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When one thinks of the gaming landscape, it's difficult to imagine one without the Master Chief and his mega “Halo” franchise (rightfully) taking up space. With its continued and even increased popularity over the years, it came as no surprise when it was announced years back that a film adaptation of the series was to be made through a partnering of Universal and 20th Century Fox, with Peter Jackson slated to act as executive producer for the project. However, anyone who follows industry news in either the film or video game world knows that project was plagued with a number of issues, ultimately sending the adaptation straight for developmental hell, where it has remained for four years.
Now there may be new possibility for the Chief. With Halo: Reach, the newest addition to the “Halo” game franchise ($200 million in one day), being a massive success, several news outlets are reporting insider rumblings of a potential revival of the adaptation, which this time around would be based more on the "Halo" novels. Although not much else is known about the potential revival, it is known that Steven Spielberg has thrown his hat in the ring, determined to get the movie made by DreamWorks (and acting as an executive producer).
That's about all that is known about the project that for the moment, does not entirely exist. Suffice to say those that would get the movie made are cautious of going public after the first attempt back in 2005 when then Columbia Pictures' Peter Schlessel attempted to circumvent the Hollywood system (often derailing these adaptations before they start) and get a script (from 28 Days Later scribe Alex Garland) written before any major studio got involved.
As this was a “Halo” adaptation, it went without saying Microsoft wanted a slice of the profits, but was unwilling to foot any part of the financing to pay for the project. Needless to say, this put off a lot of studios and ultimately led to Universal and Fox teaming up to co-finance the adaptation.
The studios paid a staggering $5 million to option the franchise from Microsoft, promising them a 10 percent cut of the theatrical revenues. Universal agreed to oversee the actual production and distribute the film in the U.S. while Fox would tackle the overseas distribution. Things seemed to be going well, up until Peter Jackson was brought on board. Jackson was promised a huge piece of the profits for acting as an executive producer and mentor to the new director Neil Blomkamp (who would go on to direct District 9 under Jackson's tutelage). However, as 2006 began, skyrocketing development costs and no set script left the project and studio heads in a state of economic frenzy.
As nobody could hammer out who was calling the shots or who was paying for what (and how much), Universal and Fox were at each other's throats, with Microsoft thrown in for good measure. As they were overseeing production, Universal was the studio losing the most money and ran the risk of losing Fox as a distribution partner as 2006 went on. The only way they saw a saving grace was to approach Jackson and the other producers and ask them to take a cut in their deals set with the former Universal president back in 2005, a cut that the producers refused.
Artist rendering of early pre-production for "Halo" adaptation
With Universal paying upwards of $12 million (with nothing to show for it) and Fox refusing to pay anything and both studios threatening lawsuits, the “Halo” adaptation fell into a deep level of developmental hell where it has remained up until now. Dreamworks, one of the original studios to have passed on the adaptation the first time around, is looking to option the rights from Universal and Fox to build an adaptation produced by its founder, Steven Spielberg. If anyone can get your alien movie made, it'd be Spielberg, who likely could buy the whole franchise if he wanted to.
The only other known detail about this new revival is that while no script is set in stone, Spielberg has made it known that the script will seek inspiration from the numerous “Halo” novels, rather than the direct games themselves. While the source material of the novels is not the highest quality, it can provide a legal safeguard should Dreamworks acquire the rights, which would prevent them from getting sued by Universal for infringement on their script (that never was finalized). Regardless, the “Halo” adaptation is likely to get started off the second time around with a lot more steam in it's engine ... if it has an engine.