Is Blomkamp A Good Choice Or Not?

Narcogen on XBL

Since an announcement at Xbox.com appeared and was just as quickly removed, the Halo community has been awash in discussion about the apparent appointment of Neill Blomkamp as director of the silver screen adaptation of Halo. Neither Microsoft Game Studios nor Bungie Studios have chosen to comment on the announcement, although Blomkamp himself has granted two interviews on the subject: one to Ain't It Cool News, and the other a gracious response to two questions submitted by the Red vs Blue fan community, which was keen to know whether the movie would draw from the games or the novels (and from which of each) and also if there could possibly be any easter eggs in the movie for RvB fans.

Official Secrets And Common Knowledge
The withdrawal of the official notice as well as refusal to comment by Microsoft and Bungie would seem to smack of a premature announcement, rather than an erroneous one. If the later, Blomkamp would seem to be just going along with the joke, and having us on until such time as an official announcement is made. If the former, one wonders why Microsoft simply doesn't ask Peter Jackson and Blomkamp from refraining from giving interviews until there is an official announcement.

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Whatever their reasons, it's amusing to note that for the second time this year, the fan community is energized with discussion of an issue that appears to be both common knowledge and a closely held trade secret at the same time. Few seriously doubted that Halo 3 was in development. There were indications that Halo 2, as released, did not comprise all the content that had been envisioned for it, giving further credence to the idea that the Master Chief's story would encompass three, rather than two installments. Microsoft executives commented freely on the game's existence and speculative release dates, while at the same time Bungie Studios refused to confirm or deny that they were even working on the game until E3 this year. One can only hope that the downsizing of the E3 event in the future will not only lead to fewer distractions for teams of developers who feel pressure each year to come up with mind-blowing demos, diverting much-needed resources from actual game development (something Bungie took care to avoid this year) but will also lead to less contradictory behavior by developers and publishers, whom it is hoped will no longer feel the need to sit on information that everybody already thinks they know for an official announcement while all the cameras are rolling.

So here we are again. The official Xbox site said Blomkamp is directing the Halo film; but now the story is gone. No comment on what it was or where it went, and no response from Bungie or MGS.

Half Empty Vs Half Full
The response of the fan community on Blomkamp's appointment has also been multifaceted. Some see it as a positive thing, impressed by his shorts, such as Alive In Joburg and Tetra Vaal, which came to the attention of some Halo fans as an impressive piece of filmmaking with Halo-like elements even before his name was officially linked with the Halo film. The links with his later work, Alive in Joburg, which features aliens in Africa, seem even more obvious.

Others have pointed out that this would be Blomkamp's first feature-length work, and wonder if choosing a director without prior feature-length experience is wise. There are extreme versions of both viewpoints: some believe that if Jackson, Bungie and Microsoft chose Blomkamp, it must be the correct decision, and of course the Halo movie will be great because it is Halo. Others see the avoidance of signing an experienced director as a sure sign of creative and financial disaster.

There are more moderate and reasonable versions of both positions, however, so here I'll run down each and the reasons behind them. Many of these come from sites and forums around the web, but a lot is owed to this exchange in the HBO forum and comments on this item here at Rampancy. Both positions, of course, make the assumption that the announcement is real and that there are impenetrably internal reasons for both Microsoft and Bungie to refuse comment that have nothing to do with the accuracy of the announcement.

The naming of Blomkamp as director of Halo is potentially a positive thing.

Blompkamp's prior works show a command of modern special effects as tools of storytelling rather than the main attraction itself. By his own admission, Blomkamp is a fan of the game and the Halo universe that Bungie has created, and is dedicated to making as true an adaptation of that universe as is possible with the assistance of Bungie and WETA.

Blomkamp's inexperience with feature films is a boon; without preconceived notions of what a Hollywood sci-fi blockbuster is supposed to be, we increase the chances of getting a unique film set in the unique Halo universe, rather than a cookie-cutter action film, or worse: a cookie cutter video game movie.

A Halo film by an established director would have taken fewer risks, had less respect for the original material, and simply bored fans of the game who already are intimately familiar with both the events in the two games and the background universe of the novels. A director who is not a fan of the game himself cannot hope to understand what it is fans want from the film adaptation, and would likely have been tempted to cater to a broader audience, losing the elements that make Halo special, and in the end, no one would be pleased.

Virtual unknowns can make good works just as well-known names can make bad ones; Bungie was all but unknown outside the Macintosh gaming community before making Halo for the Xbox; Peter Jackson was certainly not viewed upon as the obvious choice to make the Lord of the Rings trilogy before he actually did so, and both those choices turned out all right.

Asking what chance an established director has of making a good movie is like flipping a coin, seeing the result, and then asking what the chance is of getting the same result on a second toss: the answer is the same chance. So-called good directors make bad films. Some directors get worse over time. And sometimes unknowns make fantastic stuff. Every good director has to have a first feature; why can't Halo be Blomkamp's?

