After a long gestation the Halo series has finally landed -with familiar fun for gamers, and hopefully more for those beyond.

Fun fact.

I don’t consider myself much of a gamer but I’ve spend more pizza nights with friends playing Halo than I care to remember (multiplayer, not solo campaign). The Xbox first-person shooter game has been hugely entertaining, as evidenced by its two decades as a best-seller.

So it was with considerable curiosity that I welcomed the news of a TV adaptation, back in 2015 under Steven Spielberg. But “development hell” -and later a pandemic- saw changes in showrunners and directors, finally landing with director Otto Bathurst (Peaky Blinders) in 2022.

Ironically the story kicks off in a world of crumbling peace talks and rising fuel prices…. did they know?

The year is 2552 and the action opens on an outpost, Planet Madrigal.

While it’s no clone of the game maps I’ve become embarrassingly familiar with, its design and colourings are faithful. Amongst a very multicultural ensemble is Kwan (Yerin Ha) whose community comes under attack from the Covenant aliens. Fans will delight in seeing familiar weapons such as the Energy Sword even if it’s pierced into the good guys so early. We’re here for the shoot-out but also the arrival of Master Chief (Pablo Schreiber), a towering Spartan saviour whose team plummet from the skies to defend a community in peril.

Meanwhile on Planet Reach is scientist Dr. Catherine Halsey (Natascha McElhone) whose UNSC headquarters is responsible for controlling the Spartan crews, but whose program is facing budget constraints from Admiral Margaret Parangosky (Shabana Azmi). Everything changes when Master Chief, also known affectionately as ‘John-117,’ finds a valuable relic which is also the quest of the Covenant, led by Makee (Charlie Murphy), a human who has betrayed her own race.

As the plot thickens I’m itching just to pick up a controller and sort this mess out with a few good ‘double kills’, but the critic in me knows I have to bond emotionally with these heroes and villains if this is going to succeed as a stand-alone series.

On that front it’s a mixed report card. Visually this holds up well. The universe is realised with integrity and rich production values. Showtime hasn’t skimped on expansive sets, plenty of extras, and faithful costumes and weaponry. There are galactic trolley cars, cities that look like a flyover of Dubai and far more women than I ever encountered in the video game.

But the series also charts is own course in terms of a narrative, not looking to recreate story points from the various Halo editions. At least you can be a sci-fi fan without being a Halo gamer to jump into episode one. This does leave it somewhat derivative, including of the highly successful Mandalorian (substitute Master Chief for the bounty hunter Mandalorian).

Pablo Schreiber fills the boots of a key role with conviction -shock horror, he removes the helmet- while a high-fashion Natascha McElhone is light years away from Californication.

But the sci-fi genre is crowded with some heavy hitters of late, Paramount’s own Star Trek spin-offs and Apple TV’s ambitious Foundation, to name a few. Not all of them land comfortably.

Given its years of delays, Halo is almost devoid of tell-tale signs. Master Chief may save this universe yet.

Now shutup and hand me a controller. There’s no time to lose.

Halo begins Thursday on Paramount+

One Response

  1. I will reserve my own opinion of this anticipated Halo series until I have seen more than one episode, but will say that sci-fi fans familiar with the Halo characters will know what they want so I imagine that critic reviews will be varied. Halo was another pet project on Peter Jackson’s list, WETA Digital developed weapons and vehicles for a short Neil Blomkamp You Tube film ‘Halo: Landfall’ (2007) which I believe was a concept idea for a long term ambition to make a state of the art feature film, the fully functioning Warthog was later used for ‘Halo 4: Forward Unto Dawn’. Microsoft has released 14 short You Tube films to promote their games as well. Paramount+ will want their $90 million Halo to add a success to their TV show list, sci-fi fans shall wait and see.

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