The Last of Us is an extraordinary video game. The visuals are polished, the voice acting is some of the best ever in a game, and the writing is rock solid, better than most mainstream movies. It's been a colossal hit since its release, and is looking at a PS4 release this summer. So it's no surprise that rumors are flying all around the web about a film adaptation in the works. Now, I know I published an article a while back about how video game adaptations usually suck, but I actually have quite a bit of hope for this one.
As I have said before, video games have a hard time making it to the screen for a number of reasons. Whether it be poor writing, poor choice of properties, emphasis on the wrong aspects of the source material, or just being stupid, there are many ways that video game films have failed, but so far no one has quite cracked the code to making one succeed. So I just want to think out loud for a second here, and give some open advice to the powers that be (who probably won't read this anyway) on how to make The Last of Us into the film that this game deserves.
Get A Decent Script.
Not just a decent script, this game needs a quality script. The characters, specifically central characters Joel and Ellie, are dynamic and complex, never black-and-white in morality (especially in the ending, holy crap). The parent-child-type relationship that develops between them colors their choices and drives the story. If rumors are to be believed, the minds behind the film are already on the right track, having brought in Neil Druckmann, writer and director of the video game, to write the script for the film. One of the biggest problems in video game adaptations is that they seem to be written by people who didn't play the games. So who better to write the film than the game's creator?
Make Characters Priority One
This is directly tied to the script issue, but I want to expound on this issue a little bit. For those of you who don't know, there are two types of enemies in this game: the human factions vying for control of the diseased wasteland, and the mutant zombie-like creatures carrying the disease. Now whenever you bring zombies or mutants into the equation, it's a given that there are going to be at least some action/chase sequences. And that is just fine. But one of the worries that I have with The Last of Us is that it will become something in the vein of I Am Legend or World War Z, driven by action and thrills rather than character. Screenwriters hate to hear this, but The Last of Us simply has to be mostly dialogue and character moments to work as an effective piece of cinema. Keep emphasis first on character, then story, then atmosphere, then action.
Watch Some Movies
This seems kind of silly when you say it out loud, but hear me out. The Last of Us is an atmospheric game. Ruined city streets with grass growing out of cracks in the cement, ivy crawling up the walls of dilapidated office buildings, it's all very well-executed. But film is a different animal. Tone in a film is totally different when it comes to execution. So my recommendation to the filmmakers is to watch some films to help get a feel for the atmosphere they're trying to cultivate. Watch I Am Legend for a perfect example of how to portray a destroyed city. Watch The Book of Eli to get a feel for vast, empty landscapes. Or maybe The Road for a great example of the human aspect of the end of the world. This film would be a great opportunity to explore some various tonal possibilities.
Get A-List Actors
This is by no means a magic remedy. Mark Wahlberg couldn't save Max Payne and Angelina Jolie is arguably the only thing that made Tomb Raider remotely passable, and that's debatable at best. But if you're going to be delivering powerful material, it's a good idea to call in big guns that can do the job. Now, given that the game was already made with motion capture technology, calling in the actors from the game wouldn't be a bad idea, especially Troy Baker, who kicks all kinds of arse at acting in general when it comes to games. But if you want to put butts in the seats, it might be worth it to consider Christian Bale or Russell Crowe for the role of Joel. I think they'd both be great, and could easily navigate the complexities of the character. For that matter, Hugh Jackman looks the part and would also be excellent, especially after that intense performance in Prisoners. As for the casting of Ellie, I see two options who could show some promise. I see either Dakota Fanning or Shailene Woodley. Fanning has more than proven her gusto in films like Man on Fire, Hide and Seek and War of the Worlds. As for Woodley, I think her powerful performances in The Descendants and The Spectacular Now speak to her tremendous acting ability. Bottom line, to make The Last of Us to succeed, the actors need to show up. And if you have your pick, why not make them good?
As stated previously, The Last of Us is a great game, and I think it has a lot of potential as a film, with the possibility for great acting, haunting atmosphere, and a powerful story of human connection and the power of the will to survive. But without great writing, emphasis on character and high-caliber casting, it runs the risk of ending up in the sad sack's corner with Max Payne and Super Mario Bros. And that can't be allowed to happen.