Halo is getting another live-action treatment, this time with a much heftier budget and a proper streaming service in Paramount+.
Microsoft has taken a couple of stabs at this in the past, but nothing remotely like this kind of scope or scale. Paramount’s video game adaptation is clearly a more expensive effort, though I can’t say it has me terribly excited. I’ll get into that in a minute.
First things first, we have a release date: Halo the TV series lands on Paramount+ March 24th, 2022. For some reason I thought this would be further away. Maybe it’s just all the waiting and delays for Halo Infinite that had me trained to wait longer for new Master Chief content.
In any case, here’s the trailer before we go any further:. This aired during one of the big football playoff games today, so it’s very fresh:
So that looks decent. It certainly looks like it could be a very entertaining space opera adventure with cool special effects and an interesting story. The aesthetic is 100% true to the games, which is terrific.
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But I have my nits to pick and my questions to raise, and perhaps even a finger to wag. So let’s dig in, shall we? We’ll begin with the story and go from there . . . .
1. This is a totally separate “Silver” timeline
You’ll notice in the trailer that the story is . . . very different from the Halo games. This isn’t precisely because they’re just tossing out the original story to come up with something they think is better—I’m looking at you Amazon’s Wheel Of Time—but rather because the teams behind Halo didn’t want the game and TV stories to be set in the same continuity.
This is actually kind of smart in a way. Not everybody wants to create the equivalent of the Marvel Cinematic Universe. Sometimes having a shared fictional universe with different stories told in book and game and movie/TV format leaves a little more wiggle room for writers and creators to tell their own stories their own ways for each medium.
Here’s what executive producer Kiki Wolfkill said late last year about the ‘Silver’ timeline:
“We’re referring to this as the Halo Silver Timeline as a way of differentiating it from core canon and both protecting core canon and protecting the television story, and by that I mean being able to give ourselves the chance to evolve both and for both to be what they need to be for their mediums without colliding with each other.”
This makes sense, but it also feels like justifying all the Wheel of Time changes in the TV show by saying it’s just a different spinning of the Wheel. Okay, but why not just try to adapt the story that’s already written? Or tell some other story in the same timeline, similar to what The Witcher games have done?
2. Master Chief’s voice isn’t the same
Since our hero, John-117, is always in his suit and helmet (unlike some bounty hunters in a galaxy far, far away) you’d think they could have used the same voice actor from the games—Steve Downes—but the show’s creators went a different route, casting Pablo Schreiber (Orange Is The New Black, American Gods) as the Master Chief.
I’m not sure how I feel about this. I’m not really upset like some superfans are. Halo isn’t my favorite game or anything, though the original Halo certainly holds a special place in my heart and I do enjoy the series. I guess a trailer just isn’t enough to sway me one way or another, but the fact remains that they’ve used a totally different actor for one of gaming’s most iconic voices.
The last time this happened was when Hideo Kojima made the absolutely preoposterous decision to replace David Hayter with Keiefer friggin Sutherland as Snake in Metal Gear Solid V: The Phantom Pain. That was worse, in many ways, hwoever, mainly because it was another video game in the franchise rather than a live-action adaptation. There was no reason to replace Hayter whatsoever.
3. Cortana is played by voice actor, Jen Taylor, but something is wrong
Is it the hair? Is it the eyebrows? Is it the lack of blue skin or the fact that Cortana just looks like an air-brushed human being in this shot rather than an AI? Something just isn’t right about Cortana.
And, honestly, why do I keep finding myself in situations where I have to complain about Cortana (or fake new Cortana, ‘The Weapon’ and her crappy design)?
I’m thrilled they’ve chosen to use Jen Taylor for the role. She’s been absolutely phenomenal and perfect as Cortana all these years. I’m just . . . not feeling this look for Cortana at all. Making her more blue wouldn’t solve the problem. They need to make her look more like an AI all around. Some more glowing, or holo-effects or something.
And no, I don’t think they need to make her look like this:
But they could make her face look more like this:
Yes, more blue. More ethereal. Some techno-doodads in her neck to make it look like data is racing through her veins at warp speed. I mean, Master Chief looks almost exactly like he does in the games. That’s going to be harder with Cortana since she’s not in a helmet all the time, but surely they could do better than this.
(Maybe it’s the smile also? It’s a fine smile, but I guess I always think of Cortana as a bit too serious to have an endearing, dopey smile like that. And yes, her eyebrows are all wrong. And her hair should look more like game Cortana’s!)
4. Maybe I’m just paranoid?
I’ve been working on a longer piece for my diabolical Substack about why all these TV adaptations are letting fans down. I’m loathe to say “failing” but to one degree or another the shows are not living up to the source material, and often for kind of crappy reasons. (I’d say this is true of the Star Wars sequel trilogy as well, which threw out a lot of what made the original movies so great rather than sticking to what fans wanted).
So maybe I’m just jaded, maybe I’m just looking at trailers like this through whatever the opposite of rosy-tinted glasses are. Maybe I’m paranoid that they’ll make a huge mess of it, and that I’ll just be glad this is a “silver” timeline instead of the real thing, after all. I hope I’m wrong. This does look like fun. But is it Halo?
Maybe it’s also something to do with the cinematography. This as a very big issue for me with Wheel Of Time, which always looked much more low-budget than it ought to have looked, and certainly compared to something like Game Of Thrones despite comparable per-episode budgets.
With Halo, it feels like the color grading is off. Too saturated, perhaps? I’m not sure. It makes it feel cheap. Maybe it’s just the trailer.
5. At least we have something other than Taylor Sheridan stuff to watch on Paramount+ now!
Don’t get me wrong. I’m a huge fan of both Yellowstone (which is sort of on Paramount+ but not airing there live for reasons to confounding for the likes of us to understand) and its prequel series, 1883. I think Taylor Sheridan is a terrific storyteller and I’m a huge fan of his shows and movies (including films like Wind River and Hell or Highwater which are both truly outstanding).
But I sometimes wonder if paying for Paramount+ each month is worth it and maybe this show will give me a reason to keep spending my money once 1883 is over. I’m on the fence with the various Star Trek shows like Discovery and Picard which are perfectly fine but nothing to write home about either.
So maybe Halo will be really good and give Paramount+ another big hit and gamers and fans like myself a reason to keep up the subscription. Either way, I’m very excited to write about it—whether or not it’s any good.