Elysium director Neill Blomkamp’s efforts to make a Halo movie came to nothing. We look at why.
Neill Blomkamp is back. Don’t remember him? You should. He was responsible for the hugely surprising and refreshingly imaginative District 9, which – along with an innovative take on aliens and an excellent use of low-budget special effects – brought with it a whole new way to look at prawn salad. District 9 was a real hit in 2009, breathing new life into the sci-fi genre while tugging at audience heartstrings.
Now Blomkamp is gearing up for Elysium, his next dystopian sci-fi scheduled for an August release. The trailer features a futuristic Earth, with a supremely bald Matt Damon on a mission to topple a very authoritative-looking Jodie Foster. It looks, in many ways, a lot tidier and crisper than the low-budget grittiness found in District 9, but it does seem to be again exploring political themes, a messy job in itself.
Blomkamp knows all about grit. In 2007, he filmed a trio of short films based on the Halo franchise. They were collectively known as Landfall, released in promotion for the Xbox game Halo 3. The films were well received by fans, but Landfall was really just what was left of the failed attempt to launch a full-length feature based on the Halo franchise. Up until that point, a Halo feature lived in the minds of many fans, but Blomkamp’s Landfall series showed that the project had real credibility. With Blomkamp recently reiterating his desire to direct a Halo film, the question again arises as to what went wrong in the first place.
History tells us that Hollywood and the video game industry don’t mix well. Just ask Uwe Boll. Some still bear the scars left by his Bloodrayne. Problems such as budget, inadequate source material and shoddy execution run through a great number of previous attempts, but the notion of a Halo feature has always been promising. Halo is one of the largest game franchises in the world; the protagonist – the Master Chief – is basically the poster boy for Microsoft in the gaming sphere. Steam was building for the film as early as 2004, the same year they released the mightily successful Halo 2, and by which time the universe surrounding the first game had already been bolstered with books and comics alike. There was ample source material and, before long, Microsoft had a movie script ready.
However, it seems Microsoft was not prepared for Hollywood negotiation. The deal they proposed to the major Hollywood studios was so costly that most rejected it. Eventually only two studios remained, deciding to merge, sharing the load and putting strain on the relationship between them and Microsoft from the very beginning. That strain was continuously tested – Microsoft wanted a big name director to lead the project. Peter Jackson signed on, but as a co-producer only. Uninterested in directing the project, he instead elected that his protégé at the time direct the project.
Enter a young Neill Blomkamp. Although already known for directing quality commercials and his sci-fi short film Alive in Joburg, he had yet to direct his own feature. Microsoft didn’t have much faith. Although Blomkamp wasn’t especially keen to get involved with three large companies all pulling in different directions, he did proclaim a love for the Halo franchise and was confident in his ability to create a unique take on the universe, a dark and gritty approach which he believed would resonate with fans, himself a Halo-lover. Although Blomkamp was convinced Bungie – the creators of Halo – were impressed with his proposed direction, the studios involved (as well as Microsoft) were not happy with his approach.
Blomkamp felt they favoured a generic approach, one he found essentially uninteresting. As Blomkamp struggled to maintain creative control over his vision, relationships between all parties continued to dissolve and, on top of the sheer expense of the project, eventually died completely. This understandably upset Blomkamp, who had worked on the film for months, investing a great deal in production design. However, some of his work was salvaged and used to create the Landfall short films, naturally leading to questions of what Blomkamp would be capable of with a larger budget.
From there, Blomkamp went on to direct District 9 on a modest budget and to critical acclaim. Elysium is a bigger project than District 9, and looks just as promising, but Blomkamp hasn’t completely given up on Halo, saying that he would still be interested if more creative control was afforded to him: “I still really love the world and the universe and the mythology of Halo. If I was given control, I would really like to do that film,” Blomkamp told IGN. It remains to be seen as to whether Blomkamp will get another shot, but he has since proven himself to be a real force in the realm of sci-fi. All things considered, Neill Blomkamp at the helm of a resurrected Halo feature film would not be a poor bet to make.
Photo: pop culture geek, via Wikimedia Commons