Naughty Dog’s 2013 critical and commercial smash hit video game, The Last of Us, is artful in every aspect and perspective. I will not elaborate too heavily on this because there is no laudation I can cast upon this masterpiece which has not been said before.
I will simply say that every element — the story, the characters, the music, the themes, and how the gameplay mechanics and level design immerse the player in those elements — is an artistic expression which speaks to the soul in a thousand languages.
If the rest of HBO’s adaptation of the game is on par with the quality of the debut episode, “When You’re Lost in the Darkness,” this may be the greatest live-action adaptation of a video game ever created.
The series follows Joel Miller, a tragedy-befallen and morally bankrupt survivor of a global pandemic. The outbreak occurred twenty years earlier, resulting from mutated cordyceps, which infects the host by attaching itself to the brain and transforming its host into a cannibalistic creature with the only prerogative of spreading the infection further.
Miller, along with a hardened-but-loyal partner, Tess, are smugglers from a “quarantine zone.” The two inadvertently find themselves smuggling a young girl, Ellie, who is apparently of immense importance to humanity’s future, outside the zone. An emotional story of choice, morality, survival, and devastation is about to unfold.
Without going into spoilers, it is clear from the opening scenes the viewer is in for some eye-candy. The cinematography is so sharp and engaging one forgets the filmmakers used a camera to shoot the scene. And when the series enters the post-apocalyptic setting, the visuals reflect horrifying and rich beauty. The world feels authentic and distinguishes itself from other portrayals of post-apocalyptic landscapes.
This level of camerawork goes far to portray the emotion of the story. This camerawork combined with the actors’ performances and music’s subtlety creates such rich and palpable tension.
The stakes feel real, the disaster feels uncertain, and the tragedy cuts the heart and haunts the soul.
I want to highlight Pedro Pascal, Anna Torv, Bella Ramsay, and Merle Dandridge (who portrayed the same character in the original game). As a result of these actors wearing their characters with such expertise, so much of the story’s nuances show on their faces and in their movements. Pascal and Ramsay in particular deliver each line and carry themselves with such believability and nuance. Nothing feels inauthentic, and each action and line’s purpose is clear and characteristic of their personalities.
Many filmmaking techniques the creators utilized to convey the tone of a scene or story beat not only feel artful and perfectly executed, but they feel necessary. Have you ever watched a film or television scene so perfect you realize there was not a conceivably more effective way to execute the scene?
There are so many moments in which these filmmaking techniques coupled with the excellently subtle score (clearly inspired by the game). One loses themselves fully to the scene; it becomes clear the cast and crew knew exactly what they were doing.
I believe that is the closest adjective to succinctly describe the episode: Effective.
Some people have tossed around an unfair notion regarding this adaptation. Basically, many fans of the game have stated the show’s quality is mostly due to the game. This is such an insulting, shallow, and inexcusable notion. The filmmakers, writers, and cast deserve our commendation.
Yes, the original game’s story, visuals, themes, and characters were masterful, but different creators can craft the same exact story and characters and still result in a much lower quality. The creators could have executed this series wrong, but they did more than justice to the original work.
Thus far, the small changes and additions to the game’s narrative are intuitive. When characters recite lines directly from the game or shots are identical to scenes from the game, the filmmakers pull it off without it feeling the least bit forced.
I do not want to count this show’s chickens before they hatch, but it is difficult to assume the rest of the show will be anything but on par with this debut episode. The filmmakers clearly poured their hearts and souls into this adaptation. The product is already looking so shiny, it will endear any fan of the original game or anyone who knows nothing of it. From a loving fan of the original game, the first episode of HBO’S The Last of Us is spectacular.
Featured image is a screenshot of the first episode of HBO’s The Last Of Us