Early this spring, Showtime and Paramount+ brought Microsoft’s beloved video game Halo to audiences in a brand new streaming series by the same name. Audiences who don’t stream finally got the chance to see the brand new series for themselves last month when its debut season was released on DVD, Blu-ray and 4K UHD platforms. The series’ debut season is an intriguing first impression that while not perfect, is worth watching at least once, regardless of audiences’ familiarity with the Halo video game franchise. The success of the series’ debut season comes in large part through its special effects, which will be addressed shortly. They give audiences at least some reason to give the series a chance. While they are an impressive part of the series’ opening act (of sorts), the story at the center of Season 1 is not as strong. This will be discussed at more length a little later. It is not enough to doom Season 1. To that end, there is at least one more positive to note in this season’s presentation. It comes in the form of the bonus content that accompanies the debut season’s home release, which will also be examined later. Each item noted here is important in its own way to the whole of the season’s presentation. All things considered the first season of Halo is not perfect but is still worth watching at least once.
The debut season of Showtime and Paramount+’s Halo streaming series is an interesting first outing for the show, which was adapted from the highly popular Microsoft xBox video game franchise. The show’s success comes in large part through its special effects. The balance of the live action and CG elements throughout the series creates a welcome general effect for the presentation. It is clear when those CG elements are used and when actual sets are used, such as in the asteroid field used by Soren (Bokeem Woodbine – Fargo, Queen & Slim, Spiderman: Homecoming) and the other pirates as their home. The sets are live action, but the moments when the “cars” travel the wires between the asteroids are clearly CG. The balance of those moments conjures thoughts (at least to this critic) to the way in which the CG and live action were balanced way back in the 90s in Babylon 5. That is mean in the most complimentary fashion. The battle scenes in which audiences watch Master Chief, Kai, Riz and Vannak battle the Covenant monsters were clearly lifted right from the Halo video game. That is obvious in the heads up displays that are shown as the group shoots the alien beings, and just as much in the fight sequences themselves. The thing of it is that even as obvious as those incorporations are, knowing they are lifted from the video game makes them bearable.
On yet another note, the prosthetics used to create the Covenant Prophets is another great special effects element used here. Audiences learn through the bonus content (which will be discussed later), the Prophets are real…or rather, they are real in the fact that they were created through the use of prosthetics by a company called 343 Industries. The work that went into bringing them to life on screen is so wonderfully comparable to the work of the Jim Henson Creature Shop, which has crafted creates for another well-known sci-fi series, Farscape. The similarity in style will appeal to fans of both series. This is just one more of so many ways in which the special effects used here prove to be the most notable positive of the series’ debut season.
While the special effects used in the lead season of Halo are unquestionably impressive, the show’s story is sadly somewhat less impressive. The story follows as such: John — Master Chief – (Pablo Schreiber — Orange is the New Black, Skyscraper, 13 Hours) is the ultimate military soldier. However, after a mission to a colony that comes under attack by the Covenant aliens, something starts to change in him when he touches an artifact found on the planet where the colony is established. The more John touches the artifact, the more he comes to learn a dark secret about his past that involves the military organization known as UNSC and the not so honorable scientist, Dr. Catherine Halsey (Natascha McElhone – The Truman Show, Solaris, Ronin) who works with the military organization. Eventually, John learns the full truth of who he is and what happened that led him to fight for the UNSC. Some audiences may think this whole setup is original, but the reality is that it is anything but. Those familiar with the history of cinema (and television) will immediately find a very close similarity to the setup for Orion Pictures’ 1987 action flick Robocop here. That is because Officer Murphy (Peter Weller – Robocop 2, The Adventures of Buckaroo Bonzai Across The 8th Dimension, Naked Lunch) saw something very similar happen to him in that movie. When Murphy is gunned down by a group of evil drug runners, he is “brought back to life” by OCP when he is turned into a cyborg cop. When he starts to remember his past, things start to change for him just like things changed for John as both figures start their own journey of rediscovery and growth. As John learns the truth of what Halsey and the UNSC did to him, he still has to face down the beings from The Covenant and prevent them from using a device that could potentially wipe out all life in the universe. How many times in science fiction history has a story’s protagonist had to stop evil beings from using some all powerful device to wipe out all life in the universe? Again, this is nothing new. To that end, the story becomes even less engaging. That is because it is really the same story put against a different (albeit very familiar style) backdrop.
