Features and Columns · Movies

Behind the Scenes: How they Filmed ‘The Last of Us’

A deeper dive on the HBO show that’s spore than meets the eye.
The Last Of Us Se
By  · Published on September 1st, 2023

Welcome to The Queue — your daily distraction of curated video content sourced from across the web. Today, we’re watching a video essay that looks at how The Last of Us show did the video game justice.

Cast your mind back to — oh, I don’t know — the late 1990s. Everyone and their auntie was clowning on the Mortal Kombat movies. 1993’s Super Mario Bros. was simply Too Much for its audience (a reclamation effort is underway, don’t worry). People were genuinely forwarding the thesis that video games were not and never would be art.

We don’t live in a more enlightened age in the 2020s. But we do know better. Of course, video games are art. And adapting video games into cinema and television isn’t an impossible feat. It’s just really, really hard. It requires good people at the helm who understand what made the video game great in the first place. It requires innovative thinking about the limitations and strengths of film and television, and how they can be bent to capture the spirit of their source material.

HBO’s The Last of Us is getting a lot of due praise for being one of the rare video game adaptations to knock it out of the park. The series takes place in a post-apocalyptic future where a fungal infection has decimated much of humanity. Survivors attempt to make a home for themselves in this new, overgrown world — avoiding infected and non-infected humans alike.

The following video essay focuses on the series’ cinematography, and how its visual choices used the confines of streaming (where folks can be watching on a projector or on their phones) to tell a story that gelled with the source material. It helps, of course, that the original game already had a cinematic feel to it. No shade intended, but adapting The Last of Us (with its cut-scenes and naturalistic lighting) is an easier transition than, say, oh I don’t know … LucasArts’ Loom? Either way: it’s a heroic chapter in the long-term rehabilitation of video game adaptations. And here’s a look at part of how they pulled that off:

The following contains visual spoilers and has some NSFW content. Beware!

Watch “The Last of Us Behind the Scenes — Did They Do the Game Justice?”

Who made this?

This video essay on how HBO’s The Last of Us approached the cinematography of a video game adaptation was created by StudioBinder. This production management software creator also happens to produce wildly informative video essays. They tend to focus on the mechanics of filmmaking itself, from staging to pitches and directorial techniques. You can check out their YouTube account here.

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Meg has been writing professionally about all things film-related since 2016. She is a Senior Contributor at Film School Rejects as well as a Curator for One Perfect Shot. She has attended international film festivals such as TIFF, Hot Docs, and the Nitrate Picture Show as a member of the press. In her day job as an archivist and records manager, she regularly works with physical media and is committed to ensuring ongoing physical media accessibility in the digital age. You can find more of Meg's work at Cinema Scope, Dead Central, and Nonfics. She has also appeared on a number of film-related podcasts, including All the President's Minutes, Zodiac: Chronicle, Cannes I Kick It?, and Junk Filter. Her work has been shared on NPR's Pop Culture Happy Hour, Business Insider, and CherryPicks. Meg has a B.A. from the University of King's College and a Master of Information degree from the University of Toronto.