HBO Max has released its adaptation of ‘The Last of Us’ and the glowing praise has been almost instantaneous. Our Espinof colleagues talk about a start that aims to give rise to one of the best series of 2023, in 3Djuegos they talk about feeling proud of the medium that inspires it and in Vida Extra they describe it as a master class on adaptations. We already talked a few days ago about what we thought: a very faithful adaptation that found its successes when it distanced itself the most from the original and opened avenues for surprises.
Because it is also being said about this series that how is it possible that, in general terms, it is so lukewarm when it comes to innovating (in this thread of tweets by Jorge Loser, for example), to state more clearly everything that can distance it from a post-apocalyptic series to use. Aesthetically and at a rhythm level, it is reminiscent of recent and exhausted proposals such as ‘The Walking Dead’, and that can be an obstacle: ‘The Last of Us’ is orthodox, but for now that is also making it a predictable series.
And of course, it is obvious that here the presence of Neil Druckmann, co-producer and co-writer, but also director of the game is being promoted original. Not surprisingly, HBO Max is hoisting its name to ensure the series maintains rigorous fidelity to the source, but this too can be a problem.
A problem because Druckmann as a writer (and above all, as a certified name in the all-powerful production department) ensures that the series will be respectfully faithful to the original, and that can give rise to a certain creative blindness. The one that concerns making decisions that distance themselves from the source.
The problems of a movie game
‘The Last of Us’ (the video game) has many, many virtues (and the sequel multiplies many of them in the approach that we already discussed here). but they all come from the field of the playable or the manipulation of the point of view thanks to its interactive condition. For example, the famous ending of the first part (which we won’t reveal here, just in case) is a typical example: it impacts, excites and marks the player, precisely because we are players, not spectators. But if that ending is that of a movie, it’s something we’ve seen a thousand times.
Another example that Noel Ceballos highlighted in his review of the first episode: the flashback in which we see the apocalypse unleashing at multiple points from inside a car. In the video game it is the first great impact of the plot, a memorable action set-piece with great drama even if all the player can do is move the camera. When the series repeats it as it is, it becomes clear, first, that by losing interactivity it also loses some strength; and second, that Druckmann was very much inspired by a rather superior sequence from ‘Children of Men’, released seven years before the game.
That is to say: the series even goes so far as to sabotage the memory of the video game, it devalues it. And that is an extreme to which a good adaptation should not go. Of course, they are isolated cases in a single episode, but the fact that ‘The Last of Us’ reminds so many viewers of ‘The Walking Dead’ and other classic apocalyptic fiction shows that the value of ‘The Last of Us’ was in the interactive part: the plot was, in part, a luxurious decoration. The adaptation would have to find its own expressive path.
We are only at the beginning of the road: this apocalypse has many hours to go (an hour and a half for this pilot, another problem that we leave for another day) and there is room to find our own paths, above all through the actors, and especially thanks to Bella Ramsey, the real point and aside of this episode. For clone adaptations we already have many other options: ‘The Last of Us’ deserves more.
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