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Posted Tuesday, January 15, 2008 12:10 PM

Exclusive: And The Winner For Best Supporting Actor Is...As Master Chief? Bungie Writing Director Joseph Staten Gives Level Up Some Insight Into The Stalled Halo Movie

N'Gai Croal
 Weta Workshop's life-sized Warthog for the as-yet-unproduced Halo movie 

Having finally decided to publish our two-part August 2007 Q&A with Bungie writing director Joseph Staten, there's a bit of scoop that's so good, we couldn't wait until tomorrow's installment to share it with you, so we're excerpting it today. In the middle of an exchange with Staten about the fine line that Bungie must walk between making Master Chief a proper character and leaving plenty of space for the player to feel as though he or she is the Spartan warrior, we threw in a question about how the planned-but-aborted Halo movie would tackle the problem of a lead character whose face was hidden by his helmet. To our surprise, Staten not only answered the question, but offered up the fascinating revelation that Master Chief would have in fact been something of a supporting character in Halo film. For the first time, the normally tight-lipped folks at Bungie give some insight into how the Halo movie might have played out, which we present to you exclusively here at Level Up. Enjoy.

I know you can't talk about the movie very much. But on a high sort of level, those same things that you said make Master Chief work for the game--the transparency of the character; the fact that while the character is iconic, he doesn't have a face that you see--did that pose a challenge in the conversations that you were having about how to make something as cinematic as Halo work well as a movie?

Uh-huh.

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And do the fans really want to see the face? How do you deal with something like that?

I think what it boiled down to with the film was really a question of "Who is the main character of the movie?" Is it the Master Chief or is it somebody else? And over time I think everybody around the table agreed that the Master Chief is best left as the most important supporting cast member. Where the Master Chief doesn't have a face, but he has a whole body to emote with, whether it's his spine, or his shoulders. or the tilt of his head, or the way he slumps or reloads his weapon. There are these kinesthetic responses that he'll have which will really easily communicate the character and what he's feeling. That's hard to carry as a main character for an entire film. But you can certainly surround him with people who don't have helmets on and you can see their faces. They're normal actors doing their thing.

In the film, the other characters begin to comment on Master Chief's anonymity, like "Who is he?" and "What's his story?" He becomes a really wonderful source of mystery, a sort of anonymous problem solver. So we definitely worked on that. In the final version of the script the Master Chief was certainly absolutely critical to the film, but there were other characters around him which carried most of it, that did most of the emotional heavy lifting. The Master Chief was there in support of their story.

Right.

And that worked out really nicely. The problem with the film had nothing to do with the quality of the story and the ideas that we had. It definitely wasn't that. I'll just leave it there. That was not the problem with the film. We were really happy with the work that got done and we thought it was going to be pretty cool.

What do you think? Does that sound like the best way to transform Halo from a game into a movie? Or would you rather watch Master Chief unleash hell for two hours straight, all shown from the perspective of his Mjolnir visor? Give us your thoughts in the comments below--and come back tomorrow for the full transcript of Part II of our Q&A with Staten.

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Member Comments

Posted By: xjake (January 15, 2008 at 1:16 PM)

I fear the day that I see Master Chief "emotively" *** his head to the side like a puppy.


Posted By: Dersu (January 16, 2008 at 1:53 AM)

It sounds like a perfectly interesting and acceptable method for cinematic drama.  Good ideas aside, what matters most is execution.  If the characters act in a generic, overly clichéd, and/or one-dimensional manner, then this idea wouldn't work.  If they want heartfelt drama, if they want two or more hours of straight action, if they want a love story between the Chief and Cortana, if they want to make something obscure and abstract, then by all means do it if they have the talent and ability and desire to make it work.  I'll admit I've had my share of problems with the cinematic and dramatic execution of the cutscenes in "Halo."  I found the characters often acted in exactly the manner I described above, and I mainly enjoyed the first game for its game content, not so much for its story content, although potential is there.  I feel the second game improved the story (I particularly liked the Covenant being fleshed out more), but I didn't like it's trend-following cliffhanger ending (I'm clearly not alone there).  If a great, and I mean truly great, movie can be made from this - and I think it can in the right hands - then I'm all for it.  I would honestly love to see the Halo universe lifted from the current limitations of the video game medium and beautifully drawn out on the cinematic canvas.  Because as much as I love video games and acknowledge what they offer that movies don't (being directly involved in what goes on), I haven't seen a game yet that can execute an idea and offer up a world the way some of the very best movies have been able to, although games like "Half-Life 2" have come pretty close.  I also regrettably acknowledge the fact that most movies based on video games have been forgettable cinematic cotton candy at best.  But considering the names involved with the apparently dead Halo movie (such as Jackson, and not to mention Blomkamp, whose shorts are remarkable), I had hoped we were going to see the first true video game-based movie masterpiece.  So naturally, it had to die, along with George Romero's "Resident Evil" movie, because God forbid that talented people be allowed to properly adapt a game into a movie.  Such is life, I guess.


 
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