07 February 2014

Broken Promises: The HALO Movie

HALO is undeniably one of the biggest names in the world of video games and science fiction. It transformed the original Xbox console into the powerhouse we now know today, and minted a generation of wide-eyed fans, and folding more into the world of military sci-fi as well. For me, HALO is a revelation, giving me something that had been missing in my life, a great sci-fi adventure that I could revisit and kick ass as much as I wanted. For years, HALO was my game-of-choice, and one of the factors behind the founding of FWS, and when rumors hit of a feature film of my favorite sci-fi universe, I was fan-girling for days. Those days horribly twisted into years of rumors (even as late as of January of 2014!), false starts, and hopelessness. Today, the HALO movie looks dead to the bare bones, and the world, along with me, as moved on, but we diehard HALO fans still nurse the hard emotions of that broken promise of the much hyped HALO movie. If you are wondering why FWS posted this Broken Promises article instead of the promised Lasers: the Killer Light article, it was mainly due to time. I was able to write this one on the DL at work without attaching attention, and with the laser blogpost, I had stacks of papers to pour through...much more obvious what I am doing. Next weeks...I promise!

The Promise of the HALO Movie
While HALO ranks in the elite of the great video games, that doesn't infer that it could become a great sci-fi action movie. But, somehow, HALO seemed different, like the story and the character of the Master Chief was tailor-made for the big screen and a fast food tie-in. This theory was only reinforced by the live-action sequences filmed for the advert campaign for HALO 3 way back in 2007. When I saw this, the wheels in my mind began to turn a feverish pace, creating my first military sci-fi novel, and the fan-girling started all over again…I really need to see someone about that. For fans, seeing HALO on the big screen was intoxicating, and it very well could have been one of the great military science fiction movies, and finally dethroning that fucking Starship Troopers movie! It was hoped by fans and the studio that the magic would transfer from game to film. It also helped fans and the entertainment industry at large that Bungie and Microsoft were being cautious with adaption of their billion-dollar baby into the world film by making sure that the original material and the fans were properly honored. This fueled even more excitement of the promise of HALO would be fulfilled.     

The Tease
The relationship between HALO and Hollywood goes back to 2004; however for most of us fans look to the real tease of the HALO film with the release of the many HALO live-action adverts. With such classics as “Starry Night”, “Believe:, and “Landfall”, it was proof positive that the world of HALO could jump from video game to live-action and look damn good while doing it. This was the tease of the promise of the upcoming film: gritty hard-edged futuristic war with all of the heart, pain, and glory associated with any war film. For me, the HALO movie, if done with the raw intensity and emotion could have been an amazing ride and a groundbreaking military sci-fi film. Little did we fans know, when we were drooling over the "Landfall" segments, we were actually staring at the corpse of the HALO movie.  

