We all do it. Gamers love to sit around and cast their favorite video game characters for live-action movies. Most of the time, we simply rehash fan favorites (Nathan Fillion in EVERYTHING!), but I like to think a little further; a little more realistically. In this feature, I plan to think through a film further than the big-named actor attached, but also the director, writer(s), etc.
This time, I want to pound out what I believe could be a massive financial success, if done right: Halo. So, without further ado…
Director: Drew Goddard
When a Halo movie almost happened several years back, District 9 director Neill Blomkamp was all set up and ready to go with Peter Jackson producing. And while there’s little denying that that team-up would’ve produced a high-quality feature film, I’d rather see Blomkamp continue his current run of high-quality original science-fiction films (also, there’s another video game that his style would be better suited for). So, where do I go from there? Big names like Peter Jackson and Steven Spielberg certainly sound sweet, and I’m sure that they’re efforts would be exactly what many fans are hoping for, but I like to think of smaller directors getting their big chance with video game adaptations. After all, superhero movies were largely a joke until the director of The Usual Suspects and Apt Pupil came in and made X-Men. Basically, we don’t need established big-name directors to make these movies.
In comes Drew Goddard, who has one directing credit to his name, but it’s a great one: Cabin in the Woods. Goddard proved he could handle fun, suspense, and special effects as well as the most seasoned directors. More importantly, he was capable of telling a great story and if we’re looking to build a cinematic universe like the one that Bungie has built with the Halo video games, then story and characters will have to come first. Goddard’s steady hand and ability to handle a low-budget and make a great looking film should make him a very attractive choice for Halo.
Runners Up: Josh Trank; Joseph Kosinski; Matt Reeves
Pass On: Peter Jackson; Steven Spielberg; James Cameron
Producer: Joss Whedon
I know, I know… I said I didn’t want to fan-boy out on this feature, but Whedon really does make sense with Goddard directing. Really! As I mentioned earlier, Goddard has one single directing notch in his belt, which isn’t a bad thing, but his lack of directing experience will mean that he’s less experienced in dealing with bossy studio heads, and if there’s one thing we know about studio films, it’s that typically studio suits intervening is a bad thing. A director must have a producing partner that can work as a go-between for the director and the studio. After The Avengers (and it’s sequel), Whedon has the clout to really get what he wants and he clearly knows how to make a great movie with a built in fan base. Double this with the fact that the two worked very closely together on Cabin in the Woods and choosing Whedon as a producer is a very clear and easy choice.
Additionally, having a producer that will allow his director to breathe is crucial. The big names like Bruckheimer and Grazer are great when they work with their go-to directors (see: Gore Verbinski, Michael Bay, and Ron Howard), however my fear is that their interaction with a less known director might end up being too overbearing.
Runners Up: J.J. Abrams; Steven Spielberg; Peter Jackson
Pass On: Jerry Bruckheimer; Brian Grazer; Lorenzo di Bonaventura
Writer(s): Max Landis with Drew Goddard & Joss Whedon and Alex Garland
Now this is quite the process, but Halo has a history of attempts to make it to the big screen. Alex Garland wrote a great script, and you can find copies of it online with a little digging. I’ve read it and, for the most part, I really liked it. However there are a few things that I felt could be tighter; could’ve been more fun. This is where I want to bring in one of the hottest writers in Hollywood right now, Max Landis.
Max Landis wrote Chronicle, which was directed by Josh Trank (one of the Runners Up for the directing chair). Seeing Landis speak, and watching his work on screen, shows that, like his father, he is very much in tune with what makes a movie fun. Halo has to be fun, and too heavy of a tone would ultimately bring the whole thing down. From there I want Drew Goddard and Joss Whedon to put that wonderful Whedon finish on the script. These two are very, very good at writing, and not allowing them to have a hand in the writing process seems like a massive waste. I would love to see the skeleton of what Garland did make it to the big screen, injected with the youthful energy of Landis, and then with a nice coat of polish over the whole thing by the director and producer.
