The Last of Us Film Just Won’t Work

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Empty Plot

The story in The Last of Us wasn’t great. Before you jump to the comment section, hungry to avenge your favourite title for that huge slight, let me clarify. The characters and their interactions were unparalleled, the world and its history certainly capable of being built into something that spans prequels, sequels and spin-offs. I’m talking about the actual plot, which largely consisted of “the thing you’re looking for is in another area.”

True, there were moments where the writers really built on the relationship formed between Joel and Ellie, but it was because of that relationship (which we glimpsed at with little off hand comments and non-story segments) that those moments stood out. Would the final twenty minutes have been as entertaining if it had been slapped at the end of Terminator Salvation?

What made The Last of Us special, a game that stood out to the millions that played it, wasn’t the action or stealth segments, and it certainly wasn’t the buddy movie story. It was that you genuinely started to feel for Ellie and Joel. You began to understand them, and where they’d come from. That took hours and hours of being around them, and that’s not something that can be very easily transferred to film.

Now don’t get me wrong. I think it’s going to be the best film it can be. People behind the game are working on it. Troy Baker has even offered to reprise his role as Joel. I have no concern that it’s in the right hands and that it’ll probably make a decent, perhaps even a classic summer action film. There’s going to be everything the average cinema audience want: zombies, violence and a cool protagonist who you can identify with. It’ll make a great film in that regard.

Or they could go another way entirely, and try and be a bit artsy with it. There could be long, wide shots of abandoned buildings, perhaps even famous buildings. Each kill could be followed by a lengthy close-up of Joel as he considers the full effect of what he’s done. And the talking – there’d be so much talking. Hell, why not just go a full Bergman with it?

And therein lies The Last of Us’s biggest problem. The game was neither one thing or the other. There were large pauses for scenery, and a lot of conversation. But there were also action scenes, and bloody violence. There isn’t a middle ground, not when you’re trying to fit in over a dozen hours of gameplay into one comfortably viewable package.

There was a quote made when the film was first announced, and I think it’s important to repeat it.

“Screen Gems’ Brian Dukes and Eric Ling brought this game to my attention insisting we go after it, and when I saw the quality of the storytelling, I knew the audience for this project was far greater than just the gaming community”

That the audience for The Last of Us was far greater than just the gaming community. Something about that stuck in my mind, as I was writing the original news post here at GamesReviews and every time I’ve heard about the film since. “If we can get rid of everything that made it a game,” it said to me, “it would be a great for film audiences.”

But we all know that’s not the way the world works. Resident Evil was a fine film (for what it was) and it reinvigorated the game franchise in many ways, but it isn’t what it could have been. They made a film for film audiences, and that was it. There are countless examples of this happening. Take the game away so it’s just a concept – post-apocalyptic not-zombies, young girl protected by older father figure, violent confrontations with other survivors – and stick it into an hour and a half, maybe two hours ten if you have enough content.

That’s not the film that the fans want. It’s not the film anybody wants or has asked for. But, at the end of the day, that’s the film it’ll probably become. The only alternative is to look at the new Batman films. Dark and character-driven, but then the question will be whether they can properly pull that off with only a handful of characters and not much in the way of bad guys.

Conclusion

I want to be wrong. The Last of Us could make a great film, but it’d probably end up bombing. It’d be too long, with not enough happening on screen. You’d need to cut entire locations and have scenes where Joel and Ellie sneak around old, dilapidated buildings. But however they do it, it won’t live up to fan expectation.

It might be successful, it might even be critically acclaimed, and in that regard I have my fingers crossed. But it won’t be The Last of Us, an

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Mat Growcott has been a long-time member of the gaming press. He's written two books and a web series, and doesn't have nearly enough time to play the games he writes about.

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