Speaking to The Telegraph ahead of the first episode of HBO’s The Last of Us, showrunner Craig Mazin said he “cheated” by choosing “the greatest story” to break the video game curse in television and movie adaptations, if that’s the case. it was never mentioned in the media’. While the latter claim is debatable, after watching the first two episodes of The Last of Us, there’s definitely some truth to the cheating part.
In many scenes, The Last of Us is not an adaptation, but a one-to-one remake of original composer Gustavo Santaoalla’s acoustic guitar, with lines taken directly from co-producer Neil Druckmann’s original video game, from the moment his acoustic guitar bent over the credits. scenario and recreating some of the close-up and framing shots often seen with only a handheld controller. I have never seen a video game resource treated with such respect. And for good reason. Developer Naughty Dog created the PlayStation game with the same flair and speed and characterization as a prestigious TV series, so the ‘cheat’ as Mazin puts it is twofold. The result is a highly cohesive, exciting and impressive blockbuster television piece, at least based on the first episodes.
Much of this depends on the selection made in the process, of course the most important is the cast. Pedro Pascal has star power as Joel Miller, but he also broods over everyone extremely well. While neither his beard nor his Texas accent are as thick as Joel’s (played by veteran voice actor Troy Baker) videogame, the essence of the character is the same – he’s a broken, ruthless, and terribly grumpy squirrel. At the beginning of the mushroom-filled, post-apocalyptic dystopia, it’s clear that America finds itself out to be that Joel isn’t one of the good guys; He makes dope deals in the backyard with his oppressive Quarantine guards and is all too ready to beat the snots of anyone who looks at him funny.
Most of the other characters follow a similar trend in emulating video game inspirations. Anna Torv is wonderfully prickly as Joel’s accomplice Tess (originally played by Annie Wersching), while Merle Dandridge as the rebel leader Marlene is the only actor in the series to reprise her role from the play.
Bella Ramsey is a little different as Ellie, the teenage girl Joel and Tess are assigned by Marlene to transport to Boston. But just a little. In the play, Ellie (played by Ashley Johnson) is belligerent and cold-blooded, but she has a softer side and a wide-eyed worldview. Ramsey’s Ellie is, by comparison, angry and slurred and reluctant to sit down and get her first treatment by the Fireflies and Joel’s indifference. I think it’s just a small change for the better that strengthens that side of Ellie and takes more steps towards the character she’s destined to be. Still, I’m waiting for some of that softness to unfold after the trio crosses the Quarantine zone and enters the wreckage and wonder of the world that existed before Ellie was born.
For someone who has played The Last of Us many times, the most interesting thing about watching Mazin and HBO’s adaptation are the differences and additions. A full 1:1 recreation is useless, as you’ll have to spend a lot of time watching Joel move the planks and crab-walk through rundown offices, sweeping every visible roll of adhesive tape and scissors. Or getting your neck chewed by a mushroom zombie and retried several times in a row. These gaps have been filled by some clever TV detours that are very different from anything else in the game, but only serve to enrich the story rather than overwrite it. Particularly chilling was the ‘double preface’ of John Hannah’s first chapter, in which the scientist from the 1960s explains in horrific detail the potential for a fungal epidemic that has taken over humanity’s brains and crushed society as we know it. He wasn’t involved in this game and certainly had the pragmatic horror of Mazin’s Chernobyl series. Yes, zombies no matter how you dress; but seeing it laid out in such scientific terms was a great way to grab the audience’s attention right away.
The slowdown 2003 sequence, which saw the infection spread, was a key extension of the game’s heartbreaking prologue. Spending more time with Joel’s daughter Sarah (Nico Parker), the first hints of the cordyceps apocalypse swirling around are horribly executed. And the blurry image of an old lady who becomes one of the first victims of fungi while Sarah is sifting through a DVD collection is one that will haunt me anytime soon.
This particular passage concludes with a thrilling car chase that ends in the world, it was pulled tight and agile; victims pouring into the camera, who are infected and rotate from bars to streets of chaos, to burning buildings, between Joel and his brother in the front and a terrified Sarah in the back. My wife, who watched with me and hadn’t played the game, was particularly impressed and said she hadn’t seen anything like it, but that it felt like a video game. And she did it as another faithful recreation of a scene from PlayStation. It was impressive enough in-game, so achieving that in live-action was no small feat. And it is done absolutely at no small expense.
But he summed up how The Last of Us balances itself out; has no shame in leaning on a video game. Much of the so-called “curse” of garbage video game adaptations has come to studios that either shy away from playing to the game’s strengths or become pastiche by acting so campy and silly. Blockbuster video games do action extremely well, so why not borrow some of that flair for your big action set?
Add in the depth of character and world building that a TV show can spend more time on and you have a good partnership. In fact, I would prefer The Last of Us to move away from the game in some parts as the series progresses and to progress in paths that none of us have seen before. But if it retains the spirit and atmosphere of its source, as in the first hits, then we’re all in for a winner.