The second I heard Screen Gems, Sony and Naughty Dog were all combining their resources to make a film adaptation of The Last of Us, I sighed. If there were anyone to pull it off, it is most likely the people in charge of it at the moment, but I am still very hesitant to the idea of it. It has the Creative Director of the game, Neil Druckmann as well as Naughty Dog Co-Presidents Evan Wells and Christophe Balestra. They will also team with the Game Director, Bruce Straley and Sam Raimi who directed Evil Dead. So there is definitely enough creative talent there to defy expectations.
“Screen Gems’ Brian Dukes and Eric Ling brought this game to my attention insisting we go after it, and when I saw the quality of the storytelling, I knew the audience for this project was far greater than just the gaming community and that Neil Druckmann must write the screenplay,” Screen Gems president Clint Culpepper said. “I am thrilled that SCEA’s Riley Russell was able to get me in front of Neil and Evan Wells to plead my case. Sam and his team at Ghost House round out the perfect team to help realize Neil’s vision.”
Just from reading their passion in their words for the project as well as understanding who is behind the adaptation, it definitely seems like it could work. The Last of Us was a thrilling game, one of the best game I have ever had the pleasure of playing. It was gritty, emotional and an incredibly moving game which could turn out to be an awesome film too. But it has the one crucial aspect that made The Last of Us such a special experience, the fact that it is a video game.
What translates well to players through a game, might not translate as effective on the big screen. A lot of people including myself would pretty much call The Last of Us a cinematic experience already mixed into gaming. And that is exactly how it should stay. When you strip the title of its video game qualities, you are essentially left with another post-apocalyptic story. The combat was brutal and realistic, but it wouldn’t appear as shocking in a movie because we are so familiar with it. Little details like those are what made The Last of Us such a unique experience, because it was different to anything we had in video games.
Players were thrust into a beautiful yet dark world which looked fantastic, but it would look nearly identical to a lot of other films. That’s not to say it is a bad thing, because a lot of movies with the same environment style can still turn out great. The main issue in my eyes besides the fact it isn’t a video game, are the two leading characters who made the game what it was. With Ashley Johnson as Ellie and Troy Baker as Joel who both have such tremendous talent, you can’t see The Last of Us without picturing them.
You can’t recast them because unlike in video games their voices can’t be given different bodies in movies (well not this type of movie). Johnson isn’t exactly going to look like Ellie in game, the closest you’d probably get is Ellen Page but we know what happened last time she was compared to Ellie. As for Joel, who do you get to take the spotlight off a voice actor who did an incredible job with the character?
With the fantastic graphics which created the slightest bit of emotion in their faces, combined with stellar performances from all the voice-acting cast it is hard to see how well it will work. We have seen some game-to-movie adaptions previously, one of the biggest yet loosely based off is Max Payne. While there are some good ones, the quality you would need to match The Last of Us would have to be the best we have ever seen; because that is what is was to the gaming community. Never had there been a performance which created such an emotional, brutal and heart-wrenching experience in a video game. When you turn that into a movie, it is completely different.
Another issue is the script, what direction do you take it in? Do you re-tread over material that has already been done or do you create a new storyline? One thing which could actually make the film a lot more interesting would be to show some more stories to events we didn’t see in the game and stuff we might never get to see in future DLCs.
I don’t want them to take bits of the story which we might play, because I want to experience it as a game. But if they were to reveal bits of history and story we weren’t going to see in the game then I will actually embrace it with open arms. It is a very fine line they have to work with, because it could seriously annoy a lot of gamers if they take the story in the wrong direction. It could mean they might not even have to use Joel and Ellie to spearhead their film and instead show off characters from the other side of the country in a completely different environment.
However the log-line from the game off Deadline indicates that it most likely will focus on Joel and Ellie – “Hardened survivor Joel teams with young and capable companion Ellie to journey through a radically transformed world some 20 years after an infectious pandemic ravages humanity. The game has won numerous awards and has been a big seller since its release last summer.“
Perhaps a bit of silver lining is the fact that some of the creative team from Naughty Dog are a part of the project. It hopefully means they are able to incorporate the core they managed to implement into The Last of Us, without Hollywood trying to mould it to their liking.
The fact that we have the quality in video games to create such immersive stories means we don’t need the film industry to add to it. It was already a cinematic experience in the game. I loved every cut-scene in the game and how well it transitioned into the game-play. It was all crafted so beautifully which added to the experience. When it is turned into a movie, you lose all of those qualities. It was better than a movie experience because you became invested into the characters so deeply because you controlled them.
Another issue would be the fact that this project would be no small task. It would require a lot of resources and creative juice if they are to make it an awesome film. Does this mean that it could affect further projects like Uncharted 4, especially after they lost a key team member in Amy Hennig? I hope it won’t create a big distraction in the Naughty Dog group because I would much rather their other projects take the resources from the film.
This is just the start of quality video games like The Last of Us which channeled so much emotion and passion. We will definitely see more projects attempt the same level of depth in character development, voice-acting and game immersion, but they don’t need to push into the film industry. These experiences are better than any cinematic experience can offer simply because it is such a differently style. I will definitely watch the film adaptation, and I really do hope they do something special with it like they did in the game. If they were to show new characters in completely new areas, it might just work. But judging by the log-line, we might not get to see that.
What do you think of the whole scenario, are you happy or hesitant to see The Last of Us becoming a film?