based medium of video games in the first place. Then there’s the money - and by ditching the big screen for the TV screen they break up the budget into re-writeable, cancellable chunks.

Back in 2001, Microsoft launched the X-box with ‘Halo: Combat Evolved’, so bringing Spielberg on board its flagship series, just as the company announces the release of its epic looking X-Box One, seems as much of a PR stunt as anything else. Still, this could be the start of something big.

“The 'Halo' universe is an amazing opportunity to be at that intersection where technology and myth-making meet to produce something truly groundbreaking,” said Spielberg.

He’s excited. But are you? Tell us in the comments below.