There are few franchises in recent memory that were announced with as much excitement only to collapse as spectacularly as the proposed video game movie “Halo.” Trumpeted with great fanfare in 2005, the expensive project was seen as the next big blockbuster, with the promise of a built-in, worldwide fanbase, and despite the cost, two major studios teamed up to make it happen. But as these things go, the ink was barely dry on the deal before things went south, development stalled, contracts tried to be renegotiated and eventually, the whole thing sputtered out in a rather ugly mess.
Today, Wired brings an excerpt from the upcoming book “Generation Xbox: How Videogames Invaded Hollywood” detailing the rise and fall of “Halo.” Here are five things about the project from beginning to end:
1. The movie pitch was one of the most sensational in recent memory.
It’s hard to get the attention of movie studio executives, who doubtlessly hear ideas for movies and franchises numerous times a day. But when Microsoft decided to bring their hugely successful “Halo” franchise to Hollywood, they knew they had to deliver some sizzle. CAA was repping the deal, and called Universal, Fox, New Line, DreamWorks and basically every major studio to let them know that couriers dressed up as the futuristic soldiers from the game, The Master Chiefs, would be visiting studio lots with a copy of Alex Garland‘s script and the terms of the deal they were looking to make. Not a bad way to get some attention and headlines.
But one person left out of the party was Harvey Weinstein. At the time he was heading up Miramax and it was thought he wouldn’t be interested. And though he probably wasn’t (and it was likely too expensive for their comparatively modest productions) such was the prestige of the “Halo” project that people just wanted to be included on some level.
2. The deal struck between Universal, Fox and Microsoft was unusual and unusually expensive.
Even at the time it was considered a major expense, but in light of recent studio belt-tightening, the deal for “Halo” seems even more absurd today. Fox and Universal decided to pair up on the film and in negotiating with Microsoft, who was driving a hard bargain, and were adding to the strain of putting a time limit on everyone to get their bids in. Eventually, the studios agreed to give Microsoft $5 million to option the film, and 10% percent of grosses, a staggering amount of money to commit to out of the gate. Fox would take international distribution, while Universal would take domestic, with both agreeing to co-finance the movie.
3. Weta Workshop built real life versions of equipment from the game.
While Peter Jackson was the first choice of Microsoft to direct the film, he decided to produce instead, handing the duties to commercials director and up-and-comer Neill Blomkamp (a choice the software company apparently didn’t like) who had just delivered his short “Alive In Joburg” which would eventually spawn “District 9.” As development continued at a pained and slow pace, Weta Workshop was busy creating real-life version of the weapons, armor and vehicles from the game. All of these would be used in to create test shorts, which were eventually re-cut for ads to promote “Halo: Landfall.” That would be the closest to a movie this project would get.
4. “They treated me like shit”: Neill Blomkamp says he’ll never work with Fox again.
For Blomkamp, his first experience with the studio system was unpleasant to say the least: “My instinct was that if I crawled into that hornet’s nest it would be not good, and it was a clusterfuck from day one,” he says. “There’s no question that there was a clash of worlds, for sure. The two sides weren’t seeing eye-to-eye.”
“The suits weren’t happy with the direction I was going,” Blomkamp plainly elaborates. “Thing was, though, I’d played ‘Halo’ and I play videogames. I’m that generation more than they are and I know that my version of ‘Halo’ would have been insanely cool. It was more fresh and potentially could have made more money than just a generic, boring film — something like ‘G.I. Joe‘ or some crap like that, that Hollywood produces.”
Believing that Fox head Tom Rothman “hated” him, the director didn’t get much respect from any of the suits; in fact, he got quite the opposite. Indeed, how he was handled was so harsh, he has vowed never to work with the studio again: “The way Fox dealt with me was not cool. Right from the beginning, when Mary [Parent, Universal’s former president of production turned ‘Halo’ producer] hired me up until the end when it collapsed, they treated me like shit; they were just a crappy studio. I’ll never ever work with Fox ever again because of what happened to ‘Halo’ – unless they pay me some ungodly amount of money and I have absolute fucking control.”
No surprise, Blomkamp’s next project is “Elysium” which is being independently financed and distributed by Sony.
5. Eventually Fox decided they didn’t want to finance the film, ultimately causing “Halo” to crumble.
Faced with a $135 million price tag, and having spent around $12 million in screenwriting (Scott Frank, D.B. Weiss and Josh Olson were among those who did passes on the script) and producing fees, Universal stalled on the project when Fox balked at sharing costs. Producer Peter Jackson’s apparently heavy price tag as mentor to would-be director Neill Blomkamp also hurt efforts to piece the project together. Essentially the return on the (heavy) investment (further reduced by Microsoft’s cut) began to make the movie look like a less tantalizing prospect. The rights eventually reverted back to Microsoft and the movie remains unmade.