Initially announced as a companion web series for Halo 4, Forward Unto Dawn has since been revealed to be not just the first live-action extended Halo film produced, but Microsoft's "largest investment" in filmmaking to date. The first teaser trailer showed that a real-world replica of Master Chief's Mjolnir armor still looks just as cool as one would hope, but not much else. Any doubts about the quality, scale, or intentions of Microsoft and 343 Industries were eradicated with the arrival of the full theatrical trailer for Forward Unto Dawn.
Sporting a host of young actors and actresses, like Tom Green (Dance Academy) and Anna Popplewell (The Chronicles of Narnia) the team is obviously not relying on the Halo name to win attention, even turning to sizable actor Daniel Cudmore (The Twilight Saga, X-Men 3: The Last Stand) for the faceless Goliath in green.
The story follows Thomas Lasky (Green), a young recruit at Corbulo Military Academy - the place where the best and brightest of the United Nations Space Command send their children to one day command troops against the ever-present threat of insurrection. Rivalries (and romance) soon follow, with Lasky being told that he has been born to lead others, and must grow into that responsibility regardless of his own misgivings. Sound familiar? Trained under the tutelage of General Black - played by sci-fi regular Mike Dopud (Caprica, SGU Stargate Universe) - Lasky's personal struggle gets put on hold when the alien forces of the invading Covenant arrive at the school intent on a fight. The Master Chief is happy to oblige, but the story and new characters are every bit as intriguing as the chance to see the Chief in action.
See for yourselves:
It would be a bit of a stretch to say that with Forward Unto Dawn, Microsoft is releasing a 90-minute proof of concept to potential Hollywood studios and investors. But even if the web series is being developed to begin and end as a companion to Halo 4, it is abundantly clear that the series is a precursor to something greater. Garnering attention as a possible successor to The Hunger Games films - besides, you know, being a Halo movie - is unavoidable, and more than a surface goal. If the costume and set design of the web series looks familiar, it should: Microsoft is using the same design firm, Legacy Effects.
The official trailer tells the story of young recruits being forged into warriors alongside the Master Chief, but the story details from 343 Industries, the trustees of the brand, emphasize just how closely the series will resemble the origins of the Chief himself. Fans of the Halo novels were quick to promote the idea of building any potential film franchise around The Fall of Reach, so it's extremely telling that the basic plot and appearance of Forward Unto Dawn mirror the origin story of John-117 that DreamWorks initially favored. If the public reaction to the series is overwhelmingly positive, Microsoft would have some fairly compelling data to prove just how profitable a Halo franchise could be.
Tom Green as Cadet Thomas Lasky
The series is helmed by Stewart Hendler (H+, Sorority Row) and written by Aaron and Todd Helbing (Spartacus: Blood and Sand, Mortal Kombat: Legacy), all hand-picked by 343 and executive producers Josh Feldman and Lydia Antonini for their ability to produce strong content in a short, serialized form. The only criteria was that each pitch had to fit with the overall spirit and direction of the upcoming Halo 4, with the Helbings' original story treatment specifically meant to hearken back to the Master Chief's own beginnings. The choice to go with that story pitch was no coincidence, as Forward Unto Dawn promises to deal with some heavy philosophical issues both on and off the battlefield.
A series of video previews have been released promising a strong tone and noticeably dark undercurrent, hopefully designed to get the most of its teen cast. Have a look at one such preview, entitled 'Enlist':
Taking on a multi-picture video game franchise is a big bet, especially if "doing it right" means following a teenage Chief, before the armor and gravelly voice that defined him are able to appear in the film, let alone the marketing. But those aren't the only marketable aspects the origin story of the Chief and his fellow soldiers would contain.
If we've learned anything from The Twilight Saga (hard to admit, we know) it's that female audiences aren't just a market that should be catered to, but more than capable of generating blockbuster revenues. A vampire drama built around a young woman protagonist and two heartthrobs wasn't the kind of thing that was expected to fill meeting rooms at Comic-Con, but times have changed.