Hardcore video game fans might fiercely hope for total faithfulness to the source material in upcoming adaptations like Assassin’s Creed and Agent 47, but when it comes to translating the story of Naughty Dog’s The Last of Us to the big screen, some of the game’s narrative content will necessarily have to be stripped out. Some dedicated gamers have attempted to create The Last of Us: The Movie by simply cutting together the game’s cinematics, but even the most strictly edited versions have running times of well over three hours.
The Last of Us is set in an alternate version of America, where the spread of a fungal infection that drives its victims violently insane has led to the breakdown of civilization and the creation of a society comprised of oppressive military forces, rebel factions, gangs of bandits, and people who are simply trying to survive. The game’s story focuses on a world-weary smuggler, Joel, who is tasked with escorting a fierce teenage girl called Ellie across the country – preferably without either of them dying along the way. While development is still in the early stages, Game of Thrones star Maisie Williams is reportedly already being eyed for the role of Ellie.
Fortunately, the screenplay for the upcoming movie adaptation of The Last of Us is being penned by someone who probably knows the story and characters better than anyone: game director Neil Druckmann. The screenwriter has previously confirmed that the movie will be a direct adaptation of the game’s story, rather than simply being set in the same universe, but in a new interview with MCV Druckmann explains that it isn’t as easy as a simple redraft of the game’s script.
“In two hours you can’t tell the same kind of story that you can in a game like The Last of Us, which is 15 hours… I’m in the middle of it now, and it’s been super difficult because there’s so much that happens in The Last of Us – even just in the cinematics – that can’t fit in a film, let alone all the gameplay in-between and dialogue.
“It almost has this novel quality as far as how much content there is. And a film works really well when it’s laser-focused, so the first part of it was like: well, what is this story really about? It’s clearly about Joel and Ellie. What are the most important beats that we can’t lose? Start with those, and cut everything else out.
“It’s been really difficult to cut certain things out, but what I’m starting to get this is really focused narrative that’s about these two characters. Some parts will be similar to the game and some parts will be quite different, but it’s kind of interesting in helping me understand this other medium and its strengths compared to video games.”
The Last of Us fans might be excited at having a driving member of a game’s creative team so heavily involved with the movie adaptation, since video game-based movies so far haven’t exactly been of the highest quality. This comes with its own set of challenges, however, since despite working on very Hollywood-esque, narrative-driven games like Uncharted 2: Among Thieves, Druckmann has never scripted a movie before. Furthermore, he explains that writing for a non-interactive medium has put certain limitations on what he can do with the narrative.
“In many ways games surpass those other mediums… A lot of games can make you feel guilt, make you take actions that you don’t necessarily want to take, but you have to in order to proceed, and that’s something a film can never do. Different mediums have different strengths, and games just have this bad perception that they’re slowly overcoming. One of the kind of things I’m trying to do is promote the idea that games are this compelling narrative form, just as strong as any of these other mediums.”
It’s true that video games (perhaps not entirely undeservedly) have earned a reputation for being mindless shooting galleries with poorly written stories, but it’s a perception that has slowly been changing in recent years as video game writers strive harder to situate gameplay mechanics within compelling game worlds and, in turn, critics begin to treat video games as works of art rather than simply fun distractions.
Some might feel that a movie based on The Last of Us is unnecessary, given how highly cinematic the game itself already is. If nothing else, however, it will offer an interesting new perspective on the story and its characters, and perhaps even help to kickstart a better era for movies based on video games.
We’ll keep you up to date on The Last of Us as development continues.