Review by James Lindorf
Nintendo has Mario, PlayStation has Gran Turismo, and THE franchise for Xbox has always been Halo. The series has been so critical to the success of the system Microsoft named its virtual assistant Cortana after the helpful AI character. Since the first game debuted 21 years ago, the Halo Universe has grown to include over a dozen games, best-selling novels, a toy line, board games, comic books, animated movies, and now a live-action series coming to Paramount+ on March 24th.
A Halo series was first mentioned way back in 2013 when Steven Spielberg announced plans to adapt the franchise for television during Microsoft’s Xbox One reveal. After a few issues, delays, a pandemic, we are finally just hours away from watching the beloved Master Chief, SPARTAN-II John -117, trying to save the universe from The Covenant. Some faces have changed in that time. Bungie is gone, in their place is 343 Industries, with SHOWTIME® also coming on board. Some players remain the same, with Microsoft being the central figure, and most surprisingly, Spielberg is still involved by way of Amblin Television.
Steven Kane and Kyle Killen created the Halo series, and the studios are loving it and have already greenlit a second season. Fans, on the other hand, may find themselves divided. Kane and Killen have crafted a new origin story for Master Chief (Pablo Schreiber) that may leave fans who delved deeper into the Halo-verse feeling unappreciated, much like fans of the Star Wars novels. They try to balance those thoughts by providing lots of fanservice moments up front. Different weapons, characters, locations, and ideas are all being shown or mentioned in the first episode.
The series begins in 2552 on a “Tier 4 Heavy Water Extraction Planet” known as Madrigal. The planet is part forest and part desert, depending on how much water has been extracted for a given area. Madrigal is also home to a group of insurrectionists at war with the United Nations Marine Core (UNMC). One of the inhabitants of Madrigal is Kwan Ha Boo (Yerin Ha), the daughter of the rebel leader. She and her friends are the first to witness the invasion that would bring both Covenant and SPARTAN to her outpost. This incident and its fallout cause John to question his mission and himself, setting the tone and the pace for the rest of the series.
Story, gameplay, and graphics are the three key elements in video games. Unless they try and incorporate first-person action sequences, I don’t see a way of including the gameplay. I already mentioned they are adding to the mythology by telling a new story instead of faithfully adapting the story that has sold 82 million games. Graphics or visual effects are where both television and games can excel. The special effects in Halo are in total… ok. It is the sum of excellent creature work and some very bad location and vehicle creations that would have struggled to make the cut for 1997s “Starship Troopers.”
Only the first two entries in the 9-episode season were released to press. This makes it hard to give Halo a definitive must-watch or stay away score. I can say that while not perfect, I am enjoying a lot of the casting choices, especially Pablo Schreiber as Master Chief. I worry about the heavy-handed storytelling centered around Dr. Halsey. Still, I am interested in seeing where the series goes. I may not have enough information to tell you what I believe you should do, but I can tell you what I will do, and maybe that can be your guide. I will sign up for the free trial of Paramount+, and if I agree with the studios that the series needs a second season, I might stick around and see what else they have to offer to fill that time.
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