Halo

2 out of 5

Developed by: Kyle Killen and Steven Kane

covers season 1

Maybe it was because I’m always late to video games in general, and when I did join, I joined the Playstation crowd, but I never really “got” Halo. I’ll allow that it’s a matter of taste: generic dudes in space marine outfits shooting aliens will generally get that tag that I just added – generic – when viewed through my perceptions. Reading about Halo’s plot, there’s definitely some interesting lore there, but the visuals – bad guys, weapons, whatever – just never did much for me. Go ahead and toss military shooters like Call of Duty into this pile also; context goes just as far as gameplay for me, and even if something is reported as an amazing game, if it’s not topically / visually of interest… I find it hard to care.

This has held true across Halo’s sequels, and to be frank, even when listening to people explain the positives of these games, I still don’t really get it. How is this more interesting than, say, Resistance? Even the story, over the years, has rather falled down for me, not getting too far out of the comfort zone of its dudes shooting aliens shtick.

While you could suspect I carried that bias into the Halo TV show, it was actually the opposite: I was excited by the possibility of a series capitalizing on those interesting lore tidbits and maybe allowing in for a better comingling of character and storytelling, something that required a narrative. Instead, even from the outset, I was met with a similar feeling from the games: this looks and sounds quite generic – muted color palette; stoic soldiers; mean aliens – and I found myself almost completely uninterested.

Pablo Schreiber is Master Chief officer John, a “Spartan” warrior for the UNSC, our 26th century human-run space command which likes to do the militant leadership thing, and has allowed Doc Halsey (Natascha McElhone) the leeway to do some genetic tinkering to achieve the super soldier Spartans.

Humanity is at war with the CGI-d alien race The Covenant, with human mining colonies and other settlements finding themselves consistently under threat from the aliens; the show opens when a particular colony is slaughtered, the Spartans stepping in at the last moment. Only Kwan Ha (Yerin Ha) is left alive. The Covenant had a goal this time, which the Spartans interrupt: procurement of some type of relic; when John touches the relic, he has flashbacks to his past – memories and the resultant emotions which are both suppressed by the Spartan program – and this set him off an a rebellious path. Halsey implants him with an assistive AI named Cortana to kinda sorta keep tabs on this new anti-authority streak. Meanwhile, cut to The Covenant, plotting retrieval of their relic; or Ha, plotting revenge for her lost home and community.

The story has its fair share of tropes – future corporations-as-government style stuff; the mysterious evil plottings of the aliens; references of various characters being The One that will change the world’s fate; and etc. – but that doesn’t have to matter. Great writers / directors can bring even the most typical tale to life. Unfortunately, Halo has a combination of stereotypical dialogue and an average cast in some of its main roles, rendering key characters incredibly unengaging, and the visuals are a mixture of flat, unimaginative planets / ships – chrome; desert – and computer work that certainly took effort, but is just a sketch beyond the budget / time for the show, resulting in alien designs that aren’t very interesting, and physics that are always too floaty. Occasionally, that aforementioned promise will bubble up in some interesting angles, such as the background of the Spartan program, or hints that we’re only seeing The Covenant through a human perspective – that they have their own lives and culture, and aren’t just evil bogeymen – but back to the script and actors not really being able to carry most of this. Even when we have some great character actors, like Burn Gorman, it feels like they’re stuck in there purposefully to add color to the drabness; they’re acting on top of their words – it’s just window dressing.

Similarly, some of the action beats really work when they’re more practical (a later assault on a village by some USNC, though story-wise pretty illogical, is very exciting), and the suit designs and some visual concepts, if extracted from the overall blase vibe, are pretty cool. There’s just enough to tickle curiosity, that maybe there’s a more intriguing sci-fi show around the corner, but very inevitably, every whisper of that turns out to be misleading – we fall back on wooden lines, rather unmotivated scenes, and a story that forgets to clue the viewer into the exact stakes, landing halfway between “you’ve played the game, right?” familiarity (even though this is a separate narrative from the games), and mismatched gravitas, in which the predictable is presented with awe.