Last week, Halo showrunner Steven Kane told Variety that the team behind the upcoming live-action series isn’t interested in sticking with the source material. “We didn’t watch the game. We haven’t talked about the game,” he said, much to the chagrin of Halo fans everywhere. “We talked about the characters and the world. So I never felt limited by it being a game.”
As alarming as it sounds coming from a creative lead, Kane isn’t the only video game adapter to have blatantly ignored source material. From Resident Evil to Sonic the Hedgehog, video game movies have always bastardized the games they’re based on – for better or for worse. The reason is simple, albeit misguided: why put on a show for the fans when you can put on a show for everyone?
In that same Variety interview, the programming director of Paramount Plus says so explicitly. “It’s a swing for a wide audience,” she says. “I hope this expands what the Paramount Plus brand can mean.” Giles talks about NFL dads enjoying the show with their teenage sons and impressing his own teenage sons with how close he is to Halo. It’s very corporate, very cringe-worthy, but it’s not something new. The logic it uses is the same we’ve seen for decades when it comes to video game adaptations. Halo has a built-in audience that’s going to watch it no matter what, so let’s make a show that will appeal to people who aren’t Halo fans.
It would make sense if it weren’t for the fact that it never, ever works. The problem is, everyone knows what Halo is, and if they don’t play it, they won’t care about the series. The only thing that draws non-gamers into video game movies is fan enthusiasm. Positive word of mouth is what made Arcane such a big hit for Netflix last year. League of Legends players and fans loved it and pestered their friends and family members to watch it. It was a good show that appealed to a wide audience, but it wouldn’t have been so successful if it had taken its embedded audience for granted.
Arcane was an anomaly in the world of video game adaptations. Here’s what normally happens: a video game movie comes out, let’s call it “Monster Hunter”, and non-gamers don’t care. Fans of this hypothetical Monster Hunter series see it and tell everyone how awful it was because of the disrespect towards the games. If I know a Monster Hunter fan, I’m likely to take their word for it. They would know better than anyone, after all. This is why almost all video game movies turn out to be duds. Gamers hate it and non-gamers don’t care.
When Kane says “I never felt limited by it being a game”, I’d like to give him the benefit of the doubt and assume he meant he didn’t feel limited, creatively, by the source material. What he actually said indicates that he believes games, as a medium, are limiting. It’s an absurd belief for anyone who plays games in all their wondrous forms and varieties, but it fits the kind of elitism we’ve seen time and time again in Hollywood. As a guy in his 50s, Kane comes from a time when games were seen as children’s playthings, incapable of the sort of artistic merit or film pedigree. Much of his generation is uncommitted to games and unaware of how much the medium has matured since the days of Pac-Man. You’d like to think the showrunner of a series based on one of the most critically acclaimed video game series of all time would be a bit hipper, but apparently not.
This doesn’t bode well for the Halo series, which will see its episodes air weekly on Paramount+ starting this Thursday. Editor Stacey Henley reviewed the first two episodes and wasn’t particularly enthusiastic about it, citing stilted performances and uninspired visuals. Whether fans will feel alienated remains to be seen, but Kane’s comments certainly don’t inspire much confidence. Maybe this will be the wake-up call Hollywood needs to finally stop “swaying for a large audience” and just do something that doesn’t piss off the actual audience, but at this point I doubt that they learn one day.
Next: Halo Episode 1 & 2 Review – I Think We’re Just Getting Started
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