At long last, we get to see Master Chief in a live-action Halo, gracing Paramount+ as one of the biggest non-Trek related franchises on the service.
My familiarity with the Halo Universe has some massive gaps. I played through Halo CE multiple times on release, but the only other one I played was Halo Infinite. That’s a solid 20 year gap from its inception to the most recent title. So, my perception of the game is unique in a sense.
That’s one of the most challenging aspects of creating a show based off of a game property. Any slight deviations from well-trodden lore can lead to fan backlash. On the other hand, keeping things too in line with their game counterpart and you have a derivative form of media. Having said that, here is what I thought of the first two episodes of the Halo TV series.
CGI on stand-alone services has been quite the revolution. A comparison from network TV to that of a streaming service is almost unfair these days. With that being the case, there were some odd scenarios where the CGI was just off. That is especially seen in episode one. Some firefights between the Covenant and the Spartans had awkward sequences and blatantly poor CGI on their weapons. The characters themselves looked fantastic, however. That might have made things a bit more jarring. Master Chief and the Spartans really popped. They looked 1:1 with their game counterparts and just had that gravitas feel. The firefights and weaponry is where the lackluster CGI really came in. The decision to swap to a first-person view, while cool and an obvious nod to games, didn’t help to keep things cogent.
Mask on. Mask off.
A much discussed talking point prior to release was if we would see Master Chief’s face. The answer, quite quickly, was yes. Some hated the fact that this was so. Especially for avid gamers, not seeing Chief’s face for hundreds of hours and then seeing it within the first hour of a show could be jarring. While I get the take, I also think the removal of his helmet did wonders to humanize Master Chief early on.
The main comparison will be to The Mandalorian, who also couldn’t be completely masked throughout the entire first season. The main difference, however, is that there are lore-based reasons for such a decision. To my knowledge, that doesn’t exist in the Halo universe. I felt that, when he did take his mask off the first time in front of Kwan Ha, it added power to the moment. As much as I love the Spartan armor, certain scenes make sense to lose the helmet.
Humanizing Master Chief
Episode 2’s arc was all about humanizing Master Chief, and I feel it did a fantastic job in doing so. From the scenes of letting Soren flee the UNSC, to their eventual meeting when John-117 is fleeing the UNSC. It was a great way to paint the UNSC in an uncertain light. Kwan also continues to be the humanity of which John was ripped from when becoming a Spartan.
It’s intriguing how the show places all aspects of which John is missing. Getting to know Soren also gives a glimpse into what John could have should he turn his back on the USNC.
Too many threads?
There is a lot going on in Halo episodes 1-2. Kwan’s entire family/home gets destroyed early on. Chief finds a Covenant artifact that he connects with… somehow. Halsey is scheming about an advanced AI, Cortana. Makee was brought up by the Covenant, although she is 100% human. We see her talking with Prophets, whom we don’t know much at all about either. There is a lot going on all over this universe. It’s not necessarily bad, but I hope they don’t leave strings untied for too long.
Episode 3: Cortana
Again, Cortana is a clearly defined thing with people who played through the games. The only Cortana I am familiar with is the one from Infinite. From the previews, the only “issue” I saw was that maybe she wasn’t as blue as she should have been. Sort of triggering an uncanny valley vibe. Having said that, Cortana is an integral part of Master Chief. The showrunners ability to land a perfect Cortana will be tantamount to getting buy-in from the game watchers.
Three episodes is the mark where I determine if I want to fully invest in a show or not. Thus far, something would have to go catastrophically wrong for me not to continue the show. There is enough intrigue and visual eye candy to want to continue. That, and the better TV shows based on video game properties are, the more likely we are to get more of them!