‘The Last of Us’: Is Hollywood capturing what game writers can’t?|Opinion

By Karisma Boyd

REMAKES, reboots, live animations, and sequels have made their rounds at the box office. In addition, we are beginning to see game adaptations rise to the occasion as a genre that could make or break productions. One game, in particular, captured the eyes of many with its recent controversies among veteran game players.

“The Last of Us,” developed by NaughtyDog and released in 2013, is a multiplayer post-apocalyptic game that follows the journey of a teenage girl and a smuggler in third-perspective, traveling across the United States in hopes of a cure – ending the spread of a fungal mutation that turns people into “Infected.”

‘The Last of Us’ game by NaughtyDog 2013 (from Peakpx)

The game incorporates realistic storylines within individual characters and their relationships, showing a “circle of life” pattern in which every decision will come back to you. Unfortunately, “The Last of Us” created a world without winners. Still, it conveyed the results of desperate people wanting to survive another day at best.

After the anticipated release of “The Last of Us 2” in June 2020, The developers announced the game was turning into a series and has now released episodes weekly every Sunday on HBOMax since Jan.15th of this year.

But before the trailer was released, there were already debates regarding what seems to be the most crucial part of the series; the casting. For context, the smuggler, Joel, is a middle-aged man with salt and pepper hair with a low but apparent Southern drawl. Ellie, the smuggled teenage girl, has brown hair and piercing green eyes.

Pedro Pascal as Joel in ‘The Last of Us’ (from HBOMax.com)

When the final casts was revealed, let’s say a lot of people weren’t happy. Disney’s “The Mandalorian” actor Pedro Pascal was cast as Joel Miller and HBO’s “Game of Thrones actress Bella Ramsey got the role of Ellie. With the director’s decision under fire to release these two as the main characters for the franchise, Bella Ramsey seemed to face the most backlash from veteran game players for not seeing a physical resemblance between the actress and the game character.

In an interview with the New York Times in early January, Ramsey discussed her feelings about the backlash she faced for being cast as Ellie. “It’s the first time I’ve ever had a negative reaction to something,” the actor said. Bella continued: “It’s only recently that I’ve accepted I am Ellie, and I can do it, and I am a good actor, but this will last for a few weeks and then I’ll think I’m terrible again. That’s just the process.”

Regardless of these issues, when “The Last of Us” first premiered Sunday, Jan.15, it pulled in 4.7 million viewers (with 18 million as of today), making it HBOMax’s second highest viewed premier episode with “Game Of Thrones” sequel “House of the Dragon” taking the No. 1 spot.

Bella Ramsey as Ellie from ‘The Last of Us.’ (from HBOMax.com)

One episode that stood out was “The Last of Us,” episode 3, entitled “Long, Long Time,” which entailed one of the most anticipated side characters from the game: Bill, a frenemy Joel encountered during his younger smuggling days.

“We knew from the game that Bill had a partner; his partner was Frank. In the game, Frank is already dead. And I thought there was an opportunity to go a different way,” director Peter Hoara said in “Inside the Episode.”

Bill, as seen in the game, is a paranoid man. He is well-equipped to survive with his many talents in mechanics, hunting, and paranoia. But that did come with some afflictions; he once had a partner named Frank, who abandoned him. Without Bill’s knowledge, Frank gets infected and commits suicide, leaving a note for Bill saying he was happy to have run away and, in fact, “hated his [Bill’s] guts.”

Last of Us characters Ellie and Joel from the HBOMax series (bottom row) and the NaughtyDog game (top row) (Rolling Stone “5 Key Differences Between ‘The Last of Us’ HBO Series and Video Game”)

The direction of “Long, Long Time,” dedicated to Bill, took an entirely different turn, with both good and bad reviews. Episode 3 was a love story. Instead of Bill and Frank ending on bad terms, they create a life together and grow old, and by the end, swallow pills together as Frank falls hard with an illness.

With this shocking turn, critics divided. As certain parts of Bill’s interactions in the game were left out, just telling the story of Bill and Frank’s relationship the whole episode.

“I’ve been looking forward to seeing Bill and learning about Frank. But this episode was highly disappointing,” a veteran game player wrote under IMBD’S episode review. “First, his interactions with Ellie define Bill’s character in the game. Their quips and sassiness toward each other are why it is adorable to watch them. This episode deviates so much from the game and so much of why we like Bill.”

Bill played by Nick Offerman (Left) and Frank played by Murray Bartlett (Right) from ‘The Last of Us’ HBOMax series episode 3 ‘Long, Long Time.’

But others found the episode to be worth it. Aside from the representation of queer people, episode 3 gave “The Last of Us” solace in a seemingly tense environment where nothing is safe from the cordyceps. “It was a pretty bold move to put the infected zombies on time out to focus on a love story in its third episode. But, maybe even more surprising was how effective it was in showing the series’ dexterity and refusal to be just another brainless zombie show.” wrote blogger for Lyles’ Files, Jeffrey Lyles.

This episode was bombed by homophobic comments and radical reviews during the first few hours, receiving a 3/10 rating. But by the end of the week, “Long, Long Time” pulled in an average perfect 10 rating from sites like Rotten Tomatoes, IMDB, and GameRant.

Duckmann defended his decisions in Episode 3, “Long, Long Time.”

It is important to note that this series is an adaptation of the game, with creator Neil Duckmann being a part of the process of producing the series, The audience should trust the decisions made by Hora, and Duckmann wants to keep the storyline as accurate as possible but also improve the intellect of characters to their farthest potential.

Neil Duckmann (Left) and Nick Offerman (Right) during filming of Long, Long Time (from HBOMax Inside the Episode)

“My philosophy for this show has always been when should we deviate and when should we come back? If it’s kind of the same or worse, we stay where the game is. If it’s better, we deviate”  Duckmann said during the “Inside the Episode” segment.

Karisma Boyd is a junior majoring in Mass Communications.

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