Halo 4: Forward Unto Dawn was originally created as a live-action web series set in the Halo universe. The $10 million series was Microsoft’s largest-ever investment in a live action promotion and was created entirely for the promotion of the recently released Halo 4. Though, the game probably didn’t need the extra promotion, with a new studio at the helm of their flagship console property, Microsoft isn’t a company known for taking chances. Written by Aaron and Todd Helbing, Forward Unto Dawn was directed by Los Angeles native and USC. grad Stewart Hendler. Besides commercial work, Hendler is probably best known for the 2009 slasher flick, Sorority Row.
Microsoft announced in the spring of 2012, that the web series would play on the Machinima Prime and Halo Waypoint websites leading up to the release of Halo 4. The series debuted in October and contained five 15 minute shorts. A 90-minute extended version of the digital series was included with the Limited Edition version of the Halo 4 game and is now available in High Definition on Blu-ray. Strangely, Japanese publisher Capcom used a similar tactic in creating a CGI animated Resident Evil film to setup their Resident Evil 6 release. At least in this reviewer’s opinion, Microsoft’s Halo effort is much more successful.
The majority of Forward Unto Dawn is set at a United Nations Space Command military academy, though there are a few scenes set in space. The story mainly follows a group of cadets training to be the next generation of military leaders in the UNSC’s ongoing war with insurrectionists in the outer colonial planets. With a few outtakes, the movie introduces viewers to a squad of cadets and their squad leaders, with all but one deeply committed to the military cause. The lone standout cadet with serious reservations is Thomas Lasky. Those that have already played the campaign in Halo 4 will undoubtedly recognize the name.
Throughout the film Lasky struggles with his doubts about war, the loss his family has already endured and with the burden of expectations imposed upon him. This could have easily been a formulaic cop-out but, the evolution of Lasky’s maturity is surprisingly believable. It is his personal story and the authentic friendship his squad shares that is what makes Forward Unto Dawn successful. Don’t worry, the iconic Master Chief and Cortana share and steal enough screen time from the relatively unkown cast that, there is no doubt it is a Halo movie.
Forward Unto Dawn looks to be a digital direct transfer at 1080p with the CG effects melding seamlessly into the live action. The TV-14 movie which features outtakes at the conclusion is presented in a 2.35:1 widescreen aspect ratio. There is only English audio offered with subtitles in 5.1 DTS-HD master audio with director and developer’s commentary and an optional isolated musical score. The DVD release replaces the audio with the more compressed Dolby Digital. A series of short vignettes are also included that flesh out the background a little better and Red Vs Blue mock PSA are the most notable of a good number of extras on the Blu-ray disc.
Forward Unto Dawn is probably most comparable to the recent iteration of Battlestar Galactica and the shorter lived Caprica series. The quality of the cinematography and special effects are surprisingly better than what you might expect from a web series. The look isn’t the only similarity though. Like the afore mentioned television series, Forward Unto Dawn borrows heavily from ancient Roman themes and though religion isn’t explored in the film, the militaristic society conveys parallels. At the academy, honor is refreshingly more of a big picture concept that what is told in most military stories and that helps make Forward Unto Dawn a notable piece of science fiction unto itself.