When it comes to film or TV series adaptations of video games, there’s only a very small handful that has actually worked, such as “Arcane,” “Silent Hill,” “Sonic the Hedgehog” and “Castlevania”.
Most have fallen by the wayside, including some very high-profile titles. Why that is has long been debated, but the number of adaptations on the way is only growing with the “Uncharted” film and “Halo” series earlier this year and several more set for release next year.
In a large profile piece in The New Yorker, the makers of HBO’s “The Last of Us” – namely “Chernobyl” showrunner Craig Mazin and the original game’s creator Neil Druckmann – have spoken about why so many have failed before them and how their new take will be the “the best, most authentic game adaptation” according to Druckmann.
Mazin says when it comes to succeeding with adaptations of games, it’s “not the highest bar in the world,” and he cheated with this HBO series by “taking the one with the best story”. Their approach isn’t to recreate a 1:1 representation of the game, instead they plan to remain faithful to the source material but adapt it to the new medium.
The result is the world-building, characters and even a good bunch of dialogue is lifted directly from the game, but the “connective tissue around them appears to be grounded in a story that appeals to the medium,” says the outlet. The result is less about ammunition collecting and shiv-ing infected and more about the emotional impact and stakes for the characters.
Mazin talks about one notoriously failed adaptation that came from an acclaimed filmmaker and boasted a strong cast: “Like, I love Assassin’s Creed. But when they announced that they were gonna make it as a movie, I was like ‘I don’t know how!’. Because the joy of it is the gameplay. The story is impenetrable.”
Druckmann adds that: “The other thing that people get wrong is that they think people want to see the gameplay onscreen” with “Doom” cited as an example.
Mazin says: “Doom is also a perfect example of something that you don’t actually need to adapt. There’s nothing there that you can’t generate on your own… If what the property is giving you is a name and a built-in thing, you’re basically setting yourself up for disaster because the fans will be, like, ‘Where’s my f—ing thing?’ and everybody else will be, like, ‘What’s Doom?’ And then you’re in trouble.”
One thing the series will keep is the structure – Joel and Ellie being the only two constants on a journey cross country. That means no ensemble cast. Rather each episode essentially “builds a new world, only to blow it up”.
Changes on the other hand include the ability to ‘unplug’ from the perspectives of the two leads – allowing for flashbacks and explorations of some side characters. What is said to be the show’s “boldest departure” from the source material is an episode which will include much more exploration of the Bill & Frank relationship, which was limited to just notes in the game.
Another change is Joel, who is near-superhuman and able to absorb a lot of bullets. They’ve made him more human here, along with showing better the toll his life has had on him physically from sore knees to being hard of hearing on one side because of a gunshot. Mazin adds: “I guess there’s a tone where Tom Cruise can do anything. But I like my middle-aged people middle-aged.”
The series marks just the start of more game-to-screen adaptations on the way. Next year alone comes “The Super Mario Movie,” “Borderlands,” and “Gran Turismo” in cinemas along with a “Fallout” series on Amazon and “Twisted Metal” series on Peacock.
Other films in the works include “Ghost of Tsushima,” “Death Stranding,” “Just Cause,” “It Takes Two,” “Sifu,” “Firewatch,” “Days Gone,” and “Streets of Rage” along with TV series based on “Assassin’s Creed,” “BioShock,” “God of War,” “Horizon: Zero Dawn,” “Alan Wake” “Mass Effect,” “Tomb Raider,” “Devil May Cry,” “Nier: Automata,” “System Shock” and “Splinter Cell”.