As a diehard fan of the franchise, the idea of a “Halo” series sounds better in theory than it does in practice. That’s largely due to the murky track record of video game adaptions in Hollywood. You’re right to have reservations about a live action adaptation of a beloved video game franchise. We only judge the content based on what’s come before it, and frankly, there’s been far more failures than successes.
Luckily, “Halo” strikes the perfect balance between being for fans while also being accessible to general audiences interested in a new action sci-fi streaming series. The sacrifices made to achieve this don’t discount what made us fall in love with the franchise in the first place. While also expanding the world beyond those of us who have been invested in the lore since the beginning.
Created and written by Kyle Killen and Steven Kane, “Halo” follows Master Chief, leader of the Spartans, who act as a sort of artificially advanced military hit squad for the UNSC. A galactic federation fighting an alien war against the alien race The Covenant while simultaneously committing war crimes across the galaxy they swear they protect. It is also produced by Steven Spielberg, and you can feel his epic and often ambitious vision permeate through every frame. “Halo” stars Pablo Schreiber as Master Chief, Natascha McElhone as Dr. Catherine Elizabeth Halsey, Yerin Ha as Kwan Ha Boo, and Jen Taylor reprising her voice role as Cortana from the video game series.
The show has been in development for close to a decade, with a sleuth of changes and production announcements so off and on most people probably thought the “Halo” series would ever actually become a reality. But despite the apprehension of many, the series found a way to move forward and become an actual series, made for both fans and casuals alike. While it is kind of a chaotic, disjointed introduction into a complex and sprawling lore, it manages to get more right than it does wrong. For starters, it is brutal in its violence from the outset, with the first big action set piece never shies away from literally watching people explode from getting hit with alien weaponry.
“Halo” also front loads it’s first, big, action set piece with a ton of easter eggs surely meant to excite fans of the game franchise. Dual Pistols, Plasma pistol charges, assault rifle shield disablers, shield regeneration, and yes, energy sword kills. The series knows that it needs to grab its core fans quickly, and does right by them from the get go, delivering on a thrilling assault on a fringe mining planet within the first 15 minutes of the first episode. If you never played the games, it’s ok too.
It’s is also a run-of-the-mill introduction to a sci-fi dystopian war that has been done a thousand times before. This may sound pejorative, but it is actually a compliment because this by the book approach to the complex lore baked into the franchise allows it to be enjoyed by people who have no idea what an Xbox controller looks like.
Without going into spoilers, I will say that “Halo” does struggle to be as coherent as it thinks it is, trying combine the mythos from a well established franchise with new, palatable story elements. It is here where we need to address two major issues with the “Halo” series: the removal of the helmets, and the cliche narrative entry point. Let’s talk about the helmet removal first, since that’s the least tiresome argument to have.
I know, the games never show Master Chief’s face, and removing his helmet is as big of a no-no as for The Mandalorian. However, it manages to add a bit more purpose as to why it’s necessary, and why having a faceless protagonist doesn’t completely translate into a compelling viewing experience in this instance.
I know it’s hard to accept, but you can’t just make a video game into a show without changing anything. I get it, the lore of “Halo” is deep and vast and compelling, and we hate to imagine any other presentation capturing the magic of its origin. But the truth is, varying mediums exists for the sole purpose of reaching different audiences. Compromise and sacrifice are essential to conversion to the success of a cross-media adaption. So yeah, we’re gonna have to see Master Chief’s face in television series adaption. You simply can’t have a faceless protagonist in a television series, even one as compelling as “The Mandolarian” and “Halo.” That works in a first person shooter game, where the faceless mask is YOU customizing your character to YOUR preferences. But that isn’t how television works, and it’s a sacrifice that needs to be made and works here.
The second issue that needs to be addressed is the narrative entry point of “Halo,” which unfortunately falls victim to the “adventures in space babysitting” trope. I know it has become a staple of science fiction entries, but I’d be lying if I said I wasn’t completely over it. There are so many better ways to introduce a dystopian or futurist world, but Hollywood just can’t escape the cliche of a displaced child in need of a protector. And that is essentially how “Halo” starts; a young girl from a desolate planet watches her whole life be uprooted by the war only to be taken in by Master Chief who serves as her protector despite his directive to execute her.
It’s a very “stop me if you’ve heard this one before” kind of plot thread, one that I’m very exhausted from seeing and one of the things that holds “Halo” back from being a real stand out series above the rest. Visually, it’s incredible, and everyone is doing the most with what they are given and really make this strange world feel actualized and lived in. But I simply can’t get over this lazy cliche of the girl who needs to be saved by our hero, something that just isn’t needed for “Halo.” There’s enough baked into the existing and adaptable lore that the “save the girl, end the war” kind of approach feels forced and unnecessary. Which the show seems to recognize rather quickly, abandoning that very idea within the first 3 episodes in lieu of a much more compelling story.
There’s a lot to like in “Halo,” and it probably has more ideas than it’s capable of actually handling at any given time. But the creators seem to understand that the world they’re trying adapt is vast and deep, and despite some muddy missteps at the start, the series seems to gather its bearings and tell the story it truly wants to tell. There is a lot that is happening here quickly, and “Halo” doesn’t always do a good job in making it all make sense. But it never forgets the one thing that matters: making a compelling, intriguing television series.
For all its faults, from its rough start of tryin to put all the pieces together into a complete world building narrative to its dumb cliches of science fiction, “Halo” remains a legitimately intriguing narrative worth checking out for both fans and newcomers alike. Achieving casual viewership that is also respectful to the fans that got it made is always the trickiest of balances for any adaption, and “Halo” is about as close as it gets to satisfying both. If you’re a fan of the series, there is enough in the show to satisfy the things we truly want to see and experience in live action. If you know nothing about the game series, “Halo” still has enough to be enjoyed for anyone interested in a new, fantasy action series.
For everything mounted against it before it even premiered, “Halo” is about as good as it gets when it comes to video game adaptions. I know the bar is low, but this is an outing that manages to be above the line even with all the faults anyone can levy against it.
Whether you’re a fan or someone coming in blind, there’s enough good in “Halo” to be worth checking out.
The series premieres on Paramount+ on March 24th, 2022. You can watch the trailer below: