It's not even out yet, but Paramount+'s Halo TV series' trailer has already revealed spectacular failures
For fans of Halo that have always wished to see the beloved series on the big screen, it has been a long wait - and one with no end in sight.
Back in the days before Halo 3 had even hit the market, a major Halo motion picture very nearly came together. The project was to be produced by acclaimed director/producer Peter Jackson and directed by a young upstart sci-fi director in Neil Blomkamp after initial talks with director Guillermo Del Toro fell through.
20th Century Fox and Universal had partnered up to produce the film, but pre-production stalled multiple times over budget concerns and the studios had reportedly been wary of having the unproven Blomkamp direct such a financially risky project.
Having only produced short films at the time, Blomkamp appeared an odd choice to helm such a massive property, but Peter Jackson was adamant that Blomkamp was the perfect fit for the movie and was so sure of it he threatened to leave the project if Blomkamp was removed.
Ultimately however the financial concerns between the two studios would leave the project dead in the water and the Halo movie never made it far into pre-production.
Undoubtedly, 20th Century Fox and Universal were kicking themselves when Blomkamp's next project and first feature film proved to be a smash hit - District 9 not only was a fantastic sci-fi film, but it raked in over $210 million off of a total production budget of $30 million, a fraction of what he'd have had to work with on the Halo movie.
Blomkamp also directed multiple well-received live-action trailers for Halo 3 as part of its excellent marketing campaign. These excellent snippets of live action Halo teased fans on what could have been, which just made it more unfortunate we never got to see his version of the Halo story on the big screen.
The scrapped Halo movie was certainly a dissapointment for fans, but given the franchise's massive success not only in gaming but in other media as well (novels, comics, toys, even anime) it seemed like only a matter of time before we'd eventually see a Halo movie grace the big screen.
Though several short web series like Halo 4: Forward Unto Dawn and Halo: Nightfall were later released as full length "films", Halo fans have still never gotten a proper movie.
A TV series with a major budget seemed like it would be the next best thing and has given fans hope of a good live action Halo adaptation - but as they always say, be careful what you wish for.
With development starting all the way back in 2015, the Halo TV series has been a long time coming.
Many fans have waited with hesitant enthusiasm, but given the project is being produced by the folks at Showtime, this Halo fan has been concerned from the beginning.
Showtime somehow manages to garner praise for some of its shows, but it has always been a B-tier channel with poor production values and a penchant for poor acting. To say I didn't like their chances of bringing Halo to the small screen was an understatement, but crazier things have happened so I still held out hope that somehow they could pull it off.
Bringing a beloved gaming franchise to live action is always daunting - just ask the bevy of Hollywood producers and directors who have utterly failed to produce a good videogame movie despite decades of trying (not counting kids movies) - but it's even more difficult when you're making a series rather than a movie when that franchise requires a shitload of CG.
Unless you've got half a billion in Amazon money to burn through, a TV series isn't going to have the same kind of budget as a film would (at least not on a per-minute of screentime basis), and one of the first concerns fans had given Halo's sci-fi setting and alien antagonists was whether or not it could possibly look good on a television show's budget.
With the first full trailer finally revealed for the show that's debuting in March, we can start to answer that question - and, well, it's a pretty mixed bag.
From what's shown in the trailer, the Master Chief and his fellow Spartans and marines (along with their equipment and the iconic Warthog) all look good, and the environments (other than the bizarre-looking chamber that it appears the Covenant's Prophets meet in for the show) look great and fit in the Halo universe.
The Covenant shown in the trailer however don't look nearly as good; though only the Elites really feature in the trailer, the textures just seem off and for some reason they dwarf the Master Chief when they're shown fighting him.
Standing at over 7' tall as a genetically modified supersoldier, the Chief towers over other humans and has always been roughly the physical equivalent of the Covenant's Elites, yet here the Elites make him look like a midget. I suppose if we ever see a marine squaring off with one they may be about crotch level?
