Microsoft, Jackson postpone making feature film

Master Chief is retreating from movie theaters.

Unable to secure a deal with another studio after parting ways with Universal and Fox two weeks ago, (Daily Variety, Oct. 20) Microsoft and producer Peter Jackson on Tuesday officially put the planned “Halo” movie on hold.

Insiders say they’ll likely continue script and visual development with hopes of repitching studios next year or in 2008 after the “Halo 3″ vidgame is released by Microsoft.

MGM and Warner Bros. are both believed to have talked to Microsoft and Jackson’s camp about financing the pic but wouldn’t agree to the planned $128 million budget, as well as total gross points of 19% for Jackson, his partner Fran Walsh and the tech giant. International financiers also offered to pony up some coin, but Jackson and Microsoft likely didn’t want to go ahead without a studio aboard.

For the past few weeks, “Halo” backers have focused their efforts on WB and Paramount, since Sony competes with Microsoft in the vidgame biz, Microsoft rival Apple’s CEO Steve Jobs is a Disney board member, and New Line is in court with Jackson and Walsh over “Lord of the Rings” proceeds (Daily Variety, Oct. 27).

MGM likely stepped up due to chief operating officer Rick Sands’ stated desire to work with Jackson on a “Hobbit” movie.

After quietly tapping scribe Alex Garland and producer Peter Schlessel in late 2004 to develop the project, Microsoft delivered the script and its terms to studios in June of last year via messengers dressed like Master Chief, the game’s protag. Publicity stunt turned off some execs, but the studio ultimately reached terms with U and Fox for $5 million against 10% of the gross.

Bringing on Jackson and Walsh early last year seemed to bring more momentum to the project. But the combination of their gross points and Microsoft’s, as well as the camp’s insistence on a $128 million budget to realize their vision, led U and Fox to change their minds and turned off potential bidders.

Delay is a blow to what seemed like an innovative strategy by Microsoft to keep control of its top vidgame property by developing it inhouse, rather than just licensing it to a studio.

“At this time Microsoft, Peter Jackson and Fran Walsh have mutually agreed to postpone making a feature film based on the ‘Halo’ videogame universe until we can fulfill the promise we made to millions of ‘Halo’ fans throughout the world that we would settle for no less than bringing a first-class film to the bigscreen,” Microsoft said in a statement. “While it will undoubtedly take a little longer for ‘Halo’ to reach the bigscreen, we are confident that the final feature film will be well worth the wait.”

Commercial helmer Neill Blomkamp is still aboard to direct. “A History of Violence” scribe Josh Olson was doing the most recent rewrite.

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