Sometimes I have a bunch of thoughts milling around the waiting room of my head, like an association word-cloud: totally unformed, semi-related, and of varying strengths. This is one of those times, having just watched the latest trailer for the Paramount+ Halo series debuting this March.
Despite being an Xbox tentpole property, and a fairly obvious slam-dunk for a move to a more “active” medium like live-action movies or a series, Halo has had a rocky life beyond the namesake console games. There were some RTS games (which were pretty good, coming from someone who does not like RTS games), and a famously abandoned MMO. There was supposed to be a Halo movie from sci-fi auteur Neill Blomkamp (and backed by Peter Jackson, fresh off his Lord of the Rings success), but that fell through despite Blomkamp’s well done Halo short episodes showing off how cool a Halo movie could be. Now kind of out of nowhere we now have an official Halo series. Why now? And why Paramount? And why Paramount+?
The Long Road
Apparently, it’s not completely out of nowhere, but the series’ weird origin makes its non-production even weirder. Steven Spielberg’s Amblin Entertainment, of all people and of all companies, optioned the Halo franchise for a series way back in 2013 and had planned on a 2015 release. When that didn’t happen, the baton somehow ended up in Showtime’s hands circa 2018. Then came a spate of Hollywood shuffles, as several people in charge of moving the needle left or new people came on board. Showtime is owned by CBS (who own Paramount), and apparently rather than limit a series to what might be considered to be far more of a niche platform (Showtime), they opted to move the 10-episode season to their more traditional-TV-focused Paramount+ platform.
Every teacher in high school thinks his or her assignment is quick and easy, but for a student with anywhere between 7 or 10 each night, the assignments quickly pile up. Same with streaming services in 2022. $15-$18USD might seem manageable on its face, but in order to catch all of the “must see” series that are now being produced by and locked behind the paywalls of individual streaming services, the costs add up quickly. We have to decide which services are worth the money, and which can go on hiatus until we can pay for a single month to binge the hell out of everything we want to see on that platform.
Paramount+ has a “type” of series. On one hand we have the “dad-adjacent” section featuring NCIS, FBI, CSI, Seal Team, 1883, and other pro-“law and order” series. On another hand, we have the (ugh) spate of reality shows like…eh…Survivor, I guess. There’s a few crack-fillers like Evil, The Good Fight, and Ghosts. Personally, I’d always considered CBS to be the “older folks network” with more dramas aimed at middle aged men than dramas aimed at women (ABC) or comedies (NBC), so the pattern seems to hold even into streaming, although with a massive back catalog, such demarcations seem pretty thin.
Of course, my subscription rides or dies on Star Trek: Discovery, Picard, The Lower Decks, Prodigy, and all of the historical Trek, all in one place. Showing my bias, were it not for Star Trek, I wouldn’t subscribe to Paramount+, and I suspect there are others in the same boat as me. We are therefore a tangent audience to a live-action Halo series by dint of both being sci-fi, both being high-visibility nerd targets, etc. But for those who are cool on Star Trek, is Halo enough to get them to subscribe to Paramount+? And for those who have a partisan aversion to Halo from Ye Olden Console Days, is it time to bury the hatchet and see what a Halo series can offer?
Do or Do Not; There is No Try
These are the biggest questions that needs answering, because if the answers are anything less than a round of “hell yes!” we can expect to get just one season of a Halo TV series. Visually, the trailers put this series at least on par with Discovery and Picard, the latest Star Trek live action offerings airing on Paramount+.
There are many Halo fans out there who will certainly sign up for this series, but I suspect there’ll be a lot more pirating it through various means because A) stick it to the man!, B) they might like Halo, but not enough to pay for it, and/or C) there’s not enough other content on Paramount+ that they’d want to watch, and it comes down to a “price per volume per month” equation. Currently Paramount+ is $9.99USD/month, which is a pretty good price (and no commercials) for a streaming service, but for some even $1USD per episode of a live action Halo series is a big ask.
I am excited for this series, if for no other reason than to finally see a Halo story I don’t have to control. The Covenant forces look really well done.
And there look to be a lot of large set-pieces (I know ST:Discovery has used one of those “virtual walls” for their production, but I don’t know if that belongs to them or is free for other Paramount productions to use).
I am a bit disappointed that they didn’t go with the “Matrix-esque” version of a digital Cortana, though, and the results are a bit unnerving in the brief time she makes an appearance in the trailer.
The only large concern I have about this series (from the trailer alone) is that the Master Chief is not a personable character. He’s been a functional character throughout the game series, but little else. Several of the novels have gone back in time to explain the Spartan program, but to my recollection none of them have ever dealt with “John” outside of his Mjolnir armor. For a game focused mainly on shooting aliens where the character is an avatar for the player to inhabit, this is ideal; we don’t need to know the history of the Spartan-II program to enjoy big explosions. For those who find themselves asking about the deeper ramifications of the Halo world, there are a few other games like Halo: ODST, Halo: Reach, and Halo 5 which showcase several other characters alongside the Chief. And for those who really want the dirt, there are the novels. Apparently, this series is focusing on events outside of the events of the games and novels, after the Chief has made a name for himself, but before the halos have become the MacGuffin upon which game sequels are produced. It also seems to dip more into the history of the Chief as a person, which is probably going to be the weak point of the series for many. It’s going to be hard to reconcile the legacy of Xbox’s “Silent Protagonist” who always does what needs doing and never questions why; making the Chief a more “human” character is going to be a massive departure from canon if that’s the route this series is going to take. For some new to the franchise, and by the rules that govern TV series these days, tragic backstories are required in order to “connect” with viewers, but in this case, it might risk painting the historical Master Chief character as someone driven by past pains and not as a soldier dedicated to duty and preserving humanity against a relentless alien aggressor. Time will tell.