I was lucky enough to get selected for HBO’s The Last of Us Screening Experience – a video game adaptation of its namesake done so well, critics are calling it the best of its kind. It seems that HBO has a smash hit, and let me tell you – based on my viewing, and being a person who has earned the Platinum trophy of all versions of the games, those praises are well deserved.
Neil Druckmann and Craig Mazin not only produced an amazing television experience, but it’s the labor of love put into this adaptation – there’s respect for the source material that also expands on it in meaningful ways.
Search for the Light
Upon reaching my destination, you can see that the entrance of NYC’s Angelika Film Center was already decorated with elements matching a FEDRA outpost – a military company formed to house within quarantined zones in The Last of Us. This made the waiting process extremely bearable, especially given that the organizers were dressed as the Fireflies and in character too.
When entering the building, you immediately feel like you’re inside the world of The Last of Us – debris is scattered about, intel stations are propped, and ammo depot with additional equipment placed within our path – all while the organizers interact with phrases like “were you followed on your way here?” and “watch each other backs out there, it’s dangerous” – my favorite was before entering the lower levels, they would inform us that there’s infected down there, to be careful. Additionally, a prop with a fungal-infected host spread across a wall was present for picture taking – an excellent final touch to the experience. Shortly after came the viewing itself – and boy was it a ride.
Unlike the intro of the video game, its small screen adaptation dives into the baseline of the plot, explaining the types of epidemics that can cause an extinction-level event. What sets the episode’s tone is the talk show element in the late 60s. It’s a discussion between two epidemiologists on the fears and concerns of a widespread epidemic while assuring it’s all under control. Whereas the other digresses in saying that bacterial infections are winnable, not fungal – which has been entirely overlooked because there’s no way to win against it if mutated to host humans. Perfectly timed cuts to the audience and camera crew showcase their lack of interest in the subject, adjusting in place to have small talks amongst themselves and so on. It displays the grounded nature of how people would respond to information of that caliber – an element I greatly appreciate. This is how expositions should be done.
In its video game adaptation, segments were done to engage the players while telling a story – a way to keep retention. Prolonged elements like fighting a horde of enemies before continuing don’t work when telling a realistic, much more grounded story in a film. Time was meticulously spent expanding the world of The Last of Us; we see more of Sarah for example in what she did to get Joel’s watch for his birthday, all while the world around her slowly descends into madness – told subtlety through environmental elements which supports suspension. It’s genius-level storytelling and it gets better.
Joel, Ellie, Tommy, Marlene, and Tess – all were played absolutely to the standards we expect, everything we love about these characters is reflected so well, it’s shocking to see it done with real people. Elements like Robert betraying Tess are there, and the outcome also still happens, but the pacing is different – refreshing, and sensible. HBO’s approach feels as though The Last of Us show is what happened in reality while the video game variant was told through the eyes of a storyteller; exaggerated and flashy.
The infected were shown in this episode, and they’re terrifying. We get introduced to runners, the first stage of total host control. They’re aggressive and ruthless. The scene where Joel is carrying Sarah was intense – the actor that played the runner should get a raise because holy fucking shit was that infected fast; toppling over countertops, colliding into a cooking rack, not slowing down between turns, and crashing into a wall, debris flying about – and then to top it off with phenomenal cinematography – brilliant. There’s one element that was changed, which I won’t talk about here. I guess it may make sense due to the nature of cordyceps, I would have to grow into it. It’s a very minor change at the moment, and one that seems to not affect the overall theme of the infected, they’re still absolutely visceral, but it got me squinting my eyes a bit.
REVIEW SCORE: 9.5/10
I wondered how they would fit all of Part I into 9 episodes while also expanding on it in meaningful ways. After watching episode 1, it’s easy to see how films and gaming are so different. The team behind the show outdid themselves and fans of the series will be delighted to experience this. The video game curse is truly broken.
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