The Last of Us trailer is finally here, and if there's one thing I love, it's adverts for a story that's already been remade twice. This time it has Pedro Pascal though! Exciting. Regular readers of TheGamer might assume I have a special kind of bitter distaste for The Last of Us – I was one of the loudest voices against the remaster, writing in numerous ways about how the game was a waste of time, money, and resources, as well as being flagrantly mis-sold to us as a gameplay upgrade. The AI was a little smarter in ways we barely noticed, that’s it. It was not TLOU with TLOU2 gameplay, it did not redesign the obvious combat arenas, and it was not the E3 trailer. It was the same game with the same story. We didn't need it a third time, and we certainly don't need it a fourth.
I do not have a particular problem with The Last of Us, contrary to what you may think. Instead I think it is a wonderful game with a brilliant sequel, undercut only by its indulgent length and abject nihilism, not to mention the sequel's rocky Israel-Palestine politics. Those are issues for another day though, as today I want to talk about the TV show. I should state from the off that I do not consider this to be a pointless adaptation. For all gaming can sometimes be very regressive and profit-driven, I maintain that it's art, and as art should be open to adaptation. I want to see Red Dead Redemption the musical, I want poetry about Mass Effect. When gaming borrows from film (or film from gaming) the adaptations are usually janky and soulless, but games have had notable success adapting or being inspired by books – The Witcher as a direct adaptation and BioShock as more of a thematically inspired riff on Atlas Shrugged are two strong examples.
But The Last of Us' TV show is not really an adaptation. It's a copy. Several shots (most, in fact) are exact copies of or direct reinterpretations of what we see in the game – a game that helped pioneer the idea of cinematic video games. The Last of Us (the game) tried to look like a prestige TV show, and now The Last of Us (the prestige TV show) is trying to look like the game. That Neil Druckmann is directly involved in the show only lends credence to the idea that it is an self-indulgent copy of what came before, not a new angle. It'll probably be good, but that's because The Last of Us is good. I could copy out The Catcher in the Rye word for word but that wouldn't make me a great novelist. The Last of Us is Gus van Sant's Psycho.
I've heard the arguments. Television has a wider audience than gaming and, if gaming really wants to establish itself as a great modern art form, taking its most praised story to a medium less dazzled by technical upgrades, less willing to declare anything enjoyable a masterpiece, and less prepared to be blown away by budgets is a key test. There's also the fact this will make a lot of money. Again, I'm sure it will be good, because The Last of Us is good. Pedro Pascal and Bella Ramsay are good. Craig Mazin is good. HBO makes far more good shows than it does bad ones. Why are you, who has played the game, who knows the story, excited to have it retold to you again? Are we really at the point of pop culture consumption where simply pointing at a thing we recognise is enough to get us on board? Are we so convinced companies are our friends because we enjoy the games they crunch their employees into retirement for that we're actively celebrating what could amount to millions of dollars in profit for them?
I know why HBO cares about this (money), and I know why Druckmann cares (ego). Why do you care? It's the same story you've seen three times now. It's great to be excited for things, I suppose. I'm happy for you. But I wish The Last of Us coming to TV meant more than just 'yeah we're doing the game again the exact same way, and Druckmann is here to make doubly sure of it'. There seems to be some exploration of Left Behind beyond what the game's DLC offers us, including likely some time with Joel during the long gap between the game's prologue and its post-time jump opening, and that's a little more like it but still not really enough. The Last of Us is a rich world teeming with characters who never get their story told, not to mention wider potential for completely new stories within the mythos, but it's Joel again. At least he's Pedro Pascal this time.
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