Paramount's Halo TV series has an identity problemOn May 12,2022 by Tom Routley
“Who is this TV show or movie for?” – it’s a question that studio executives, writers, directors, and producers need to ask themselves before embarking on a new project. It’s a crucial one to answer, too. Understanding your target audience is vital not only for the creative process, but also for a movie or show’s potential success.
That’s particularly true for live-action adaptations of beloved video game franchises. Indulge long-time fans only, and your fan service-y project won’t appeal to general audiences. Craft something with a broader range of viewers in mind, though, and you’re likely to alienate established fans, just like the Tom Holland-starring Uncharted movie did.
The Halo TV series doesn't fall into either category, but it commits a far greater sin as a result: it doesn’t know who its core audience is. Paramount Plus ’ live-action adaptation of Xbox ’s iconic video game series has spent the past seven years in development hell. During that time, you would’ve expected its chief creative team to determine who they’ve created the TV series for.
Disappointingly, that’s not the case. Halo’s TV adaptation falls into the trap of pandering to both camps – that is, diehard fans and everyday audiences. Subsequently, it’s an imbalanced and lackluster sci-fi adventure – based on its first two episodes, at least – that will struggle to please either party.
Wake up, John
Set in the year 2552, the Halo TV series follows John-117/Master Chief (Pablo Schreiber), a Spartan-II soldier who leads humanity’s fight against an alien threat known as the Covenant.
After Master Chief and Silver Team – the Spartan squad he leads – defeat an Elite Covenant scouting party on the planet Madrigal, the group discovers a mysterious object that could hold the key to ending the Human-Covenant war. As each army vies for control of the intriguing item, though, a shock revelation leaves Master Chief questioning not only the mission he’s been assigned but also himself.
This opening narrative salvo is the show’s most glaring issue, and is the root cause behind its identity crisis. For starters, viewers unfamiliar with the Halo universe won’t know who Master Chief is. Or what the United Nations Space Command (UNSC) is. Or that the Covenant comprises multiple alien species, hence their different physical appearances.
Sure, filling the first episode with reams of plot and character exposition would be a bad move on the part of the show’s chief creative team. The narrative would move at a glacial pace, character introductions would feel forced, and action sequences may take a backseat to any ‘here’s what you need to know about the Halo universe’ explanations.
There’s no denying, though, that some viewers will be confused about multiple aspects of the TV series’ plot, plus the history of the wide franchise. What’s the Spartan super-soldier program? Why is humanity at war with itself before the Covenant’s arrival compels them to join forces? How come Master Chief is so revered among the UNSC’s military and despised by the Elite warriors that call him “demon”?
Such queries are sure to be answered, for those new to the Halo universe, as the season progresses. But, for a show that needs to grab viewers’ attention – and keep it, especially when there’s so much competition from Netflix and other streamers' immeasurable amount of content – Halo isn’t exactly forthcoming with key information early on.
Long-time Halo fans may feel similarly let down by the show’s story. This isn’t a beat-for-beat retread of the games’ overarching narrative. Instead, the Halo TV series exists on the Silver Timeline – an alternate reality that borrows heavily from the mainline games, with Halo’s plot told from a new but not necessarily improved perspective.
Making changes to the plot from Halo's game series, though, doesn't mean that the TV adaptation is absolved of criticism. Master Chief, for example, doesn’t emerge from cryosleep to fight off invading Covenant forces on the Pillar of Autumn as he does in 2001’s Halo: Combat Evolved. Here, he’s introduced as the savior of a Madrigal-based outpost, which is hopelessly outgunned by the Elite scouting party. It’s a crowd-pleasing introduction but, for a series that focuses on John-117’s journey, delaying his arrival until the premiere’s second quarter is an odd decision to make. We’re introduced to original characters, such as Kwan Ha (Yerin Ha), before Master Chief and other prominent individuals including Doctor Catherine Halsey (Natascha McElhone), too. Halo fanatics may find that hard to stomach, even if Kwan is a welcome addition to proceedings.
