When I play an amazing video game with beautiful cinematics and an interesting or engaging story, I often think to myself that it would make for an amazing film. But I also think how much I dread Hollywood attempting to do so because there’s a 98% chance they’ll make a low-quality movie that doesn’t do the property justice.
This is sadly the current state of the video game movie genre. With awful films like Max Payne, Doom, Hitman and the more recent Resident Evil movies not living up to their names, it’s tough to get excited and easy to be worried about big studios taking our favorite games and damaging the franchise.
What would of been one of the biggest and most ambitious video game adaptations to date was of course, that of Halo, a movie to be based on the incredibly successful and critically adored franchise of sci-fi first person shooters by Bungie and Microsoft. Halo is one of those film properties in development hell, having almost seen the light of day a few years back when Peter Jackson brought in the at-the-time-unknown director Neill Blomkamp (District 9) to helm the feature.
Blomkamp showed off his skills with his amazing work on the Halo 3 video game marketing campaign, where he directed a live-action short which, while in a completely different style than the clean and colorful games, was harsh, gritty and realistic – a style he later utilized in District 9 which he and Jackson chose to work on after the Halo movie was canned by Fox and Universal due to budgetary concerns and fear that the video game movie may not perform at the box office. Blame the horrendous Doom movie.
Since then, we’ve – for better or worse – not heard of any serious movement in the Halo movie, despite the successful releases of several Halo games since then. Halo 3 had a spin-off in Halo 3: ODST, Microsoft released the Halo Wars strategy game and in less than two weeks the eagerly anticipated game of the year candidate Halo: Reach will hit shelves. With the money these games earn, the love from gamers and critics, and the success of tie-in merchandise, where is our Halo movie?
At the MI6 Conference in San Francisco back in April, Content Manager Frank O’Connor of Microsoft Game Studios (previously the voice of Bungie Studios, developers of Halo) had the following to say about the Halo movie in a presentation titled “Extending Your Game Beyond the Package.”
“We’re going to make a movie when the time is right… We own the IP. If we want to make a movie, the scale of all the other stuff that we do changes dramatically. We make tens and tens of millions of dollars on ancillary stuff, toys, apparel, music and publishing. If we do a movie all of that will grow exponentially. We have some numbers if we do a movie, but it changes everything. It also changes our target and age demographic.”
When is the time right I wonder? The main trilogy of games is over and we’re getting a prequel story with Halo: Reach. The creators, Bungie Studios, have left Microsoft for a long-term deal with Activision-Blizzard to work on a new sci-fi franchise. And they frustrated Peter Jackson and Neill Blomkamp to the point where even if they were offered a chance at making the Halo movie again, they likely wouldn’t.
Perhaps Microsoft and those involved are doing it the right way, not rushing it for the sake of expanding the brand. Fast forward to present day and Variety spoke with O’Connor about the brand and the Halo movie and he explains that his goal is to “protect the franchise.”
“I don’t have a mandate by management to grow it by any numbers… The mandate is to grow it naturally.”
Sound familiar? If you’re a gamer-movie geek you may recognize this thought process from similar situations arising out of the Metal Gear Solid and Half-Life properties where the developers/publishers are trying to protect their brand and instead of letting Hollywood make a film for an easy buck, they want to wait and be involved themselves to ensure it’s done right. In the case of Half-Life, developers Valve may even try to make the movie on their own. Wouldn’t that be something?
O’Connor isn’t joking about protecting the Halo brand however, as Bungie must approve every detail of every product tie-in that hits the market. They have an extensive and growing “bible” of the Halo universe and they want the books, comics and merchandise all to follow this cannon. Variety points out that Bungie even has to approve the colors of military uniforms and armor on toys, and they provide the digital models of characters to McFarlane Toys who make the popular Halo action figure lines.
“We have a lot in common with ‘Star Wars’ when it comes to having a big universe, recognizable characters and fundamentally really cool stuff… A lot of studios and film companies and game companies have tried to create (their own “Star Wars”). (But) you can’t set out to make a successful franchise on purpose. It has to be something that fans are attracted to and love. There’s only so much you can do to achieve that deliberately. But it always comes down to a great story and characters.”
Microsoft currently holds the film rights for Halo and truthfully does wish to make the Halo movie when the story and budget are finalized. The budgetary concerns of several years ago, where the project cost was exceeding $135 million, are no longer insane numbers for a summer action blockbuster (hell, they spent $200 million on Prince of Persia) so now it comes down to finding the right script and talent. Microsoft is still working off scripts by Garland, Stuart Beattie, D.B. Weiss and Josh Olson as the template going forward. Says O’Connor:
“We’re still interested in making an excellent ‘Halo’ movie… We’ve created an awful lot of documentation and materials to support a feature film. We have a good idea of what kind of story we want to tell, but won’t move on it until there’s a great reason to do it. We’re in no particular hurry.”
While I understand some hardcore fans will be disappointed that this isn’t happening right away and that Microsoft isn’t fast-tracking the Halo movie, this is a very good thing. Trust me. The last thing we want is the awesome Halo franchise turned into non-awesome movies because once that happens, there’s no going back.
As for the story, the movie will not be a retelling of one of the games’ stories and instead will be a standalone story. Devoted Halo fans will no doubt debate this chosen direction and we will never know if this is the right path until we see the final product. But usually when those involved with the video game film go with their own direction and don’t follow what worked about the story, style and character of the game – they fail. “If you did do a 100% faithful version, 999 times out of 1,000 it would be a mess,” says O’Connor, explaining their reasoning. I don’t agree.
Microsoft is also following the TV market as a possible way of delivering Halo in another medium. Whether such a series would replace the Halo movie or add to the expanding universe, we’ll have to see.
In short, we don’t know when a Halo movie will happen but it’ll be different than the games. While I’m immediately hesitant at the idea of them creating their own separate story with the Halo brand, the fact that they’re not rushing into it could be a good sign.
For more on the Halo video games and this months’ release of Halo: Reach, hit up our sister site Game Rant. You won’t be disappointed.