“At the end of the day, the King and the Pawn go into the same box.”
Let’s be clear. Pretty much the only reason I have an XBox is to continue the fantasy that I will one day play Halo. That’s really it. Now that we’ve established that I’m a Halo fangirl, we can get to the business of this review:
Don’t be lied to, folks. Size matters. I’m referring, of course, to budget size. Halo 4: Forward Unto Dawn was a big budget production and enjoys all the parks that come with money: great VFX, good direction, professional actors and excellent CGI.
The plot follows young cadet Thomas Lasky as he navigates the ethical minefield of wartime decision-making and battles personal demons in his search for purpose in life. The five part web series was released in 2012 to introduce the unfamiliar masses to the world of Halo and as a build-up to the release of the Halo 4 game.
Acting: Like I said, big budget typically leads to competent acting. The cast was convincing and never once fell out of character, though Tom Green (Thomas Lasky) was outshone by Osric Chau’s JJ Chen. It’s always awkward when the main protagonist isn’t quite as interesting as their supporting cast, but given that the overall quality of performance was good, it’s not so big a deal. I would liken it to watching the Thor movies for Loki. It’s not that Thor isn’t compelling, he’s just not as compelling as Loki.
Visuals: Excellent. That’s really it. Watch the series… you’ll understand. And it’s a special treat if you’ve always wanted to know what the Covenant would look like in real life; and just how much taller than everyone else a SPARTAN-II really is. If you’re a fan of Halo, you’ll get to put some interesting faces to a couple of names you may recognise… but that’s all the spoiler you’re getting out of me! Ok, fine. Twist my arm, why don’t you. The rendering of Cortana was amazing!
Plotline: It’s pretty standard storytelling fare, here. You meet a group of plucky young protagonists, they go through ups and downs, the protagonist grapples with his demons and falls in love whilst a mystery unravels and finally the climactic moment comes, pain and suffering ensues, a surprise is unveiled and warriors are forged in the fires of battle.
The plot was standard, but well-executed. I couldn’t have asked for more, especially given the context of the show. For newcomers it tells you everything you need to know without giving away so much that you have no need to play the games. For the familiar, it’s kind of like the live-action version of the ODST game in that you’re following a bunch of regular folks trying to battle it out against aliens with bigger and better guns. Trust me, it’s no fun being a regular person in that situation!
Progression and Characterisation: I’ve got to say I was not terribly impressed with the pacing of the series. I understand the need to spend time on the main characters and to establish their backgrounds and relationships but three episodes is really a bit much. For the sake of argument I could say that since the purpose of the series was to bring in a new audience and show them around the Halo setting, it was important to establish a relationship with the characters so that when things inevitably went south, you were right there in the moment with the protagonists.
But… three episodes is still way too much time to spend figuring out who’s who, who likes who and who doesn’t like who. And for those who’ve played the games, watched the game movies (of which there are many) on YouTube or read the novels, it really feels like you’re being strung along through a tedious journey and the director knows it and so keeps dangling the promise of the Master Chief in your face to keep you on the ride. The entire storyline could easily have fit into three to four episodes.
Adapting a beloved franchise to live-action can be a thankless job. We geeks and nerds are notoriously picky about the things we love. There were several aspects of the series that threw me off but all in all it was well worth the time it took to watch Forward Unto Dawn.
Recommendation: hook up your laptop to a big screen TV, turn off the lights and get a harrowing look at what it means to live in the Halo universe for the regular non-SPARTAN. It’s a lot more terrifying than it seems behind John-117’s HUD!
Watch the web series on YouTube here