Halo could have been the blockbuster video game to film adaptation that made it all right. It could have been amazing – because it had the backing of two major studios, Lord of the Rings’ Peter Jackson set to produce, and our own Neil Blomkamp – famed for District 9 – on board to direct.
It’s not happening – and the reasons it’s fallen through can be summed up to Microsoft being a particularly greedy bunch.
According to writer Jamie Russell in his new games-to-movies focussed book Generation Xbox: How Videogames Invaded Hollywood, the whole deal fell apart because of Microsoft’s lack of understanding of how Hollywood works, and its insistence on taking too big a slice of the pie.
In his book, he claims that Microsoft "wandered into the deal naïvely expecting everyone to play by its rules and the resulting culture shock put immense strain on the Halo deal."
What was apparent during the Halo deal-making was that Microsoft was far from home, perhaps even surrounded in enemy territory. In the middle of the Halo negotiations, as all parties sat around the table, Shapiro recalls the discussion between Microsoft’s Hollywood liaison Peter Schlessel and Jimmy Horowitz, Universal’s co-president of production, taking an aggressive turn.
"Schlessel was getting really tough on some of the terms with Horowitz: ‘Come on, don’t be a jerk, blah, blah, blah…’. It was getting really heated. The guy from Microsoft [Steve Schrek] was like, ‘Wow, this is really good.’ Then we took a break and Schlessel goes to Horowitz, ‘Are you coming over for Passover?’ Because they know each other. You don’t have those kinds of relationships in videogames. In Hollywood you can be getting at each other but then you’re playing golf together the next day."
The suits negotiating on Microsoft’s behalf insisted on cashing in too much.
What ultimately killed the Halo movie was money. "Microsoft’s unwillingness to reduce their deal killed the deal," says Shapiro. "Their unwillingness to reduce their gross in the deal meant it got too top-heavy. That movie could have been Avatar."
"According to the New York Times, Microsoft were demanding creative approval over director and cast, plus 60 first-class plane tickets for Microsoft personnel and their guests to attend the premiere. It wouldn’t be putting any money into the production itself beyond the fee paid to Garland, nor was it willing to sign over the merchandising rights. To add insult to injury, Microsoft wanted the winning studio to pay to fly one of its representatives from Seattle to LA. They would watch every cut of the movie during post-production."
With them being such princesses, I’d have probably told them to get bent too. Neil Blomkamp, attached to direct agrees that it just once all the profit sharing came in, it started looking like a shady investment.
"One of the complicating factors with Halo was that Microsoft wasn’t the normal party that you’d go off and option the IP from and make your product. Because Microsoft is such an omnipresent, powerful corporation, they weren’t just going to sit back and not take a massive cut of the profits. When you have a corporation that potent and that large taking a percentage of the profits, 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. Ultimately, that’s essentially what killed the film.""
Personally, I’m not really sure Halo would’ve made a great film. Sure, the overall story is actually interesting, and those Halo shorts that Blomkamp and Jackson produced were pretty amazing – but the decidedly dull Master Chief as a main protagonist? YAWN.