TV review: 'HALO' gets off to a rough start

Pablo Schreiber plays Master Chief in "HALO." Photo courtesy of Paramount+
1 of 5 | Pablo Schreiber plays Master Chief in "HALO." Photo courtesy of Paramount+

LOS ANGELES, March 20 (UPI) -- A handful of movies based on video games are fun but none are truly great. Perhaps TV can lend itself to better adaptations but the first two episodes of HALO, premiering Thursday on Paramount+, make many of the same mistakes.

The citizens of planet Madrigal in 2552 are rebelling against the UNSC army who wants their planet's resources. When aliens called The Covenant attack, the UNSC sends in Spartans led by Master Chief (Pablo Schreiber) in an impressive opening battle.


The only survivor is Kwan Ha (Yerin Ha), daughter of the Madrigal insurrectionist leader. But, the UNSC orders Master Chief to kill Kwan so he refuses and escapes with her.

Even to an Xbox novice, the idea of Master Chief on the run already sounds like it's not HALO. In the first-person shooter games, Master Chief is on missions for the UNSC.


Kwan Ha is a brand new character. So everything that develops between her and Master Chief is not strictly adapting the games either. This makes the UNSC essentially the Empire.

Perhaps a series needs more of an engine than "mission of the week," but "military devotee questions orders for the first time" isn't any less generic. Plus, Master Chief finds a McGuffin that also provides generic motivation.

He finds a Covenant device on Madrigal that helps him power his ship when the UNSC disables it. The device also emits beams of light and displays alien language. You know, like every other sci-fi device does in other franchises.

To be fair, HALO clearly has a lot of world building to accomplish and this could lay the groundwork for more interesting developments. It just feels like cause for concern that in adapting one sci-fi franchise, Halo adopted elements of other sci-fi franchises.

Some highlights include the opening battle. There are four Spartans in combat but the show manages to distinguish each one, as each moves differently.

Watching the Spartans land on Madrigal does feel iconic. Although, when Master Chief does the superhero landing that Deadpool mocks, it's hard not to hear Ryan Reynolds' voice.


They got the sound right though. Every step Master Chief takes pounds on the ground.

HALO is mighty graphic. Kwan's teenage friends, and adults, get blown up and disintegrated by the aliens.

CG monsters shooting at people are a dime a dozen now on television and film. In a game, you get to control the warrior, but just watching it unfold removes that unique element.

Characters in the UNSC discuss policy and cite Article 72. The world has been built even if it is not all on screen, and it's better for flow if they don't explain it further. We trust that the characters have lived it.

Various planets in the HALO universe look like Star Warsy CGI landscapes. Likewise, a space flight through an asteroid field shows HALO can play in the same sandbox, but it hasn't yet made its own sand castle as it were.

Spartan creator Dr. Halsey (Natascha McElhone) only introduces Cortana in the second episode. The A.I. system Cortana is a major factor in the video games so these first few episodes may still be establishing how Master Chief became Master Chief.

For a HALO novice, the Paramount+ series struggles to sell the viewer on what has been a gaming phenomenon for 20 years. And decades-long players may feel like this is beginner level stuff.


Fred Topel, who attended film school at Ithaca College, is a UPI entertainment writer based in Los Angeles. He has been a professional film critic since 1999, a Rotten Tomatoes critic since 2001 and a member of the Television Critics Association since 2012. Read more of his work in Entertainment.

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