Halo is a combat shooter video game developed by Bungie and Microsoft which places you in the distant future fighting aliens across the galaxy. The franchise is still going strong with the latest installment titled Halo Infinite expected to be released sometime in 2020.
HALO: COMBAT EVOLVED (2001) – Spartan John-117, Master Chief of the United Nations Space Command, must battle a genocidal alien race known as the Covenant following his violent crash-landing on Halo, an ancient and mysterious ring-world.
Long before the upcoming Showtime series, Halo was once going to be a big studio feature film produced by Lord of The Rings director Peter Jackson and directed by newcomer Neill Blomkamp.
We compiled a rundown of the film’s development and what ultimately happened to it.
In October 2005, it announced that Peter and Fran Walsh would be producing a Halo film for Universal Pictures and 20th Century Fox, the two studios would be co-producing the film. Production on Halo was going to be taking place entirely in New Zealand with Weta Workshop and Weta Digital helping on creating the world of Halo on the big screen.
They had planned on using Stone Street Studios in Wellington for the production space for Halo where Lord of The Rings had been shot along with King Kong, The Lovely Bones, The Hobbit trilogy, Pete’s Dragon, and Ghost In The Shell.
It also eventually become the home base for the live-action portions of James Cameron’s first Avatar film (along with the four sequels) which would be released the same year as District 9, in 2009. Both films would end up nominated for Best Picture at the 2010 Academy Awards with The Hurt Locker winning the award.
Jackson had decided he would direct The Lovely Bones next which is why he chose to produce instead of directing it himself. He’d help find a director to tackle Halo, which led to him and producer Mary Parent (at Universal Pictures at the time) discovering Neill Blomkamp from his impressive short films and commercials.
Eventually, the project fell apart and the pair decided to instead turn Blomkamp’s sci-fi short film Alive In Joburg into a feature film that was retitled as District 9.
While promoting their film District 9 at San Diego Comic-Con in July 2009, producer Peter Jackson explained what happened with the project and how it fell apart. Reaffirming that they had planned on shooting the film in Wellington, New Zealand with the help of Weta
JACKSON: “We were developing that and it was a Universal and Fox co-production and we were developing it with Mary Parent the who is the executive at Universal be we had worked with on Kong and we had a good relationship.”
“And the idea was that we would produce it down in New Zealand we’d use Weta, the visual effects companies we have.”
“But what we wanted from the very beginning was to find a new director somebody that was fresh and original that would a really interesting spin to the film, I just wanted someone that would make a film that would excite me and be a version of Halo I’d be interested in seeing.”
“Mary called up one day and said she was sending us a DVD of some short movies and commercials made by this exciting filmmaker she had uncovered and it was Neill.”
Jackson explains that studio politics killed the Halo film despite all the spectacular production design work done in New Zealand that hasn’t seen the light of day.
JACKSON: “Halo suddenly basically died dropped dead on its feet due to studio politics. Nothing to do with Neill or the project, we hadn’t delivered a script yet, we hadn’t delivered a budget. There was just a weird political situation that was outside of our control that was happening which is a pretty horrible thing because you’ve committed emotionally to a film and got excited about it, this is a movie you want to see badly.”
“Neill was doing a terrific job with conceptual art with monsters and creatures. We’ve got all the Halo stuff down in New Zealand locked away in cabinets that no one has ever seen which is really quite stunning all supervised by Neill.”
In 2012, author Jamie Russell published a book titled Generation Xbox: How Videogames Invaded Hollywood with various interviews that included director Neill Blomkamp’s take on why the Halo movie fell through (via Polygon), which unsurprisingly involved money and too many entities being involved.
BLOMKAMP: “When you have a corporation that potent and that large taking a percentage of the profits [referring to Microsoft]. Then you’ve got Peter Jackson taking a percentage of the profits and you start adding all of that stuff up, mixed with the fact that you have two studios sharing the profits, suddenly the return on the investment starts to decline so that it becomes not worth making.”