The Sad History of the HALO Movie

  • 2002- With the massive success of the original Xbox HALO: Combat Evolved game, Hollywood became interested in this little military sci-fi game. Bungie rebuffs Hollywood over control over the verging HALO franchise. The idea of a HALO film goes cold for two years as Bungie readies the sequel.   
  • 2004- Around the time of HALO: 2 release, Hollywood again warms to the idea of a HALO film. Peter Schlessel, former film executive tells Bungie and Microsoft to fund the movie project themselves to keep control of their brand. This turns into grand plot to present a complete HALO script and terms to the major Hollywood studios. 
  • 2005- Alex Garland is hired to write the HALO screenplay in February and paid one million dollars to do it. In June, CAA and Microsoft invade Hollywood with the script, the terms, and actors in SPARTAN-II armor. During the summer of this years, Fox and Universal close a deal for the movie, and it was announced on August 22 with summer of 2008 being the targeted release date. Peter Jackson becomes executive producer.  
  • 2006- Another HALO script is authored by D.B. Weiss that blended his ideas and the previous Garland script. In August, Neil Blompkemp is hired as director. On October 31st, it is announced that Fox/Universal are out due to disagreements over money. The HALO movie enters "Development Hell" phase. 
  • 2007- In May, Peter Jackson is interviewed, and says that there should be renewed interest in the HALO movie project with the release of HALO 3. By the summer, rumors whirl around the internet that 20th Century Fox will takeover the rights for the sleeping movie project. Nothing came of it. In October, Neil Blomkamp says the HALO film project is dead, by Frank O'Conner fires back that no one expect Bungie and Microsoft can declare the film dead. Neil and Peter are still attached to the film, officially. 
  • 2008- A oddball rumor popped up around April 1st, that G.I. Joe screen-writer Stuart Beattie penned three scripts that cover the fall of Reach, the events on the Halo ring, and the alien invasion of Earth. Some heavies over at Microsoft Game Studios made quotes in summer of 2008 that spoke of Microsoft was still courting other studios and was careful who they parented with.
  • 2009- During a press function at Comic-Con for District 9, Neil Blomkamp denials rumors that his new sci-fi movie was proof-positive of him being able to handle the HALO film, and he drops that he is no longer involved. Peter Jackson also is quoted around the same time about the aborted HALO: Chronicles and the stillborn movie. He cited politics for the film being dead. However, Microsoft fires back, saying that HALO was not dead. In the late summer of 2009, Steven Spielberg was impressed by the Beattie's screenplays. Microsoft counters with the normal "we're looking and the project is on hold, but important to us". Frank O'Conner states in late 2009, that six years of HALO projects are being planned. 
  • 2010- This is a big year for HALO. Reach and the shitty anime Legends all drop, fueling to the almost dead fire of the movie project. It is during this year that HALO fans are told by Frank O'Conner that the film would not be a retelling of the original 2001 game. By October, Dreamworks gains the distribution rights, and some rumors float around of a 2014 release date(!).  
  • 2012- The live-action, five-part web-series HALO: Forward Unto Dawn is released and concluded with the release of HALO 4 in November.
  • 2013- Neil Blomkamp is quoted as saying he would like to still direct the HALO move during an interview with IGN. During the Xbox One reveal, Microsoft says that a HALO TV series is under development.
  • 2014: Wild rumor were flung around the internet about Ridley Scott directing the HALO movie project. Catching fire like the dry California hills in summer, Microsoft had to release statement denying these rumors as nothing more than wishful fanboy dreaming. Besides, Ridley Scott needs to make The Forever War movie first.  