Other source material deviations have further exasperated Halo’s fanbase ahead of release. The redesign for Master Chief’s AI companion Cortana (Jen Taylor), plus Charlie Murphy’s Makee – a human who works alongside the Covenant – are two creative changes that have drawn ire from die-hard fans. The revelation that Master Chief removes his helmet to show his face has similarly led to fan outcry, despite lead star Pablo Schreiber’s defense of such a move . Even the planet Reach, which is decimated by the Covenant before the events of Combat Evolved in the games, is untouched at the start of Paramount’s Halo series.
Taking creative liberties with movie and TV adaptations are part of the development process. What works in a video game may not necessarily translate well to the big or small screen, so altering portions of Halo’s lore were bound to happen. Reshaping such key elements from the game series, though, will be sacrilegious to many Halo fans.
'I need a weapon'
These sweeping changes are a crying shame, too, when you consider how much love, care, and attention has gone into the TV show's other aspects. Make no mistake, the production value is very impressive. Paramount’s live-action adaptation reportedly cost between $90 million and $200 million to make – and, regardless of which figure is closer to the truth, it shows.
If the show’s narrative changes make (or will make) established fans bristle, the faithful recreations of Halo’s weapons and vehicles are sure to raise a smile. From assault rifles and jeep-like warthogs to battle rifles, and from Covenant phantom ships to chainguns and the armor that each Spartan wears, those behind Halo’s TV series have lovingly replicated central elements of the mainline games. The designs of each Covenant race, such as the Prophets and Elites, have also been authentically copied over from the games – although, the Elites do look a bit more brute-ish than they do in the first-person shooter series.
The sheer amount of Halo game references and Easter eggs present in the TV adaptation is highly satisfying, too. Sound files, such as the Elites’ ‘wut wut’ call and the depleted Spartan shield warning noise, have been carried over from the games and used correctly here. Characters occasionally dual-wield weapons as players could in Halo 2, while other ordnance items, including the Elites’ cloaking device, also make appearances. Taylor’s voicing of Cortana – the iconic role she reprises from the games – and the legendary Halo theme have a place in the TV show. There are even references to Halo’s expanded universe from the novels, such as the asteroid belt-bound location known as The Rubble.
All of these elements, and so much more besides, make it more galling that Paramount, 343 Industries, and Amblin Television didn’t lean further into the fan-centric angle of the Halo TV series’ production. Major Halo fans would enjoy it far more if it had, even if it meant that the show sidelined general audiences in favor of Halo’s primary fanbase. I certainly would have appreciated it, and relished the fact that a live-action adaptation of one of my favorite game series did justice to its expansive source material.
It’s rare for film or TV adaptations to strike a satisfying balance between different audiences. Netflix’s Arcane is an example of how to get this right; a show that simultaneously honors what’s come before while making its story accessible to newcomers.
The Halo TV series, though, doesn’t succeed at either. Its significant source material deviations mean that long-time fans will grumble at its unnecessary changes, while general viewers may not be able to fully engage with its scattergun approach to storytelling.
There are parts of Halo’s TV show that are good. Its production value is second to none, Schreiber’s Master Chief is a wonderful take on a character made famous by Steve Downes in the games, and its action is thrilling and tense on occasion. It doesn’t shy away from Halo’s penchant for gratuitous violence, either.
Still, this exclusive Paramount Plus series feels like a missed opportunity. Weighed down by fan expectations that grew exponentially during its lengthy development cycle, it could’ve been so much better than the sum of its parts. Sure, a second season has already been greenlit, so these teething issues can be ironed out in future episodes. If they are, Halo's TV adaptation may be salvageable. It remains to be seen, though, if the TV show’s Master Chief, just like his video game counterpart, will be given more time after season 2 airs to finish the fight.
The Halo TV series launches exclusively on Paramount Plus on Thursday, March 24.