Runners Up: Roberto Orci & Alex Kurtzman; ONLY Drew Goddard; Damon Lindelof
Pass On: Edward Kitsis & Adam Horowitz; Mathew Michael Carnahan; David Twohy
The Halo games set up a very great 3-part trilogy that, frankly, should be followed closely. In transitioning that story to screen though, the writers/director really need to find a way to balance the action bits with the quieter moments. Master Chief/John-117 isn’t a great character. He rarely shows any emotion and there really isn’t much for audiences to latch onto. The characters surrounding Master Chief/John have always been far more interesting. Cortana is secretly the star of the games, while Sargent Johnson, Captain Keyes, Miranda Keyes, and Catherine Halsey were, yes, supporting characters, but were much more human than John ever was.
The film needs to act as something of an origin film for John and Cortana’s strange relationship. He is, for all intents and purposes, a machine, though he has a heart and brain beneath the armor. And Cortana is definitely a machine; an AI, yet somehow she’s more in tune with her emotions than John is. This strange, yet somehow beautiful, dynamic should absolutely be the heart of the film. It makes John more interesting, and Cortana’s frustrations over John’s robot-like demeanor can instantly be relatable to the audience watching the film. Halsey should play a pretty significant role and the movie should be peppered with flashbacks to John’s training on Reach and that planet’s eventual demise. Of course, Halsey and Capt. Keyes eventually went on to give birth to Miranda Keyes, who plays an interesting role in this universe because she’s never lived in a world where the Covenant weren’t a looming threat and the SPARTAN program didn’t exist.
Sargent Johnson should be pretty much in line with his character in the games. He should be a tough-as-nails, no bullshit, type of mo-fo. The kind of guy that would rather be captured, tortured, and killed before giving up the location of just one of his soldiers. Every war movie needs one of these, and it’d be a comical thread if Johnson was totally aware of this character archetype in war films. In fact, why not have him be a big fan of the genre in general? His missions with John (you’ll notice I refer to him as John and not Chief because it works to humanize an otherwise inhuman character) will feature Johnson trying to prove that you don’t need to be a super soldier to fight back the alien forces, and there’ll be many times that Johnson out-performs Chief. This will ultimately help to push along the theme that humanity prevails over all else.
There’s so much more I could go into that should absolutely be in the final film (I love the idea of Cortana adopting Halsey’s guilt over the SPARTAN program, for example), but this piece would end up being 10,000+ words! Let’s move on…
Composer: Martin O’Donnell
I mean, this should come as no surprise, really. O’Donnell’s score for the Halo games is better than the majority of film scores. That said, I don’t want to see him just rehash what he’s already done. I would love to hear a few of the iconic songs (the chanting monks are a MUST), but really the music produced for the games is video game music. Let’s have some brand new tunes to listen to!
The other choice is John Williams, who will likely be far too busy with Star Wars, but ultimately it is his scores that helped defined an era in film making that has never been surpassed. I can’t help but think that a Halo John Williams score would be… magical.
Runners Up: John Williams
Pass On: Hans Zimmer; Danny Elfman; Howard Shore
Cinematographer: Claudio Miranda
Simply put, Miranda has shot some of the most beautiful science fiction films of the last decade (and non sci-fi, too). Especially with Oblivion (directed by Joseph Kosinski, who made my Runners Up list of directors), Miranda has proven himself to really be capable of giving a film a distinct tone that fits nicely within a crowded genre. His less sci-fi-heavy movies, particularly Life of Pi and The Curious Case of Benjamin Button, have a very beautiful dream-like quality to them, and this beauty is crucial when selling audiences on the reality of the otherwordly Halo and the grimness of an Earth ravaged by interstellar war.
