Thursday, April 28, 2022

TV Corner: Halo – It’s Not Actually Bad • By Eric Dontigney

Video game adaptations are, at best, a mixed bag. Some rise to the level of okay, such as Doom, the 2018 Tomb Raider, and…well, those Sonic movies seem to have won people over. Unfortunately, for every decent video game adaptation, you get a Super Mario Brothers (sorry,
Bob Hoskins), or a Street Fighter (sorry, Raul Julia), or the 2007 Hitman (sorry, Timothy Olyphant…but I loved you in Justified). So, whenever I heard talk of a Halo adaptation, I was justifiably wary. As someone who played the original Halo: Combat Evolved on a PC, I can say that there is a lot to love about playing Halo. It’s a lot of fun.

Yet, it wasn’t exactly deep on a story level. You’ve got a protagonist who you never see outside his armor and operates just this side of being a functional mute. Your real touchstone is the onboard AI, Cortana, and even she’s pretty thin in that first game. To Microsoft’s credit, they have fleshed out the backstory in subsequent games and tie-in media. Even so, a deep backstory isn’t guaranteed to produce a great adaptation. For example, I really enjoyed Assassin’s Creed…as a fantasy-action film. It’s always fun watching Michael Fassbender dig into a role with a lot of physicality. Yet, it was pretty lousy as an adaptation. I don’t know who to blame for that one, the studio or the screenwriters, but they abandoned the existing canon for an…original?...sure, we’ll say original story that left a lot to be desired.

So, when Halo the show stopped being something geeks talked about on message boards and became something that was really happening, I wasn’t exactly thrilled. I discovered it was happening around the time it was debuting, so maybe I lucked out there. The casting gave me some sparks of hope. Pablo Schreiber had some cachet with me from his performance as “Mad” Sweeney in the American Gods adaptation. Natascha McElhone as Dr. Halsey was an inspired choice. She has a gift for the kind of layered performances you’d need for the morally bankrupt Halsey. Danny Sapani as Captain Keyes. Well, I don’t think that guy has ever been bad in anything he’s done. The cast really sparkles from top to bottom.

Still, the proof is in the pudding, as they say. I went into watching Halo with as open a mind as I could. I knew going in that they were going to have to have Pablo Schreiber take off the helmet and talk. You can have a silent, practically invisible protagonist in a video game. You can’t do that in a medium where people must talk to each other on camera. Overall, I’ve been impressed with it. They took the obvious step of walking back the timeline to before Master Chief crashes on a Halo installation. That let them build in some of the backstory about the Spartan 2 program and what Halsey did to make it happen. It also provided an opportunity to explore the relationship between John-117, Halsey, and Cortana.

The story doesn’t hew precisely to Halo game storyline, which it never could. The video games aren’t episodic in nature, so trying to adapt them that way would have doomed the project from the start. Instead, the writers aimed to create plausible storylines around the existing canon. The production values are excellent for a TV science fiction show. They aren’t perfect, but that’s to be expected when you need to CGI ALL of your bad guys. The plotting isn’t perfect, either. The weakest part of the show, in my opinion, is the running subplot with Kwan Ha Boo, a rebel teen, and Soren-066, a renegade Spartan. While both Yerin Ha and Bokeem Woodbine put in good performances, their story seems terribly disconnected from the much more compelling Master Chief storyline. There are still 3 episodes left this season, so maybe they’ll pull those storylines back together. For the moment, though, that subplot feels like a distraction from, rather than a benefit to, the show.

For the Halo game purists out there, this show will probably annoy you because of the inevitable liberties it had to take with the source material and Master Chief. For people looking for good sci-fi entertainment, this show hits most of its marks. With a second season already slated, you might as well jump on board for the ride.


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Eric Dontigney is the author of the highly regarded novel, THE MIDNIGHT GROUND, as well as the Samuel Branch urban fantasy series and the short story collection, Contingency Jones: The Complete Season One. Raised in Western New York, he currently resides near Dayton, OH. You can find him haunting obscure sections of libraries, in Chinese restaurants or occasionally online at

SHAMELESS ADVERT: If you like Harry Dresden or John Constantine, you’ll love THE MIDNIGHT GROUND. READ IT NOW!