It’s the start of a new year and the post-holiday slump is in full force (safe to say, most of us are still dragging our feet as we get back into a new grind). With a season of new beginnings comes a plethora of announcements — including the long-awaited release of the famed post-apocalyptic video game series The Last of Us, brought to us by Naughty Dog and Sony PlayStation studios, reimagined for the big screen by HBO.
Heralded by game creator Neil Druckmann, the video game is a fated, heartfelt father-daughter adventure story told behind the lens of a post-apocalyptic world full of infected mindless human monsters hit with the bacterial fungi Cordyceps, a disease that ravages this world as we know it with an imposing pandemic outbreak to follow.
Live action video game adaptations aren’t typically known for being any piece of great creative work. Adaptations in general tend to run with mixed reviews from newcomers and diehard fans altogether. Though, after watching the first episode of HBO’s The Last of Us, I have to say, we have something very promising on the horizon.
Since its inception in 2013 (now celebrating its 10-year anniversary), The Last of Us has built a reputation for being more heartfelt and “cinematic” than its peers. Its cutscenes and story lines are just as riveting as the gameplay itself. Set 20 years after the outbreak destroyed life as we know it, it follows Joel, a vengeful lone wolf and lost soul, as he leads 14-year-old Ellie on a chilling cross-country journey and encounter various threats amidst a story full of rich characterization, drama and poignant laughs, sure to tug on any of our heartstrings.
The first episode brings us right back into the heart of the game. Joel’s relationship with his teenage daughter Sarah (a winning performance by Nico Parker, I might add) is explored as they introduce us to a world set 20 years prior. It’s “the calm before the storm” before all hell breaks loose — and it’s so surreal to see how well these scenes we remember so well in the original video game come to life onscreen.
The series is co-created by Neil Druckmann, mastermind behind the game, and Craig Mazin, the creator of 2019’s limited series Chernobyl. Pedro Pascal plays Joel, and Bella Ramsey plays Ellie, and together they have brought the infamous duo to life on the big screen for us all. For an adaptation, HBO’s The Last of Us remains faithful to the look, sound and feel of the original game. I could find myself reciting lines and scenes from the original game, with action sequences and hallways bringing back memories of myself climbing through alleys and doors as I play as Joel, looting my way around town. Heck — even the lengthy chase scene with Joel, Sarah and Joel’s brother Tommy (Gabriel Luna) as he leads us out of town through zombie carnage could not make me feel any more immersed in that car with them, driving to safety in pure frenzy.
But more than the outbreak, it’s the relations and stories told along the way of an unforeseen budding relationship that will continue to prove to be the center of this series.
The colors, mood and sonic soundscape their team has created for this show is incredible and truly celebrates the game — and for a fan, that couldn’t be any more exciting. There were moments I cried, there were moments that freaked me out, and there were moments that made me chuckle; yet, it feels just as chilling as the game and offers us a chance to see these characters again and explore their relationships. Albeit, it was a little jolting to watch the scenes play out versus running your own pace as if you were controlling the characters yourself, it’s an enticing journey once you get familiar with the world and immerse yourself into these characters (and episode one fully sets us up into that world, just right).
I’m excited to see how the rest of the series takes on Ellie and Joel’s journey as they make their run across country, with all the living things, infected or not, they may meet along the way. I’d love to see these new friendships and relationships evolve and, moreover, how new viewers unfamiliar with the original game will liken to this “new” apocalypse story.