With some exceptions, there are a lot of terrible film and television adaptations of video games. Many great games just don’t translate well to the big screen. Perhaps due to idiosyncratic producers tackling a beloved franchise with a specific interactive experience, something is lost in trying to capture the magic of a game, in the same way a film might fail to match a book it derives from.
“The Last of Us” is almost certainly the best game adapted television or film to date. It helps that The Last of Us game is on the short list of one of the best games ever made, praised for its fantastic visual and story elements, which the HBO series heavily leaned into. The ambience, set pieces, wardrobe, and infected humans of the series look incredible and have an astounding faithfulness to the source material. It is striking how many stunning shot for shot scenes the show replicated from the game. The terror of the infected is seared into every scene they spill into. The series also uses core components of the game’s unforgettable, gut-wrenching soundtrack scored by composer Gustavo Santaolalla.
Pedro Pascal and Bella Ramsey are undeniably perfect as Joel and Ellie. This was the single most important choice for the show because the story so heavily depends on those characters’ actions and emotional connection. The two have a clear chemistry, and take on their roles with ease and their own personalized flare.
For all the ways “The Last of Us” is faithful to the game, it is also clear how the showrunners adapted and diverged from the story as needed to bring the show to life and focus dramatic elements. This is clearest with how the show deals with the characters Bill and Frank. The show also made great use of the game’s original voice actors.
“The Last of Us,” despite being based on a lengthy game in which one spends considerable time violently disposing of infected humans in a quasi-zombie apocalypse, spends comparatively little of its runtime with scenes of infected, to some fans’ dismay. This unconventional choice sets the show apart from similar post-apocalyptic media, giving more impact to scenes with infected and allowing for more character development and narrative arc. By default, this also served to better emphasize the human threat of the world.
HBO was the perfect home for “The Last of Us.” The game is a supremely dark, melancholic artwork of tragedy amid the scarred remnants of humanity, speckled with surprising glimmers of beauty and hope. The first season resoundingly seizes those elements and runs with it. More importantly, it is independently fantastic in its own right without pandering for fan service. The promised second season, based on the game’s brilliant sequel, is due to be even more grim and wretched. “The Last of Us” is not a happy or light hearted adventure, but it is one that demands reverence as an unmatched work of excellence.