By Jose Anguiano – Cinematic Bandicoot
March 13th, 2023
Despite the repetitive headlines from entertainment journalists, the 2010’s broke the video game adaptation curse.
While not all adaptations are great, a majority of them are either critical hits like Netflix’s “Castlevania” or make enough money to justify a sequel like “Uncharted”. In fact, “Sonic the Hedgehog” accomplished both.
HBO Max’s “The Last of Us”, based on the acclaimed Naughty Dog title, knows that video games are better suited for television instead of movies now that the days of high scores and kill screens are a thing of the past.
Without a runtime of the extended “Lord of the Rings” trilogy, half the dialogue would be rushed exposition as Joel Miller (Pedro Pascal) escorts Ellie (Bella Ramsey) across the country to the fireflies so they can find a cure for a cordyceps outbreak.
Thankfully, nine episodes is enough to encapsulate the strong narrative that deals with loss, moving on, and finding the light in the darkness.
All the themes and ideas are kept intact, though some original plot elements are abandoned early on to focus on the characters, like the infected using tendrils to detect humans.
Elements that were left vague in the game are expanded upon like…
Bill and Frank’s (Nick Offerman and Murray Bartlett) backstory, which depicts them as a same-sex couple.
In the developer commentary, Baker and Druckmann left it up to the player’s interpretation, but the show went in a more conclusive direction.
Following this revelation, people complained that this took a huge liberty from the game, despite everything else being verbatim.
Though it takes time to get used to this detour, it pays off by delving into an unseen side of Bill’s personality – one whose conspiracy theory life is challenged when someone juxtaposes his isolated way of living.
Bill and Frank share amazing chemistry as they try to live a normal life against clickers and raiders, though it’s odd that no many of the latter invade a town with lots of supplies.
Sure, it doesn’t connect to the big picture, but there is more to “The Last of Us” than clickers.
Plus, their story crosses paths with Joel and Tess, bringing everything together.
And for those who played the game, it adds more surprises to an adaptation that’s been mostly loyal at this point.
The same thing happened to episode seven, which adapted the “American Dreams” comic book and the “Left Behind” downloadable content.
The difference is that Ellie’s sexuality is cannon in the game.
With all the complaints about Disney’s approach to inclusiveness, it does not make sense to whine about a mature rated series based on a mature rated video game being “woke”.
If anything, it contradicts the “think of our children” argument that surfaced against “Lightyear” and “Strange World” when any media that tries to be inclusive is criticized despite aiming for a broader audience.
When the clickers make their first appearance, it’s one of the most intense sequences in any zombie adventure.
The designs and prosthetics are so believable that it should qualify for an Emmy in makeup.
Fans of the game apparently auditioned to become these monsters, and their knowledge of the source paid on in pulling fear over the audience when a single noise breaks everyone’s cover.
Meanwhile, the cinematography is some of the best on television as locations from the game like the angled buildings, illuminated malls and snowy landscapes are brought to life with the same care and attention to detail.
They’re bleak and crumbling at the hands of time while being retaken by nature – it’s like a graphic novel come to life.
It also helps that composer Gustavo Santaolalla returned to score the music that recaptures the bleak atmosphere, like when Joel mows down fireflies to save Ellie in the season finale.
Troy Baker’s performance as Joel is hard to topple, but Pascal perfectly captures his sorrow and hardened exterior as this adds more backstory before and after the epidemic.
Some say he’s too soft compared to the game and part of that is true.
In the game, Joel was grittier compared to several moments that tone down his tough personality to make him relatable in a different light.
But Pascal knows when to downplay the anger and when to let his fists talk.
Meanwhile, Ramsey sells Ellie’s hidden timidness too well to come across as rebellious upon first glance.
However, once the “Left Behind” chapter begins, she pulls a 180 with her angsty young adult spirit with enough f-bombs to nuke an entire country.
Additionally, original cast members like Baker, Ashley Johnson, and Laura Bailey portray several secondary characters.
Not only are these fun easter eggs for fans, but the cast goes out of their way to pass the torch to their television successors.
David is just as creepy as a preacher, even with a clean shave and haircut.
Ellie’s mother gets one of the most heart-breaking scenes before the season wraps up.
And maybe one nurse might set up a certain character in the future.
Though like book snobs, there are moments in the series that were better in the game.
Other than that, season one of “The Last of Us” proves that people are taking video game adaptations more seriously than in the 1990s.
The acting is perfect, the liberties are beneficial to the complex narrative, the clickers are some of the best practical costumes in the new decade, the cinematography is ripped straight from the art book, and the easter eggs are fun nuggets in a world on the brink of collapse.
Would it have been better to see more clickers? Yes, but the first season of any show does not have much of a budget to work with.
Fans of the show will be more than satisfied with this adaptation while newcomers can use it as a jumping off point for medium.
But with a second season now greenlit, no one knows how the polarizing sequel will be handled going forward.
It could be better, or it could be just as dividing.
For now, this is another example other filmmakers should follow, lest they end up in a sequel to Luke Owen’s book “Lights, Camera, Game Over!: How Video Game Movies Get Made”.
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