The Last of Us movie might currently be stuck in development hell, but there’s hope for anyone looking to get their zombie fix this year.
The Girl with all the Gifts, a movie based on the book of the same name, bears more than a passing resemblance to Naughty Dog’s seminal third-person action game.
Spoiler alert! This post will discuss the plots of both The Last of Us and The Girl With all the Gifts – if you want to avoid spoilers, keep that in mind.
The film stars Rory McCann (The Hound from Game of Thrones) and Gemma Arterton as two survivors of the zombie apocalypse as they attempt to make it to safety after their secure military installation is overcome by the bitey undead.
The film not only bears a striking visual similarity to the PlayStation game, with its depiction of a post-apocalyptic city that’s been overcome by lush greenery – the similarities go much deeper.
Both stories, for example, feature zombies that have been brought back to life by an advanced fungal infection that attaches to the brain and controls the host organism.
Visually this means that many of the zombies in both are covered in fungal growths that almost make them look as though they’re part of the environment itself.
But the single most striking similarity between The Girl with all the Gifts and The Last of Us is the plot.
Both feature a young girl (Ellie in The Last of Us and Melanie in The Girl with All the Gifts) who are infected and yet have the potential to provide a cure for humanity, and both feature a dilemma where creating this cure will require the children to be sacrificed.
In both, a central part of the plot revolves around the morality of sacrificing one life to potentially save humanity. We have scientists who want to sacrifice the children for the greater good, and kindly companions who think that the sacrifice of just one life can’t be justified.
Similar but different
The two stories aren’t identical. If you’re expecting a Last of Us-style ending to The Girl with All the Gifts then the real ending of the movie will come as a complete shock, and the movie also does a much better job at humanising the ‘evil’ scientists. But the two were similar enough to make me reflect on what The Last of Us movie might end up being.
The Last of Us was a game where I felt a real attachment to its two principal characters, Joel and Ellie. I wanted to see both of them find safety in the horrid world they’d found themselves in, and it hit me hard whenever their fortunes turned sour throughout the course of the game.
Like many others, I couldn’t wait for the prospect of a movie adaptation of the game, but The Girl with all the Gifts made me realise that any movie wouldn’t be able to capture what it was that made me so attached to the game’s characters.
Whoever they’d end up casting, even if they were amazing actors like Chris Pratt and Maisie Williams who went on to perfectly capture the essence of Joel and Ellie, they wouldn’t be the same characters that I’d accompanied on a twenty hour adventure.
Playing as a character changes how you perceive them. Joel’s successes and failures partially belonged to his character, but more importantly they belonged to me as the player.
The same is true of any other gaming protagonist, from Gordon Freeman to Solid Snake.
The problem with so many video-game adaptations is that they forget this level of connection that makes us care about the characters we play as. They can’t just put us in a cinematic version of World of Warcraft and expect us to care about its characters, because these aren’t the characters we’ve grown to love over hours of play.
I’ll watch the cutscenes in Assassin’s Creed, but at the end of the day the story I was invested in was my own rather than the one created for me by Ubisoft.
The player with all the gifts
In the end I was glad that the Girl with all the Gifts wasn’t an adaptation of the game that I love. It struck a nice balance of bringing back fond memories of the game whilst adding its own twists, not to mention its own British character.
But as we move into a new era of video game adaptations that has already seen movie versions of Angry Birds, Ratchet and Clank, and Warcraft released to middling reviews, and is set to see Assassin’s Creed and Tomb Raider films in the near future, it’s a lesson that more and more directors are going to have to learn.
Let’s just hope that if a The Last of Us movie does ever see the light of day that it also heeds these warnings or it will end up playing second fiddle to a movie with a completely different name.
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