What Really Happened to the HALO Movie?!
Back in 2006, it seemed that the HALO movie was a foregone conclusion, and was going to be released in summer of 2008…but, yet that didn't happen and by 2007, the film is declared “dead” by the major parties involved. So, what the frak happened to the film? It can best be summed up by words: Greed, Pride, and being naive. On June 6th, 2005, Microsoft put a bold plan into action on the streets of Hollywood. Actors clad in MJOLNIR armor left the offices of Creative Artists Agency (on the top tier talent agencies in Hollywood), with a team handpicked by Microsoft and led by Peter Schlessel, and their missions was stormed the offices of the majority of film studios with two things: the HALO movie script and the terms sheet. Their goal was to get the HALO film greenlit and funded. Each studio would have a few hours with the script, which would be viewed in front of the Microsoft team and the SPARTANS. If the studio heads did not agree to the terms, than that was it, game over, man. 
It was believed by CAA and Microsoft that their boldness, with the showmanship of the SPARTANS, along with the stats of the HALO franchise would yield results in favor of Microsoft. The idea of using actors cloaked in the powered armor of the super-soldiers from the game was to generate buzz around Tinsel Town. However, Microsoft was conditioned to the business world of computers and gaming studio, whom all worked differently than the studio system back in LA. While Hollywood deals in egos, favoritism, and trends all over lunch, Microsoft was more for the data-centered mindset of gaming studios, where if the deal hit the points, it was a deal...but not so in the cold streets of Hollywood. For their part, Microsoft felt that they were in an great position to get what they wanted. They had a million-dollar script penned by Alex Garland of 28 Days Later fame that was forged in the lore of HALO, plus they had the sales numbers of all things HALO to be the muscle of the deal. Microsoft believed they were offering the deal of a lifetime to the studios with a vast built-in audience just waiting to make it rain on box office on the behalf the HALO film. Sadly, this was the sin of greed and pride playing themselves out. The greed portion is Microsoft demanding a lean $75 million dollar budget, rapid production and turnaround to capitalize on the current feverish popularity of HALO, and $10 million against 15% of the box office gross. 
That was not all and here comes the pride portion of the sinning. In the terms agreement, Microsoft would have creative approval of the film's production team and actors, sixty 1st Class airline tickets to the film's premiere, along with no more Microsoft money would be poured into the film's production that they had already spent, and the computer giant would not surrender the rights to the richest of pots: the merchandising. Also mentioned in the terms was an allowance for a Microsoft representative to oversee the cuts of the film for their approval...but the studio was going to pay for the travel expensive of said representative. The studios balked, despite the $600 million in sales of over 13 million copies of the games in 2006, plus the profits from books, comics, and toyline; Microsoft hadn't done their homework. They came into Hollywood like a wrecking ball, and figured that their video game franchise was the killer-app to bring an uber-successful video game to the silver screen. The company from Seattle forgot about the cruse of the video game movies. 
Back in 1993, one of the biggest names in video games, Mario Brothers, was (poorly) translated into a major feature film that cost $48 million. Disney was burned by the less-than-half return on the cost, and that canned dogshit film became the textbook example of how Hollywood could fuck up a major and massive successful video game title. More current to the business of bring John-117 to cinema, was Tomb Raider. Lara Croft was a video game star built on the interests of boys and the blueprint of Indiana Jones. This British digital bombshell was brought to life by smoking actress Angelina Jolie in 2001 with Lara Croft: Tomb Raider. This film is still one of the best video game-to-movies done (it still isn't that good, either!), making nearly $400 million at the box office, despite some poor reviews. Fresh in the minds of these studio executives was the failure of the 2003 sequel. While it was panned by critics, it did make back its money via the international ticket sales.
Given the poor performance of the Tomb Raider: Angel of Darkness video game and lean North American box office returns, a third film was cancelled. Microsoft firmly believed that their game was different and that the Master Chief and his legions of fans would pack the local theaters, and the company attempted to use that fact to force the studios to do business on Microsoft's terms. There is that pride thing again. Two studios were interested by end of HALO's invasion of Hollywood, FOX and Universal. Microsoft hoped to use them against each other, driving up the price, however, the studios split the deal, and left Microsoft needing some Viagra. Universal took the US market, while FOX took the international market. In the end, as Microsoft Games Studios general manager said back in 2002: "We (Microsoft) don't understand Hollywood"...it seems that Microsoft should have also read The Art of War. When the film project started to get developed, Microsoft pushed for a big name in the director chair, however, executive producer Peter Jackson pushed for his own choice: Neil Blomkamp
At the time, Neil Blomkamp was not the director of District 9 and Elysium, but an advert director of some note and talent. Jackson was taking a huge leap faith on Neil, and Microsoft didn't like it, and in the end, FOX didn't like him either. Even in interviews, Blomkamp called it: "a clusterfuck from day one." Today, it is clear to see that Neil Blomkamp was the man for the job, he knew HALO, he played HALO, and he loved the games and wanted to justice by the material. Hell, I want him to direct if my books were made into films! The studio did not share in the vision that Neil presented, and this soured him to the point of never wanting to work with the FOX studio again. Microsoft was worried. HALO was the killer app flagship title for their Xbox system, and one of the most beloved titles in modern gaming. If they fucked it up, fans and gamers would take it hard, and so would Microsoft in profits. During this period, $12 million was given to WETA to begin making the Warthog, armor, and arms.  The test-shots that originated from these WETA props and a shot in New Zealand would be seen later in the epic HALO: Landfall short live-action promotion film. 
We all know that the HALO 3 live-action adverts were amazing get-your-panties-wet stuff, and why in the name of the Lords of Kobol wouldn't the studios and Microsoft not move forward with the film after seeing that? It was money. Fucking money that prevented the original film 2006-2007 effort from seeing light. Everyone wanted a pieces of the HALO pie, and by the end of 2006, there seems to not enough profit for the major parties involved to carry forward. On October 31st, 2006, ironically enough, Peter Jackson made an statement that Universal and FOX were out, and we fans would be waiting for someone else to pick up the ball. By 2007, Neil Blomkamp said that the HALO movie with him at the helm was dead, and he moved on to make District 9. Even today, in 2014, the HALO film is still dead to the point that would need a necromancer to bring it back to life. I think the best quote about the crying shame of the cancellation of the project comes from Larry Shaprio from CAA: "It could have been AVATAR."                

