Review by Sean Boelman
Video game adaptations are well-known to be cursed, mostly because of the loss of the element of interactivity. However, Naughty Dog founder Neil Druckmann’s heavy involvement with HBO’s The Last of Us adaptation seemed promising, and the result is what may be the best video game adaptation of all time.
The show tells the story of a smuggler traveling through post-apocalyptic America with an important package: a young girl who might hold the key to a cure for the pandemic that wiped out much of the world years before. For those wondering, it is a pretty faithful adaptation, but there’s plenty of surprises left in store, even for the game’s devotees.
Compressing a 20+ hour video game into a nine-hour television series was no easy task, and while there are a few parts of the story that are missing, the series’s creators hit all of the important parts without feeling overly rushed. They even managed to work some DLC content into the show.
Pedro Pascal was somewhat divisive casting for the protagonist, Joel, at first, but he absolutely nails his personality. Much like his turn in The Mandalorian, Joel is a character that thrives in his quietude until he doesn’t. Pascal nails both the gruff and sensitive aspects of the role as much as you would hope anyone would.
That being said, the series does also offer some very unique takes on other characters. For example, Nick Offerman’s Bill is not entirely like his video game counterpart, but the changes add a welcome layer of empathy to the show. Murray Bartlett plays another character, Frank, who was mentioned in the games but not seen — and he is excellent.
One of the main selling points of this show is that it features some direct recreations of scenes from the video games, and they did a phenomenal job with those scenes. It very much feels like we are stepping into the post-apocalyptic world of the video games in the best way possible, with plenty of anxiety-inducing action along the way.
The visual effects and production design in this series are second-to-none. It’s clear that they were not only devoted to making the characters look realistic, but also to making the world feel like a lived-in post-apocalyptic society rebuilding from the ground up. And the sound design is just as chilling as that of the games.
The Last of Us combines enough elements that are unique with what fans were clamoring to see adapted from the games to be the perfect combination of fresh and familiar. It may be one of the most ambitious video game adaptations ever, and it absolutely knocks it out of the park.
The Last of Us debuts on HBO on January 15 at 9pm ET/PT. All nine episodes reviewed.