Review by Sean Boelman
Video game adaptations are notoriously difficult to pull off since games are an inherently interactive medium and cinema is more passive. Based on one of the most popular game franchises of all time, Paramount+’s Halo may not be the best in the genre, but it does enough things really well that it will be exciting to see where it goes from here.
Set during a brutal war between humans and aliens, the series follows a powerful human warrior known as Master Chief as he is given an order that causes him to question all that he thought he knew to be true. At least in the first two episodes, it seems to be setting up a very conventional sci-fi epic story, albeit in the rich world of Halo.
The thing that is really surprising about this show is that it is not super action-packed. Granted, these first two episodes are filled with exposition, and so it’s entirely possible that the remaining seven episodes of the season will be more exciting. But apart from a solid, if somewhat generic, opening war scene, there’s not a whole lot of excitement here.
From the beginning, it’s clear that there are some messages to be found here about honor and the cost of war, but it’s mostly typical stuff for the genre. However, it is truly unfortunate that the best scene in these first two episodes may leave a sour taste in some viewers’ mouths due to its bleakness and the potential parallelisms that can be drawn between it and current events.
It’s clear that this isn’t quite the Master Chief that gamers around the world have come to love. The series is meant to add a different, more human side to the character, yet it does so with an arc that is relatively bland. The character original to the series, Quan Ah, is arguably more interesting, but is still quite archetypal.
That said, Pablo Schreiber manages to pull off both sides of his character quite well. There’s a dichotomy between the stolid, badass side of the character from the games and the more vulnerable portions that are more unique to the show, and it feels like he is paying respect to the character fans expect while still making it his own.
As one would expect, the world-building of the series is absolutely phenomenal. The way in which the series creates the details, from the sets to the costumes and everything else, is super immersive. At times, the CGI isn’t the best, but it’s likely because so much of the budget was dedicated to other parts of the execution.
Halo isn’t exactly a home run, but there are enough interesting elements that imply it will be getting even better as the season continues. It’s not a fans-only affair, either, as it has a pretty agreeable and familiar sci-fi storyline.
Halo debuted at the 2022 SXSW Film Festival, which runs March 11-19. Two out of nine episodes reviewed.