Factors Against the HALO Movie:

“We Just Lost the initiative”
HALO's popularity has been sliding since the heydays of Reach and HALO 3. Back then, the Xbox Live lobbies were filled with thousands, and these games were among the most popular for the online community. However, these have not been so rosy for HALO 4 and the experiment with Spartan Ops. While both enjoyed good numbers at the beginning of the game's drop, there was a sharp decline just a month later, and now, it's even worse. The planned Spartan Ops: Season 2 was cancelled, and the normal HALO traffic on the servers is way down. It seems that the apex of the HALO universe was several years ago, and now, the entire franchise is winding down. This could all spell bad news for the very expensive HALO movie, if and when, it was to be made. Another element to consider, the HALO movie has been promised since 2005, with rumors peppering the internet since then, and this has taxed us fans. The initiative has been lost, and at this point, the HALO movie would be fighting an uphill battle to recapture the magic that existed with HALO only a few years ago.  

What Story to You Tell?
The story of HALO spans across dozens of video games, books, comics, videos, and even fanfiction (I've even done a few!), making it a giant world of stories to cull from…but, which one becomes translated to the big screen? At its core, HALO is the story of the Forerunner rings, the Flood, the Master Chief, the war, the SPARTANs, and Cortana. How do wrap all of that in just a two hour movie? I believe the answer is that you do not. While scripts do exist, and many have taking a stab at translating the original 2001 video game into a film, we really have not seen the scripts, and that could be the issue with why we may never see a HALO movie. While the story of the original Xbox game is one of the best in both the world of video games and in sci-fi as a whole, it would be hard to cram all of that information and events in a single film…just look how DUNE turned out! 
The studios may have not moved forward with the film project partly due to just this: inability to translate the story and spirit of the game into film. Of course, this is the same issue with all video game movies, and HALO, despite its status and originality, it not immune to same fate. I think, as do other HALO fans, is to break up the core HALO story into three movies. The first film would tell the story of the fall of Reach; the second movie would be half of the HALO: Combat Evolved story, up until the discovery of the Flood. Finally, the series would conclude with end protion of the game, and the same ending as the game, seeing how it is prefect for translation to film. Call it: HALO: The Fall of Reach, HALO: Installation 04, and HALO: Final Run. I doubt that any studio would commit the funding or time to creating and supporting three HALO films. Frank O’Conner at Bungie understood this as well, and in 2010 Bungie and Microsoft were eyeballing Reach was the best bet for a film adaptation and appeal to a wider audience, but that was in 2010. They felt that a direction translation of HALO: CE into film was not a wise move, and another HALO storyline would be a better fit.

Our Only Hope: The HALO TV Series?
At the moment, little or nothing is known about the Steven Spielberg produced military sci-fi TV series. At one time, it was going to be exclusive to the Xbox One, but that has since been questioned. As per setting, main characters, and even if John-117 will be in the series are all unknown. What is known is that the budget will be about $5-$10 million dollars per episode, and quality is job one, and Microsoft VP said that the HALO TV series will not be “Filler”. It is believed that the recent web-series HALO: Forward onto Dawn was a test of bring the HALO universe into the live-action universe and in a format to keep the audience coming back. This was the middle stage of the HALO live-action efforts. While grander than the previous live-action adverts, it was not the $129 million dollar special effect laden feature film. In late January, rumors point to Neil Blomkamp directing the pilot episode, but none of this has been confirmed. I believe that if the HALO: The TV Series is successful, it could finally led bigger HALO produces… maybe even that movie we were promised?  

Should the HALO Movie Even be Made?
Given the voodoo that surrounds video-game-to-movies and the pile of dogshit that results (ever see the Mario Brothers movie or even Wing Commander?…*shudder*), should HALO even attempt to soil its holy name in realm of cinema? To be honest, I’m not sure it is worth it. Despite my burning love and grand respect for the world of HALO, I could not handle if the long await film was completely fucked up. I mean sci-fi fans have already had to deal with the crushing kick-to-the-balls that the Star Wars prequels and the oddness that was Prometheus, and I just don’t think that we could take a HALO movie that sucked. At this point, I think that it is time to put away the idea of a big screen film, and focus and re-energizing the franchise via better games for the Xbox One.        


  1. Nice overview of the attempt at a Halo movie. I'm a big Halo fan but don't really want a movie and and just glad we got District 9 out of it.

  2. I was wanted the HALO movie, at first, but then reality sent in, and now I think they should just move on. Thanks for reading and commenting!