Hey Space Cadets, here is the first installment in a new series of science fiction movie reviews. Being snowed in early January gave me time to watch new movies, eat some popcorn and just enjoy my family. I’m still writing, and I’ll have more news on that soon. I’ve started recording my new Sci-Fi Shenanigans Podcast with my friend Chris Winder, and episode two recently went live. In addition to more family time, I’ve fought off the cabin fever by writing more and shoveled snow. In case you missed it, The Sleeping Legion Series has wrapped up and you can buy it on Amazon. The final audio book for Insurgency: Spartika is in the works, and then you can enjoy every one of my stories in audio book, paperback, or eBook!
But enough about me, onto this specific review. Now let’s get to it!
Title: HALO 4: Forward Unto Dawn
Director: Stewart Hendler
Price: $9.45 USD (Blue-Ray Edition)
Duration: 90 Minutes
Release Date: 2012
Obtained: I bought this movie from Amazon.
Rating: 4/5 Grenades
In 2526, as mankind has begun to colonize space, a group of cadets are training to fight against human insurrectionists. One of those cadets, Thomas Lasky, has doubts about his abilities as a soldier and his convictions for this war. He’s the son of a famous war hero, and lost his brother and best friend to the war and begins to question why it was necessary. Whilst he struggles with himself, the planet is invaded by an unknown alien race. Reeling under the assault, Lasky and his squad mates are rescued by John-117, one of the UNSC’s legendary SPARTAN-II super-soldiers. John must inspire Lasky to fulfill his potential as a soldier and a leader to fight against an enemy deadlier than any that humanity has faced before.
The blurb on the back of the movie did an excellent job at setting the scene, so I won’t elaborate past that! The movie is the main character reflecting on how he came to be on one of the iconic ships in the Haloverse, and the movie serves as his origin story. The movie was originally released online as 15 minute episodes, and was an effort to market the HALO 4 game when it was released. I’m a huge fan of the HALO franchise, so if you like military science fiction, I’d highly recommend you give this movie a chance! If you’re a HALO junky, and haven’t seen this movie, you should go stand in a corner. When you’re done punishing yourself, go watch this movie! It has plenty of action, adventure and just enough explosions to move the story along. The action is authentically gritty, without being over the top and I enjoyed it. If this sounds like your flavor of Spartan badassery, then you’ve come to the right place! All I can say is that this is one Christmas present that isn’t getting returned!
I’ve included a few of the trailers for this movie, for you to see what I’m talking about!
In this movie we meet a diverse group of cadets, who collectively make up Hastati Squad at the Corbulo Academy of Military Science on Circinius IV. It’s a training facility for the children of high-ranking UNSC officers, and forces all of them to live under the shadow of their successful family members as a training and inspiration technique. The UNSC, or United Nations Space Command, is struggling to keep the officer ranks full during a period of political upheaval. During the course of the movie we meet several main characters, who were pretty well flushed out. The actors and actresses were on their A game, but I’d expect nothing less from Microsoft Studios and 343 Industries. All of the characters felt flushed out and three-dimensional. They added to what is clearly a vast and expansive universe. All of the characters were a lot of fun to get to know, so let’s dive in!
Cadet Thomas Lasky: He was one of the main point of view characters, and was played by actor Tom Green. The acting was solid, and in that regard I had no complaints. The character was flushed out, and I felt for his angst. He had a clearly defined motivation, though I wanted to smack him and tell him to grow up. As a freshman at the military academy, he’s a young kid stuck in an uncertain world, where terrorism muddies the waters between the good guys and the bad guys. If you know anything about the HALO franchise, you can see the links between this story and the larger world of the games and books. In the books, the Innies, or Insurrectionists Terrorists, have sympathetic motivations, but they attack gatherings of women and children. Clearly, they’ve crossed all sorts of lines in their quest, and Lasky gives more depth to that. Overall, I really felt for this character and loved his story arc. As with the character of the Master Chief, there is more out there about him but I chose to stick with his portrayal in this specific movie.
