The announcement of the Retro Video Game System, a cartridge-based console, is the latest case study in the debate of whether gaming should continue evolving beyond its roots.
Why a Film for The Last of Us is Not a Good Idea
The news is in: Naughty Dog’s masterpiece, The Last of Us, is officially being adapted to film. The philosophy behind this, I’m assuming, is that the story will reach a wider audience and, yes, bring in some extra dough for Naughty Dog and Sony. Regardless, it may not be a wildly fantastic idea for several reasons.
The most obvious argument is that video games don’t work as films. There are a plethora of examples, from Super Mario Bros. to Doom to, well, virtually any video-game-turned-movie you can think of. It just doesn’t work. Why? My opinion is that, unlike books, video games are a visual experience, which is the huge benefit of turning books into movies. Aside from that, the core purpose of video games are to provide an interactive experience. Books sometimes translate well into film because in both mediums the consumer is a spectator. Trying to take an interactive entertainment medium and morph it into a viewing experience tarnishes the essence of the experience.
More specific to The Last of Us, a film version is more or less pointless. The story is already there. Rehashing it in film seems redundant and, let’s face it, whether they leave every scene exactly as it is in the game or they make alterations, current fans will not be pleased with the result. Does that mean movie-goers who aren’t gamers will hate it? No, but Naughty Dog and Sony (who owns the studio that will produce the film) are riding on the success of the game and, thus far, I haven’t heard too many fans of the games who are enthusiastic about a film adaptation.
Another problem I see is in the choice of the studio. Screen Gems, the studio behind the Resident Evil and Underworld films, just isn’t a strong film studio. A film version of a game like The Last of Us needs a great studio. Given that Neil Druckmann (the game’s creative director) is penning the screenplay (and co-producing), the writing likely won’t be a huge issue. This means the direction and production will make or break the film. With Sam Raimi acting as one of the producers, I’m not terribly confident.
The one saving grace (as mentioned) is the involvement of Bruce Straley (the game’s director) and Neil Druckmann. These two are largely responsible for The Last of Us and could keep it from being a train wreck. However, often even the creators of a game or book can’t save a film adaptation because they either don’t have enough say or they feel the changes made are necessary to adapt the story into film. I’m confident they will remain faithful to the source material, but I can’t help but feel their talents would be put to better use in a sequel or brand new IP.
Probably the biggest problem of all, though, lies in casting. No matter who is cast in the starring roles (I can hear the cries for Ellen Page already), I have zero confidence they can live up to the representations in the game. While Joel doesn’t seem like a terribly difficult character to portray, actors often have a habit of putting their own spin on the roles they play. It’s somewhat understandable, but in the case of Joel and Ellie, they are perfect the way they were portrayed in the game and should not be altered in any way.
As far as Ellie goes, many people do compare her to Ellen Page (she personally never comes to mind when I see the character), but I doubt Ellen Page would even be able to play the part well. Yes, Ellie has some very Ellen Page quirks and, according to some, appearance, but Ellen Page has a style that is just different enough that I wouldn’t be convinced she was Ellie and not Ellen Page playing Ellie. Aside from that, Ellen Page’s indignation toward Naughty Dog “stealing her likeness” leads me to believe she would not accept the role if it was even offered to her.
Am I about to hit the web protesting? Honestly, no. If this film is to be made, that’s Naughty Dog’s and Sony’s prerogative. Will I support the film by seeing it? That’s also a no. I enjoyed the game immensely. Naughty Dog crafted an atmosphere that completely immerses me as soon as I start up the game—something I was reminded of during my sojourn with Left Behind. I loved being thrown into the despondence of the world, forced to fight or sneak around enemies. It was an experience that can never be replicated in film, and one I do not wish to confuse with any other adaptation. Yes, I think it’s a bad idea, but despite the reservations mentioned above, I’m not going to kick and scream if they make the film. You just won’t find me in the theater watching it.