Typically, we don’t have a lot of reasons to watch a YouTube video longer than 3-4 minutes. Anything longer won’t hold our attention, and most everything that long won’t pay off enough to be worth the time. If it was of a quality to keep us engaged, it wouldn’t be on the internet. It’d be on real TV, right?
Until Microsoft spent almost $10 million on a web series inspired by its flagship Xbox game, Halo, that would be correct. Forward Unto Dawn focuses on the back story of a commanding officer featured in Halo 4. They didn’t choose to focus on the larger-than-life epic main character of the Master Chief, who anchors the main games of the Halo series. An odd choice, until you remember that they’re keeping their fingers crossed for another shot at the big budget Halo feature film that almost went forward a few years ago.
The effects, especially considering the budget, are flawless. But they did make this about character and an inner journey, about a cadet wrestling with the moral ambiguity of the war he’s in. Do we tthink that might resonate with some people living today? Don’t worry; there’s still plenty of battles, aliens, iconic Halo technology, and, of course, explosions. However, the character deals with inner conflict on a deeper level than in the game. The series explores a central question, "is our society worth fighting for?" This is an important aspect of any media, a thesis, and it’s omitted all too often.
The series isn’t perfect, by any means. But it’s better than lots of movies I’ve been tricked into paying good money for this summer. Certain scenes won’t have any meaning whatsoever to people who don’t know anything about Halo. But the series as a whole still works.
Machinima, the YouTube network behind Halo 4: Forward Unto Dawn, also produced Mortal Kombat: Legacy awhile back. Honestly, I couldn’t get through MKL. Lots of scenes didn’t work, characters were unbelievable, dialogue was often cliché, and the stellar effects and action didn’t make up for it. It was a high end project that left the viewer dissatisfied. I expected the same from Halo 4: FUD.
But I didn’t feel that way. Halo delivered. Not only did I watch the whole first episode, I came back for more. Four times more, in fact. That’s a telling measure of entertainment. I wanted more of it. I’ll admit that I love the Halo universe and storyline, so I’m not exactly an unbiased observer. But I’m critical of the stories I chose to watch. And I chose to watch this one.
For ten million bucks, Halo 4: Forward Unto Dawn did a lot of things that 200 million plus movies like Prometheus and The Dark Knight Rises couldn’t do: make sense. At a time when Hollywood is forced to become alienatingly broad, quality springs up from new sources. I only hope new media and original start getting the eyeballs and attention they’re beginning to deserve.