The new Square Stand just solved your company's biggest payment headache
Payment and checkout giant Square has taken the wraps off its new generation of POS hardware as it looks to help businesses bounce back from the effects of the pandemic.
The new launches include a revamped Square Stand that offers more smart checkout options and payment processing with just a tap. Businesses can even place their own iPad into the Stand to avoid paying for all-new hardware, as opposed to the previous version, which required a separate reader to accept contactless card or phone payments .
The new Square Stand even swivels, making it easier for your customers to quickly and safely pay without needing to hand over a card or juggle a card reader.
Square Stand POS
Offering businesses of all sizes an upgrade on the previous model, which was first introduced in 2013, the new Square Stand looks to provide merchants with the largest possible range of options to take payments.
Alongside the contactless options mentioned above, which includes illuminated icons to show customers exactly where to tap to make a contactless payment , there is also an embedded chip-and-pin reader for those customers wishing to make larger transactions, saving valuable space in smaller shops.
When making a purchase, the new Square Stand provides customers with a faster and clearer checkout process that lays out exactly what is being bought, with clear summary and payment screens, without the need for additional screens.
The Stand is only compatible with some iPad models, namely those made in 2019, 2020 and 2021, alongside the 2019 iPad Air and the iPad Pro 10.5 inch model.
Sellers pay a flat rate for every contactless or chip + PIN transaction, with no hidden fees or long-term contracts, and free access to the Square POS app.
“The way businesses and shoppers interact around the world has evolved exponentially in the time since we first launched our original Square Stand,” said Alyssa Henry, Head of Square.
“The new Stand was built with the future of commerce in mind. Marrying elegant design with powerful software, Square Stand provides sellers of any size, from boutique retailers to multi-location restaurants, with a versatile command center for their business. Square Stand offers sellers an integrated way to meet the purchasing preferences of today’s consumers.”
The new Square Stand will be available to order from June 2022, starting at £99/$149.
This slick chain-free e-bike can go 25,000 miles without maintenance on its drive system
The Honbike E-bike is a new folding electric bike that gets rid of one of cycling's biggest annoyances: the chain. Honbike hasn't just replaced it with a belt drive, either; instead, the e-bike has a fully enclosed drive shaft that means no risk of slipping or jumping, and practically no maintenance.
For everyday commuting, a drive shaft makes a lot of sense: it's light, quiet, and (perhaps most importantly) needs far less maintenance than a conventional drive system. While a chain typically needs maintenance after 300 miles including lubrication and tensioning, and a carbon belt will need attention after 12,000 miles, Honbike says that its drive shaft will only need servicing after it's completed 25,000 miles.
The Honbike was first launched in Japan, and is now available to order in the US through Indiegogo for an early bird price of $1,499 (about £1,140 / AU$2,000), with shipping due to start in June 2022. That'll rise to $2,399 (about £1,800 / AU$3,200) when the bike goes on general sale.
That's very reasonable for any e-bike, let alone one with a folding mechanism and non-standard drive system. For context, our current top-rated folding e-bike, the Gocycle G4 (2022) , sells for $4,999 / £3,999 (about AU$7,000).
This is a class-one e-bike, which means there's no throttle and the motor will only engage while you're pedalling, but the bike will automatically detect when you hit a hill and give you an extra boost. The steeper the gradient, the bigger the helping hand. If the bike tilts more than 30 degrees while you're riding, the motor will cut out to reduce the speed and help you recover control.
There's no awkward ride computer standing out from the handlebars, as there is with some budget e-bikes. Instead, the Honbike E-Bike has an LCD display and control system at the top of the head tube, with an ambient light sensor so the brightness adjusts automatically for visibility in different conditions.
The Honbike E-Bike has a range of 24.8 miles, which is on the lower end for a folding e-bike, and at 20.8kg it's not the lightest model around (despite its extra-small hub motor). Nevertheless if you're looking for an easy way to reduce reliance on your car, it's definitely worth investigating, particularly at this price.