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Alex Garland’s Halo

Written by: Big Ross, CC2K Staff Writer

Before I get into the good and the bad, maybe I can boil the plot down to its savory goodness for those of you unfamiliar with the game. 

The human battle cruiser Pillar of Autumn has made a failed attempt to escape an attacking


I don’t think he wants to borrow your cell phone…

Covenant fleet, only to discover and crash land upon Halo.  Master Chief rescues and marshals troops that have been scattered around its surface.  After regrouping they learn that the Covenant both venerate the ring as an object of extreme religious importance and fear it as a weapon of unimaginable destructive power.  Skirmishes and battles follow as the Covenant try to claim Halo for their own, and the humans vie to rob them of their prize.  Unwittingly the two enemies uncover Halo’s secret and unleash a terrible plague called the Flood, a parasitic life form with a hive-like mind and a sole purpose: infect any and all sentient life for incorporation into the Flood consciousness.  For you Trekkies out there, think the Borg but with spores and nasty tendrils instead of all the technology and cubes.  Master Chief learns that Halo is in fact an installation built by an ancient, advanced race termed the Forerunners to contain and study the Flood.  Halo also serves as a failsafe to prevent the spread of any accidental release of the parasite.  Upon activation, it will send out a pulse to “sterilize” everything within a 25,000 light year radius to rid the Flood of their “food source” (I’ll let you figure out what that means; hint: remember how in Outbreak Donald Sutherland thought the best medicine for a nasty virus wasn’t bed rest, but a nuke?).  Master Chief is the last man standing (though not quite alone), and must face the Covenant, the Flood, and Halo’s own security systems to both prevent activation of Halo and spread of the Flood.  Do you need me to tell you if he succeeds?          

So, I’ve said this script is flawed, and now it’s time for me to explain why.  I believe the saying goes, “the devil is in the details”.  Many things about this script are quite good, but here and there Garland screws up details that while seeming insignificant, can really annoy hard-core fans of these games and movie geeks like me.  I believe a certain Mr. Lucas can attest to how unwise that is .  The primary example of this is in the script’s dialogue.

I’ve heard it said that when writing a narrative, if you have a choice between telling and showing, you show every time.  There’s a line of dialogue toward the beginning (and yes I realize how incomprehensibly insane of a geek I am for focusing on a single line) where the captain of the Pillar of Autumn tells the ship’s A.I. (artificial intelligence) construct to wake up Master Chief.  In both the game and the movie, he is being held in cryogenic stasis, but whereas in the game the captain simply gives orders to “bring everyone to battle-ready status, and I mean everyone,” in the movie he says, “It’s time we woke our war-dog.”  Now it sounds to me like Garland is trying to convey to the audience that Master Chief is a bad ass, but this line just sounds like he’s trying too hard, and hence comes off as lame.  It’s also completely unnecessary.  Stay with me on this for minute.

Immediately after the Captain utters that line, we return to the opening scene of the movie. Whereas before there was a platoon of Spartans, now only one remains alive.   He is surrounded by, but still fighting against overwhelming Covenant forces.  As they close in, the scene bleaches out to a white screen.  From there we fade into a point of view shot from the inside of a cryo-storage chamber, looking out through glass at two awestruck engineers.  We then cut to a third-party shot of the engineers looking in on Master Chief.  The engineers then exchange a few bits of dialogue in hushed, almost fearful tones while bringing Master Chief out of stasis:

First Engineer: “Holy Christ.  Would you look at the size of it.”

Second Engineer: “Him.  There’s a man in there.”

First Engineer: “What do we call ‘him’?”

Second Engineer: “Sir”

In my opinion, this scene does two things incredibly well.  One, it establishes that the main Spartan soldier we saw in the opening scene is Master Chief, and I think it communicates fairly well that what we saw in the opening scene was a glimpse into one of his dreams (and real-life past).  That, in combination with the dialogue and behavior of the two engineers toward Master Chief, tells the audience in no uncertain terms that he is a bad ass that puts all other “bad asses” to shame.  And no lame one-liners are required at all to do this!

Instead of pouring over this script and relating to you every detail that I think Garland has gotten wrong (as well as right), I feel I have an opportunity here I just can’t pass up.  What is it about adapting video games into movies that has proven so hard to do successfully and well in the past?  What measures could the production staff take to ensure that a Halo movie doesn’t meet the same fate?  I’m going to provide you (and them, because I know they’re reading this) with a few rules that if followed, should make for an enjoyable, kick-ass movie-going experience for all. 

Author: Big Ross, CC2K Staff Writer

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