Behind closed doors
"What the games industry doesn't understand is that this town is all about lunch," explains Shapiro. "It doesn't happen like that in the games industry. If there was a movie studio going out to the games publishers to license Avatar or something like that, they'd say, 'OK we're licensing Avatar, send us your best deal.' But none of the games publishers would talk to each other and say 'Hey, what are you going to offer them?'"
Garland, the British writer who'd penned the script, watched events unfold from back in the UK. From his vantage point, at one remove from the hoopla of Hollywood, Microsoft's approach looked antagonistic. "Being candid about it, I think they pissed people off. You're talking about Universal and Twentieth Century Fox, they're not shrinking violets.
"I think [Microsoft] did it wrong. You can accept that within the film world you will be involved in combat [but] what you should be trying to do is also find allies. I think the way to have done it was not to go in there saying, 'We're going to stick it to the studios,' but to choose which studio to work with."
Even with a deal inked in between Microsoft, Universal and Fox, the culture shock kept reverberating. It wasn't the first time two movie studios had partnered up but it was certainly the first time two movie studios had done so with a global computer giant. With hindsight it was inevitably going to end up as a dick-swinging contest.
Since it had approval over the cast and director, Microsoft initially wanted Peter Jackson as director. The New Zealand filmmaker had been introduced to Halo 2 by his son and enjoyed it so much he picked up a copy of Halo: Combat Evolved and played that too.
Jackson loved the property and could see how Weta, the FX company that had collaborated with him on The Lord Of The Rings trilogy, would be a perfect fit for the material. But he didn't want to direct. Instead he preferred to act as a producer (alongside Peter Schlessel, Mary Parent and Scott Stuber) and groom upcoming South African filmmaker Neil Blomkamp for the director's chair.
Microsoft was unimpressed - much as it had been a few years earlier when it turned its nose up at the thought of Sam Raimi, pre-Spiderman, working on a mooted Age Of Empires movie. "The games publishers are name snobs," says Shapiro. "They don't understand the up-and-comers." After Jackson interceded on his protégé's behalf and promised to mentor him, Blomkamp got the gig.
The Halo movie was announced by Microsoft at X05 in October 2005 and all looked rosy. But problems started during pre-production. As a young director making his feature debut, Blomkamp was in an unenviable position. He had shot commercials for Nike and an intriguing short about alien apartheid called Alive In Joburg; but now he was on an epic sci-fi blockbuster with a spiralling budget and three vastly powerful corporations breathing down his neck. "My instinct was that if I crawled into that hornet's nest it would be not good, and it was a clusterfuck from day one," he says.
Working out of New Zealand, Blomkamp oversaw various script revisions by a parade of new writers and collaborated closely with the visual and practical effects wizards at Weta as they started to create the iconic aliens and fabricate the weapons and vehicles Halo players had come to know and love.
He shot several pieces of gritty test footage - what Moore calls "the legacy of a movie never made" - that can be found online. Much like Blomkamp's later sci-fi outing District 9, born out of the ashes of Halo, his test footage doesn't show the glossy world of Master Chief from the games. It's a grubbier, dystopian future dominated by blurry video feeds, radio static and chatter, and Blomkamp's shakeycam.
As development costs headed towards $12 million, Blomkamp's choices began to incur ever greater scrutiny from the suits. "[Tom] Rothman [co-Chairman of Fox Filmed Entertainment] hated me, I think he would have gotten rid of me if he could have," says the director. "The suits weren't happy with the direction I was going. Thing was, though, I'd played Halo and I play videogames. I know that my version of Halo would have been insanely cool."