Video game adaptations are tough. For years, feature film takes on beloved games like Super Mario Bros. and FarCry have been the butt of jokes thanks to producers who take the title and little else from the source material. Even more recent, high-gloss, and faithful efforts seem to lose something in the translation. (See our guide to “47 Video Game Movies Ranked Worst to Best.”)
But Showtime hopes to buck that tragic big-budget trend with a high-end, 10-episode series based on Microsoft’s epic game franchise Halo, which the cable network announced today.
Navigating the landscape from game mechanics to filmed entertainment is often as difficult as any mission series main character Master Chief confronts, but here are the details we know so far about Showtime’s Halo series.
Beginning with 2001’s Halo: Combat Evolved, the Halo series charts the ongoing conflict between a spacefaring humanity in the 26th century and an alien theocracy known as the Covenant. In that first game, Master Chief John-117, a genetically enhanced Spartan supersoldier encased in advanced armor, faces off against the Covenant for control of a Halo — a ring-shaped space station/super weapon created by an ancient and extinct race the Covenant worship as gods. The game changed the perception of first-person shooters on home consoles and gave Microsoft its first huge win in that market when the game was released as a launch title for the original XBox.
Sequels followed — five so far in the main series with a sixth, Halo Infinite, announced two weeks ago at E3 — and a surprising number of spin-offs. New characters appeared to play off against the stoic Master Chief and the spin-offs further developed the Halo universe by featuring more story-driven first-person shooters or switching to other game mechanics like Real Time Strategy. Books, comics, and animated series further deepened the breadth of the franchise’s universe and history.
The television series will attempt to “weave deeply drawn personal stories” with action and adventure set within that “richly imagined vision of the future.” It remains to be seen if Master Chief will feature heavily, as the character is known for his reticence to be unmasked or to speak, but you can be sure he will make his presence known in some fashion.
Since 2013, Spielberg’s Amblin Television has been involved in developing the current iteration of the Halo TV project. At that time, he was said to be on board as an executive producer, but it seems he will not take on any direct creative duties. Nonetheless, there is always the potential he will take an interest in the series, particularly as it focuses on two of his favorite topics: war and aliens.
Microsoft’s 343 Industries — an entity it established to manage the Halo brand following the departure of original developer Bungie — will also produce the series, suggesting a level of direct developer control seen only with Ubisoft producing 2016’s Assassin’s Creed. That film, however, proved developer input may not lead to a great adaptation as that film only garnered a 19% on the Tomatometer and an audience score of 43%.
Exploring the “richly imagined universe” will be executive producer and showrunner Kyle Killen, creator of critically acclaimed Lone Star (83% on the Tomatometer) and the fan-favorite NBC series Awake (89% Audience Score). Both series featured protagonist who faced dual realities — literally in the case of Awake’s Micheal Britten (Jason Isaacs). Both shows also faced tough competition on broadcast television and did not last beyond their initial episode orders; nonetheless, a 10-episode cable series may turn out to be the best format for Killen as a writer and producer. And should Halo‘s protagonist find themselves caught between two worlds — say humanity versus the culture of The Covenant — Killen will be a great fit for the material.
Halo nearly became a feature film in the early part of the 21st century. In 2005, 20th Century Fox and Universal picked up the project thanks in part to a script written by Annhilation’s Alex Garland. According to Garland, the story was a fairly faithful adaptation of the two Halo games available at the time. Peter Jackson was poised to produce with both Guillermo del Toro and Neill Blomkamp eyeing the director’s chair. Sadly, tough negotiations between the studios, Jackson, and producer Peter Schlessel led to the project’s collapse.
After to the project’s implosion, Blomkamp said he would have used Master Chief as “the most important supporting cast member” with other characters doing “most of the emotional heavy lifting.”
Since the time of the failed feature attempt, Microsoft produced two live-action webseries which were later released as films: Halo 4: Forward Unto Dawn and Halo: Nightfall. The latter was produced by Ridley Scott’s production company Scott Free and featured Luke Cage’s Mike Colter as Agent Jameson Locke, a playable character in Halo 5: Guardians.
Also serving as an executive producer is Rupert Wyatt, who helped rebuild 20th Century Fox Apes franchise with 2011’s Rise of the Planet of the Apes (81% on the Tomatometer). Wyatt will also direct multiple episodes of the series. If you’ve seen his work on the premiere episodes of The Exorcist (89%) or Turn: Washington’s Spies (77%), then you know it will look great. Combine his flare with the aesthetics of the Halo universe and you have the potential for one smart-looking science fiction program.
While the project is currently known as Halo, Showtime has reserved the right to give it a subtitle, which only seems fitting as nearly every game in the series has one; although there is something to be said for letting the program encompass the whole Halo universe with the current working title. Granted, something like that would require Master Chief in a role he may not be suited for: a leading man in a television series.
Halo is expected to go into production in early 2019.