Senior Cadet April Orenski: She was one of the main secondary point of view characters, and was played by actress Enisha Brewster. She was the squad leader of Hastati Squad, and pushed all of them to be better and to work as a team. She’s a hard ass, and punished her cadets with no food and other techniques as a way to get through to them. Normally I’d say she was overly harsh, but unlike my time at a military college, she was attending in a time of extreme violence and knew every one of her charges would lead men and women into battle. That does change things, and I appreciated that this was taken into account. She didn’t have much of a character arc, though as a senior she was pretty much done with the sort of development you’d expect at a military academy. During the attack by the unknown aliens, which we know to be the Covenant, she held her own and proved herself worthy of the commission she would soon receive. I’d certainly follow officers like her into battle.
Cadet Walter Vickers: He was one of the secondary point of view characters, and was played by actor Iain Belcher. The acting was spot on, and the character served as the adversary of the main character, Cadet Lasky. There isn’t too much to say about him without spoilers, but let’s just say he was never meant to be a tactical genius, but in the end he was brave when it counted.
Cadet Dimah Tchakova: She was one of the secondary point of view characters, and was played by actress Kat De Lieva. Her acting was spot on, and I loved seeing her character arc through the movie. She becomes more confident throughout the course of the training, and then hautey when she uses her position to gain her consideration during the alien assault. She uses her mothers status as the Secretary of FLEETCOM to garner protection for herself, and it made you want to punch her in the face. I’d never hit a woman, but dang I’d grab popcorn if she was taken to task by her female classmates. We didn’t see too much out of her, but what we did see was well executed and she felt flushed out.
Cadet Michael “Sully” Sullivan: He is one of the secondary point of view characters, and was played by actor Masam Holden. The actor did an outstanding job, and was a good friend of Cadet Lasky, the main character. He’s a fun-loving and skilled computer hacker, and managed to find the classified videos of the first Spartan’s in action. He then completely decrypted them, and out smarted Section II of ONI, or Office of Naval Intelligence. His character serves as a foil, allowing us to learn about the broader world of the HALOverse, and the director did this without making it too obvious that it was happening.
Cadet Chyler Silva: She was one of the secondary point of view characters, and was played by actress Anna Popplewell. Her acting was spot on, and she helped her character serve her role in this film and the HALOverse writ large. She serves as Cadet Lasky’s love interest, and motivates him to do his part. She acknowledges his lofty ambitions, but reminds him that it’s all for naught if nobody follows him. Her character is more than just the love interest, she’s a bad ass in her own right. She’s one of the best marksmen in the squad, and serves as the units sniper during the extraction from the school to the waiting Pelcan shuttle that was to evacuate them off the planet the aliens had captured. She also goes down in HALO lore as the first human to fire the Type-51 Carbine, which was used by alien snipers.
Mast Chief, John-117: He was one of the main point of view characters, and was played by actor Daniel Cudmore. Wow, he stepped into some big shoes, as Master Chief is one of the most iconic science fiction characters in gaming. Not much is known about John-117, he was kidnapped as a baby and raised and then surgically crafted into the ultimate killing machine. In this movie we get to see him from the eyes of the soldiers and sailors he supports, which was extremely refreshing. When stuff hits the fan, he rises to the occasion, but you could do no less as THE Master Chief. The acting was well done, though given the full body costume it wasn’t that hard. There is a lot more out there about this character, but I’m keeping this to what we saw in the movie, so we’ll end this here and keep it spoiler free.
Overall, I will give these characters 5 out of 5 Grenades and can’t wait to see where Microsoft Studios take these characters!
This was a fairly simple plot, and it made the acting by the main characters even more compelling. It was a coming of age story, and an origin story for Thomas Lasky, which tied into the larger HALO canon. Despite the role of this film in the larger universe, you still have a decent plot about a kid at a military school struggling with his role in the world. In this, the opening parts of the movie reminds me of The Lords of Discipline novel by author Pat Conroy. It becomes something more when the aliens show up, you get a standard first contact story full of chaos and confusion. Unlike most of the science fiction I love, this movie wasn’t as action-packed until the end. However, I’m a HALO nut and loved every second of it. I watched it twice, once using this review as an excuse to justify the time away from the keyboard. The story was fun, though it blended the escapism I love with some hefty political and moral themes. Not the in your face moral sermonizing, but it was still an insightful look at the nature of war and insurgencies. I watched this movie with my youngest son on New Years Eve, so this could potentially color my thoughts on the movie. I mean, it’s hard not to enjoy a movie that’s bringing your baby boy so much joy. In a nutshell, the plot was well set-up, and extremely well executed. The build up was slow, but I didn’t care because it was a HALO film. My only concern would be how this would be received by people not already fans of the universe. I think they could still enjoy it, but some of the one star rankings on Amazon suggest a few didn’t. Maybe your mileage will vary, but it’s definitely worth giving it a chance to form your own opinion. That said, I loved it! I again give this movie a 4 out of 5 Grenades!