And then there's Cortana, the iconic artificial intelligence that represents herself in holographic form throughout the series. The show could rather easily recreate her from one of the games using pretty simple CG and have it look good without requiring a lot of resources, but instead they went with what's seen below and can best be described as looking like an actress from Star Trek playing with a Snapchat filter.
To cap it off there's the entirely show-specific new villain Makee, a human seemingly working for the Covenant (more on that later) that simply looks completely out of place in the world of Halo.
But perhaps what's most jarring about the presentation is Master Chief's voice.
The Master Chief has only ever been shown in his iconic Mjolnir armour - players never see his face despite Spartan John-117 serving as the lead protagonist in six mainline Halo titles (more on that later as well). This arguably makes his voice more important than it would be for a normal character making the transition over to live action, because it is just as recognizable and synonomous with the character as his trademark armour.
This however is an issue that easily solves itself - just like James Earl Jones did with Darth Vader, Master Chief's voice actor Steve Downes would easily fit as the voice of Master Chief in any live action part while a stunt actor suits up for the physical role. Not only would it perfectly bring the Master Chief to live action and avoid pulling Halo fans out of the immersion, but it would also likely be cheaper than hiring a more prominent actor to play the starring role.
Hollywood always thinks they know best however, and the showrunners decided to tap Pablo Schreiber to play the leading man in the show. Of course, that means it's also Pablo who delivers Chief's lines, and well, watch the trailer yourself - he doesn't sound great especially compared to Downes. That's not a knock on Schreiber either, who is a good actor and would surely add to the show in another role, but it's a huge failure on Showtime's part when they had such a perfect and easily available option.
Similarly, the role of Cortana was also a no brainer to give to Jen Taylor - like Steve Downes, she has voiced the character in all of the games and her voice is just as recognizable as Chief's, particularly given that players are used to hearing her constantly over comms as they proceed through each campaign.
Here, the Halo TV show does succeed given Taylor is reprising her role, however even that was bungled by Showtime - they had originally cast another actress who had to be replaced due to COVID restrictions, which then led them to the proper casting decision.
So even when they did manage to get something right, it was by accident. Regardless of circumstance, at least Cortana's voice will be right - as mentioned above, she doesn't exactly look right.
The "It's Not Cannon" Excuse
The show's frontrunners have been clear that the show is not official "cannon" and is instead a new take on the series. One may think this is a good thing as it allows the show's creators more "freedom", but with every single videogame adaptation where this logic is employed, all that the "non-cannon" approach has done has given Hollywood directors and writers more freedom to completely butcher beloved stories and characters.
This approach is used as an excuse for making changes that have almost always resulted in Hollywood making their videogame adaptations more generic or just plain stupid, often to the point where it's clear the creators of the show or movie don't understand why the videogame(s) and their stories were popular in the first place.
These non-sensical changes are already incredibly apparent in the Halo series despite what little footage and info we actually have on the show.
First, there's the afforementioned casting of Master Chief and the fact that the showrunners have confirmed that audiences will see Chief without his helmet during the show. This may not seem like a big deal if you aren't very familiar with the games, but the fact that Bungie and later 343 Industries refused to ever show his face is actually quite a large part of Chief's character.
Despite the fact no one actually knows what he looks like, he has become one of the most recognizable characters in gaming and one of the most beloved thanks to his actions in the games and Steve Downes' excellent and understated voice acting.
He's never seen out of his armour which makes him a mysterious and intimidating figure to the forces he fights with while players can form their own "image" of him in their mind, and it's a credit to the writing and voice acting in the series that such a stoic and "faceless" soldier can provide so much character and lead an entire franchise.
The only way showing his face in the series would make sense for the character would be if the show went into his childhood, which is rife with content from the books (and that's been hinted at, though how far they'll delve into that remains to be seen), but instead they appear to be making Pablo Schreiber's character the star of the show, rather than the Master Chief himself.