Master Chief/John-117: Ken Kirzinger or Tyler Mane (in suit), Denzel Washington (voice)
Master Chief needs to be large and intimidating and while Ken Kirzinger isn’t the biggest guy in Hollywood, he’s certainly intimidating. It’d be easy to make the character mostly CG, and that makes sense for some of Chief’s more acrobatic moments, however for any moment that he’s not jumping around and shooting, he should definitely be just a guy in a suit and Kirzinger has certainly been an actor that’s been good at being just a guy in a suit (Jason Voorhies in Freddy vs. Jason). He’s also an accomplished stuntman, and that’s what we really need. Darth Vadar was played by a bodybuilder, and Chief should be played by a stuntman. Easy as that.
The other, perhaps better, choice is Tyler Mane, who has constantly been the big, huge scary guy.
But we all know that Darth Vadar wasn’t voiced by David Prowse (the bodybuilder mentioned above). That iconic voice was James Earl Jones, and who better to have a similar effect to Jones than Denzel Washington. Denzel’s a great choice not only because his voice is awesome, but he’s also a name that the studio would feel comfortable attaching to their massive budget. The studios might want to show off their expensive actor’s face and that would be tricky. But Denzel could easily be uglied up (such as battle scars, etc.) while still remaining recognizable enough that studios could slap his name on posters to put butts in seats.
Runners Up: None (in suit); This is really tough, so I’ll say none, despite the fact that I’m sure I could come up with others (voice)
Pass On: Steve Downes (original voice of Master Chief)
Cortana: January Jones
January Jones is great at being mechanical and I don’t mean that as an insult. Her work on Mad Men was heartbreaking at times. Her housewife demeanor showed far more cracks than her character ever would’ve wanted onlookers to see, and it’s that “robot with a heart” that I really want to see out of Cortana as a character. On top of that, there’s the obvious reason that Jones is devilishly sexy (not unlike Cortana).
Runners Up: Evan Rachel Wood; Anna Torv; Charlize Theron
Pass On: Christina Hendricks; Drew Barrymore (duh?); Cameron Diaz
Sargent Johnson: Dennis Haysbert
I can make the argument that no other casting choice is as tightly contested as this one. Dennis Haysbert edges out actors like Idris Elba, Andre Braugher, and Harry Lenix, but just barely. Elba is clearly the fan favorite, and that can’t go completely ignored. He’s certainly an incredible actor that is capable of elevating what would otherwise be mediocre films (Pacific Rim).
However, Haysbert’s presence on film doesn’t overpower the actors around him. He’s very powerful and masculine, and his voice alone is enough to invoke a sense of intelligence that even Brits like Elba can rarely elicit. On top of that, I chose Haysbert over the other actors because he’s somewhat older. I like that about Johnson; he’s a character who has been around and seen some carnage, yet somehow it hasn’t broken him. He’s a good man with the world on his shoulders, and the only other man that is capable of keeping up is John-117.
Runners Up: Idris Elba; Andre Braugher; Harry Lenix
Pass On: Jamie Foxx; David Oyelowo; Forest Whitaker
Captain Jacob Keyes: Mark Harmon or Ed Harris
Captain Keyes is a really tough character to cast. He needs to be older, but not too old where it becomes unbelievable that he’s capable of what he does. He must project a presence of masculinity and experience, and while there might be actors better suited for half of that equation than Mark Harmon, I struggle to find an actor that fits both descriptions. In all likelihood, an unknown might be better suited for this role, however fan-casting an unknown is unbelievably difficult because, well, they’e unknown.
Another option I considered was Ed Harris, and you could go either way. The most important thing to me is that they need to be both militaristic and fatherly towards Miranda. In my movie, I’d like there to be a tension between Captain Keyes and Catherine Halsey, like they’d had a falling out romantically as well as politically.
I really want to pass on complete action heroes of yesteryear. Basically, if they’d fit in with the cast of The Expendables, then they’re not right for this role.