World Building & Cinematography:
This movie was originally shown as several mini-episodes, and was intended to sell the HALO 4 game. I watched those segments after they were combined and couldn’t tell, so you don’t need to worry that the story was choppy. This movie did a lot to fill out the HALOverse, telling the origin story of Thomas Lasky. He’s an important character in later games, and we meet him as he becomes that man. We get to see his first interaction with the Master Chief, which becomes significant later in the universe. Internally, the story was consistent with itself but there was a problem with how the facts from this story fit within the larger universe. This story was set in 2526, and John-117 introduced himself as “Master Chief,” but his rank at that time would be Petty Officer. Depending on the conflicting canon, he should be a Petty Officer Second Class or a Petty Officer Third Class. I suspect that this was done because of the renown of the character “Master Chief,” and the director wanted name recognition. Everyone knows who he is through his title, so canonical purity was thrown to the side. On the message boards some fans justify this as the narrator of the story, Thomas Lasky, confusing timelines since he was a friend of John-117, who was a Master Chief at the time of the narration of these events. I don’t buy it, since the Master Chief introduced himself as such. That action has implications, and we know through later plot points that Thomas Lasky isn’t an unreliable narrator. Regardless of this, my son and I loved this movie and ignored that minor flaw. Our main complaint was with the lighting choices, it was filmed so darkly that we had to watch it in the pitch black to see all of it. This was done intentionally, clearly to set a dire mood, but it was a bad artistic decision. Otherwise, I loved how the movie used creative camera work to make this world came alive. Seeing a real life Warthog ground vehicle was amazing, as well as the other parts of the game canon, so I loved how that was built-in. I especially loved seeing the ODST Helljumpers fall from the sky, it gave me a case of the feels. Can you tell that I absolutely loved this movie? Can I say that enough? Okay, back to the nitty-gritty of the review. This movie had a very flushed out world that was visual consistent, made sense and sucked you in. The director didn’t reinvent the wheel, but that’s hard to do in a world as deep and rich as the HALOverse. It was an origin story of a principle character, so there wasn’t a lot of wiggle room. Overall, the world building and cinematography was well done, but the canon issues bugged me. The world felt believable, and the characters fit within the universe the director created. It was a fun ride that made me want a sequel, well at least with the characters who made it out alive! I give the world building and cinematography 4 out of 5 Grenades. It would’ve been a 5 if they’d stuck to the canon!
I really loved this movie, it was a lot of fun to watch. I’m a huge fan of this universe, and this gave me everything I love. The visuals of this movie had me hooked, and allowed me to ignore the one place where the canon wasn’t as pure as I would like. To make this better, this movie was well acted, which makes it stand out against movies that count on green screens and tricks to make up for flat acting and flaccid scripts. This was a fun story, and I watched it with my 10-year-old son. We both screamed like loons as we saw Master Chief and the various Covenant aliens come to life. It was glorious, and we nerded out like crazy people. I was glad that the actors did such an outstanding job portraying their characters, and didn’t rest on the laurels of the HALO name. I lost myself in the world that Microsoft Studios built. It brought back the epic space battles I’ve played through the various additions to this gaming universe. I was reminded of the other books in this universe that comforted me when I was going insane after Iraq, so I’m VERY biased on this game. That said, I recognize that this might not apply to everyone. The only reason the movie didn’t get five stars was because of the decision to tell the story out of chronological order, and my understanding that it might not stand alone for those unfamiliar with the game. Overall, they had me hooked from the beginning and kept it going throughout the entire 90 minutes. This is a movie I would happily recommend, and a director I will definitely watch again. Buy or rent this movie! But hey, it’s easy to spend someone else’s money! The movie was so good I can forgive the continuity issue, so I give this film a 4 out of 5 grenades!
Until next time, stay frosty and don’t forget to keep your powder dry!
–> As usual, all images came from the Google’s “labeled for reuse” section or are used on the Fair Use Doctrine.