There have been terrible video game adaption’s in the past, films like Max Payne, Street fighter, Doom, Hitman and the more recent Resident Evil and Prince of Persia. It’s not easy to predict how a game translates onto screen but usually it comes down to Major studios damaging franchises via commercial, R-rated, generic facsimiles.
Halo has been in development hell since having almost seen the light of day in 2005 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 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. Since then there has not been 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 the 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.”
So when is the time right? The main trilogy of games has ended, Halo: Reach is a prequel story. with The creators of Halo [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..
Will Halo:Reach push Microsoft into making a Halo Movie?
Perhaps Microsoft and those involved are doing it the right way, not rushing it for the sake of expanding the brand, but give it 3 years and a vacuum will be felt as there are no immediate plans or another Halo game soon. Variety recently 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? 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. 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 [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. 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 2008 a script surfaced online, apparently a new Halo script by Alex Garland. Bungie confirmed its authenticity but claimed the story was not complete. Garland was paid $1 million dollars to write it, later it was sold it to Universal and Fox for $5 million bucks plus 10 percent of the gross.
Now DreamWorks Pictures are renewing their efforts to obtain the rights and revive the project, which has been in a state of suspended animation since late 2006, Vulture reports. With Universal reportedly having already put in $12 million for adapting the games, DreamWorks is said to be basing its project on the books, so that Universal can’t demand the studio to reimburse the developments costs. Stuart Beattie previously wrote a script based on the novel Halo: The Fall of Reach which was sent to Microsoft. He tells the site that his “long-term goal is to get three Halo movies [based on the three novelizations] made. It’s not something I can accomplish tomorrow. But if I can help, I am glad to do it.”
While insiders say that Fox and Universal have settled their differences out of court, a person intimately involved with the original Halo deal tells Vulture that “Fox fucked them completely” and Universal lost close to all of its $12 million investment. And that residual anger over the wasted money is the big reason why DreamWorks is so explicitly saying its project is based on the books: By citing “different” source material, it preemptively neutralizes any attempt by Universal lawyers to demand that the new studio reimburse its $12 million in development costs.