11:32am PT by Patrick Shanley
What Showtime's 'Halo' Series Needs In Order to Satisfy Gamers
More than four years after it was first unveiled, Showtime's live-action Halo drama series has finally been given an official order of 10 episodes and a production start date of early 2019.
From exec producer, writer and showrunner Kyle Killen and Rise of the Planet of the Apes director Rupert Wyatt, the new series is a major development for fans of Microsoft's best-selling video game franchise, which boasts more than $5 billion in sales since the first installment, Halo: Combat Evolved, hit shelves for the Xbox back in 2001.
In the time since its original release, the Halo gaming franchise has released more than 10 games — including installments of the main series and spinoffs — multiple novels and comic books. Given the wide breadth of media and titles in the franchise, to say there is a deep well of source material for Showtime to draw from is an understatement.
One of the major challenges that comes with adapting the series is its main protagonist, Master Chief, the hulking, helmeted leader of a group of super soldiers code-named the Spartans fighting for the United Nations Space Command in the 26th century. Master Chief is a man of few words, and more importantly for the purposes of adapting the media to television screens, his face is never seen (unless you count a brief, extreme close-up shot of his eyes shrouded in shadow at the end of Halo 4, which you shouldn't).
While Master Chief is an intriguing figure in games, where the player assumes direct control of the protagonist, focusing a television series around a character whose face is never seen is could create a bigger challenge. Couple that with his nearly god-like strength and prowess in battle and you have a character that does not make for a compelling lead in for a premium cable network drama. That said, Master Chief is the "face" of the franchise, and it would be a criminal misstep for Showtime not to include him in the series in one way or another, likely as a strong supporting character and, even more likely, as someone who does, on occasion, remove his helmet.
We know that Showtime's series will be set during a "26th century conflict between humanity and an alien threat known as the Covenant," which places it right in the same timeline as the main game series. The main numbered entries in the series span the years 2531-2558, with Master Chief being the main playable character in Halo 1-4, and splitting time with Spartan Locke, another super soldier, in Halo 5: Guardians. Halo 5 branched the main story out to follow two separate fireteams fighting against the Covenant, a group of alien species unified by their belief in a shared religion.
These fireteams, an idea also in 2010's Halo: Reach and 2009's Halo 3: ODST, are likely what the series will focus on. A group of soldiers, faced with dangerous missions battling a force of intimidating aliens would certainly be more traditional grounds for a drama series to cover, but what also makes the Halo series unique is its focus on the enemy: the Covenant.
In 2004's Halo 2, the series shifted the focus to the other side of enemy lines, introducing players to the Arbiter, a towering alien who is a member of the Covenant Elite. A powerful warrior branded as a heretic for his failures in the events that transpired in the first game, the Arbiter lends a level of pathos to the Covenant side of the conflict, even joining forces with Master Chief to combat an insidious common enemy, the Flood.
Voiced by Keith David, the character was a hit with fans and has continued to appear in the franchise. It would be a mistake if Killen and Wyatt did not lend focus to the Covenant's characters as the games have, allowing a more nuanced take on the galactic conflict to emerge.
While many may see the announcement of a premium cable network tackling the lore and world of Halo as a Game of Thrones-sized step for Showtime, what should not be lost in the adaptation is the game's smaller, more intimate moments. Master Chief's relationship with his AI, Cortana, is at the heart of the series and offers more quiet moments of reflection and, importantly, world-building background on the Halo universe. How Cortana will be portrayed in the series, particularly if Master Chief is not the main protagonist, is still a mystery, but it would not be surprising if she was made into a major character with more independence from her Spartan companion.
Another important question is where the series will take place. As the title denotes, the first Halo game takes place on an orbital, alien ringworld, which would be a beautiful set piece to see in a live-action adaptation. However, the series quickly branches out and explores many different locales, something which could quickly eat into Showtime's budget. A good focus for the first season of the show would be to focus on the events surrounding the first game's plot, with the Covenant attacking the the planet Reach, an interstellar naval base and military hub for humanity, causing the human forces to flee to the nearby ringworld, only with the show shifting the limelight from away from Master Chief to lesser-known infantry forces.
The timing of Showtime's announcement comes just weeks after Microsoft announced the latest installment in the series with the upcoming game Halo: Infinite at E3.
Whatever direction Killen, Wyatt and Showtime decide to head in with the new series, hopes are high for video game fans starving for a genuinely high-quality adaptation. After years of waiting, and with the backing of a major premium cable network and proven creatives, perhaps Halo will finally break the curse that has plagued video game adaptations for the past two and half decades.