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Halo movie killed by Microsoft's demands, says new book

"We were literally setting out to be the richest, most lucrative rights deal in history in Hollywood." Larry Shapiro

Halo movie Warthog (image: Weta)
Halo movie Warthog (image: Weta)

Everyone knows that Microsoft's attempts to get a Halo film made failed, but a new book called Generation Xbox: How Videogames Invaded Hollywood reveals more details on the strained relationships between the software giant and Hollywood.

The Halo movie.

By now, we all know the outline of the story. Despite its best efforts – which included a blockbuster property, a screenplay written by Alex Garland, and Lord of the Rings super-director Peter Jackson serving as producer – Microsoft failed to get the hugely anticipated project into theaters.

But the details as to why it failed aren't so well known. A 3500-word excerpt from the recently published Generation Xbox: How Videogames Invaded Hollywood, hosted on Wired, fills in a lot of the missing gaps. Author Jamie Russell interviewed key players including director Neil Blomkamp, Creative Artist Agency's Larry Shapiro, and Microsoft's Peter Moore; the three reveal a partnership between Microsoft and Hollywood that was destined to fail.

Microsoft, with the help of Shapiro, coordinated an actual Spartan-led assault on Hollywood studios including Universal, Fox, New Line, and DreamWorks; Columbia Pictures, owned by console competitor Sony, was unsurprisingly left out of the opportunity. The towering future soldiers were delivering a spec script, written by 28 Days Later scribe Alex Garland, and an aggressive terms sheet. "We were literally setting out to be the richest, most lucrative rights deal in history in Hollywood," Shapiro said.

And with that fateful beginning, the Halo movie was doomed.

"The failure of the Halo movie remains a potent illustration of the gulf that still lies between Hollywood and the videogame business." – Jamie Russell

That culture clash was responsible for much of the failure. For example, Fox and Universal did something that Microsoft never expected them to: They talked to each other. Microsoft made an assumption based on its background in software and video games that the various parties wouldn't cooperate, so "in the blink of an eye Microsoft's bargaining position had been pole-axed," Russell writes.

Money is what "essentially killed the film," says Blomkamp. "When you have a corporation that potent and that large taking a percentage of the profits," he said, referring to Microsoft, "then you've got Peter Jackson taking a percentage of the profits and you start adding all of that stuff up, mixed with the fact that you have two studios sharing the profits, suddenly the return on the investment starts to decline so that it becomes not worth making."

Watch the results of Blomkamp's "test shorts," gathered into the Halo: Landfall short that was released in 2007 to promote Halo 3. Peter Moore described the footage as "the legacy of a movie never made" and now, thanks to Russell's reporting, it's not the only thing we know about the project.