Reviews - Updated on January 16, 2023

In 2013, a couple of days before the embargo, the first review of The Last of Us was leaked to the Web. An enthusiastic reviewer from Empire compared the release to Citizen Kane, a film that had a huge impact on cinema and is still considered one of the best films in history to this day. That quote turned into a meme, but in fact, the author was not so far from the truth – it’s already 2023, and ten years later, The Last of Us is still included in the lists of the best games. Yes, and it inspires many developers – without it, we would hardly have received a restart of God of War in the form in which it appeared in 2018.

Questions arose about the gameplay of The Last of Us, but the plot aroused delight – it seemed that now they would start taking video games seriously, they would understand that these were not only “stupid shooters”, and the mainstream press would begin to write more boldly about them. At the same time, one could often see the opinion that the plot of The Last of Us is only really good by the standards of a video game. Say, transfer it to the big screen – and the effect will not be the same. The time has come to confirm or refute this theory – the premiere of the series of the same name took place on HBO Max.

Like the first time

Even before the premiere, the creators of the series warned that they would not exactly copy scenes from the game. It is understandable – what is transmitted through the gameplay, you need to recreate with live actors by other methods. So the prologue—in a sense, the most important part of the story, explaining Joel’s actions in many scenes—is structured differently. In the game, we are shown Joel and his daughter Sarah, who gives her father a watch, and after five minutes, panic suddenly begins in the city.

In the series, the fact that the tragedy is about to happen is prepared gradually, while at the same time introducing the viewer closer to Sarah. Family breakfast, going to school, visiting a watchmaker – in the game, such a delay in the introduction would be useless: it is enough to give the opportunity to control Sarah and get closer to the character in this way. In the series, such an eyeliner to the tragedy works great. In parallel, police cars drive through the city, fighter jets fly one after another over the heads of the townspeople, and the police report on TV about a sharp increase in violence and blame it on an unknown drug – but neither Sarah, nor Joel, nor their neighbors attach much importance to this.

It all adds up to a story that many of us know by heart and makes the series more interesting for a new audience. For her, at the very beginning, they added a fragment from a fictional old TV show in which epidemiologists discuss the pandemic and the fact that it is not bacteria or viruses that pose the greatest danger, but seemingly harmless fungi. This includes Cordyceps being able to override the mind control of ants.

When the craziness hits the city, the show starts to quote the game – the scene in which Joel, along with Tommy and Sarah, drive away from their home, is very similar to what we saw back in the PS3 era. A panicked girl asks uncomfortable questions, looks through the windows at adults, at burning buildings and fleeing townspeople. The adorable Nico Parker does a great job as Sarah and does enough to make that very scene at the end of the prologue make your eyes water. It seems that I have already seen this moment a hundred times in the game and you know that it is about to come, but still, when watching the series, you are not ready for it.

Old heroes, new faces

This is the beauty of the first episode – the plot captures and in some places intrigues even those who have played The Last of Us many times. You never know what the creators of the series will decide to add or change, and if usually such changes do not benefit the adaptations, then this is a special case, since the author of the original script worked on the show. Neil Druckmann was not just a consultant, but wrote the script with Craig Mazin.

In the pilot, we get to know Joel’s character better – we observe his life as a smuggler and see how he worries about his brother. Pedro Pascal brilliantly plays the role of a wise man who spent the last 20 years in hell and hardly smiled at least once during this time. All the distinguishing features of the character are in place: a faded shirt, a broken wrist watch and a voice in which notes of Troy Baker are sometimes heard (Troy Baker).

The rest of the characters are great too. Tess is just as hard-working, capable of standing up for herself, and her close relationship with Joel is hinted at a little more here than in the game. Marlene is the cocky but sensual leader of the Cicadas, and it’s great that she’s played by Merle Dandridge, the same actress who voiced her in the game. Well, Tommy, who does not have much screen time yet, makes a good first impression, and his voice in the series is easily confused with the game version.

But most of all fears, of course, caused Ellie. I myself, I confess, did not understand this choice, explaining it by the desire of the authors to take on the role of a young actress who is on everyone’s lips after the Game of Thrones. However, after the first few scenes, it became clear that Druckmann found in Bella Ramsey – this is the real Ellie, perfectly conveying the character’s character. She jokes funny, instantly and sharply reacts to what she does not like, but is ready to listen. It is very interesting how the character will develop in the next series – while Ellie was very little, but even that was enough to want to see more scenes with her participation.

Regards to the game

When doubts about the actress for the role of Ellie disappear, you begin to relate to the series differently. It becomes obvious how important this project is for Druckmann, and for Mazin, and for HBO with Sony, how much effort has been invested in it. The actors (so far) are amazingly chosen, the scenery fully conveys the atmosphere of the game – quarantine zones hung with warnings on the spot, public executions of quarantine violators, and so on. Well, where without the music of Gustavo Santaolalla (Gustavo Santaolalla), which is included rarely, but aptly?

You can look for Easter eggs endlessly: Sarah is wearing the same T-shirt as in the game, the same guitar is in the living room in Joel’s house … And it doesn’t look vulgar – the creators are just very familiar with the source material and skillfully interspersed such details here, then there. Yes, and the augmented scenes better adapt the original script to the television format and will appeal to fans. For example, if in the game we get to know Ellie only when we meet Marlene, then here the cocky girl is shown to us a little earlier and half hints explain why she is special.

What is not here is action in the usual sense. Of course, they didn’t transfer gameplay moments like fights, throwing bottles and moving stairs. But we saw the first infected, and in the series they turned out to be even scarier than in the game – they run very fast, destroy everything in their path and do not look very nice. There were no clicks and drifters yet – everything is ahead. But there is a suspicion that the main characters will not have to fight them as often as in the game.

The first series of The Last of Us is great – it’s equally exciting series for longtime fans who know the plot of the original by heart, and for a new audience, for which the plot structure was slightly changed. While it’s too early to say that this is the best adaptation of a video game, it’s already hard not to notice that this is a rare case when the creators didn’t give a damn about the source material. If everything continues to be just as amazing, then we are waiting for a series that we want to periodically review.

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