Live-action gaming adaptations have had a very bad history. With releases like 1993’s Super Mario Bros. Movie setting the bar pretty low, few have managed to actually raise it, even a little.
In terms of animation, video game adaptations can excel, as we’ve seen with Arcane, Cyberpunk: Edgerunners and Castlevania, but even more recent live-action shows and movies like Tomb Raider and The Witcher have been mediocre at best. With The Last of Us on HBO, however, it looks like things could change.
I’m sure by now you’ve seen the rave reviews The Last of Us gets, and while we should breathe in the success of a video game adaptation and just bask in it for a good minute, the critical and public reception of The Last of Us goes beyond just the show itself, and could mean a lot for future video game adaptations.
The Last of Us leads by example. By proving that video game adaptations can be more than enough, it silences those who thought the medium would never translate well to film or TV without animation. So this means that we can now expect more from upcoming video game projects, having set our standard by something really good.
Does this mean we will always get great video game adaptations from now on? No, of course not. The stinkers will stink as always, but the fact that we managed to get a The Last of Us means we can get something else just as good, and a lot of that comes down to whether a studio is willing to recognize the source material for what it is, and whether there’s enough story to work with in the first place.
The Last of Us lays a very solid foundation for a TV adaptation, and while there are some changes, it is clear that what we are seeing is what we played almost a decade ago. However, we’ve seen great stories in video games before and then had them changed beyond recognition by Hollywood.
But now that The Last of Us has shown what a successful adaptation looks like, hopefully we can see more studios follow suit. This should especially be the case for games that already have strong narrative cores. God of War and Horizon, which are both getting adaptations at Amazon and Netflix respectively, have great stories built into the core of their games. Omitting these will only anger fans of the original work, who expect at least some of their favorite titles to make it to the adaptation.
Many gamers do not want to see something that only shares a name with their favorite games, and while it may not be the most original, it is best to keep fans on side rather than have a rabid horde ready to criticize everything. The Last of Us sums this up incredibly well, for while there are changes, they are small compared to the overall accuracy we received.
Any decision to change the original product has also been explained to us, either by Neil Druckmann or Craig Mazin. Instead of the public finding out that the game they remember is being changed on their own, they are informed of the minor changes so they don’t immediately go to the Internet to say they are starting a petition to replace the tendrils with spurs in The Last of Us.
Because The Last of Us shows a clear dedication to the source material, fans do not feel as uncomfortable as with any other adaptation, having to spin the wheel of misfortune to see which of their favorite moments, characters and stories would be changed beyond recognition.
Of course, many showrunners in the past have stated that they love and respect source material only to completely go against what it represents. But The Last of Us is a good sign that studios are taking the right approach when it comes to actually treating video game stories as stories worth telling, and so if HBO’s latest hit is an example for the future, it means that we could be in for some very strong TV shows and movies based on video games.
It’s probably not wise to pin all our hopes on The Last of Us, because there’s always the chance that even with a truly successful show based on a video game studio studio just doesn’t understand why it worked. But if we’re in the realm of optimism for a moment, The Last of Us sets the bar very high for what a video game adaptation can and should look like, if you get the right source material and attention from the showrunners. The fact that it exists means we can hopefully see more shows like this soon.