Money played a massive role in the film’s demise that Vulture reported in 2010, as 20th Century Fox’s Tom Rothman (now at Sony Pictures) tried to have Peter Jackson and Fran Walsh’s deals torn-up or the studio was going to walk. They also claim the budget potentially being in the range of $135 million, however, Jackson stated a year earlier at Comic-Con that they hadn’t even given them a budget.
There had been bad-blood between Rothman and the filmmakers beyond the money situation. This was echoed by Blomkamp who said in the Jamie Russell novel previously mentioned (via WIRED) that Tom Rothman hated him and got the impression that would have removed him as the director if he had the power to.
BLOMKAMP: “I told Tom Rothman that I was genetically created to direct Halo. Rothman hated me, I think he would have gotten rid of me if he could have.”
“The suits weren’t happy with the direction I was going. Thing was, though, I’d played Halo and I play videogames. I’m that generation more than they are and I know that my version of Halo would have been insanely cool. It was more fresh and potentially could have made more money than just a generic, boring film – something like G.I. Joe or some crap like that, that Hollywood produces.”
“The way Fox dealt with me was not cool. Right from the beginning, when Mary [Parent, Universal’s former president of production turned Halo producer] hired me up until the end when it collapsed, they treated me like shit; they were just a crappy studio. I’ll never ever work with Fox ever again because of what happened to Halo – unless they pay me some ungodly amount of money and I have absolute fucking control.”
Neill did eventually work with 20th Century Fox on his purposed Alien 5 film with Sigourney Weaver loosely attached to reprise the Ellen Ripley role one more time. However, that working relationship only took place once Tom Rothman had joined the ranks at Sony Pictures, where Blomkamp had made his first three films. Alien 5 sadly was placed into limbo after the studio got cold feet.
Neill also mentions that Microsoft was also a pain to deal with.
BLOMKAMP: “If you’re dealing with a company that doesn’t understand the film industry, its sense of assurance comes with glossy names that have done a lot of big projects that have made a lot of money.”
“I think the guys at Bungie liked what I was doing. I’m fairly confident in saying they liked where I was going. It’s highly possible that that artwork was getting back to Microsoft and Microsoft itself, the corporate entity, was not happy with it because it was too unconventional. I don’t know if that’s true or not, but it was entirely possible.”
While Neill was living in New Zealand, they seemingly put together Halo “test shots” which you can see in Halo: Landfall that was used to promote Halo 3. It seems like the footage was proof-of-concept stuff using the props they creating at Weta before any real money was put into the project from the studios, which itself is pretty impressive.
Weta was heavily involved, who were also going to work on the feature film as well. Weta Workshop built a fantastic version of the Warthog during that time along with weapons and the costumes.
Producer Mary Parent moved on to Legendary Entertainment and has been involved with projects such as Pacific Rim, Godzilla, Kong: Skull Island, Pacific Rim: Uprising, Detective Pikachu, Godzilla: King of The Monsters, Godzilla vs Kong, Enola Holmes, and Denis Villeneuve’s Dune.
Early during their search for a director Guillermo del Toro was approached for Halo. This took place between Pan’s Labyrinth post-production and the budgeting of Hellboy II: The Golden Army. Guillermo spoke to Empire in late 2005, confirming the talks to direct Halo but cautioned they might end up going with another director as he was moving forward with his Hellboy sequel next.
DEL TORO: “Well, Halo is very much an interesting project because it’s so full of monsters. It’s a big temptation. I’m in talks with them [Universal and Bungie Films] and Peter, but it’s not true that it’s on and Hellboy’s off. Hellboy’s on. If everything goes as planned, Hellboy will go.”
“Most of the time. games don’t have a universe or creatures that interest me enough. And this one does. Master Chief [Halo’s mysterious hero] is such an iconic character and it’s very much a sort of a good version of [Hellboy villain] Kroenen.”
“The ideal for me would be to do Hellboy 2 and if Halo doesn’t go away, then yeah, I’d love to do both. But it may go to somebody else. We’ll see.”