As if that wasn't enough, the show has created an entirely new villain, Makee, who is not only human, but is a human working with the covenant. It's as if the writers for the show really don't understand the world that they're writing a story in.
Makee doesn't make sense as a villain here on virtually any level - the Covenant despise humans and view them as filth unworthy of the "great journey" they aspire to follow, to the point where they seek to eradicate the entire species. The premise here is that Makee was taken from a young age and raised by the Covenant to help them fight against the humans, but there is simply no way in hell the Covenant are going to raise or care for a human, and what makes even less sense is there would be no benefit for them to even try.
It's not as if she could have special powers or something to give them an advantage against the humans in their war - or if she does, they have really lost the plot. It simply makes no sense and the character was undoubtedly introduced in an attempt to give the show a main antagonist that didn't require a ton of CG.
Therefore, instead of having a proper villain from the Halo universe, we have a sloppily shoe-horned in sideshow that isn't believable nor intimidating like many other foes the Chief has squared off against.
The trailer also exposed plenty of timeline problems - Dr. Halsey explicitly states that the Spartans were created to combat the Covenant, when in reality they were created by the UNSC to combat insurrectionists and protect the inner colonies from other humans; they were already battle-hardened by the time humans first ran into the Covenant, suggesting the war with the Covenant has been going on much longer in this series.
This variation also gets rid of certain ethical issues about the Spartan program that would have been perfect to explore in a TV series (anyone who's read the Halo: The Fall of Reach novel will know what I'm talking about - anyone who doesn't, I strongly recommend you read it).
The show clearly depicts the Master Chief and his team searching for "Halo" (in this case, Installation 04 or Alpha Halo, which is the Halo ring from the first game) in order to win the war against the Covenant - this is also a major deviation from the original game, as the Halo ring isn't known about by humans whatsoever and is instead stumbled upon (and subsequently crash landed on) by the Pillar of Autumn as it flees from a group of Covenant ships.
From what we've seen so far, it just seems like a jumbled mess that is going to piss off series fans (more than it already has) and has missed what makes Halo such a beloved franchise to this day, meaning it's likely not going to win over audiences unfamiliar with the series either.
There's also more hints toward generic trash writing as well - such as Halsey's dialogue in the trailer about the Spartans being "upgradeable and controllable" as she adjusts settings on a screen, implying they're somehow using implants or the suit to control the Spartans and the Chief specifically. This would be about the dumbest thing they could introduce - so I fully expect it to be in the show.
Editing Fails or Cheaping Out on Props?
It's one thing to have the occasional coffee-cup sneak into a medieval scene or a camera visible in the background in a TV show - but it's rare to see such mistakes make it into a two-minute trailer, yet Halo fans were quick to scratch their heads when they saw a 2001 Chevy Tahoe prominently featured in the midst of an action scene.
Now it's one thing if it was an accident, but what's even more bizarre is it seems highly possible it wasn't - given all the CG going on in the shot, it's hard to imagine it wasn't caught by anyone working on it let alone in post-production.
The fact that one colonist fighting alongside the UNSC is firing what is clearly an AK47 in the trailer as well seems to suggest that the show is implying the outer colonies are using 21st (or 20th in the case of the AK) century equipment...in the 2500's.
This is about as non-sensical as humanly possible - it's one thing for future items to be similar or based on current designs, it's another to imply that five hundred years from now humans are going to bring 500+ year old vehicles and rifles to another planet light years away. I don't know if it's just cost-cutting or their attempt at showing that the outer colonies aren't well taken care of, but it's just another jarring misstep in a series that hasn't even come out yet.
Who knows, maybe all these changes will turn the show into a smash hit for Paramount+ and create a spinoff universe that's just as popular as the original franchise. For series fans however, the dream of seeing a proper big-budget live action Halo adaptation will likely have to wait at least a few years longer.