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?