The naming of Blomkamp as director of Halo is potentially a negative thing.

Spinning the lack of a record in feature filmmaking as a positive thing is really just a bit of wishful thinking; at best, it's no indication of future success at all. At worst, success in making shorts can fail to translate to feature-length films, much in the way that the makers of commercials and music videos Hammer and Tongs failed to translate into success for the Hitchhiker's Guide to the Galaxy film, another property well-loved by hordes of rampant fans with high standards.

It's all well and good to talk about the uniqueness of the Halo intellectual property and how it requires a true fan to see the project through, but the thing that is unique about Halo is neither its storyline nor its gameplay, but the high level way in which both are executed and integrated. Halo's storyline and universe borrows liberally from many others: the Aliens film, the Ringworld books by Larry Niven, Culture novels by Iain M. Banks, Christopher Rowley's Starhammer, Orson Scott Card's Ender's Game, and many others.

The challenge in making the Halo film is not transcending the traditional action or science fiction flick mold set down by works like Ridley Scott's Aliens, but aspiring to reach at least that level, as nearly every video game adaptation for the big screen has so far failed to do. Doom was an expensive embarassment, and the collected works of Uwe Boll are best left unmentioned. To say that Blomkamp's appointment is not necessarily justification for universal rejoicing is not the same as equating him with Boll, or with predicting failure and ignominy for the Halo film project. But it is worth a raised eyebrow, or perhaps two.

One logical speculation to make is that what is going on is cost control. The Halo project already has an expensive script, an expensive studio deal that gives Microsoft more control than the studios probably want, and an executive producer who, while almost certainly worth every penny, was probably also not very cheap. Going after an A-list Hollywood director with the credentials of a Scott would also not have been cheap. It may be that hiring a young, new director is not just about artistic vision and integrity, but also about cost control. Blomkamp certainly sounds eager to work on the project, and views it as a great opportunity. It is likely that this tempered whatever demands he made for his involvement. I think there is no question that whatever his take is from the project, it is less than it would have been for someone of Scott's stature. This may be an effort on the part of those behind the project to keep costs reasonable and increase the chances of the film being a financial success.

What Are They To Say Now?
It seems premature to be looking very closely at what's going on with the Halo film. If reports are to be believed, the movie won't be released now until 2008, about a year later than previously expected. When Peter Jackson was named producer, principal photography was to have begun earlier this spring. Obviously that didn't happen. The delay might very well have been due to the director search; Hellboy director Guillermo del Toro was approached about the project, but was busy with Hellboy 2. Photography on Halo isn't set to start anytime soon, as apparently no casting has yet been done.

And there is still the question of the official silence from Microsoft and Bungie. If the information on Xbox.com was correct, why the delay? If the information is not correct, why are Jackson and Blomkamp talking to the press and the community about it? Certainly the reasons cannot be the same as those for keeping secret (or attempting to keep secret) the existence of Halo 3. There is no E3 equivalent on the horizon where a higher profile announcement can be made. The period of silence has now stretched on too long for it simply to be a matter of confirming all the essential information to make sure it is reported correctly. And the longer the delay before an official confirmation, the more people will start to doubt whether it's true or not.

So what's up? Every Halo fan obsessed with the Halo movie is one less pestering you for Halo 3 screenshots-- why not 'fess up? Does Halo have a director, or doesn't it?

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Claude Errera's picture
Claude Errera
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Joined: 05/26/1999
Premature?

Wow... this doesn't seem up to your normal standards of analysis, Narc. I'll buy that Blomkamp's previous work is encouraging in the sense that we KNOW he's capable of insightful filmmaking - but nothing else in your 'positives' section is actually a positive - it just IS. He's inexperienced with the feature-film format; remove the spin, and that's all you have. He's inexperienced with the feature-film format. It doesn't mean he'll take fewer risks (though he might), it doesn't mean he'll bring a fresh perspective to the genre (though he might) - it's just a fact.

Likewise, your negatives section consists of a single valid negative (his inexperience) - though I really must say, I'm getting tired of your single example... aren't there any other examples of people who didn't make the jump you could use?

The rest of it is not negative or positive - you include a paragraph on Halo's inspirations as a NEGATIVE for this director? The argument that the director is going to have to overcome expectations and not fall into familiar traps has NOTHING WHATSOEVER to do with the person itself - it's a general statement about WHOEVER takes the job. Blomkamp is no more (or less) susceptible than anyone else.

And cost-cutting? Now you're suggesting that the amount paid to a director actually has a bearing on how good the final film is? (That's the only way you can justify using this as a 'negative' against Blomkamp - otherwise, it's simply a speculation about the situation, with no positive or negative overtones at all.)

