Sam Raimi's 'The Last of Us' Movie Never Happened
What would Joel and Ellie's story look like in the hands of Sam Raimi?
For years, Hollywood has struggled to bring popular video game properties to the big and small screens, and the results haven't always been rosy. Between disasters like Doom, Need for Speed, Max Payne, Assassin's Creed, and Prince of Persia: The Sands of Time, video games simply don't seem to translate into more immediate narratives. However, the past few years have seen an increase in the quality of video game-inspired projects such as Uncharted, Sonic the Hedgehog, Paramount+'s Halo, Pokemon: Detective Pikachu " and "Werewolf Killing". HBO's highly anticipated "The Last of Us" adaptation wanted to be one of the best, but considered making a movie version before Chernobyl creator Craig Mazin got his hands on the material.
The Last of Us caused a stir in the video game community when it debuted in 2013. While the writing quality and emotional impact of video games has improved significantly, The Last of Us has been hailed as having a truly cinematic narrative and characters. The performances of Troy Baker and Ashley Johnson were widely praised, as was the game's subversive take on the concept of a post-apocalyptic world. Unsurprisingly, this quickly attracted Hollywood studios to explore film adaptations. The game apparently has a large built-in fan base, and they seem interested in seeing the movie version. At the time, the film industry thought video game movies could achieve the same level of success as recent comic book adaptations.
A Hot Property
In 2014, Screen Gems officially announced that they would be developing the film. It's a logical move, since the studio is also working with director Paul W.S. Anderson. However, it appears The Last of Us is being planned as a potentially more "advanced" project based on an affiliated creative team. In addition to recalling the game's creator and screenwriter Neil Druckmann, Naughty Dog co-presidents Evan Wells and Christopher Balestra, as well as game director Bruce Straley Producer.
Legendary horror master Sam Raimi produced the film with Ghost House Pictures. Raimi seemed the perfect choice to tackle this material; his Evil Dead trilogy changed horror movies forever and shaped the way "infected" are portrayed in popular culture. It's not hard to see the connection between Raimi's influence and the design used The last survivor. Additionally, Raimi is known for his ability to blend practical and visual effects beautifully, and is able to retain the integrity of the aesthetic that made The Last of Us so realistic.
A Veteran Filmmaker
After the criticism of Spider-Man 3 and the cancellation of Spider-Man 4, Raimi certainly had his doubters, but he just made a comeback with Drag Me to Hell. The 2010 horror flick proved that Raimi could scare audiences as often as he ever did, and he was able to entrench himself in the studio system. While 2013's Oz: The Great and Powerful wasn't a hit, it was undoubtedly a financial success, showing that Raimi is comfortable working in 3D.
Unsurprisingly, given how much attention has been paid to the performance in the game, casting will be an integral part of the film adaptation. Druckmann read through drafts of the script with the actors early in the process and completed a second draft of the script in early 2015. While Druckmann revealed that the movie will feature some "significant changes" to the original story, he assured nervous fans that He will stay true to the tone, message and emotion of the game. Clearly, some changes to the material were needed to fit the game's massive spectacle into the confines of a blockbuster.
Hollywood certainly saw The Last of Us as a potential hit; it was a time when respected filmmakers were actively developing video game films, including Duncan Jones' Warcraft, Justin Kurzer Roar's "Assassin's Creed" and Roar Uthaug's "Tomb Raider" reboot. "Game of Thrones" actress Maisie Williams says she's interested in playing Ellie after fan casting went viral. Williams got Johnson's approval and contacted an American agent to negotiate with Remy. Williams was asked to host a Comic-Con panel and play through the game to prepare, but was unable to do so due to Game of Thrones' tight filming schedule.
However, Druckmann reported in April 2016 that the production had run into development difficulties due to creative differences between him and Raimi and the studio over the tone of the film; Raimi confirmed these reports in November. druckmann had intended to use the film The game's dark, atmospheric vibe was retained, but the studio insisted on adding more action sequences to make it easier to sell to blockbuster audiences. Druckmann says his version of The Last of Us is close to No Country for Old Men; Screen Gems wants World War Z next.
With these conflicts stalling the process, Sony appears to have been looking for other concepts for the film. In early 2020, images of a leaked animated short from production agency Oddfellows surfaced online. This classic 20-minute short will likely bridge the narrative gap between the first and second games, fleshing out Ellie's backstory and experiences. It's unclear if this is a promotional video or the start of development for a standalone animation project, but the bold animation marks a stylistic change that will set it apart from the game.
A New Direction
Mazin, who won an Emmy for Chernobyl, was not hired for an HBO adaptation starring Pedro Pascal and Bella Ramsey until March 2020. Druckmann has been wary of film adaptations after the cancellation's experience soured His appetite, he said he was interested in working with Mazin because of the similarity in tone between The Last of Us and Chernobyl. He later revealed that the HBO version would be the most accurate video game adaptation ever made. Mazin later joked that they didn't have a high bar to clear, citing the Assassin's Creed and Doom movies as examples of video game adaptations gone wrong.
The Last of Us has a screenworthy story, but the density of the material is beyond the limits of a three-hour narrative film. It would be disappointing to see one of the most decorated games in history take the form of yet another generic studio tool. With Mazin and his team of creative experts on board, it looks like HBO's version will set a new standard for video game adaptations.