HBO’s “The Last of Us” premieres tonight. It’s a series that has been universally praised for the quality and faithfulness of its adaptation of the iconic video game and one that sets a standard that every future adaptation of a game will be compared to.

So how did the show’s makers avoid the trap that has plagued almost every other video game adaptation for the screen to date? One of the obvious advantages is that developer Naughty Dog’s game is highly cinematic in the first place, with plenty of cinematic cut scenes, character-centric work and an emotional storyline.

Another is that it’s a game strong enough to stand on its own without the action gameplay elements. Even some of the more cinematic games of the past twenty years, from “Bioshock” to “Mass Effect” to “Uncharted,” are still games centered around their gameplay despite all their world-building and character development.

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That’s less the case with “The Last of Us”, according to co-creator Craig Mazin who is a regular gamer and a massive fan of the title. Thus they could avoid the mistake of trying to replicate the way the game is played within the series. He tells Variety:

“It’s the mistake other people have made, I think, in adaptation [of video games], because they think that’s what connects people to a game. But ‘The Last of Us,’ more than any other video game I’ve ever played, connected me to character and relationship. And the relationship between Joel and Ellie was the thing that we wanted to pull through the most.”

Co-creator Neil Druckmann, who was also a director of the game, says a series also has to adapt between the experience of actively playing a game and passively watching a scripted TV series which results in different emotional experiences. As a result, a lot of the more action-oriented elements were removed:

“There are different kinds of emotions you could draw from the player through an interactive space – where they swing the camera to, how they’re approaching the obstacle in front of them. When you’re playing those sequences, that immersion really makes you connect with the player you’re controlling. Everything is only seen through their perspective.

If we were to shoot those sequences as is, they would make for pretty boring action sequences. So one of the easiest decisions we made was like to say, ‘Let’s strip all those out. Let’s only have as much violence in this story as is required and no more.’ That allows the violence to have even more impact when you see it on screen than in the game.”

That’s not to say it’s not devoid of set pieces. Some of the game’s biggest make the jump to the screen, such as the fourth episode sees Joel and Ellie are set upon by opportunistic raiders. The key reason they remain is that Mazin and Druckmann could use those sequences as part of the emotional arcs of the characters. Mazin says:

“I want you to be with the characters. I want you to feel their relationship. That moment [in Episode 4] is really about Joel and Ellie. There are bullets that are whizzing over their head and slamming into the wall behind them. But it forces a moment to occur that changes who they are. That’s why I love those things.”

The show is also able to shift perspective away from Joel and Ellie, allowing the development of supporting characters, including those on the ‘enemy’ side, with Druckmann saying:

“These characters that sometimes hunt you in the game, we get to humanize them in the show. Because so much of the story is about perspective. No one feels like they’re the villain. They all feel like they’re doing what’s right for their group and their tribe.”

Whilst the first season covers the full storyline of the first game, it’s likely the larger second game release in 2020 will require more than one season to adapt and deal with a time jump between entries. Mazin says:

“It’s a big-time jump. But there’s a little bit of interesting flexibility. Wonderful things that makeup can do. We don’t get too wrapped up in that stuff. As long as people are absorbed by the story, I think there’s some flexibility there.

But certainly, there’s an enormous amount of story that Neil created that we would want to dive into. The second game is much bigger than the first one. So we were just starting now to talk about how to kind of break it into a season – seasons.

How do we adapt? What do we keep? What do we change? How do we transform? What do we add? All those things we’re just starting to talk about now, even while I’m still finishing this season of ‘The Last of Us.’”

HBO’s “The Last of Us” is available on HBO Max in the United States and Binge in Australia. The nine-episode season will run weekly from tonight.

The post “Last of Us” Pair On Adaptation, S2 Goals appeared first on Dark Horizons.


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