Halo 4: Forward Unto Dawn is an American sci-fi action movie that was directed by Stewart Hendler and originally broadcast via the internet in five weekly episodes from October 2012 but is released on DVD here combined into a single feature. It stars Tom Green, Anna Popplewell, Enisha Brewster and Daniel Cudmore. It follows the fortunes of a group of young cadets at the Corbulo Academy of Military Science, a training facility designed to produce elite soldiers for an on-going war.
The first forty minutes or so are pretty standard ‘grunts in training’ type stuff that you’ve probably seen many times before, albeit not with such an alarmingly adolescent cast. For the benefit of those who have been living in a monastery for the last twenty years, and / or haven’t seen Starship Troopers, what this means is that you get stock characters in stock situations. For instance, there’s the loose cannon cadet who gets his squad into trouble by not following the rules; there’s the shouty black Corporal; there’s the gruff General, and so on. We see them mucking up their training exercises, fighting in the mess hall, and taking baby steps into the deep water of Meaningful Personal Relationships.
So far, so crud. But then a strange thing happens. At the precise moment that a siren goes off and someone barks “This is not a drill!” the film becomes fantastically tense, gripping and thrilling thereby providing possibly the most exciting forty minutes of movie action I’ve seen this year. The reason for this? Well, frankly it’s because at this point that the director unleashes Master Chief – the central hero of the Halo video game series. I must be one of the few people on the planet yet to play any of the games so this character was completely new to me but he’s pure cinema, being a cross between Robocop, Clint Eastwood and Michael Biehn.
The film now takes you through the kinds of things you might reasonably expect to do if, as it wants you to, you decide to buy the game: shooting, shooting while running, shooting while driving, chucking grenades while spinning through the air attached to the back of a giant armoured lizard. As with most descriptions of video games, it’s much more fun than it sounds in print.
The cynic in me wanted to hate this movie, being as how it’s essentially just a gigantic advert for a product that is designed to make insanely wealthy people even wealthier while promoting war into the bargain. But I wasn’t prepared for the skill with which it’s put together. Its origins as a web-based series are cunningly disguised to the point that you’d be hard pressed to tell that it wasn’t a genuine cinema release. Okay there is the odd moment, particularly in the first half, when it looks as if the budget only stretched so far but on the whole it’s a very impressive-looking piece of work. The special effects and sound are terrific; I was obliged to turn the sound down at one point, lest the other residents in my block think judgement day had arrived.
Generally speaking, films based on games are rubbish and I’m sure we can all reel off a list of the worst offenders: Streetfighter, Tomb Raider, Doom, Super Mario Brothers. This movie is better than all of those and the reason it works so well is that once the initial set up is over and done with it takes what made the games so successful and single-mindedly concentrates on getting exactly that up on the screen.
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