In the pantheon of video game mascots, few figures are as iconic as Master Chief from the “Halo” series. Donning his famous green armored spacesuit, he ventured into hostile worlds, taking down the Covenant, an alien race intent on conquering the universe and accessing the ring worlds, or “haloes,” left over by another more ancient alien race, the Forerunners.
It was only a matter of time before idea-starved Hollywood adapted the popular series to TV or film. Already they have made movies for other popular video game franchises, such as “Super Mario,” “Resident Evil,” “Mortal Kombat,” “World of Warcraft,” “Tomb Raider,” and most recently “Uncharted.”
With a few exceptions, most directors seem to struggle with adapting video games to film, usually being too literal, unrealistic, and dumb. Even if the games themselves were popular and acclaimed, most of their adaptions would hardly even qualify as B-movies.
So does the “Halo” television series fall into the same pattern as its predecessors? Yes and no. While it isn’t quite like the campy monstrosities of other adaptations, it isn’t exactly a cinematic masterpiece that’s faithful to its source material. Rather, it’s a generic science fiction story with the game’s names and characters plastered on it — somewhat similar to “Final Fantasy: The Spirits Within,” but not as pretty.
Instead of telling the story of a super soldier caught up in the middle of a brutal war with an alien race, the show tells the story of a super soldier learning about himself and his connection with a magical rock that has some connection with the halo world that the Covenant want to activate. While the first episode has an armored Master Chief stoically blasting away at enemies with his fellow Spartans, all the succeeding episodes have John (Master Chief’s actual name) in plain clothes and no helmet moping about, confused about his past and identity.
More than aliens or rebel colonists, his biggest enemy ends up being an unethical scientist who manipulates him and keeps in the dark. Needless to say, the pacing’s a little slow and the viewer soon finds himself not caring one way or the other who John is.
Supplementing this underwhelming storyline is a side story involving a young woman, Kwan Ha, avenging the death of her parents, who were leading an insurrection against the UNSC (the United Nations Space Command). Besides this story being mostly irrelevant, Kwan Ha also happens to be the most annoying character of the show: a sanctimonious brat with a stupid hairdo, using those around her to pursue a selfish and useless quest for revenge. One keeps wishing reality would come down hard on her and teach her to grow up, but unfortunately this never seems to happen.
The show plays out as one might expect — that is, if one keeps watching. There’s a dark plot afoot because certain people were tampering with things beyond their understanding. The protagonists start realizing they were being played the whole time, and break free by not playing the game anymore. And the existential crises that threaten all sentient life in the galaxy naturally take a backseat to the main character’s self-discovery and newfound emotional vulnerability.
It’s as if the show’s creators never bothered to ask why anyone should care about what’s happening, either to John or Kwan Ha. They just assume it, clearly hoping the power of the franchise will compel people to care.
For all these reasons, the show has nothing much to say. Beyond basic details of the plot, no one seems to learn much as the story progresses. In fact, there’s little reason to root for any of the characters. Nothing much about any of them seems particularly virtuous or even relatable. The protagonists are good because the show says they are, and the antagonists are evil for the same reason.
Worse still, there’s not even much to look at either. So much of the spaceships, planets, and buildings are visually uninteresting. The sets looked reused from Paramount’s other shows, “Star Trek” and “CSI,” and there’s no defining aesthetic that differentiates settings. After the first episode, the special effects are cheap CGI that frequently look worse than the original “Halo” game for the first Xbox.
Politically Correct Cast
The performances are similarly poor. In defense of the actors, the writing is cliche and cringe-inducing, and they were badly cast for the roles they are supposed to play. One can’t help but notice the very obvious efforts to feature women and people who aren’t white, putting them front and center, while somehow downplaying the importance and agency of the main protagonist, a white male. Naturally, the only other white male is the tyrannical governor Vinsher Grath, played by typecast villain actor Burn Gorman.
This is not to say that variation in characters is a problem, but it does become an issue when it substitutes character development for representing every minority in the best possible light. A good contrast to the contrived diversity of “Halo” is the authentic diversity of “The Expanse,” where the characters’ backgrounds (which were more than just race) helped inform their character while also allowing for personality. In other words, it was meaningful diversity that helped explain the demographic composition of a future humanity, not a pointless tokenism where the different ethnicities of today’s world are represented for the sake of political correctness.
All things considered, what could’ve been an epic action-packed science fiction series was turned into another bland, forgettable production of a beloved franchise. Even though “Halo” probably has enough momentum and buy-in from the game’s fans to keep the show going for a few seasons, it’s just not worth watching. It’s a mediocre show that has already dispensed with the few elements that could have redeemed it.