This would explain how Guillermo del Toro landed the gig to helm The Hobbit movies for Peter Jackson before ultimately leaving to make Legendary’s Pacific Rim with Halo producer Mary Parent instead and Jackson had to eventually direct The Hobbit films himself.
While they seemingly didn’t complete a script for their incarnation according to Peter Jackson, an earlier script had been worked on by British screenwriter turned director Alex Garland. Microsoft and Bungie hired Alex to pen an in-house script in 2004 before the studios eventually got involved, in an attempt by Microsoft to make sure the script was a faithful adaptation.
The quality of other video game adaptations likely didn’t inspire Microsoft’s confidence in Hollywood.
At the time, Alex was known for his work on Danny Boyle’s rage virus thriller 28 Days Later from 2002 and his novel The Beach was turned into a feature film by Boyle starring Leonardo DiCaprio that was released two years before.
While promoting Dredd back in 2012, Alex Garland explained his involvement with the Halo script to IGN and the creative experience working on it that sounded a bit ridged due to Microsoft.
GARLAND: “I was contracted to write it about 10 years ago. The script I wrote was basically the same as the first Halo game. It took an element of the ending of the second Halo game for the ending, and basically, I sat down with those guys at Bungee and Microsoft and said what I would do is a very faithful adaptation.”
I had bits of imagery in my mind – a lot of them came from the game, but you could also relate that imagery to other things, like Starship Troopers or something like that. A less satirical version of Starship Troopers.
“But for me, it’s a different kind of project. On something like Halo, I’m a writer for hire. They have a thing they want to do. I’m not bringing anything to the party as it were. They are saying ‘we would like you to do this’ and I’m trying to do it as well as I can. It’s a completely different kind of project to Sunshine or 28 Days Later or Dredd or Never Let Me Go, because those things are essentially personal projects. I can’t get sacked, put it that way. So the dynamic is different.”
This isn’t surprising as James Cameron lifted from the original Starship Troopers novel by Robert A. Heinlein for his Colonial Marines in Aliens (Bug Stompers/Bug Hunt anyone?). Both seemingly inspiring the space marines of the Halo franchise from the get-go.
Garland would go on to write and shadow direct Dredd reshoots leading to his official directorial debuts with the excellent science fiction films Ex Machina and Annihilation.
Pirates of The Caribbean: Curse of The Black Pearl and G.I. Joe: The Rise of Cobra screenwriter Stuart Beattie took it upon himself to write a spec script based on the Eric Nylund novel Halo: The Fall of Reach during the writers’ strike of 2007.
In 2010, Steven Spielberg and DreamWorks reportedly tried to revive the project.
A feature film never materialized but there have been live-action projects since then which includes the web-series Halo 4: Forward Unto Dawn that got five episodes with a running time of 15 minutes each in 2012.
Ridley Scott and Scott Free Productions also developed the digital live-action series Halo: Nightfall starring future Luke Cage actor Mike Colter consisting of five episodes in 2014.
A new live-action Halo series from Showtime will focus on Master Cheif played by Pablo Schreiber (American Gods, Den of Thieves) and Otto Bathurst (Pinky Blinders, His Dark Materials) taking over directing duties from Rupert Wyatt (Rise of The Planet of The Apes).
— Halo on Showtime (@SHO_Halo) November 8, 2019
It was said to begin airing on Showtime in 2021, however, that looks unlikely with the pandemic and it’s unknown how far they got into filming before they had to shut down production due to COVID-19.
In July of 2017, Neill did a Reddit AMA session and stated he’d love to tackle Halo again but nobody is asking him to do so.
BLOMKAMP: “I love Halo. Still. But I seem to have a bad track record of turning existing franchises into films. Haha, Do I love the world? Master Chief? Reach, the Colonies, the Floor, the Covenant? YES. Am I going to end up directing a piece in that world? Probably not – meaning no one is asking me.”
Neill Blomkamp was about to begin shooting his horror thriller Inferno starring Taylor Kitsch last month in Albuquerque, New Mexico before the COVID-19 pandemic threw film and television productions into hiatus for the foreseeable future.