Video game adaptations often don’t live up to the expectations of many people, especially if it’s a well-loved franchise. Titles like Doom (2005) and the nightmarish Super Mario Bros. (1993), among others, usually come up in discussions about bad video game movies. Sure, Detective Pikachu and Sonic The Hedgehog seem to have been outliers, but this overall notion that games will never be great films or shows sets the tone for future projects.
This was the challenge for HBO series The Last Of Us, based on the 2013 action-adventure game developed by Naughty Dog, which stars Pedro Pascal as Joel and Bella Ramsey as Ellie. Before the show premiered on Jan. 16 in the Philippines, creator Neil Druckmann said in a New Yorker feature that he wanted to break the video game adaptation curse by bringing his passion project to the small screen.
With Druckmann working closely with production, along with Chernobyl creator Craig Mazin as showrunner, it seems like The Last Of Us might have a fighting chance. Especially after that powerful first episode.
A gripping and emotional opener
One of the most important parts of the game that many fans wanted to see was the intensely emotional opening sequence in live-action form. With The Last Of Us fans expecting big things with the series, the first episode felt like a make-or-break sequence from the get-go.
The first episode opens with a flashback to the 1960s, where a group of scientists discuss the possibility of fungi called Cordyceps causing a global pandemic on a nightly talk show. This went from being casual and funny to sullen in just a snap after explaining how Cordyceps can take over human minds. The harrowing scene hit close to home as we’re still living through a health pandemic ourselves.
Fast forward to 2003, where the game’s story begins and we finally get to see Joel and his teen daughter Sarah, played by Pedro Pascal and Nico Parker, respectively. Things start out normal, with Joel taking Sarah to school, his banter with his brother Tommy (played by Gabriel Luna), and Sarah getting her dad’s watch fixed as a birthday gift. These scenes added more nuance to the story as the game immediately throws players into the thick of the Cordyceps outbreak.
Now comes the exhilarating part: the first encounter with a mutated cannibal and the subsequent escape attempt. Throughout this part, we get to see and hear hints of the impending outbreak nudging us closer every moment. What fans can appreciate with this whole scene, especially with the escape, is that it was adapted nearly frame by frame from the source material, with some changes that didn’t ruin the immersion. Whether you’ve played the game or not, it’s undeniable that the opening scene was breathtaking and emotional, and did justice to one of the game’s most memorable scenes.
Here’s a tweet that shows a nice side-by-side comparison of the riveting opening sequence in the video game and the series:
The rest of the show is set 20 years in the future at the Boston safe zone controlled by FEDRA (Federal Disaster Response Agency), where Joel is working odd jobs to survive and find a way to leave the facility to search for his missing brother. We’re also introduced to other key characters, such as Tess (Anna Torv), Marlene (Merle Dandridge), and of course, Ellie.
After an encounter with the rebel militia group known as Fireflies, Joel and Tess are tasked to smuggle Ellie, who seems to be immune to the Cordyceps infection, to a hospital in Salt Lake City. By the end of the episode, we see the group venturing off outside the Boston quarantine zone in the dead of night to begin their adventure.
Apart from the extra scenes at the beginning, one of the best things about the first episode is that it didn’t veer too far from its video game counterpart. Even the stealth sequence while they were escaping the quarantine zone, and the overall set design looked and felt similar to the same level in the game.
Overall, the first episode was able to deliver on its promise of being faithful to the game, while having extra time to provide some extra scenes that helped explain more plot points better. It was also riveting enough to capture the attention of people who are experiencing The Last Of Us for the first time.
A stellar cast
When it comes to the casting of the show, it felt like they found the right picks for each character so far. Pedro Pascal as Joel and Bella Ramsey as Ellie brought both characters in the game to life with their performances, and we’re excited to see how they’ll deliver in the episodes to come.
A standout performance in the first episode was Nico Parker as Sarah, who gave a powerful performance, leaving us emotionally in shambles.
Gabriel Luna as Tommy felt like he came straight out of the game, nailing the look and voice very well. Lastly, Merle Dandridge reprising her role as Marlene and Anna Torv as Tess were also great choices to round out the main cast.
A faithful adaptation
The Last of Us is a must-watch for fans of the game and casual viewers alike. The great thing about the series is that you don’t need to play the game to appreciate the storytelling and action that Druckmann wants to showcase in the live-action adaptation.
If the first episode started out strong, we can only guess just how exciting and nerve-wracking the next eight will be.