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What the Tech: As a TV series, will The Last of Us be a dead man walking?

After this week’s casting news, what’s the evidence that The Last of Us will be a crowd-pleaser when its screen adaptation arrives on HBO?

The Last of Us is an excellent video game that combines an immersive story with great gameplay and cinematic visuals. And it’s for all these reasons that I’m wary of the new HBO adaptation.

The history of video games being adapted to TV series or movies has generally been an unhappy one, even for those narrative adventures that seem to lend themselves to the silver screen. Both Prince of Persia: The Sands of Time and Assassin’s Creed were cast with a galaxy of stars yet were barely watchable, while the games on which they are based remain compulsively replayable.

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The main reason for this, I suspect, is the difference in tempo of games and films; the former are generally much longer, can be paused and resumed at any point, and generally feature repetitive elements such as combat that may be engaging to play but are generally dull to watch. The episodic nature of a TV series may make the switch to a controller-less experience a little smoother than it would have been for cinema’s two-hour time slot, but the other reasons for potential regret still remain.

This week saw news of the cast announced, with The Mandalorian‘s Pedro Pascal given the role of Joel, and Bella Ramsey taking on the role of Ellie. Taken in the round, the news was fairly well-received; but among die-hard fans of the game, a significant amount seemed disappointed that the actors don’t closely resemble their polygon counterparts.

Moreover, the game’s sequel, the Last of Part II, sold in great numbers but was the subject of large-scale review-bombing and trolling from the fans, in some cases because of plot points, and in some cases because of the portrayal of LGBT characters.

If the existing fanbase of the game are at odds with any deviation from the original story and the exploration of new themes, even with regard to characters’ appearance, then it will be an uphill battle for the series to be a success because originality is exactly what it will need.

Naughty Dog’s work has invariably been described as “cinematic”, with this credential applying to Uncharted just as much as The Last of Us. But this doesn’t mean it’s a work of Kubrickian genius, only that it is rendered with more verve than your typical on-rails shoot ’em up (which often merely resemble a GoPro hastily taped to a soldier’s forehead), and that it references well-known genre flicks along similar themes, such as The Walking Dead and I Am Legend. It will need to bring more to the table this time in order to be a hit among TV critics.

Since the first game was released, The Walking Dead has been staggering to a stop for some years now, well and truly brain-dead, and the zombie trend is nowhere near as strong as it was in 2013, when The Last of Us was released within days of the premiere of World War Z. What’s more, the fingerprints of The Last of Us can be found on films such as A Quiet Place, which is a tribute to the game’s success and cross-medium appeal, but nonetheless the feedback loop it finds itself in may mean that it will feel less fresh to audiences.

In order for The Last of Us to be a hit, it’s got to win over the franchise’s original audience, which currently seems to be reluctant to move on from the first smash-hit game, and it also has to win over a wider audience for whom the concept may not feel as original as it did (and genuinely was) over ten years ago. It’s a tough bind, but I hope the creators see it over the line with the daring and verve that has previously won them acclaim from critics and audiences.





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