FocusFlik: The Last of Us: Blurring the lines between cinema and games

I think I may have mentioned elsewhere on FlikGeek, but as well as films, my other big passion is gaming. I can always remember having games consoles in the house, from when I was just about stringing a sentence together. And video games have definitely had a huge influence on me in terms of what I like about cinema, in particular horror cinema. Horror games, such as Silent Hill, Resident Evil and Doom have always seemed to me to be more terrifying, but in essence they are very similar to modern horror films, gore, violence, jumpscares. You get immersed in the character and you experience the same thing they do. When The Last of Us came along, horror gaming grew up. It evolved from its moody teenaged phase and emerged as a fully functioning adult with real world experience.

I decided to write this article for two reasons; 1) this weekend just passed, I have completed The Last of Us, 2) I saw The Last of Us topping a few Best of 2013 film lists, despite it’s gaming origin. I was so moved and affected by the story of The Last of Us, I actually began shouting at the tv (without the Call of Duty style of enthusiasm I hasten to add). So what’s so special about The Last of Us? Well it’s a zombie game, and like most successful modern zombie works, the word zombie is never actually mentioned, more to the point, it’s not really about the zombies. It’s more about how you use your environment to survive, and your relationship with Ellie, which approaches its heart-breaking conclusion with such finesse and subtlety, you don’t see it coming and when it does climax, you cant help but feel shell-shocked.

Joel and Ellie

Joel and Ellie

Sure, The Last of Us is exceptionally violent, it has some adult themes (reference to gay porn) but ultimately it’s a spectacle in its own right. It’s tender, emotive and unflinching. Compared to its predecessors, the aim is not to smash-up zombies in an obstacle course, but to survive and complete a single task; taking Ellie to a group of rogue activists in a world with no law and societal disintegration. You make choices and decisions which affect the little girl in your care, and ultimately you give a damn, one hell of a damn about this girl.

So why is this on a film blog? I read after completion of The Last of Us, that there are rumours that a movie is in the pipeline. I could not think of a single instance where a game-to-film idea has been so spectacularly bad. I really, really hope they don’t make a movie of The Last of Us, and this is why.

The violence in The Last of Us is pretty extreme, but that's not the point of the story

The violence in The Last of Us is pretty extreme, but that’s not the point of the story

For starters the story itself, is nothing new to cinema. I wont ruin it for anyone who hasn’t played it yet, but needless to say, it’s right at the bottom of the pile for revolutionary plotlines in cinema. But in terms of game content, it couldn’t be any more different. Some might think it’s a bit dull, but that’s the beauty. The focus isn’t on violence, the story is allowed to grow and flourish. All those who say video games are too violent, whilst I think that you could be right, The Last of Us makes up for this with its morality. It presents the younger gamers with choice and a beautifully constructed view of the human condition. Which has a far bigger impact on young minds than commonplace violence, and I think unless you as a gamer, are at the heart of that story, controlling the character, the message is lost. It definitely wont transfer well to screen, that much I can tell you.

One thing I truly enjoyed about The Last of Us is Ellie’s character, she’s a very independent, strong female lead. And probably most importantly, not sexualised at all at any point in the game. Granted, she’s only 14, but let’s be honest, there is 14-16 year old girls in games who are dressed in skimpy school girl outfits, with enormous breasts really only appealing to the older male gamer. Ellie is a refreshing break from female game characters. Take for example, Lara Croft, her game presence was overtly sexual, and Angelina Jolie’s representation was obviously sexually charged. In Tomb Raider’s most recent outing, she’s become more of a normal girl, rather than some fantasy figure. And whilst cinema tends to be the forerunner for good female representation, I cant help but feel that what makes Ellie special will be lost on-screen, inevitably with films like Hanna and Kick-Ass, and even more modern films like The Hunger Games, Ellie is a normal girl, and I don’t think audiences will be able to palate her ‘normalness’ alongside the horrific acts of violence she’s forced to commit. At least in the previously mentioned films they seem to have a reason why they are violent, I think Ellie’s back story is too tragic for screen and will cause a lot of controversy if it is shown. But knowing Hollywood, they’ll probably make her a bit older, Joel a bit younger and have a romantic back story.

Ellie is probably the best representation of women in games for a long time, if not, ever

Ellie is probably the best representation of women in games for a long time, if not, ever

In total, I think it took me about 18-20 hours (maybe a bit more) to complete the game. How can you condense such a lengthy game into one film? They’ve tried and failed at this with the film adaptation of Final Fantasy (each game in the series from 7 onwards can take upwards of 40 hours to complete). A lot would have to be cut from the story, and to be honest, there simply isn’t enough innovation in The Last of Us to warrant a screen appearance. It’s times like this that I abhor the film industry. Jumping on the bandwagon of the most popular thing, for example, making films of totally redundant news stories (here in the UK, a film about Paul Potts, a classical singer who won Britain’s Got Talent – why did we need this? We already watched the TV show for about 3 months…) Hollywood definitely has an unhealthy fixation with making the film version of everything. And I hope that The Last of Us remains firmly on games consoles. Why ruin something so perfect? I genuinely don’t think there is a production company/director/actors out there who could transfer this game to screen with the kind of treatment it deserves.

What do you think? Game to film transfers – good or bad? Would you see The Last of Us at the cinema?

3 thoughts on “FocusFlik: The Last of Us: Blurring the lines between cinema and games

  1. I loved this game, truly brilliant 😀

    On the film adaptation, it could be done, shouldn’t be done but it could. It takes far less time to watch a story than it does to play one. They for example edited the game into a 3 hour movie on Youtube, which is pretty great to watch http://youtu.be/nGQM0yzg2Jk

    There really is no need for a movie, its practically a movie already 😀

    • I didn’t realise there was a YouTube ‘movie’! Will have to check that out! I’m biased, but to me it was gaming perfection! If they do make a movie, I think there needs to be pressure on producers to get it right. Although, I still think some of it might get lost in translation. I shall be keeping a beady eye on this one.

      • So many other games that would make a great adaptation. This has good visuals, acting, story, music. Why does it need adaptation, what would be new, what would be improved?

        I want a star craft film 😀

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