Stop me if you’ve heard this before. A video game is being adapted to a visual medium (such as a movie or a TV show) and it ends up failing at capturing the charm of the source material. Video game adaptations continue to be deemed as “cursed” and we ponder why producers keep green-lighting them.
This may have been the situation ever since video game adaptations flooded the screens in the 90s, but in recent years, the curse seems to have been broken.
We’ve watched enjoyable on-screen adaptations such as Castlevania, The Cuphead Show, and Detective Pikachu, proving to audience members that you can make even the most ridiculous concept work on the big screen. Let’s not forget to mention that Sonic the Hedgehog has been doing great both in theaters and on television.
When it was announced that Naughty Dog’s The Last of Us was going to be adapted into a TV show on HBO Max, I honestly wasn’t sure what to think. On the one hand, I love the original game and I continue to hold it with the best possible regard. It’s a game that had me experiencing a wide range of emotions: happiness, uncertainty, intense fear, and so many other things. Knowing that more people would be exposed to the same experiences through a TV show, not to mention that the plot can fit in such a format, left me excited!
Sadly, however, I had some concerns regarding this announcement, mainly because of the disappointing and controversial sequel and the pathetic, full price asked for a remake of the first game that featured hardly any changes. While no one will ever take away from the first game, how the franchise evolved since 2013 didn’t strike the right chords for me, and it made me fear the show will either be an 'award grab' like The Last of Us Part II was or a cash grab like the remake.
Now, here we are after the premiere of the first episode and after watching it with my good friend Priya Sridhar (who doesn’t know the game besides my ramblings about it) I can say that I enjoyed it. Loved it, actually!
It may be too early to judge the entire show now, based solely on the first episode, but if this is any indication of what’s to come, I can’t wait to see what’s in store! Fans of the original game will enjoy what the show offers, from familiar moments to story additions that are interesting and don't detract from the story. Newcomers are in for an intense ride upon which they’ll be excited to embark (bonus points if they’re Pedro Pascal fans).
Filling in the Gaps
If I have to pick the show's biggest achievement, it has to be the addition of scenes that were not featured in the games. It’s done in such a way that enhances the story and immerses the audience in this fictional take on the world. One scene I enjoyed and achieved this balance is the opening of the show where we see a scientist explaining the fungus and how dangerous it is during a TV show long before the events even take place. The game explains what caused the outbreak and goes into how the virus functions, but opening with that explanation felt like an entertaining and clever way to get through the exposition.
The show also provides an influx of character interactions not explicitly seen within the video game. We see this through the conversation between Ellie, the protagonist, and Marlene, the leader of the Fireflies. Within the first episode, we see Marlene attempting to buy the sarcastic teen’s trust, including directly referencing her deceased friend and lover Riley.
In the original game, when we met Ellie, she and Marlene were already familiar with each other because of events that took place off-screen. Seeing how the two met on-screen and Ellie’s sarcastic nature clashing with Marlene’s dominating one was a delight. It provided further dimension to the already layered story and cast.
The Last of Us does a fantastic job helping us care and invest in the characters. The show takes it further, providing additional scenes of Joel with his daughter, Sara. We see the relationship between the two, along with their hometown, preparing itself for the outbreak. The show pays its respects to the game but adds details to create novelty to scenes I already knew were coming.
I’m not ashamed to admit that Sara’s death in the original game caught me off-guard, and I was tearing up for a character I just met. While I knew Sara would not live past episode one, her death still hit hard. With the show allowing me to get to know her further and see her relationship with her father, it brought a new ache with her passing.
Familiar Locations & Strong Acting
Adding additional material is not the sole strong point of the show. The locations and poignant moments from the game exist within the show.
The shots of Boston look exactly like the views you’d experience when exploring the rundown location in the game. The scenes taken from the game carry the same weight and emotional impact they did almost a decade ago.
Even the opening sequence depicting the evolution of the fungus and accompanied by the now iconic theme music for The Last of Us got me giddy and hit a wonderful note. It's clear that the show in no way wants to redefine this beloved game, but give it a new venue where it can shine again.
Great scenes are nothing without outstanding performances, however. The actors chosen to portray the characters in this live-action show are, mostly, great. The infamous Pedro Pascal plays Joel Miller and, from the way he looks, moves, and talks, he holds the same on-screen ground as Troy Baker did. I didn’t see the guy from The Mandalorian doing a side thing for a paycheck, I saw Joel!
The same could be said for Merle Dandridge as Marlene, which shouldn’t be surprising, considering she also played the character in the game. She keeps the same impressive performance and the new scenes given to the character help the show feel both familiar and yet fresh.
Bella Ramsey as Ellie captures the same snark and anger which made the character’s original portrayal by Ashley Johnson so iconic. I found myself once again laughing at her snark and being involved in her sorrow just like I did in the game… even if I found her a bit miscast. Do not misunderstand me, Bella Ramsey is a phenomenal actress and I’m sure she’ll continue to do the character justice later on in the show. However, when you compare how alike Pedro Pascal is to Joel; the slight visual difference with Ellie becomes noticeable, even if it doesn’t take away from a phenomenal performance.
While we’re on that note, Anna Torv as Tess also didn’t fit the character in the best way possible. I stress again that Torv did well in the role, if not great! Sadly, however, she felt like the only one who I felt was playing a character instead of embracing the part fully. Gabriel Luna, as Tommy on the other hand, did great with what he had and he also resembles his game counterpart, but as for the first episode, he had little to do in order to make a final judgment.
I’m aware Nico Parker looks nothing like the original Sarah, but there was something about her portrayal which I ended up preferring over the original. Maybe it was because she had more to do and more scenes in which I got to know her beyond being “Joel’s sweet daughter, who was tragically killed.” The scenes where Parker expanded what was offered in the game helped develop the character as opposed to Torv, who had to play the same role with minimal changes and just didn’t hit the target for me.
Fans of The Last of Us can rejoice as the adaptation — as far as the first episode is concerned — lives up to the quality of the game. Will the rest of the show fair up just as well as this one episode? It’s hard to say right now, but I can at least say that I’m very optimistic regarding the future of the show.
Once the season completes its run, I’ll be coming back to give my full thoughts on it. At the time of this first episode, though? It seems like we’re not seeing the last of the good video game adaptations soon.
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