You've laid out the issues, yes. You've laid out the hurdles facing the director (any director) of this project. You've said nothing, really, about Blomkamp himself - every single argument (barring the inexperience-with-feature-length-films one, and the fact that his prior body of work is decent) can be made about a generic directorship, rather than Blomkamp himself.

Yes, there are fanboys shouting that Blomkamp is awesome as a choice, without thinking through all the unknowns. And yes, there are people screaming that Blomkamp is going to totally screw up the movie, because he's never done this before. But the majority of arguments you summarized here came from more level heads - and for the most part, the bigger picture presented in those arguments is 'we don't have enough info yet - let's wait and see'.

(I AM a little curious as to why it's taking so long to finalize that announcement, though...)

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Stonesand
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Modus Ponens

I liked it - but I see what the Wuinator is getting at: I think, Narcogen, that you just forgot to put the conclusions of your paragraphs in in the negative section. Eye-wink This is what I was reading between the lines (tell me what you think):

The conclusion of "It's all well and good...", and "The challenge in making the Halo film", is that _because_ the universe is so rich, Mr. Blomkamp has a lot to learn on his first try, and an inexperienced director may not be up to the task. This is one aspect of inexperience.

The conclusion of "One logical speculation to make is that what is going on is cost control" is that _if_ this speculation is true, than being out of money so soon is a bad thing, and picking someone with lousy qualifications because you have no money is even worse. Again, _if_ that speculation is true.

'Modus ponens' and all that. Does that make sense? Keep up the good work. Smiling

narcogen's picture
narcogen
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I've heard that can be a problem.

Sorry for the delay-- I didn't have Internet access the past couple of days.

Claude Errera wrote:
Wow... this doesn't seem up to your normal standards of analysis, Narc. I'll buy that Blomkamp's previous work is encouraging in the sense that we KNOW he's capable of insightful filmmaking - but nothing else in your 'positives' section is actually a positive - it just IS. He's inexperienced with the feature-film format; remove the spin, and that's all you have. He's inexperienced with the feature-film format. It doesn't mean he'll take fewer risks (though he might), it doesn't mean he'll bring a fresh perspective to the genre (though he might) - it's just a fact.

If you have more positives to offer, please feel free. I have been looking around through the same threads, and if there's repetition here, that's what I found. That does not mean I've seen everything.

Admittedly I had to go back to the positives section a couple of times to try and lengthen it, and wasn't able to come up with anything new.

I realize it's a piece without a lot of supporting information-- but that's just the situation. Frankly, I was hoping to wait later and actually have an official announcement, but I saw the whole selection fading into irrelevancy and no official word on the horizon, so I thought it best to just shoot the horses we have and worry about the rest when they come home.

Claude Errera wrote:
Likewise, your negatives section consists of a single valid negative (his inexperience) - though I really must say, I'm getting tired of your single example... aren't there any other examples of people who didn't make the jump you could use?

How would that make a difference? Let's say I come up with a dozen-- and I probably could-- that would only make it look as if I really had it in for Blomkamp and was trying to prove beyond a shadow of a doubt that he can't make a good feature length film because he's only done shorts to date. That's not my point.

Further, there are almost certainly just as many examples of shorts directors who have gone on to success.

I keep bringing up the Hitchhiker's example because for a number of reasons I believe it is the most directly relevant to this particular decision being made at this particular time-- more appropriate, I think, than any other single comparison that can be made.

Both Blomkamp and Hammer and Tongs were young, talented, and experienced in short formats. Both did commercials and music videos that were critically acclaimed. Both had no feature length experience at the time they were chosen to
direct the projects in question.

Both the Hitchhiker's books and the Halo games have devoted followings with extremely high expectations, and there's a not insignificant overlap between the two groups at certain points. If you wanted to imagine a class of works you could call "geek literature" then Hitchhiker's is certainly part of it, as are the Halo games as well as the source materials and inspirations for the Halo story.

So we have two science-fiction/fantasy works popular with similar demographic groups, both chosen to be adapted to the big screen from other formats (in one case from the books, radio programs, and tv series, and in the other, the video games and books) by first-time feature directors with experience only in commercials and music videos.

It is not just a question of "no feature length experience". That's simply one element of the comparison. These two situations match up and down the line in a way that I think you can't replicate with any other particular example. Any additional examples would a) not be as apt and b) look like I was just piling on, which is not my intent.

Is it that you liked the Hitchhiker's film and that's why you object to my picking on it? Smiling

Claude Errera wrote:
The rest of it is not negative or positive - you include a paragraph on Halo's inspirations as a NEGATIVE for this director? The argument that the director is going to have to overcome expectations and not fall into familiar traps has NOTHING WHATSOEVER to do with the person itself - it's a general statement about WHOEVER takes the job. Blomkamp is no more (or less) susceptible than anyone else.

