Halo has been a staple for Xbox players for as long as the franchise and console have existed together. The original entry into the franchise, Halo: Combat Evolved, was launched in November 2001 on the original Xbox, and it spawned one of the most beloved storylines and universes in gaming. Four years after its launch and a year after its sequel’s, Microsoft and Bungie wanted to expand into a different medium: cinema. Half a decade ago, Wired wrote a piece discussing the finer details of how a video game company tried to infiltrate an industry they didn’t fully understand and ultimately couldn’t come to grips with.
In 2005, representatives from both Microsoft and Bungie travelled to Hollywood to begin negotiations for a live-action Halo film. The first stage of releasing a blockbuster is to have a killer screenplay, so Microsoft commissioned just that. Alex Garland, who is now famous for his writing for 28 Days Later, Dredd, and Ex Machina, wrote a 128-page script for the Halo film that was meant to be a direct follow-along of the original game, and it was offered to film studios with a few huge stipulations and a massive price. According to Wired referencing Variety, Microsoft “wanted $10 million against 15% of the box office gross, in addition to a $75 million ‘below-the-line’ budget and fast-tracked production. At the time, not even Harry Potter was that high-price, and Microsoft made these stipulations knowing Halo was “the jewel of videogame movies”. After the negotiations closed with the studios, Microsoft was partnered with Universal and Fox, and ultimately had no leverage past their product.
Wired noted that Microsoft, being unfamiliar with how film companies handle deal-making, “had wandered into the deal naively expecting everyone to play by its rules and the resulting culture shock put immense strain on the Halo deal.” After Microsoft essentially had creative control lifted from their palms, their movie’s director, as well as partnered studios, had different goals for the final production. According to Wired, Microsoft wasn’t happy that the studios had hired an up-and-coming director over someone like Peter Jackson, and eventually Microsoft along with the film studios weren’t all too thrilled with the more “post-cyberpunk aesthetic” that the director wanted to utilize. From there, the director’s own relationships with the film studio wasn’t clean or friendly, and Microsoft itself possibly didn’t approve of the scene art they saw.
At the end of the Halo movie’s slow decline into death, all that remained were the physical props from New Zealand-based Weta Workshop, the footage they were used to film, and the original script by Alex Garland. The footage was used to produce the Halo: Landfall action sequences that ran as promotional material for the then-upcoming Halo 3: ODST game. That video is embedded below. The script, however, has resurfaced and we’ve had a read and would like to discuss the dead beast that was to be the Halo movie.
The script, as mentioned, was a 128-page ode to the classic video game, Halo: Combat Evolved. It reads like someone telling you the plot of the video game that cemented itself as ‘the’ Xbox gamer’s game. Garland had some British terms in mind, with mentions of “bonnets” and “windscreens” of cars that Americans will recognize as the hood and windshield, but other than that and two word duplications deep within the throes of the action on the Halo ring world, it reads like a Halo fan’s dream novel. Having never played the game myself, I feel I now have, because the joys of reading screenplays is that moods are conveyed exactly how they are meant to be read, rather than leaving a movie-goer to comprehend facial expressions and guess how Master Chief would be emoting under his helmet visor.
The movie, simply titled “Halo” would have been epic, both from a viewer’s standpoint but also as a cinematic work. Reading through how Garland describes the ring world’s landscape and the various alien species, it’s easy to imagine a movie with today’s CGI prowess and realism, but it reads as even more lofty a once-was goal of film-making when you consider the script is 12 years old. While what we have is only a slightly-crooked scan of the original 3-hole-punched pages, we’ll link to it as the source below. From personal experience, it’s best read in a single sitting, listening to one of the game’s orchestral soundtrack to get your mind in the mood for some space running and gunning.
Source: Halo script