Do we really want a movie adaptation of The Last of Us?
I almost feel as if I’m not fully qualified to speak on the subject. I don’t really watch movies. For a long time, I thought people like me were just weird. It’s not as if it’s out of necessity, as some people unfortunately face. After all – this is the Internet. If I’m looking to find a movie, I can find it at zero cost. Lack of interest, maybe a little bit of adult-onset ADHD from years of playing video games (not an official diagnosis) has left me wanting every time I go to the theatre or sit down in front of the television. Or maybe it’s the fact that I’m tired of feeling like Hollywood, both on the big and small screen, treats its viewers like brain dead mouth-breathers? I do know one thing though – the only thing worse than a bad movie is a bad movie with a good game attached to it.
It was bound to happen – a video game that is as insanely successful as The Last of Us would eventually make the leap to the silver screen. It happens with video games all the time, including many horror titles. Resident Evil, Silent Hill, Alone in the Dark, hell, even House of the Dead have seen themselves brought to life in movies – and every one of them was awful for one reason or another. Like… just terrible. How does this happen? These are all pretty good games with good stories that any fan with half a brain could write! How do they turn to absolute garbage when millions of dollars of production are injected into them like anabolic steroids?
It’s almost funny when you think about it. What makes a great video game is not the same stuff that makes a great movie and the people that make great movies aren’t in the business of making great games. There’s definitely a lot of shared territory, but it’s not the same. In some ways, I agree with Roger’s Ebert’s view on the subject. Video games require player choices – that’s the opposite of the strategy of serious film and literature, which requires author control.
What made The Last of Us so great wasn’t just the fact that it was a great story, but the fact that you had to fill in the pieces with the game play. Finding articles and literature scattered throughout the game filled in the pieces that the narrative left out. You figured it out, you made those exploratory trips to the opposite end of the stage memorable – it wasn’t spoon fed to you. Yes, those things could be intelligently written into a screenplay, if you wanted the movie to be sixteen hours long. I also agree that with the right script and pacing, the adaptation could come out okay. But nobody wants an okay movie – it has to be a blockbuster!
What did you do in the majority of The Last of Us? Shooting people? Hiding from enemies? For a good majority of the time you were extremely under-powered and could be killed instantly. Nowhere does that present itself more readily than, well, the first six times that you die instantly.
Those insta-deaths turned every time that you managed to get by a group of Clickers without dying a victory worth celebrating. That’s a victory that people who haven’t played the game wouldn’t understand. When Ellie fought Davis, that’s a victory that people will be able to understand because he’s openly presented as a bad guy. But how many scenarios play out like that in the game?
Furthermore, The Last of Us had some pretty heady themes in it, especially towards the end. Will people even understand them? Will people pick up all the nuances of the story or will they be lost simply due to time constraints? To a lot of people (people who haven’t played it) The Last of Us is just another zombie game. That would make it (in their eyes) like 90% of the other zombie games and a movie would drop it into 90% of other zombie movies.
Try explaining what makes Resident Evil or Silent Hill – the games, not the movies – so great to people who don’t play video games. When I walked out of the theatre after seeing Silent Hill, the audience seemed to be scratching their heads. People don’t like what they can’t understand and to be honest, even as a fan of the game, I wasn’t even following. So will the movie be dumbed down? To the point where fans of the game won’t even want to watch it?
Granted, I believe that all of these issues can be remedied with a good script and crushed down into a one and a half hour run time. Can I write that adaptation? Nope. Can anyone write that adaptation? Nope, only Hollywood execs need apply. Sure, Druckmann is going to be writing the script, but what he writes and what gets put into the final script isn’t necessarily the same thing. After all, people who write good video game scripts aren’t always in the business of writing good movie scripts.
What kind of appeal does The Last of Us have to the non-gamer? Because like it or not, movies aren’t targeted to niche audiences. Sure, it’s a story about a guy taking a girl cross country faced with insurmountable odds. But what about that happy ending? What about the big flashy action sequences or romantic sub plots? The Last of Us doesn’t have a lot of that. Would you be okay with those being added in for the sake of selling a few more tickets?
Druckmann, when speaking with IGN, stated that The Last of Us movie would be a direct adaptation of the game’s storyline. While that’s better than a stark change from the source material, sometimes fans get lost in what they actually want to see in a video game movie. Where some people look for an exact duplicate of what they experienced in the game (a 16 hour movie), others are looking for a fresh re-telling, or maybe something different on what they just played through. Either way you cut it, someone is going to be pissed about that. Just like people that claim that the book was better – hell, of course the book was better.
Don’t get me wrong here – I’m not trying to say that all movies pander and I’m not trying to insult people that thoroughly enjoy movies. I sincerely apologize if I have done either of those things. Movies can be great works of art and can convey beautiful stories brilliantly. I’m just…scared I guess. Because as I said before, if there’s anything worse than a bad movie, it’s a bad movie with a good game title attached to it. Here’s hoping that The Last of Us can break the trend.
So I leave you with this question. What kind of movie are you looking to see with The Last of Us? I’m not talking about who you want cast in the different roles – I’m more thinking of what kind of experiences will Joel and Ellie face that would translate well to the big screen? Sound off in the comments section!