The most cinematic of video games becomes a TV series for the most cinematic of networks: The Last of Us is a new milestone for the small screen and for adaptations from video games.
Watch The Last of Us, the new TV series HBO signed by Craig Mazin and Neil Druckmann and inspired by the video game of the same name. Playstation created and directed by Druckmann himself, is not just following the intimate and raw odyssey of the two already iconic protagonists, Joel and Ellie, here with the faces of former Game of Thrones stars. Pedro Pascal and Bella Ramsey: it is above all to take a journey through pop culture throughout the 21st century to get where we have never gone before.
HBO is no stranger to such ventures: a few years ago, again after a preview viewing kindly granted by HBO and Sky, I had awarded top marks (10) to Watchmen by Damon Lindelof, a spiritual sequel to Alan Moore’s graphic novel, but also. ideological continuation of The Leftovers, another past success of the network by the same author. I was asked at the editing stage if I was really sure: perfection does not exist, after all (and the ratings do not claim to announce it, at most to ‘scout’ or ‘suggest’ it) and in the end, despite my assurances that we were dealing with a very special TV series, the editors decided to lower that number to 9.5.
A few months later Watchmen won Best Drama Series of the Year at the Emmy Awards, still the biggest award ever won in Hollywood by a superhero story (excluding the two Oscars to actors Heath Ledger and Joaquin Phoenix for their performances as the Joker).
Now, without a crystal ball, I can’t know if and how many awards The Last of Us will win: however, as in the case of Watchmen, the more I continued watching the nine episodes based on the first chapter of the video game saga of Naughty Dog (Watchmen was also composed of nine episodes, by the way) the more I became convinced of be in front To something that would leave its mark. In the world of TV, in adaptations from video games, in our gaze.
This is because, as anticipated in the opening, to watch The Last of Us is to make an odyssey through already explored, colonized territories, to see them new: what makes the difference is not so much the level of detail with which the post-apocalyptic America envisioned by Druckmann (who makes the leap from video game director to TV by writing all the episodes together with Mazin and personally directing episode number two, teaming up with a directing team that also includes Jeremy Webb, Ali Abbasi and Mazin himself) as the intimate depth with which the staging gives space to the protagonists.
The use of handheld camera is relentless, bordering on documentary, and goes so far as to create almost A direct contact between the characters and our gaze, emphasizing the concussive scenes (few, centered, the use of action is reduced to the bone) and emphasizing the actors’ evidence in the moments of drama (plenty, needless to say): Rarely on TV has the viewer’s point of view been taken into such consideration to allow him to enter the world beyond the screen, let alone such a sophisticated approach had ever been thought of for the adaptation of a video game between television and film.
A huge world made small and intimate
And speaking of cinema: The courage of The Last of Us is all about being able to deal with its sources of inspiration (so many, from Cormac McCarthy to John Hillcoat, from No Country for Old Men to The Road, from The War of the Worlds to A Quiet Place) and also the many works born, paradoxically, from the success of the original video game (Logan by James Mangold, just to cite only the most glaring example) coming out of a numerically unequal confrontation with a dignity all its own.
Its post-western soul has an authentic warmth, burning from deserted metropolises to snowy forests, and it establishes an atmosphere as brutal as it is immediately believable, with the feelings of the protagonists present, real, vibrant, yet buried, hidden, kept away from external masks. The Last of Us is Bob Dylan’s Modern Times, it’s ‘Nettie Moore,’ and it’s ‘Ain’t Talkin,’ but staged. The soap-opera effect that waters down The Walking Dead here is averted by focusing on the storytelling of the characters, not so much of their adventure (and the proximity of the camera mentioned earlier makes that scattering that has penalized the AMC show impossible).
The cine-game effect, or rather the ‘curse’ of the cine-game, that tendency that has always made video game adaptations to film or television weak if not laughable, is here averted by a production finally aware of the potential of the adapted work: The most cinematic of video games that finds its true breath in television. In this series we illuminate a path through and along the paths of entertainment culture over the past decade, a circular path that comes full circle and is fulfilled.
Thus, episode after episode, sequence after sequence, scene after scene, it becomes increasingly clear how The Last of Us is not so much a story about the death of the world as it is a tale of the birth of love in a world where love is no longer possible. And, likewise, what is most striking and sticks out is not found in the imagination of the apocalyptic future, but in the memory of what that future has taken away.
In short, after Copenhagen Cowboy by Nicolas Winding Refn has already secured a place in our top five of 2023 miniseries, the rest of the year is unlikely to present us with a better new show than the one signed by Craig Mazin and Neil Druckmann: our article on the Most anticipated video games, movies and TV series of the year Is proving to be prophetic.