The Last of Us was making waves even back when all Naughty Dog had to show were snippets of footage during the Spike Video Game Awards presentation on December 10, 2011. People were lining up to see this ‘promised’ new generation of survival horror that The Last of Us could provide for video games. Once it was released in 2013, the game instantly became a smash hit among critics and gamers alike. Its gameplay, story and characters were highly praised.
With its level of success, it’s no surprise that talks of an adaptation started up eventually. In March 2020, HBO greenlit a live-action The Last of Us series, developed by Craig Mazin (Chernobyl) and Neil Druckmann. The series stars Pedro Pascal as Joel and Bella Ramsey as Ellie, and the show is expected to be released in 2023.
What is The Last of Us?
So, what exactly is The Last of Us about? It is an action-adventure game created by Naughty Dog and released by Sony Computer Entertainment in 2013. The story follows Joel, a smuggler sent to accompany a teenage girl named Ellie across a post-apocalyptic America, who might just be the key to curing the world. In order to protect themselves from hostile humans and cannibalistic monsters infected by a mutated Cordyceps fungus, players use firearms, homemade weaponry, and stealth tactics.
One of the most celebrated titles of the PS3 era, the game has gone on to win several accolades, such as the 41st Annie Awards, The A.V. Club, the British Academy Video Games Awards, and more. The portrayal of female and LGBT characters, as well as the plot and subtext, visual and audio design, received high praise from reviewers. It has been ranked among the best video games of all time and is regarded as one of the most important seventh-generation titles. Many critics praised the characters, particularly Joel and Ellie’s connection, pointing out how realistic and heartfelt it was.
The original game will be remade for the Playstation 5 sometime in September with updated gameplay, controls, performance, and accessibility features. The remake could be a great way to experience the series’ story for the first time if you’re interested in starting it because, as the trailer indicates, it has much better graphics and excellent environmental detail. 2020 saw the successful release of The Last of Us Part II, a darker tale starring Ellie, who seeks vengeance after a tragedy, and Abby, a soldier caught up in a fight between her militia and a religious cult.
Will it fall victim to the videogame adaptation curse?
There has been an abundance of videogame adaptations in recent years, almost as though Hollywood executives have finally realized the amount of money to be made from the rising popularity of games. However, there are still many adaptations that have not gotten it right, ignoring the canon of the games in order to dumb down the storyline and keep it understandable for the average audience. One of the more recent videogame adaptations, which wasn’t well received among the fanbase, was the Halo series on Paramount+. Steven Kane, the executive producer of the Halo series, explained the creative process behind Paramount’s take on Halo in an interview with Variety, saying they didn’t look at or consider the games. Kane said, “We didn’t look at the game. We didn’t talk about the game. We talked about the characters and the world.” With that in mind, it is no wonder why so many videogame adaptations fail to meet fan expectations.
The fact that the people in charge of making adaptations are unfamiliar with the source material or would prefer to keep the game’s lore but strip away the characters and plot in favour of a new one, may be the main reason why most videogame adaptations fall flat. Fortunately, this doesn’t seem to be the case with The Last of Us, as the co-creator, Neil Druckmann himself is involved in the series, and will even direct an episode.
He revealed to IGN that some episodes of the show closely follow the games and even borrow entire lines of dialogue from them and, “ sometimes they deviate greatly to much better effect because we are dealing with a different medium,” said Druckmann.
The creative team inspires hope
Craig Mazin, the creative force behind the acclaimed miniseries Chernobyl, will be writing the series along with Neil Druckmann. In an interview for BBC Sounds’ Must Watch, Mazin said of the adaptation, “The one anxiety I think fans of something have is that, when the property gets licensed to someone else, those people don’t really understand it, or are gonna change it, or make it stupid. And in this case, I’m doing it with the guy [Druckmann] who did it. And so the changes that we’re making are designed to fill things out and expand. Not to undo, but rather to enhance.”
Troy Baker, who previously played Joel in the games, is replaced by Pedro Pascal in the HBO adaptation. It’s clear that Pascal has a handle on this paternal role after playing another father figure who must protect a younger companion on a risky journey twice before (The Mandalorian, Prospect). Bella Ramsey plays Ellie in the series, and Gabriel Luna plays Joel’s brother, Tommy. Troy Baker and Ashley Johnson, who play Joel and Ellie in the videogame series will have new roles in the upcoming series.
A huge budget for the series has also been rumoured, which implies HBO is more than ready to pay enough to make the programme feel more post-apocalyptic than The Walking Dead. The series, which brought in more than $200 million for Alberta, is the biggest television production in Canadian history, according to CBC News. For those worried about how the Clickers, Bloaters, or zombies will appear in The Last of Us, prosthetics were created by Game of Thrones’ award-winning prosthetic designer Barrie Gower. Additionally, he contributed to The Witcher, Chernobyl, Stranger Things, and House of the Dragon.
More character work, less action
Neil Druckmann also teased that the HBO adaptation will focus more on character drama than action, which is something HBO content excels at. “HBO’s been great in pushing us to move away from hardcore action and focus more on the drama of the character,” says Neil Druckmann, “Some of my favourite episodes so far have deviated greatly from the story, and I can’t wait for people to see them.”
My expectations for this adaption substantially increase at this point. Despite the fact that The Last of Us is an action-oriented game, action scenes have to be inserted into the game to break up the pace of the cinematics and keep people interested. However, as Druckmann noted, there isn’t a requirement for greater action on television, allowing the creative team to concentrate on enhancing the drama and characters in order to amplify the plot.
HBO is recognised for their complex character dramas (The Sopranos, Succession, The Wire). Given that the adaptation’s major emphasis is on character work and drama (aspects of the game that were lauded), there is no question that the series will live up to the games, and might even elevate the source material.