Halo producer talks dealing with fan backlash

Ever since it first premiered on March 24, Paramount+’s TV show Halo has been sparking discourse among the gaming community, largely due to its decision to frequently remove the helmet of its super-soldier lead, the Master Chief; in the Halo games, the helmet never comes off.

The show is based off the much beloved series of Xbox video games that has been around since 2001. Can a TV adaptation ever truly live up to nostalgia-soaked love that people develop for a franchise like this over decades?

Halo seems to be pulling things off pretty well. Regardless of the online discourse, the show is a success for Paramount+; it pulled in the largest single-day performance for a series premiere in the streamer’s history. It’s already been greenlit for a second season, so the show is here to stay for the foreseeable future.

Pablo Schreiber as Master Chief in Halo episode 6, season 1, Streaming on Paramount+. Photo credit: Adrienn Szabo/Paramount+

why Halo is succeeding as a show but would have failed as a movie

That said, there’s a lot of pressure on the show to do things right, as Halo producer Kiki Wolfkill told Entertainment Weekly. “There are hairdressers across the world who have made a ton of money off my increasing number of gray hairs.”

Long before the Halo show was even a blip on the radar, there were plans to turn the series into a movie to probably be produced by Peter Jackson (The Lord of the Rings) and directed by Neill Blompkamp (District 9, Elysium). That all fell apart by 2006. The following year, Microsoft formed an internal studio to oversee the Halo franchise, 343 Industries, which would also handle bringing the property to the screen. This gave Wolfkill, who oversees the Transmedia department of the gaming studio, more freedom to examine the possibility of bringing the Master Chief’s story to television.

“We wanted our focus to be very much on telling more of John’s story and more of these character stories,” Wolfkill said. “We were really driven by the desire to have a long-form medium to really express these stories in a way that would provide a different kind of experience for the gamers.”

Pablo Schrieber, who plays the Master Chief, also had some thoughts on the matter. He points out that Hollywood has plenty of “swings and misses” when it comes to video game adaptations. “A lot of that is because there’s such a deep, rich storytelling culture in video games. When you try to do the short, quick, sweet version of it, oftentimes you can miss the mark pretty easily.” According to Schrieber, with a story as wide and deep as Halo“there was really no other option” but doing a TV series.

Danny Sapani as Captain Jacob Keyes in Halo episode 5, season 1, Streaming on Paramount+. Photo credit: Adrienn Szabo/Paramount+

The challenges of adapting a video game for TV

Wolfkill also has some pretty interesting stuff to say about the overall challenge of adapting video games for the screen. Aside from the general attachment gamers can come to feel to the characters and the world, Wolfkill notes that players develop a sort of “emotional muscle memory” while playing games. As they make choices that play out on the screen, they become immersed in a way that’s different than if they were reading a book or watching a movie.

According to Wolfkill, the League of Legends show Arcane was able to sidestep this issue somewhat, because so much of its story and lore “lives in both incredible cinematics and in the background.” That’s pretty fair; there is no single player mode in League of Legends. It’s entirely possible to play it without ever coming across the extensive lore; for that you’d have to go to the game’s website or study its character-centric cinematics.

On the other hand, Halo has a story-driven campaign mode, which means that the tale of Master Chief is a central part of playing those games (unless you just stick to the multiplayer). As such, fans have more attachment to a specific version of the story and characters. “They’ve seen the world a certain way, or they’ve seen a character a certain way, or they have very deep feelings about who they may be as the character,” Wolfkill said.

Wolfkill and her team have brought in specific elements from the game. For instance, in the battle sequence in Episode Five, “Reckoning,” Master Chief shouts to his AI companion Cortana that he “knows how to play this game” as he switches weapons, which surely elicited either a chuckle (or a groan) from fans.

“There was just this sheer execution challenge,” Wolfkill said about the sequence. “It’s easy to want to throw everything in because it’s cool, but at the end of the day, even with a battle, you’re still telling this story and that story still has to be the priority. So, figuring out interesting opportunities to bring in game mechanics that feel familiar and are always exciting to see outside of the game, but doing it in a way where it’s adding to the story of the battle is really important.”

It’s interesting to hear Wolfkill talk about specific game mechanics considering that a while back showrunner Steven Kane admitted to not looking at the games before making the show. Apparently that doesn’t hold across the board. (And of course, as one of the heads of a video game studio like 343, Wolfkill would know what’s up on the gaming front.)

Pablo Schreiber as Master Chief in Halo Season 1, Episode 4, streaming on Paramount+. Photo credit: Adrienn Szabo/Paramount+

How Halo is dealing with fan backlash

One of the particular challenges facing Halo is that in the games, lead character Master Chief is supposed to be a player stand-in to a certain extent. Yes, John-117 has his own backstory, but since he never removes his helmet in the games it’s easier for players to project identities on to him, making the argument that “Master Chief could be anyone.”

Regardless, Schrieber argues that removing the Chief’s helmet in the show was essential to understanding the character better, which makes for a more compelling show overall. “The stories that we want to tell all have to do with encountering John’s humanity, and you can’t engage that process without starting to get to know the character,” he said. “One of the big themes of the first season is, how much of our humanity do we have to give up to fulfill our duty to our country or organization? How much of our sense of patriotism or duty do we have to leave behind in order to feel fully human?”

These are heavy themes, and Halo has made it a point to try and center them. For my money, it’s a good choice, but everyone will have their own opinion. For those who don’t like the idea of ​​the Master Chief’s helmet coming off, they got an even bigger surprise a few weeks back when the Chief stripped down to his birthday suit in order to extract an emotion suppression chip from his lower back.

“You get this sense of the scarring and what he’s been through,” Wolfkill said about the nude scene, before admitting that she had seen the mixed response from fans. “We got a lot of Master Cheek memes after that.”

Halo has five more episodes left in its first season; they drop on Paramount+ on Thursdays. Check back for our weekly review!

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h/t Entertainment Weekly

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