The Halo franchise is one of the most popular video game series ever made. It’s single-handedly responsible for launching the original Xbox and has since gone on to have five sequels, including the upcoming Halo Infinite, spinoff games like Halo Wars and Halo Reach. While gamers mainly play a Halo game for its competitive and game-changing multiplayer modes, for many its the story that keeps drawing them in. That’s part of the reason why the live action series from Showtime is a great idea.
While Halo is first and foremost a video game franchise, it’s also a multimedia powerhouse that features web series, animated shorts, graphic novels and a series of well-received novels. The novels in particular help paint an excellent picture, developing characters and the conflict between humanity and an alien faction known as “The Covenant”. In the original game, the story was second to the gameplay and the lore and history had yet to be properly developed. The lead character, the battle-hardened Master Chief, was pretty one dimensional and served as nothing more than a means to fight hordes of aliens.
That all started to change with the advent of the expanded universe, namely the early novels. It’s here where fans learned about the Chief’s origins, his name and how he ended up becoming the faceless killing machine that he is. As the years went on, the stories started branching away from the Chief and the authors started telling stories about the Forerunners, the launch of the SPARTAN-II program and fleshing out certain details only hinted at in the games, such as the fall of the planet Reach. The novels and graphic novels began expanding the lore, filling out a dense history of events that took place across the universe and used human mythology, namely Greek and Norse, to tie its narrative together in a compelling fiction that was more character driven than it was action oriented.
Like the Star Wars Expanded Universe before it, Halo’s EU gave us new characters that heightened the overall narrative without making anyone feel lost if they missed a title. It worked on its own too, with those who only played the games not having to rely on the events in the books (with the exception of some of the events and characters in Halo: Guardians). Now, the Halo franchise is looking to move to the small screen in the best way possible.
Halo is no stranger to television and film. It was initially going to be a live-action film produced by Peter Jackson and directed by Neill Blomkamp. That didn’t get underway but the attempt at bringing Halo to the small screen didn’t die with that project. A web series titled Forward Unto Dawn happened and Ridley Scott produced the film Nightfall, which in all honestly was a bit of a disaster and is everything that Showtime should avoid doing, from tone, direction and effects. There was also an anime series of short films and The Fall of Reach online mini-series, neither of which gained the interest of fans and critics alike.
But now Showtime, the premium network behind shows like Billions, Homeland and Ray Donovan are bringing their prestige and budget to bring the Halo universe to life in a way that hopes to respect the franchise and tell a new and captivating story that fits in with Showtime’s brand. The ten-episode series is to be helmed by showrunner Kyle Killen (Awake) and will feature episodes directed by Rupert Wyatt (Rise of the Planet of the Apes). Steven Spielberg’s Amblin Television will aid in the production of the series. Showtime CEO David Nevins had this to say about the project:
“Halo is our most ambitious series ever, and we expect audiences who have been anticipating it for years to be thoroughly rewarded. In the history of television, there simply has never been enough great science fiction. Kyle Killen’s scripts are thrilling, expansive and provocative; Rupert Wyatt is a wonderful, world-building director; and their vision of Halo will enthrall fans of the game while also drawing the uninitiated into a world of complex characters that populate this unique universe.”
Production is slated to start in 2019, so this gives the writers and producers ample time to come up with a great story. As stated already, Halo has struggled when bringing its universe to the small or big screen. But with this partnership with Showtime, something has shifted. While we expect plenty of science fiction action, that’s not what the focus on this show should be if it has a home at Showtime. It appears that intellectual science fiction is having something of a rebirth on television right now, with Netflix’ Altered Carbon and Amazon recently acquiring the critical darling The Expanse. While both these series offer great action and sci-fi wonder, it’s the story and character that gets people to come back and Showtime knows this.
The writers and producer of this untitled Halo series should, in turn, look at the vast offering of Halo books for their main source of inspiration on tone. The show could then be an extension of what the authors have been doing since the novels started, which is expanding on the lore of the franchise while giving us a deeper character experience. Showtime has some of the best shows on TV now and they’re smart to get in on the science fiction interest with their own property. Bringing intelligent and mature driven storytelling in conjunction with the scale that’s expected with the Halo franchise could mean that Showtime is sitting on the next big thing. But they have a responsibility first to tell an engaging story that’s ripe with interesting characters and a rich world. Just because the property is based on a game doesn’t mean the producers should adapt this series like a video game. Most video game adaptations (and by most I mean just about all of them) have suffered greatly because they try replicating that gameplay experience to a film instead of focusing on telling an authentic story within that game’s universe.
Since Halo is about a galactic conflict, telling a new story with new characters would be the best way to go instead of retelling the Master Chief’s story is the best way to go. He may work great as a video game lead, but not as much as a compelling main character in a show. A new face, with new motivations and history, allows the writers to be free with their creations and tell first and for most, a great story. Once that is in place, the special effects and action can be added. I think a show like The Expanse has more or less perfected this balancing act.
Are you excited for a Halo TV series on Showtime though? Is this something that can compete with the intellectual sci-fi on TV today or will it fall victim to catering to the video game crowd? Let us know in the comments and check out our work on whether music or morality takes priority and if a “Spider-Verse” can work without Spider-Man.