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2022 SXSW Festivals Film

‘HALO’ – “Pilot”: A diverse cast and bloody action spice up a beloved franchise

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Paramount+’s Halo.

When it comes to video game-to-screen adaptations, the following result of such a venture usually falls under two camps – either it’s okay, or it becomes the internet’s punching bag for the next few weeks. 

It can be easy to see why this can be the case. Video game fandom can be hard to navigate, and at best, it can be hard for studios to glom onto rabid, established fandoms without having to convince the series’ biggest fans that this is a film made specifically for them. (most recently, Uncharted, for instance, or even Halo’s previous iterations). Online discourse can quickly turn into nitpicking. After all, how do you best appease the people who’ve lived, breathed, and existed in the world of these characters for years? 

Luckily, for the producers of Paramount+’s latest video game gamble Halo, I’m not a hardcore Halo fan. Though it’s a series that’s been around for decades, my only memory of it is when I vaguely played a round of it on my friend’s dusty old Xbox before moving onto my handheld Pokemon game. So I was intrigued when the pilot of Halo not only introduced an interesting, thriving world that already feels set in motion, but also kept my attention.

Scene from “Pilot.”

From what I gather, here’s what you need to know about the world of Halo. Humanity has moved to the stars, and they’re being ruled by a peacekeeping government that oversees all. Constantly fighting against them is the alien race The Covenant, whose presence basically boils down to “evil,” “scary,” and “peace-threatening.” Detractors from the government, like the tribe that main character Yerin Ha (Kwan Ha) belongs to, are largely critical of the overruling force, branding themselves as rebels against a larger power. These three groups are constantly at war with and against each other, creating some interesting power dynamics that could easily mask as commentary of our own real-world politics.

Because the world of Halo is already so established in other forms of media, the creators of the series really could use any point of entry into the series. In this rendition, the story centers itself around Yerin, a feisty rebel who dreams of exploring the world outside of her tribe. Constantly under the pressure of being the chief’s daughter, she yearns for much more than just being pigeonholed into predetermined roles. But as the events of the pilot move forward, it becomes apparent that she’s able to get her wish. The Halo pilot posits itself around what happens afterwards, setting itself up for the entrance of the United Nations Space Command (UNSC) and the reveal of Master Chief (a masked Pablo Schreiber) into the story. What happens when a rebel and the iconic Master Chief team up? That’s the question that this adaptation dares to ask.

Kwan Ha as Yerin Ha in Paramount+’s Halo.

In terms of storytelling, the surprisingly bloody world of HALO does a great job at expanding the usually white world of the Halo universe into being much more inclusive of who represents humanity. Actors from all different backgrounds act as the genetic makeup of the UNSC governing body, and they all naturally ease into their roles. Much of that representation also comes in the form of Yerin, who is the de facto star of the show. She’s a noticeably fierce character, one who refuses to play the victim even when tragedy befalls her. Against the masked Master Chief, she’s an interesting foil for the iconic mascot of the series, bringing a empathetic voice of reason to the beloved video game character’s sometimes robotic actions. Just in the pilot alone, Halo starts to flesh out Master Chief and all of the other characters, adding subtle human nuances to otherwise side characters whose actions are usually dictated by their ranks and titles. 

However, during its low points, an outdated white savior trope uncomfortably lingers in the background of the narrative – one that’s impossible to avoid in the context of the pilot. But at its best, you might even forget that you’re watching a show based on a video game – until awkwardly inserted HUD shots bring you back to remind you that yes, the source material is definitely a decades-old FPS. It’s good for what it is, but there’s nothing particularly new here that separates it from other sci-fi series.

Halo definitely has a lot to be cautiously optimistic about. Cool fight scenes, R-rated violence, an interesting protagonist, and flashy sci-fi effects are definitely factors that suggest that this version of Halo could be around to stay. The diverse cast and Yerin’s journey? Also huge pluses that automatically have me more invested in the series. In terms of what it’s got, this edition of Halo definitely has the budget and potential to become a great series worthy of similar sci-fi romps. 

Now, will it stick the landing in the rest of the series and appeal to casual fans and hardcore fans alike? We’ll see.

Rating: 3 / 5 

This pilot was reviewed as part of the 2022 SXSW Festival.

Series links: IMDb | Official Site

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