The Last of Us: The Art of Good Adaptation
It is far too common for adaptations to be lackluster and fall short of fans’ expectations. The disappointment of waiting years to see your favorite franchise brought to life, only to find that the end result barely catches the magic of the original. If not that it tries as hard as possible to be nothing like the source material in the first place is experienced by too many. Just ask the fans of ‘Avatar: The Last Airbender’, ‘Dragon Ball Z’ or the ‘Percy Jackson’ series what this feels like.
Unfortunately for video game fans, this issue is even more prevalent in the industry. After massive failures like the films for ‘Mortal Kombat’, ‘Lara Croft: Tomb Raider’ and the ‘Resident Evil’ series, video game adaptations gained some redemption with 2021’s ‘Arcane’.
‘The Last of Us’ revolutionised gaming upon its launch in 2013, showing that the still-underutilised medium can be more than just a string of action sequences, and can instead be considered art. Now, 10 years later, its HBO Max series adaptation sets the gold standard for adaptation. Here are 7 ways the show succeeds at what so many before it have failed at.
1. The Right Game to Adapt
Oftentimes, an adaptation can fail for no reason other than the nature of the original work. Books and video games that require too much or too little to change when being translated to a new medium will often let fans down in some way or the other. However, ‘The Last of Us’ video game is one of the best pieces of media to adapt. The source material is essentially a playable movie, with an easy-to-translate, simple three-act structure, with well-established characters and relationships that can be easily recreated.
2. Consulting the Game’s Creators
Fans of a franchise hate to wait for an adaptation, only to find that their favorite parts have been taken out, or to feel that the media that they love has been disrespected for a cash grab. This show succeeds by respecting its source material. The showrunners collaborated and consulted with the game developers to create something the fans would truly love, and would not feel that the show was trying to erase the aspects that they enjoy.
3. Good Casting
The actors in the show deliver flawless performances. Pedro Pascal, who played the lead in ‘The Mandalorian,’ takes on the beloved lead character of Joel. Pascal is able to capture the essence of the character, and bears significant resemblance to the character as well, allowing the viewer to be immersed in the story. Bella Ramsey from ‘Game of Thrones’ portrays the character Ellie, and is able to bring new life to the character.
4. Elaborating on What Exists
Unlike most adaptations, ‘The Last of Us’ tries not to deviate too much from the original story. Instead, where it adds to the story is by including more details and expanding upon what the video game had already created. Scenes have been lengthened only to more deeply establish the relationships that already existed, and give more weight to emotions where the video game may have chosen to focus on the action. Due to this none of the characters or actions contradict or take away from the video game’s canon, and fans are able to indulge in the aspects the video game could not.
5. The Score
The show creates a dramatic, impactful and often eerie atmosphere with its brilliant use of music. The series utilises the score composed by Gustavo Santaolalla for ‘The Last of Us’ video games. By incorporating this extremely memorable aspect of the source material, it not only shows respect to the source material, but recreates that same sense of adventure and emotion that the game created a decade ago.
6. Special Effects
The video game depicts many gruesome zombie-like monsters, known simply as the Infected. Although we have only seen glimpses of these creatures in the show so far, trailers and clips have revealed their depictions. The effects have made it seem like the game has been brought to life, and the terror of the monster is captured effectively.
The show is set in a post-apocalyptic world, and this is depicted on-screen really well. The broken-down cities, overrun with the monstrous Infected and covered in overgrowth can be both stunning and simultaneously harrowing. Meanwhile, the initial episode of the show that depicts the destruction of the cities is shot in a way that can make the viewer feel tense and on edge.