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The Last of Us Season One – Finally a Good Video Game Adaptation?

SERIES REVIEW – In the adaptation of the Sony PlayStation 3/4/5 legendary post-apocalyptic video game, the majority of humanity has been wiped out after a fungal infection was unleashed on the world that turns humans into bloodthirsty, completely disfigured, zombie-like undead. Bella Ramsey and Pedro Pascal, who play the main survivors, are admirable – which is why this video game adaptation, while not perfect, finally breaks the curse of the almost perpetually lousy video game adaptation genre. Thanks to the Hungarian HBO Max, we could see the first episode in the cinema, and the rest of the first season was shown in the form of beta ‘screeners’ sent out to the press.

 

 

So many zombie series have been made, but perhaps the most memorable is the comic book nightmare of The Walking Dead, which clearly influenced The Last of Us, first released in 2013 on PlayStation 3. At the time, we said it was so cinematic that it would be impossible to make a truly fair film adaptation, so it came as a bit of a surprise when it was first announced that HBO would be making a series based on the hugely popular video game, retelling the game’s relentlessly dark but unflinchingly human story, so it’s not just a case of making a standalone series based on the game’s universe, with a new story.

But if you’re a fan of video games (like us), you’d be unimpressed by the current string of serialised television adaptations. From Paramount Plus’s anaemic Halo series to Netflix’s short-lived extremely trite and by-the-numbers Resident Evil, gamers have been poorly served by TV executives. So when the news broke that Craig Mazin, writer of the critically acclaimed Chernobyl miniseries, was joining forces with Neil Druckmann, creator of one of the most respected games in the format’s history, well, expectations were tempered. Which is why it’s a very pleasant surprise that HBO’s epic retelling of The Last of Us, coming to small screens, is a great surprise all round.

 

 

The silent, stoic veteran and the asymptomatic little girl

 

Pedro Pascal as Joel, the silent veteran. It’s 2003: George W. Bush is smiling down from his classroom wall, and Joel’s truck is emblazoned with an Operation Desert Storm bumper sticker. “Jakarta?” wonders Joel as rumors of a terrible outbreak hit the American airwaves. “Where is that? Middle East?” He soon learns that the Indonesian city is the epicentre of the outbreak. A mutant version of the cordyceps fungus explodes out of a bread factory and blows the world to pieces. Within days, all that remains is a ragtag society of survivors and an Earth run largely by fungus-brained zombies.

That’s where Ellie, played by Bella Ramsey, best known for her role in Game of Thrones, comes in, a 14-year-old girl who may hold the key to ridding the world of the virus. Joel’s mission is to smuggle her safely out of the quarantine zone and into a group of resistance fighters. The catch? Ellie’s been bitten, though the infection doesn’t seem to be spreading. “Don’t talk about this kid like she’s got any life left in her,” Joel tells his partner Tess (Anna Torv of Mindhunteres) when they get their instructions. But Ellie does have life ahead of her; only first she has to stick her knife into the skulls of a bunch of drooling undead.

 

 

Great actors for almost every character

 

The casting of the central duo of The Last of Us, both alumni of the Big Dragon and Ice Zombie series, is no accident. Pascal has forged an amazing TV career on the fan-favourite Game of Thrones, which lasted just eight episodes. After Narcos and Mandalorian, this is Pascal’s third starring role post-Westeros. (Although he also gave a memorable performance in Wonder Woman 1984, where “Life is good! But it can be better!” became a real internet meme.) Pascal is a reliable star, playing macho yet often sensitive, disconnected men who often punch rather than talk.

Bella Ramsey, meanwhile, excels in the line of the precocious but lovable teenager. “You ask a lot of goddamn questions,” Joel growls at her as she babbles on and on across the lonely coniferous wasteland. Many Last of Us fans are annoyed that Ramsey is not a pretty girl and doesn’t look anything like Ellie, but in this series she has given such a convincing, even outstanding, performance that I think angry fans will be relieved to be confronted with it.

