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Uncharted, Last of Us creative lead on why direct film adaptations won't work

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Feb 22, 2018

While it may be a while before we finally get to see big-screen takes on the worlds Naughty Dog brought so vividly to life with The Last of Us and the Uncharted series, the game studio’s creative lead has just dropped a nice update on how he and the creative teams are approaching the task. 

Speaking at the DICE Summit recently to talk about story writing and give a progress update on film adaptations of both blockbuster PlayStation games, Naughty Dog creative director Neil Druckmann said the teams are interested in iterating on the game world—not simply rehashing familiar territory.

In fact, Druckmann said an early script he worked on for The Last of Us, in hindsight, simply feels too much like an attempt at shoehorning the game into a film—and “I don’t want that movie to be made.”

Even though a direct film adaptation of either game excited him at first, Druckmann said he began to realize that characters as iconic as Joel, Ellie, and Nathan Drake couldn’t easily be recreated for film without losing much of what made them unique in the first place.

“…[A]s more time passes on, we're not excited by a direct adaptation of the story we told, because we feel we've already told that story very well cinematically, so I don't know what else you could bring to it,” he said, via GameSpot.

Because the games did such great jobs unspooling their narratives through linear, cinematic set pieces and cutscenes, and because the voice actors behind their lead characters have so strongly helped define them for fans, Druckmann said it makes little sense to simply copy and paste the games into a movie format. 

"For me—and I know for Naughty Dog and for a lot of our fans—Nolan North is Nathan Drake. Ashley Johnson is Ellie,” he said. “Troy Baker is Joel. It would be very disorienting to see someone else in that role."

That’s why development on both films will likely follow the precedent set by the Fargo TV series, which iterates on the Coen Brothers’ world not by following the film’s original characters through new stories, but by creating new characters and putting them in the same world; one with similar thematic beats—but with fresh stories to tell.

“It captured the tone, it captured the world, it expanded up; I love that show,” said Druckmann. “I think that's the way to do it.”

Neither film is in production yet, though Tom Holland (Spider-Man: Homecoming) has reportedly been tapped to play a younger Nathan Drake in the Uncharted feature. Stranger Things executive producer Shawn Levy—whom Druckmann said “gets it” when it comes to storytelling—is reportedly set to direct.

Progress on The Last of Us is a little further behind, with no word on casting or where the story will go. But it’s reassuring, at least, that Sam Raimi (Ash vs Evil Dead, Spider-Man 1-3) still appears to be attached as producer.