You may have recently heard rumours that Sony have registered the rights to a ‘The Last of Us’ movie. There are many theories surrounding the reasons behind this. The most popular of which is that they actually intend to make the movie. The most likely of which is that they are simply doing it to protect the intellectual property. My immediate response was one of horror. That said, in the interest of keeping an open mind and perhaps generating a discussion about the subject, I thought it only fair to present my reasoning. From what I’ve read, people seem to be eagerly anticipating such a movie. Arguments already raging about ‘who should play Ellie?’ (How hilarious would it be if they signed Ellen Page to the project?) or ‘Who would make the best Joel?’ – even one interesting viewpoint that stated ‘none of the original actors should be used – except for Tess!’ (Very ably played by Annie Wersching).
However, in all honesty, I couldn’t really care less who they cast – as this film should not be made. Video game to movie cross-overs have a proven track record of being complete rubbish. Tomb Raider, Street Fighter, Mortal Kombat, Super Mario Bros., Final Fantasy (especially Spirits Within), Hitman, Max Payne – the list goes on. One travesty after another. The films suck, do poorly at the box office and generally make everyone unhappy to varying degrees (sorry guys, but that World of Warcraft movie will suck just as bad, but keep hoping). However, for me, ‘The Last of Us’ runs deeper than just succumbing to shoddy film making. To try and make a movie of it will ruin what makes it so great! It will seem weak and derivative – rather than the fresh and trail blazing game that it is. The problem comes with the inspiration for the game. In reality, The Last of Us already IS a film! Two films in fact – at least. John Hillcoat’s 2009 film, The Road (based on the Cormac McCarthy novel of the same name) is clearly a heavy influence on the Naughty Dog game. The ‘Father’ role played by Viggo Mortensen is practically Joel. Old, tired and hardened by the world around him. His only reason for survival is the safety of his young teenage son. Sound familiar?
The sparse surroundings where, despite all that has happened, man is still the greatest threat is lifted straight out of The Road – which is fine, because The Road is an awesome movie, whereas The Last of Us is an awesome game. To try and put that world BACK into film just wouldn’t work. The best you could hope for is that your audience has never watch Viggo Mortensen playing Joel – before Joel existed. Unfortunately, the other movie on which The Last of Us draws a heavy influence is Will Smith’s 2007 movie, I am Legend (based on Richard Matheson’s novel) – a much better known movie. As bleak as The Last of Us is, it isn’t as desolate as The Road. The gloriously green look of a dilapidated city being reclaimed by nature is a key component to the feel of both I am Legend AND The Last of Us (and Namco Bandai’s ‘Enslaved: Odyssey to the West’ for that matter). Not to mention the virus that ‘infects’ the last few humans, turning them into mindless, but swift, killers – is an idea seen in the Will Smith movie and used to great effect in Joel and Ellie’s adventure. The Last of Us works so well because of the roles you get to play out within the world. The fight, the struggle, the scrounging for ammo and supplies just to make it through the next part of your journey is intense and amazing. The tension and fear are palpable as you slowly make your way through a house of clickers, or successfully clear the Hunters out of the bookstore without being seen. These things won’t come across at all well on film. The scenes may still generate tension, but nothing like the same experience of actually being in control at these moments. Being a passive observer radically alters the whole scenario. There are slices of other movies in there too. The idea of transporting the human race’s last chance of survival through a harsh and volatile world could have been lifted straight out of Clive Owen’s ‘Children of Men’ (another great movie). Part of what makes The Last of Us stand out as a video game is the bold way it eschews videogaming tropes and remains incredibly playable. Ammo is scarce, everything from health, to bombs, to shivs has to be crafted and used – in live play. Characters can only carry a small amount and what they have can be seen about their person (save for the occasionally vanishing brick or bottle). This isn’t special or different in movies. Movies already use these tools to create tension. Another thing that has me worried is something I hold so dear within The Last of Us. The Ending. As far as I can see, this just doesn’t work on film. Part of the shock or betrayal you feel, comes from the fact that you play the majority of the game as Joel and a few key moments as Ellie. Ellie fights her heart out to save Joel, Joel betrays the human race to save Ellie. The impact will be lost on film as you’ll have spent the majority of the film with both characters, the bond will have to be rushed, the parallel with Joel’s daughter Sarah will seem even more forced than the inevitable death of Will Smith’s pooch in I am Legend. Not only was the gaming audience already split by the ending – even the developers couldn’t agree on whether the game should end the way it does! It would be even worse in the movie theatre. The chances of the story being allowed to end the same way the game does is slim to none. Let’s face it, chances are the test audience will probably put a happy ending on it!
On the flip side of the coin, the idea of making it into a movie isn’t COMPLETELY without merit. One thing that can be said for The Last of Us (despite the derivative trappings of the environment in which the game takes place), is that the story is fantastic. The thought of millions more people experiencing the highs and lows, the stunning climactic final showdown, followed by that quiet moment between Joel and Ellie – is an appealing thought. However, I still feel that it SHOULD be experienced through the medium of gaming rather than cinema. The character performances are stunning throughout – to try and recapture those performances would be difficult at best – and run the risk of completely flattening the film unless performed perfectly. The reason The Last of Us is such an amazing game is, not only does it have a stunning story with quality acting – the basic requirement of any decent film, but it offers so much more than that. The palpable tension, the moments of calm before the storm, dozens of memorable moments spread throughout the game. There are too many things that are unfilmable or irrelevant to the storytelling, but essential to the game. How do you capture the joy of pulling open a virtually unnoticeable loft hatch and finding a way to improve your bomb making on film? The elation at finding that final comic book for Ellie? Will the sense of desperation you feel fighting through the driving snow, trying to get to Ellie before David catches up with her REALLY be the same when it’s just people acting it out? As far as I’m concerned, The Last of Us is perfect just the way it is. It was conceived, designed and executed flawlessly as a videogame. To make it a movie, would simply make it an inferior product. Artistically, there is nothing to gain by making it a movie. The reason would be purely financial. Thankfully, with all the right moves Sony has been making of late, I would be surprised if this movie project ever sees the light of day. If you are in the other camp, the camp that would LOVE to see this movie. I recommend you watch I am Legend, The Road and Children of Men – amongst others. You’ll realise this movie already exists. However, if you’ve never played The Last of Us. You really should! As there has never been a game like it!
Richard is a father, teacher, gamer and writer. He believes that The Last of Us is the finest game ever made, feels that the StarWars Saga should only be watched in ‘the Machete order’ and once cleared Legend of Zelda: Ocarina of Time in one sitting. Took him 20 hours, four cups of tea and a sausage roll. You can follow him on twitter @vigilantesanta.