Runners Up: Tommy Lee Jones; James Caan; Harrison Ford
Pass On: R. Lee Ermey; Sylvester Stallone; Arnold Schwarzenegger
Catherine Halsey: Diane Lane
Similarly to Captain Keyes, Catherine Halsey is also difficult to cast. My initial instinct was to say Helen Mirren, but she plays a bit older than the actors I’ve considered for the role of Keyes. Diane Lane, however, feels like she could believably have been in a relationship with Keyes and produced a daughter the age of the actress I’m leaning towards for Miranda. The benefit of casting Lane in this role, too, is that she’s beautiful enough to play both older than her real-life age and younger. She’ll be a character that will be featured heavily in flashbacks (looking back at John’s initial training), and with a little make-up, Lane could play a believable 30-something.
Runners Up: Catherine Keener; Jodie Foster; Sigourney Weaver
Pass On: Helen Mirren; Dianne Keaton; Meryl Streep
Miranda Keyes: Anna Kendrick
Okay, I’m guilty. I might be hopelessly in love with Anna Kendrick, but I promise, that does not have me ignoring the fact that many people will recognize her from Twilight movies and musicals. But if you take the time to really observe her talent, you’ll notice she can play a character that is both reluctant and strong-willed. Take her performance in Jason Reitman’s Up in the Air, for example. She shows a determination that is so important in a character with such a strong military background, but she also shows evidence of of a softness that will inevitably break down her hard exterior.
My version of Halo would feature a Miranda Keyes that was pressured into the military, and thanks to her hard-work, intelligence, and connections, eventually moved up to carry the title of Commander. She’s going to earn that title in this film. She’ll be forced to work alongside John, Cortana, and Sargent Johnson. She’ll play a crucial role in saving the world from the Covenant and the film will end with her in a new role, commanding an entire ship.
I also appreciate the fact that Kendrick is young enough to, hopefully, last for an entire trilogy of films that could take nearly a decade to film and release (I’m not fond of an annual release schedule, like The Hobbit).
Runners Up: Keira Knightley; Evan Rachel Wood; Jennifer Lawrence
Pass On: Amber Heard; Dianna Agron; Sophia Bush
Other Things to Consider:
Film or Digital: Honestly, I don’t know that it matters with a movie like Halo. But, because there will be a whole load of CGI effects, having the film shot on digital would hurry the entire process along.
3D?: I say “why not?” Film certain scenes in 3D and post-convert others. If the quality of the 3D can be anywhere near what Michael Bay was able to do with the third Transformers film, I’d be thrilled.
IMAX?: Of course! This is going to be a film with massive scope. Why wouldn’t I want a giant screen that would reflect that?
CGI vs. Practical: You know I love practical effects, and many of the up close shots of the aliens should be practically shot, but CGI makes sense when we see large spaceships and huge hordes of aliens from a distance. That said, I want a fully functional MJOLNIR armor for John. How bad ass would that look?
Release Date: June 30th, 2017. This will be the big movie for Summer 2017. That also gives us plenty of time to give this film the extra polish the visual effects in this deserve. Historically speaking, that first weekend in July is one of the biggest release dates of the year.
Anything else?: This is going to require a massive budget, and it would likely be the biggest push from whichever studio backs this for the year. I want as few spoilers in the trailers as possible. The teaser would only feature voice-overs from the supporting cast and show the massive Pillar of Autumn spaceship (think, like, the size of the ship from the beginning of Star Wars). Eventually the ship has completely passed the camera and we’re able to focus on the background as we realize the ship is headed straight for the massive Halo.
Subsequent trailers need to show restraint from showing off the aliens. Maybe one here and one there, but I love the idea that, going into the film, audiences won’t really know what to expect.
Also, how cool would it be if this produced a spin-off television show called Halo Wars that focused on a completely different set of characters?
Thanks for sticking with me on this one! I know it’s long, but I have a lot of fun doing this. Feel free to leave suggestions for future features in the comments and let me know how awful (or great) my choices were!