the masks fall, but not in the water

The Major returns to service in Paramount’s new Halo series, available on Canal+. An adaptation worth watching? Answer in this Halo review.

Gamers were eagerly awaiting it. The live action series Halo commissioned by Paramount and inspired by the video games of the same name, is available in preview on Canal+, before the arrival of Paramount Plus in France later in the year. Available since the end of April, the series wants to establish itself in the increasingly popular world of video game adaptations.

A real institution on Xbox consoles, Halo is originally a shooting game very appreciated by players who have had the opportunity to touch it, and more particularly with regard to the first opuses. With its rich universe and its universal technological implications, it is therefore a franchise of choice for an adaptation.

We also understand Paramount’s desire to return to the sources of the saga, by offering a prequel series that further introduces the origins of the Major. Despite the few liberties taken with the source material, and the original direction that Paramount wanted to follow for this series, is the Major as good in front of the cameras as on the battlefield? The answer in this review ofHalo.

Discover Halo on Canal+

When action is not enough

Not every adaptation is worth its weight in gold. After experiencing multiple fiascos, productions based on video games are always expected at the turn, especially by fans of said video game. The fact thatHalo being a twenty-something-year-old franchise and being literally the flagship of the Xbox brand doesn’t make it any easier.

In the series Halo, we follow the adventures of John-117, also called the Major, as he performs yet another mission on behalf of the UNSC. We are set in a dystopian future in which humans wage a merciless war against the extraterrestrial Covenant forces, while trying to manage internal conflicts that often turn into civil war. The Major then discovers a mysterious artefact, which will lead him to question everything he believed acquired, and prepares to have a major role in the sequence of events.

Chronologically the series is therefore located just before the first game of the saga and therefore serves as an introductory prequel to the universe ofHalo. So we find ourselves there at the level of history, although a certain number of things still remain to be explained, which is quite normal. The first season excels in its role of setting up the elements that should serve us later to immerse ourselves in the heart of the intrigue of the games, if however Paramount feels the desire.

review halo channel plus series
Crédits: Adrienn Szabo / Paramount +

And from the first episode, it’s the slap, in a sense as positive as negative. Positive because we find all the essence of what makes the strength of video games: action, explosions, and a good dose of fighting with Spartan sauce. And it’s not to displease fans of the license. If certain sequences deserve a little more dynamism in terms of the movement of the camera, it feels like being projected 20 years back in full part of the first opus ofHalo.

On the other hand, this overflow of action also has some negative consequences. Perhaps too cliche because truly true to the games, this episode has a fan-service aftertaste that might not appeal to everyone, and even worse, might turn off viewers. However, it is necessary to put this first episode in perspective with the rest of the series to understand thatHalo is not just about fighting and the series goes much further than that.

Between John or the Major, Paramount has made its choice

The main change that the series brings compared to the games, and the revelation of the human face which hides under the mask of Spartan 117. This great discovery is a culmination which shakes up the whole story, and this from its introduction, and which takes us to a truly new dimension. In 20 years, the players had never seen the face of the Major for the simple reason that his humanity was not the point of interest of the plot.

In the series, on the other hand, Paramount operates a 180° turn and places at the center of its narration not the Major, but John, the man behind the Spartan’s armor and mask. A debatable choice among the fans but which nevertheless remains the best decision for the sustainability of the series. If a game can easily do without a gripping story as long as it has action to spare, a visual production like this needs soul and depth to manage to capture its viewer. Without that, we would have before us a series that would spend 80% of its time serving us action scenes and insipid dialogues, which obviously does not serve its interests.

major pablo schreiber critique halo
Crédits: Adrienn Szabo / Paramount +

Revealing the face, but also the human character of John-117 therefore brings body to a story that was just waiting to be reinvented. It’s not so much about the desire to reveal the face of the Major simply for the sake of standing out from the video games. The Spartan reveal is badly needed because it initiates an important trigger. If Paramount can also afford it, it is because there is also an element of mystery that the series is not required to keep. In a video game, the player becomes the hero. It is therefore much easier to identify with a character who has no face and less personality.

Despite everything, this stripping is fishing in terms of its timing. It is indeed done a little too early and too quickly. It lacks context slightly and we finally have few scenes where the Spartan is really the Major. The adventure is not over, and we hope that this aspect will return in the second season. But it’s still something that we miss a little in the first episodes, just like the fight scenes which are after all extremely rare.

A promising and faithful bait

A lack of action is not displeasing to us, especially when its absence gives way to more complex and easily captivating plots. Apart from the main narration, the series explores several parallel arcs which weave their links over the episodes, and which gain in importance despite their rather disjointed character at the start. These intrigues, new compared to the original lore, are additions which in no way interfere with the coherence of the story and which even set up a broader context than the sole point of view of the Major.

We also enjoy following the strong personalities of the series, in particular Doctor Halsey who forms a most intriguing trio alongside Cortana and the Major. He is a truly enigmatic character on all levels: professional, family and even in his relationship with John. We were pleasantly surprised by the performance of Natascha McElhone who manages to embody this character brilliantly, just like Pablo Schreiber who portrays a Major more convincing than we would have imagined. Together they form one of the most alluring points of interest in the series.

Honorable mention for the production part which also does not lack panache. If the series cannot claim to reinvent cinematographic art, we are still dealing with well-done sequences, where we expect them in a production of this kind. The special effects have only very rarely disappointed us and the CGI applied to the Covenant aliens is breathtakingly realistic and faithful. We are sometimes surprised to want to compare certain scenes ofHalo with plans from the saga Star Wars the atmosphere is so similar.

It fishes a little on the level of the explosions on the other hand, and the decorations in general, which reveal the underside of the Hollywood studios more than the confines of the galaxy. Same observation for the costumes which would have deserved a little more attention. And how not to mention the soundtrack, which is sorely lacking in the whole production. It is however not for lack of having wanted to adapt a saga which has a strong musical signature. It would have been wise to integrate more distinctive sound elements, more for the immersion and the grandiose aspect of the thing than for an unwelcome fan-service side.

A sequel subject to theories

The question now is what Paramount plans to do next season. Will she follow the course of the first game Halo ? Knowing that a number of things are now unchangeable, fans of the game will therefore have to accommodate further changes to the original frame. On the other hand, if Paramount completely gets rid of the plot of the games, then the firm will have carte blanche to undertake greater changes to the universe ofHalowhile taking the risk of losing the purists along the way.

Discover Halo on Canal+

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