After 'Halo' Movie Debacle, Microsoft Is Master Chief Of Its Own Destiny

'Halo' aims to break the Hollywood curse

Microsoft and 343 industries aren’t getting into the cinema, they’re sidestepping it entirely as an obsolete technology. Halo 4: Forward Unto Dawn is a 90-minute, $10 million dollar movie, and if you’re wondering why you haven’t heard about its upcoming release, it’s because it’s already out. The new movie follows the a squad of military cadets as they gradually learn how to be soldiers and then, very suddenly, learn that they’re under alien attack. Finally, they learn that Master Chief kicks ass. But gamers already knew that.

Microsoft's 'Halo' movie

Master Chief is the ultimate tough guy. A bulletproof power-armored soldier, faceless by design behind his golden visor, all he does is sleep and fight. Literally: They keep him in cryosleep until its time for him to open another can of interstellar whoop-ass. He’s so self-sufficient an action star that he even carries his own damsel in distress with him, Cortana, an improbably scantily clad female AI  that's been loaded into the computers in his armor.  (This enables her to call him long-distance when the bad guys get her.)

Given those credentials, how insane is it that he and Halo haven’t been in the cinema?  Think about it: Halo is one of the most popular gaming franchises in history. It's the face of an entire console generation, a multi-billion-dollar phenomenon that generates block-long lines with the release of every new chapter of the game and opening weekend sales that would make most movie producers and studios weep into their cayenne-pepper cleansing smoothies. Even novels based on the game have  been bestsellers, and novels based on games have a worse reputation than the used socks of gamers.

Halo would seem to have all the ingredients for an awesome summer tentpole picture: An inscrutable tough guy teams with unlikely allies to battle invading aliens and, along the way, encounters enough twists and support characters to support a full trilogy. (Sergeant Johnson alone deserves his own movie). And yet, Halo has been knocking around Hollywood production hell for seven years. In that time, the franchise has produced five more games, including a remake of the original 2001 game, Halo: Combat Evolved.

Microsoft's 'Halo' movieAn early script was written by Alex Garland, whose merciless Dredd 3D demonstrates that he’s the perfect writer for tough-guy-in-helmet-kills-everything plots. In 2005, Peter Jackson came on board as executive producer and Neill Blomkamp, who would go on to make  District 9, was set to direct, and for a few months gamers could dream that a Halo movie was about to become computer-generated reality.

Given the sweeping battles that Jackson depicted so vividly in LOTR, we envisioned breathtaking footage of the epic space combat only hinted at in Combat Evolved, alongside the close-range futuristic firefights the game was all about. (Even fanfic that combined both franchises sounded possible. Imagine a crossover in which Legolas swings up around the turrets of a giant Covenant Scarab to shove an Energy Sword through its core, while Gimli clubs Brutes with their own gravity hammers and shouts “That still only counts as one point!”)

Ironically, the huge financial potential of the Halo film is what ultimately doomed it. Microsoft saw the property as nothing less than the ultimate game movie and wanted to be compensated accordingly. Twentieth Century Fox and Universal initially partnered to take on the challenge, but the project collapsed over costs. The rights reverted to Microsoft, which was left with a money-minting game franchise that no one wanted to mint money with via a movie.

Which may be why Microsoft is rolling out Plan B on its own.

The company has a can’t-miss franchise and a vast entertainment network already wired to Halo's target market. It’s no secret that Microsoft and Sony have been positioning their Xbox and PS3 consoles as home-entertainment centers for years now. Gamers can stream Netflix movies through the former and watch Blu-Ray discs on the latter. And now here comes Microsoft with its very own content: Halo 4: Forward Unto Dawn, a live-action web series tied to the Nov. 6 release of the Halo 4 game.

Microsoft-owned 343 Industries has produced five 20-minute  webisodes, which if you add them up clock in at the length of a feature film. Then again, the shows are released weekly and distributed through Machinima, host to several popular video game series. The series is essentially an extended advertisement for the Halo games, but that doesn't make it any less good. George Lucas kept Star Wars fans coming back to the cantina by expanding the universe and telling the story of brand new characters. With Forward Unto Dawn, the lines between advertising and content are blurred in a way that it's possible to enjoy both.