Perhaps I was not clear there. One of the criticisms that Matt in particular offered for the idea of choosing an established director is that they would produce too traditional a film. I was responding there that Halo's own inspirations are, in themselves, entirely conventional science-fiction action films. If Cameron was good enough to do Aliens, from which large portions of Halo is ripped, then I think he's good enough to do Halo-- for example.

Claude Errera wrote:
And cost-cutting? Now you're suggesting that the amount paid to a director actually has a bearing on how good the final film is? (That's the only way you can justify using this as a 'negative' against Blomkamp - otherwise, it's simply a speculation about the situation, with no positive or negative overtones at all.)

Of course, you're right-- there's absolutely no correlation whatsoever between talent and compensation. What was I thinking!

I'm not saying that paying Blomkamp more or less will motivate him to make a better or worse film. I'm saying that a director with a string of hits under his belt is going to demand more in compensation than one who doesn't.

I was really trying to be polite and sensitive about that section and let the audience draw its own conclusions. But since you don't want to let me get away with that, I'll lay it out.

Imagine some executives having a discussion about the budget of the Halo movie. They're going down a list of expenses. They know what Jackson and his studio will cost. They've got estimates of what effects will cost. They know what the script and the rewrites will cost.

They haven't hired a director yet. They know what guys like Cameron, Scott, and Del Toro got for their last films. They've even talked to Del Toro, but he's busy.

They start adding up the numbers and realize the film is perhaps more expensive than originally thought. Perhaps they start thinking that it's a blessing in disguise Del Toro is not available. Perhaps they start thinking that they can get someone else to do it for less. Perhaps they start thinking that the Halo name alone will bring in a certain number of viewers, and that the film might not be able to have a broader audience than that, regardless of how good it is. So additional money spent on experienced direction might not bring any more revenue. And if the unknown director does even a barely competent job, that could well be enough to satisfy Halo fans, who after all, must want to see the Master Chief kick Covenant butt on the big screen. As long as the effects are good, kids will fork out ten bucks to see it. It need not actually be a good film.

If the film does only middling at the box office, then the windfall for an expensive director might be the difference between breaking even and losing money (although I think good or bad, it'll clean up on DVD if it's reasonably priced). And if it does well, it means a better take for the studio.

Claude Errera wrote:
You've laid out the issues, yes. You've laid out the hurdles facing the director (any director) of this project. You've said nothing, really, about Blomkamp himself - every single argument (barring the inexperience-with-feature-length-films one, and the fact that his prior body of work is decent) can be made about a generic directorship, rather than Blomkamp himself.

One, I don't know that anything more can be said about it at the time, and two, if I did, I think it'd be perceived as being even less charitable. This is, in effect, about choosing a known vs. an unknown director for the film. In that sense, yes-- Blomkamp's involvement is incidental because he is (apparently) the unknown director to be named.... later?

Claude Errera wrote:
Yes, there are fanboys shouting that Blomkamp is awesome as a choice, without thinking through all the unknowns. And yes, there are people screaming that Blomkamp is going to totally screw up the movie, because he's never done this before. But the majority of arguments you summarized here came from more level heads - and for the most part, the bigger picture presented in those arguments is 'we don't have enough info yet - let's wait and see'.

It was my stated purpose to summarize the arguments of the more level heads. There are plenty of threads for the other arguments, I don't feel the need to repeat (or, in this case, even refute) those.

On the other hand, the "wait and see" part I think is unnecessary, because time will pass and the film will eventually be made regardless of whether I choose to wait and see, or not.

It'd be like labeling each statement as "my opinion". Well of course it's my opinion, it's assumed and understood without my saying it over and over.

It's also quite possible I mis-titled this piece, as I'm not really answering the question of whether Blomkamp is a good choice or not-- I'm not sure that can really be answered at this point.

If there is a point I'm making, it's that I think it is a very risky choice.

Claude Errera wrote:
(I AM a little curious as to why it's taking so long to finalize that announcement, though...)

Yes, that is interesting, isn't it.


Rampant for over se7en years.

Matt's picture
Matt
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Joined: 01/16/2002
Picking a nit...

Ridley Scott directed Alien. James Cameron did Aliens.

Exceedingly minor point, I know.

-Matt

narcogen's picture
narcogen
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Joined: 05/26/1999
Ack! You're right.

You're right, I mixed and matched the directors and Alien films.

Although, for what it's worth, I think either Cameron or Scott could have done a Halo film justice.

Sure, they've both got hits and misses; Scott's got G.I. Jane and Cameron's got Titanic, which for all its commercial and critical success, is a miss with me. Besides, turning Halo into a romance probably wouldn't work anyway.

Cameron's Aliens is probably closer to the kind of action and science fiction/science fantasy that Halo could turn out to be, and the game certainly owes more to it than to the more horror-oriented Alien.


Rampant for over se7en years.

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