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  • Jeff Beck

The Last of Us: The Complete First Season: A New High Bar for Video Game Adaptations (4K)


The Show:


Without a doubt, one of the hardest genres in all of film and television to get right is video game adaptations. It seems like every single year we see someone try to bring a popular video game title to screens big and small, and much more often than not, it ends up being a disappointing transition that just can't capture the spirit of the game. It's become such a standard result that many people will simply roll their eyes and expect a letdown whenever another attempt is made.


When "The Last of Us" came out back in 2013, and was a smashing success, thoughts immediately turned to trying to adapt it in one form or another. It may have taken ten years (with a sequel game released in the interim), but at long last, Craig Mazin ("Chernobyl") and original game creator Neil Druckmann turned the game into a TV show for HBO, with expectations understandably running quite high. With exceptional talent like this behind the scenes, would this possibly become one of the extremely rare video game adaptations that satisfies?


The show begins with a brief talk show prologue in which a horrifying fungal infection called Cordyceps is discussed (an infection that takes over control of its host), as well as the possibility of it one day being able to infect humans. It then jumps to 2003, where we meet Joel Miller (Pedro Pascal) and his daughter Sarah (Nico Parker). They lead perfectly ordinary lives, with Joel doing labor work with his brother Tommy (Gabriel Luna) and Sarah going to school, that is, until a fungal outbreak causes complete chaos all over the globe. The infected start attacking the uninfected, causing the Millers to attempt to flee, with Sarah tragically getting killed by a soldier in the process.


20 years later, the pandemic has caused massive devastation around the world and filled it with countless infected. Joel now lives with other survivors in a quarantine zone in Boston, where he does odd jobs while working as a smuggler with Tess (Anna Torv). When Joel doesn't hear from his brother, he decides to acquire a car battery to go check on him, but gets scammed in the process. The battery he was after got sold to the "Fireflies," a group that's against the military organization ("FEDRA") that's in charge of the zone. While trying to get it back, Joel and Tess run into Marlene (Merle Dandridge), a Firefly leader who begs them to sneak a young girl, Ellie (Bella Ramsey), out of the zone and escort her to other Fireflies waiting at the State House in exchange for transportation. They agree, and set off on a dangerous journey that will have them risking their lives for someone who just might be the only hope for humanity.


Expectations were indeed running high leading up to the show's start, with some even criticizing the casting as soon as the leads were announced. However, with just its first episode, "The Last of Us" put all doubts to rest, with it not only doing incredible justice to the story, but also showing that the showrunners had certainly picked the right Joel & Ellie with Pedro Pascal & Bella Ramsey, both of whom do a phenomenal job of inhabiting their characters (earning them Emmy nods in the process).


As anticipated, its not an exact duplication of the game, but who would want that in the first place? Mazin & Druckmann have made changes big and small throughout to not only shake things up a bit, but also to fine-tune the story for television, as well as delving further into this world than the game originally went. The highly-lauded third episode ("Long, Long Time") presents the biggest departure from the game, exploring the lives of characters that you didn't originally get to know particularly well. The episode is mainly an intriguing romance that, while it may not move the main plot of the show forward in any significant way, tells a fascinating capsule of a story, one that packs an emotional wallop (with two marvelous performances from Nick Offerman and Murray Bartlett, both of whom also received Emmy nods).


That said, for the most part, the show sticks remarkably well to the storyline fans know quite well from the game, adapting it for the screen with great skill and exceptional thought put into the best way to bring the game's various elements to life. It's central element, as it was in the game, is the developing relationship between Joel & Ellie as they go on their journey together, the former finding himself once again in the role of guardian 20 years after the death of his daughter, and the latter finding it hard to open up and trust anyone after all she's been through. Mazin & Druckmann's scripts do a brilliant job of fleshing out these characters and slowly building their relationship, while, as mentioned, Pascal & Ramsey do a wonderful job of bringing out all of the most important aspects of these characters, resulting in a pair that you can't help but get engaged with and root for.


As far as actual negative criticisms go, there are very few. A couple of the small changes that were made did come off as a little odd, and did we really need an entire episode about how Ellie originally got bitten? Even so, these small complaints do nothing to dampen the tremendous accomplishment of bringing this game to the small screen, and doing so in a very satisfying way that showed just how much these guys cared about getting it right. As a result, they've given us one of the best video game adaptations of all time, one that should stand as a template to future writers looking to do justice to their respective material. One can only imagine how stunning the next season will be as these two take on the even more ambitious sequel.


Video/Audio:


"The Last of Us: The Complete First Season" comes to 4K in a 1.78:1, 2160p transfer of outstanding quality. This can be a very dark show at times, but the picture always remains beautifully clear and crisp. Likewise, the Dolby Atmos-TrueHD audio track is fantastic, giving you all of the dialogue, sound effects, and music in excellent quality. Overall, fans will be quite impressed with the magnificent treatment that the show has received for its home release.


Special Features:


The Last of Us: Stranger Than Fiction

Controllers Down: Adapting The Last of Us

From Levels to Live Action

Getting to Know Me (4 Featurettes)

The Last Debrief with Troy Baker (2 Featurettes)

Inside the Episode (9 Featurettes)

Is This A The Last of Us Line? (2 Featurettes)


This is a fairly decent collection of extras, with most of them having been previously released online. The best ones here are the two that have to do with adapting the game ("Controllers Down" and "From Levels to Live Action"), as well as the nine "Inside the Episode" featurettes that delve into each episode with interviews and behind the scenes footage. The others are fine, but not particularly vital.


Conclusion:


With outstanding writing from showrunners Craig Mazin & Neil Druckmann, and a pair of marvelous performances from Pedro Pascal & Bella Ramsey (along with the rest of the exceptional cast), "The Last of Us" stands as one of the best video game adaptations to date, proving that they can be done remarkably well when the proper amount of care goes into them.


Score: 4.5/5


Available on 4K & Blu-ray starting tomorrow.


Follow me on Twitter @BeckFilmCritic.



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