This advertising pedigree also helps with production: Microsoft is using everything it knows about Internet marketing, which includes building interest in the series by slipping in hints about the hotly-anticipated Halo 4 game. The teaser trailer told fans everything they need to know:

We’re sure a certain officer Lasky will turn up the upcoming Halo 4.

Impressively, Microsoft is now taking the “pay if you want to” model of many independent internet creators. The entire series runs free for everyone on YouTube, and will later be available for sale as a standalone DVD or — much more likely for most fans — an extra in a Collector’s Edition of Halo 4. That’s the exact opposite of cinema: you get to see whether you like it first, then you can pay some money. Most modern movies wouldn’t survive under those conditions.

This is a test. Microsoft has a can’t-miss canon, an established fanbase, its very own distribution network, and a healthy love of making money. The producers of Resident Evil: Damnation recently avoided cineplexes entirely (possibly because it’s offended by the live-action movies), and marketed the movie directly to its hardcore fan base  — via their consoles — a week before the DVD was released. If this series succeeds, it won’t just be a good collection of YouTube clips — it’ll be proof that movies don't belong exclusively to the movie industry.

Luke McKinney loves the real world, but only because it has movies and video games in it. He responds to every tweet.

Follow Luke McKinney on Twitter.

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  • Fuck u says:

    Fuck Halo, Fuck Microsoft and last but not the least, Fuck Luke

  • Ron says:

    nice article

  • Nosgoth1979 says:

    That big-budget movie could have been awesome, but at least Forward Unto Dawn came out considerably better than I’d have ever expected. I was really hoping they’d come out with a Blu-Ray version, and now here we have it! Watching the web series on my 14” laptop just isn’t going to compare with a Blu-Ray on my big screen in the living room with the surround sound cranked up. One of my coworkers at DISH was actually the one that told me Forward Unto Dawn was out on video, so I promptly put it in my Blockbuster @Home queue. I don’t really like the idea of buying something I can see for free online, but I still want to see it on Blu-Ray with the extra features. DISH’s Blockbuster @Home is a subscription rental service for movies and video games. In fact, that’s how I rent most of my games. Between only buying the Blu-Rays I REALLY want to own (i.e. watch over and over, or as a collector’s edition), and only buying the games that have a ton of replay value and renting the rest, I’ve been saving more money than I’d realized I was spending on movies and games!

  • Stv says:

    Saw it last weekend.They say 10 Million,I couldn't tell.Thought they did a GREAT job.You would think they would have more of these movies to attract more neople to the gaming community.

  • hales yea says:

    If you do not like HALO then FUCK YOU!!! Go suck a dick bitch

  • Ayo says:

    You cant really tell if this was a budget film. story, is stellar and just as expected from halo. hope to see more of forward unto dawn. kudos to microsoft fir a job well done.
    now if konami could do desame with metal gear solid.....

  • pop it in ur mouth says:


  • Darren says:

    Microsoft became what it is because of the PC. Halo became what it is because it was released on PC. The fact that they will not port any of the Halo sequels to PC is a shame and an insult to the people who made it what it is. Microsoft should be ashamed. They are just a bunch of greedy punks who have the money to put out a film just for "the fans". Go fuck yourself Microsoft.

  • animedude5555 says:

    This will be a CG film. It deserves to be a live action film. I already have seen a halo CG film. It is one of the eps in Halo Legends. ;MS is DUMB!

  • Phryxil says:

    I love how all these nearsighted, jaded, entitled pricks are bitching and moaning over detail and trivia, entirely missing the point that media production/distribution as we know it is evolving into something unfathomably cool, and that the Corporate Giants are taking their cues from independent creators, paving the way for an unparalleled golden age of human creativity. Dumb people are hilarious!

  • b says:

    Awesome movie...that's All

  • james says:

    The halo 4 movie was a cool movie if your a halo fan.

  • J. Reyes says:

    Watching TV and gaming aint the same without surround sound!

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