Editorial: Lamenting lost opportunities.
If you're a sports fan, you know the pain and anguish of your favorite team failing to sign a particular player, only to watch as that player flourishes on another team and leads them to the championships.
I couldn't help but feel the same pain as I watched District 9
, the debut feature film from director Neill Blomkamp ? yup, the same Neill Blomkamp chosen to direct the defunct Halo movie. I'm not going to do an in-depth review of District 9
here but suffice to say, go see it. It's a great movie: funny, exciting, emotional, raw, well acted and smartly written. The gritty handheld documentary style works perfectly and really gives you the sense that you're watching something real (Battlestar Galactica fans know what I mean). And like Battlestar Galactica, District 9
is science fiction for grown-ups ? unlike the recent rash of adolescent popcorn flicks that are full of flashy CGI and little else (*cough* Transformers
*cough* G.I. Joe
It seems audiences and critics agree as District 9
is currently racking up impressive reviews and revenues. This is without a doubt sweet redemption for Blomkamp, who was mercilessly put through the wringer the instant he was signed on for Halo.
Everyone's initial reaction ? from fans to studio heads ? was Neill who?
Blomkamp was a complete unknown who directed commercials and worked as a 3D animator on various Vancouver-based TV shows like Stargate SG-1, Dark Angel and Smallville (though born in South Africa, Blomkamp moved to Vancouver with his family when he was 18). But it was his visionary work in short films, especially his now famous Alive in Joburg
(which District 9
is based on) that caught producer Peter Jackson's attention and ultimately got him the Halo gig.
Unfortunately, 20th Century Fox and Universal Pictures weren't as enthusiastic. They were investing huge wads of cash on the project and weren't comfortable turning it over to a rookie ? even one hand-picked by multiple Academy Award winner and box office champ Peter Jackson. Add in reports that Microsoft was asking for an unusually large percentage of the box office receipts and it's really no surprise that the whole thing eventually collapsed under the weight of money, politics and creative differences.
There was faint hope among fans that the project would be resurrected after Blomkamp created the wildly popular live action shorts promoting Halo 3. The gritty heart-pounding action not only emulated but in many ways exceeded what you experienced in the game ? not an easy thing to do ? and dispelled any doubts about Blomkamp's skill and vision for the big screen version. Alas, the shorts were only made to promote the game, not to change the studios' minds. The Halo movie was dead.
For Blomkamp, this was actually a blessing in disguise since it led to Jackson funding and producing District 9
, a project that granted Blomkamp full creative freedom to do whatever he wanted ? something he would not have enjoyed if he worked on Halo. This was the best thing that could have happened to him; given the critical and commercial success of the film, Blomkamp has elevated himself to the top of the industry's most-wanted list and laid the groundwork for a long and successful career.
But for us poor Halo fans, we can only watch District 9
and imagine what could have been. It's easy to see the alien ?prawns? as Covenant Elites and the MNU as UNSC troopers, the helicopters as Pelicans and Phantoms, and the thrilling battles taking place not in Johannesburg, but on Reach or the surface of a Halo ring. One can only hope the suits at 20th Century Fox and Universal Pictures feel the same regret and are kicking themselves over the loss of a potentially huge franchise.
Now, this is not to say Blomkamp is the only person who can make the Halo movie; on the contrary, it will
be made by someone ? eventually. In fact, the most recent rumor has Steven Spielberg interested in picking up the reigns. But regardless of whoever ends up making it, it just won't be the same without Blomkamp's visceral frenetic action, realistic documentary style (enhanced by skillful improvisation) and unique sense of humor (death by pig ? ?nuff said).
As well, the potential for yet another bad game-to-movie adaptation has increased exponentially. Do you really want your beloved Halo debased into yet another vacuous cartoony flick that tries to cover up crappy writing and acting with obscene amounts of CGI? It could easily happen, since Spielberg supposedly wants to bring in producers and writers from the critically maligned Transformers
and G.I. Joe
Of course, the flipside is that someone could come along and make something that blows away anything Blomkamp and Jackson could have done. But in looking at District 9
, that would be a very tough thing to do.
For Blomkamp fans, the answer is easy: simply give Halo back to him. But both he and Jackson have understandably expressed some bitterness about the initial fiasco, and while they have not closed the door completely, odds are it won't happen. With the success of District 9
, both men can demand bigger pay and greater creative freedom, something the studios, Microsoft and Bungie may not be eager to relinquish.
In the meantime, millions of Halo fans are stuck in the middle, eagerly awaiting the moment to plunk down their cash to watch Master Chief kick Covenant ass on the big screen. With such a huge fanbase, you would think making a Halo movie would be a no-brainer but as with most things Hollywood, ?no-brains? is an often and unfortunately apt term.
And so we wait, hoping for a mind-blowing blockbuster but steeling ourselves against yet another steaming pile of game-to-movie garbage. In the meantime, we can satisfy ourselves by watching District 9
and lament not the lost opportunities, but wonder at the possibilities.