The secondary story involving Kwan Ha is just as much of a problem. That is because her story really ultimately does not entwine with John’s central story, as much as the writers tried to make the two stories work together. Ha (Yerin Ha – Reef Break, Sissy, Troppo) wants to avenge the death of her father, Jin Ha (Jeong-hwan Kong – Rampant, Designated Survivor: 60 Days, Jeon Woochi). The thing is that even though Jin Ha died at the hands on the Covenant, her attention is more on a separate figure named Vinsher Grath (Burn Gorman – The Expanse, Pacific Rim: Uprising, The Dark Knight Rises). Grath is an evil overlord of sorts who runs things on the planet where Kwan Ha and her people’s colony was established. In other words, her story is fully secondary. There really is no connection whatsoever to John’s story. What’s more, she never even plays a part in the final outcome of Season 1’s primary story. It just leaves one wondering why her story was there, other than just to help set up the primary story and nothing more. Again, keeping this in mind, the overall story in this season of Halo simply proves anything but positive. Yes, it is worth watching at least once, but really offers nothing outstanding or extraordinary.
Add in the story of yet another sub-story, that of Makee (Charlie Murphy – Happy Valley, Peaky Blinders, The Last Kingdom) and the story becomes even more problematic. That is because her anti-hero style story is so formulaic in itself. She starts out as a member of the Covenant, who ends up making “the ultimate sacrifice” by the season’s end because of an eventual revelation about herself and The Covenant. It is yet another element that has been used and re-used way to often throughout the history of television and movies. To that end its use here is anything but original. When this additional story line is added to Kwan Ha’s secondary story and the primary story involving John’s own self-revelation, the whole proves just the same as ever. So again, the story does little to add anything spectacular to this season. It does not doom the season but doesn’t add much of anything to the season either.
Knowing Season 1’s overall story does not doom the season’s presentation, there is at least one more positive to note. That is the season’s bonus content. The bonus content is contained largely on the season’s fifth disc. It consists of extras, such as examinations of the show’s costumes, sets, weapons, etc. The feature that examines the Covenant, as noted before, is one of the most notable. It would have been so easy for the show’s creative forces to just have the Prophets be CG creations, but they didn’t go that route. Rather, they actually took the time to make the Prophets real characters. It makes for so much appreciation for the work that went into bringing them to life. The examination of the sets, weapons and costumes are just as enjoyable because audiences see the amount of time and work that went into making everything as believable as possible on screen. It shows that a lot of effort and time went into paying tribute to fans of the original video game, even if only in terms of the general effect. To that end, the bonus content that is presentation in Halo Season 1 makes for plenty of engagement and entertainment, as do the special effects. When the two elements are joined, they make up at least to a point for the failing of the season’s collective writing. Keeping that in mind, it makes this premiere season worth watching at least once.
The debut season of Showtime and Paramount+’s Halo streaming series is a presentation that does not fully live up to expectations. That is regardless of audiences’ familiarity with the video game franchise on which the show is based. It is not a total loss, though. The show’s special effects give audiences reason enough to take in the show and watch at least once. That is due to the balance of the live action and CG elements. The overall story, what with its three story lines (technically four if one count’s Soren’s own story), is anything but original. The interweaving arcs are examples of writing that has been used time and again in dramas and action presentations alike. They are stories that have been done time and again, just against a new backdrop. While the overall writing is anything but original, it is not enough to doom the season’s presentation. That leaves at least one more positive to be noted in the form of the bonus content that comes with Season 1. The bonus content overall shows the amount of time and work that went into making Season 1’s general effect positive and believable. The extensive episode discussions that accompany each of the season’s nine total episodes add even more to that appreciation. When the overall bonus content is joined with the positive of the special effects, the whole makes this season worth watching at least once.
Halo: Season 1 is available now. More information on this and other series streaming on Paramount+ is available at:
More information on this and other series on Showtime is available at: