Halo 4: Forward Unto Dawn Review
Over a decade on and still no Halo movie?
The monumental success of Halo - which could quite easily be regarded as the only reason that Microsoft still exists in the gaming industry - has led to numerous stunning sequels, successful spin-offs, novels, and graphic novels. The first flagship game for the original XBox was released back in 2001, which feels like an eternity ago and yet, despite its unparalleled success, there still hasn’t been a film adaptation. It’s strange because the production would be a sure hit. No matter what they got wrong. The likes of Alex Garland, Neil Blomkamp, Peter Jackson and even Spielberg have all been attached to the ever-gestating project, but it has yet to come to fruition.
In the meantime, we’ve had a disappointing anime (Halo Legends), some promising promotional shorts (normally commissioned in relation to the various game releases) and are soon to be getting a live-action TV series, executive produced by Steven Spielberg. And there’s also been a high budget webseries of five quarter-hour episodes to tie in with the release of the latest game, Halo 4. The series proved so popular that it was edited – and extended – into a feature film: Halo 4: Forward Unto Dawn.
The prequel story takes place before the events of the first game, Halo: Combat Evolved, and follows a group of cadets at a military training academy, largely setting up a background into one of the supporting characters from the Halo 4 game, whilst also giving us a look at one of the Covenant’s early attacks. Amidst the trainees is Lasky, a slight, nervous cadet who is struggling to live up to the expectations of his military family and the precedent set by his brother, who is an Orbital Drop Shock Trooper. When there is an attack at the academy, however, it’s up to Lasky and a small bunch of his classmates to do their best to survive.
I’m sure that long-term Halo fans are going to lap this up – if they haven’t already – but for those who are expecting a taster of what a blockbuster feature film adaptation could be like, Forward Unto Dawn is a long way away from a what you might want. Indeed it’s probably best viewed as the equivalent to a semi-decent TV pilot for a (non-existent) Smallville-like prequel series rather than any kind of standalone movie. You see, whilst it may be high budget for a web series, $10 Million buys you next to nothing in Hollywood movie terms. Maybe a trailer.
However, as a bunch of webepisodes seamlessly edited together into a makeshift ‘feature film’, Forward Unto Dawn is considerably more impressive, and will at least whet your appetite for a future Halo film, however unlikely that is at this stage. Sure, the story is slight, and barely an excuse for a TV pilot, let alone a feature film; the actors are largely unknown (child and adult alike); and the effects are limited, but, taken for what it is, Forward Unto Dawn is enjoyable enough.
The actors really are hard to place – this will probably be the biggest credit on many of their resumes – but you might remember one of the lead girls as being one of the sisters from Chronicles of Narnia (Anna Popplewell) and one of the senior officers as being a bit part actor from everything like Shooter and This Means War to a bunch of low-rent Seagal stuff like the Driven to Kill and his True Justice TV series but, somewhat surprisingly, the majority of them do a decent enough job. Popplewell makes for a reasonably compelling heroine, whilst Tom Green (no, not that Tom Green) is a actually quite strong as the meek cadet at the heart of it all. Indeed the biggest disappointment is that they didn’t get the same voice actor who voiced the Master Chief in all the games to do his voice here – something that fans are sure to pick up on instantly.
And in terms of effects, they cleverly weigh the good stuff towards the latter end of the feature, where the Master Chief arrives, allowing for some decent live action versions of some of your favourite elements of the game. If anybody remembers Batman: Dead End, it was a fan-made short which offered filmmakers a glimpse of everything that fans truly wanted from a Batman film – long before Nolan delivered – and the second half of Halo 4: Forward Unto Dawn is a little like that: Warthogs, Pistols, Plasma Rifles, Invisibility Camouflage, Swords, Elites, Pelicans, and even a Hunter. Perhaps this little cobbled-together web-series isn’t strong enough to justify being marketed as a feature film, but it is certainly a step in the right direction and, hopefully, it’ll inspire some big names to get a move on and finally bring us a decent proper movie adaptation.
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