This week two of the biggest names in Hollywood predicted that the film industry was going to “implode.” Shockwaves were felt throughout Hollywood and the rest of the world. The two names were Steven Spielberg and George Lucas, both of whom specialise in big box office blockbuster films. But before the horrific prediction of two of Hollywoods wunderkind’s Microsoft announced that Spielberg was going to be connected with the Xbox game Halo and putting it on television as a live-action series.
On the surface both Lucas and Spielberg are saying that Hollywood as the film dream factory is living on borrowed time, but Spielberg seems to be saying that there is still money to be made from television. Albiet television that will be aired on the new Xbox Live network.
It all makes perfect sense to 343 Industries, Bonnie Ross said when she announced the new program as part of the new Xbox One reveal. Ross said, “Halo has always been more than a game. The Halo universe is an amazing opportunity to be at that intersection where technology and myth-making meet to produce something truly groundbreaking.”
Executive Producer for Halo, Steven Spielberg couldn’t be there personally at the reveal so he sent a pre-recorded video. So far we don’t have a actual start date for the show or if it will be available to those of us who do not have Xbox Live.
Spielberg’s taped announcement was that he has forged a partnership with Microsoft to make a Halo TV show. This joint announcement seemed like history in the making, but after the implosion news that Spielberg relayed about the film industry being aired; his choice to get involved with the console-delivered TV show makes sense.
But of course the big news, aside from perhaps the best game that Microsoft ever released becoming a live action TV show, is the Hollywood implosion prediction itself.
The prediction was made by the two film makers at a ceremony where Spielberg and Lucas were members of a panel at USC celebrating the opening of the Interactive Media Building which is part of the USC School of Cinematic Arts.
During the presentation, Spielberg said “there’s eventually going to be an implosion — or a big meltdown [of the movie industry]. There’s going to be an implosion where three or four or maybe even a half-dozen megabudget movies are going to go crashing into the ground, and that’s going to change the paradigm.”
George Lucas agreed with Spielberg, saying that “the pathway to get into theaters is really getting smaller and smaller.” For two iconic producers/directors to make these observations is a tad troubling, but it may pave the way for more interactive and console-delivered content. It may also explain Spielberg’s involvement in the Halo TV series.
When two of the most influential film makers in the world say the the film industry is doomed, folks notice. When one of them then announces that he’s launching a new TV series based on a video game, folks get interested. But let us not be deceived, Spielberg isn’t making the new Halo live-action show because he likes video games.
He is purposefully turning his back on the big budget blockbusters that he is known for. He is hedging his bets and taking some of his eggs out of that basket. When you consider the history behind the Halo TV series, it makes even more sense.
Halo the television series was originally supposed to be Halo the film. It was actually announced in 2005 that the film was going to be made. Universal and Fox studios had partnered up to make the movie a reality. The screenwriter for 28 Days Later, Alex Garland was hired to write the script and the “hotter-than-hot” Lord of the Rings director Peter Jackson was going to produce the film and his protege Neill Blomkamp was going to direct.
So what happened?
According to Leslie Gornstein from Yahoo, “Microsoft reportedly wanted a huge, huge piece of the film’s profits — specifically, according to Variety, $10 million against 15 percent of the box office gross, in addition to a $75 million “below-the-line” budget and fast-tracked production. The New York Times also reported that Microsoft wanted creative approval over director and cast; 60 first-class plane tickets for Microsoft personnel and their guests to attend the premiere; and ownership of merchandising rights.”
As production costs soared, Universal Studios approached Microsoft to help out on the unforeseen money problem. Their answer was an unequivocal no.
According to former CAA talent agent Larry Shapiro, “Microsoft’s unwillingness to reduce their deal killed the deal. Their unwillingness to reduce their gross in the deal meant it got too top-heavy. That movie could have been ‘Avatar.’”
But Peter Jackson blames the studios. Jackson said, “It fell over due to various politics between Universal and Fox. It’s almost like losing a member of the family – not that bad, but you’re emotionally committed to the movie and you’ve totally sort of gone there with your heart and soul.”
Regardless of whose fault it was, Halo, the movie, has been stuck in “development hell” ever since.
Enter Steven Spielberg with his dire predictions of Hollywood film making.
While he may think that partnering with Microsoft to develop a television show based on one of their most popular video games is a better bet than making it into a movie, he needs to look at how video games adapted into films have faired. Sure it is exciting to hear Steven Spielberg and Halo mentioned in the same breath, but looking at the past film’s made from video games take the excitement level down a lot.
Historically, most films that are based on video games do not do well at the box office. The gamers who are fan’s of the game either don’t want to see a film version of their favourite game or when they excitedly get to see it, the film makers haven’t lived up to the hype.
Some of the most popular games in the video gamers verse have suffered horribly from being turned into a film. At least one, the proposed adaptation of Naughty Dog’s Uncharted: Drake’s Fortune has never gotten off the drawing board.
Way back in 2009, producer Avi Arad announced a deal with a division of Sony Pictures to make a film out the first of the Uncharted games. Since then, fans of the series have been increasingly dismayed at the setbacks, poor casting decisions and the adaptation rumours that seemed to indicate a complete deviation from the game. To date, after going through at least two different directors and God knows how many different script re-writes, the film is stuck in “development hell.”
It will, most likely, never be made.
Spielberg must think that Microsoft’s new decision of adapting the game for the small screen will avoid the proven pitfalls of making a film of the game. But pardon us for being a bit cynical here. There seems to be no real clear reason for the series to be any more successful than a film.
Halo is still a game, at the root of it. It still has a legion of fans that, no doubt, will eagerly tune in to see what all the fuss is about when the live-action series finally debuts. But if Spielberg and Microsoft are relying on the game’s fans to make the show a success, the partnership may have its own implosion.
Spielberg’s success as a “popular” film maker is based on his science fiction and fantasy films. But having a background in killer sharks and cuddly aliens doesn’t make him an expert on a game set in space. Lucas might have been the better choice, but even he has turned his back on the genre that made him a household name.
My prediction is that Halo, as a television series, will be doomed from the start. Not because of Microsoft or Steven Spielberg, but because of the inherent problems that exist when adapting any video game into a different form of media. Despite the cut scenes in a game being very cinematic in nature, they are not films, nor are they television shows; although quite a few have set their games up like episodes from a TV show.
The fact is, games do not translate well to either the big screen or the little one. So while the rest of the world gets excited about hearing how Steven Spielberg will be producing Halo the television series, I will cynically keep playing my video games and wish them luck. Unfortunately for Steven, his implosion may come from a different direction.
By Michael Smith