For me, as a fan of The Last of Us, the choice of Tess, played in the game by Annie Wersching from 24 – at once very attractive, dynamic and charismatic – was more confusing than Ellie, and here Tess is an unconvincing Anna Torv. Part of the reason for this is that one of her iconic scenes (when Joel and Robert ‘meet’ the gun-napper) has been carefully reined in, and part of the reason why her character is much less charismatic and cruel: she lacks the ruthless, cynical, determined (but still attractive) survivor that Tess was so typical of in the game. I had no such problem with the other characters, and I particularly liked that the two main characters in the game, Troy Baker and Ashley Johnson, each make a brief cameo in the series.

 

 

The story was great, but the action was more “anemic”

 

The central question in evaluating The Last of Us is how effectively it steps outside its video game roots. Video games are interactive, asking players to actively engage in storytelling, while other mediums want us to be passive. The challenge for writers translating such stories into new formats is how to maintain this magic.

Since The Last of Us is also a game that tells a completely linear story, the most the creators had to do was to think about how far to deviate from it or how much to preserve the original thread. While there are a lot of changes, the story hasn’t fundamentally changed and there are plenty of gimmicks, largely one-to-one dialogue and scenes that fans can’t complain about in terms of story.

What’s oddly more disappointing about The Last of Us, and odd for an action-horror series, is the fact that the series is much more anaemic in terms of action sequences – in every sense of the word. I’ve played through The Last of Us a total of six times, so, and in certain scenes of the game I’ve come to expect some heavy action, by comparison we either get none or often just some extremely brief and restrained killing. This, by the way, is striking not only in comparison to the game, but also to, say, a series like The Walking Dead.

Of course, there’s no shortage of impressive scenes, with scenes of deserted, bombed-out metropolises and shots of rural America with a western feel. The imagery of the series is also original: mushrooms blossom from corpses, while strange flowers cast an unearthly pattern against desolate cityscapes.

The Last of Us is undoubtedly a new landmark in the hitherto rather depressing line of video game adaptations. While not all aspects of the classic PlayStation game experience have been carried over, and some of the character choices will be divisive among fans, there is no doubt that the hand of Druckmann, who worked with Mazin, is at work in this series that is at once extremely cruel and yet genuinely human. So, there’s every chance that HBO has another huge hit on its hands with The Last of Us.

-BadSector-

 

SERIES REVIEW - In the adaptation of the Sony PlayStation 3/4/5 legendary post-apocalyptic video game, the majority of humanity has been wiped out after a fungal infection was unleashed on the world that turns humans into bloodthirsty, completely disfigured, zombie-like undead. Bella Ramsey and Pedro Pascal, who play the main survivors, are admirable - which is why this video game adaptation, while not perfect, finally breaks the curse of the almost perpetually lousy video game adaptation genre. Thanks to the Hungarian HBO Max, we could see the first episode in the cinema, and the rest of the first season was…
The Last of Us is undoubtedly a new landmark in the hitherto rather depressing line of video game adaptations. While not all aspects of the classic PlayStation game experience have been carried over, and some of the character choices will be divisive among fans, there is no doubt that the hand of Druckmann, who worked with Mazin, is at work in this series that is at once extremely cruel and yet genuinely human. So, there's every chance that HBO has another huge hit on its hands with The Last of Us.

The Last of Us Season One

Direction - 8.2
Actors - 8.4
Story - 7.8
Visuels/Action - 7.8
Hangulat - 8.6

8.2

EXCELLENT

The Last of Us is undoubtedly a new landmark in the hitherto rather depressing line of video game adaptations. While not all aspects of the classic PlayStation game experience have been carried over, and some of the character choices will be divisive among fans, there is no doubt that the hand of Druckmann, who worked with Mazin, is at work in this series that is at once extremely cruel and yet genuinely human. So, there's every chance that HBO has another huge hit on its hands with The Last of Us.

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