If there’s one thing I’m known for here at Polygon, it’s that I’m a fan of huge guys fighting on screen. Certainly one of the primary things I wrote here was a review of the “Sherlock Holmes, however the Hulk” procedural Reacher (it’s fun!). And while I didn’t like The Rings of Power, I loved the massive orc that showed up in a single episode a lot I wrote an ode to him and gave him a reputation.
So after I heard there was going to be a big infected in episode 5 of The Last of Us, I used to be excited. The show had surpassed my expectations up to now in its ability to re-create among the fungal horror from the video game, especially the clickers, with stunning use of practical effects and prosthetics augmented by CG to create monsters which can be scary precisely because they’re so tangible.
Unfortunately, I used to be arrange for disappointment. The massive infected — let’s call it Big Fungus, nevertheless it looks like a version of the Bloater from the games — shows up in a pitch-black, frenzied battle scene, as hordes of infected pour out of the bottom to attack the Kansas City resistance and our terrified heroes. The motion scene is disappointing by itself and might’t even match the fourth episode’s gas station shootout. While that one was crisp in its chaos, cleanly and clearly showing the audience the motion and where the relevant parties are, this one suffered from a poorly lit night setting where it was hard to see anything, and in addition from the camera mostly specializing in the people hiding or running away, fairly than certainly one of the few humans-versus-infected fights within the show. But as a scholar of Big Fighters On Screen, I used to be most upset at how they massacred my bloated boy.
When Big Fungus rises out of the bottom, it’s imagined to be a moment that inspires awe and terror, because of the sheer size of the lad (he must have been even larger, but that’s one other point). But what undercuts this moment is how clearly he doesn’t fit into the world around him.
In a world surrounded by more convincing prosthetics and makeup for the infected, Big Fungus stands out like a big sore thumb. It’s not only the way it looks — even though it does look quite bad — but the way it moves. When Big Fungus stomps, you don’t feel the interactions with the world around it, regardless that there have been practical effects and an actor involved, augmented by VFX. One way or the other, Big Fungus still has no tangible presence, and doesn’t appear to occupy any real space. As a substitute, it moves like a weightless ball, lumbering awkwardly toward the human characters, and suffers greatly from the juxtaposition of the superior effects around it.
There was a probability to make Big Fungus’s awkward movement work — The Last of Us is a video game adaptation, in any case, and isn’t afraid to lean into some video game decisions. An excellent example is the stellar child clicker within the episode, also a combination of practical and digital effects, which was terrifying precisely due to inhuman way that it moved, like a jumble of limbs and joints scrambling toward something with no full understanding of how those limbs and joints are imagined to function. However the show doesn’t play up Big Fungus’ awkward and unreal movements for extra scares, as a substitute attempting to sell it as an actual presence. Regretfully, nothing about Big Fungus reads as remotely real.
I don’t want this to be misread as a screed against digital effects. They might be great! Some things are only possible with digital effects, and there are excellent, progressive filmmakers doing great work within the digital space. A few of my favorite stunts and motion beats are mixtures of practical and digital effects.
It’s as a substitute one other example of a broader problem of how HBO’s The Last of Us treats the infected at times: as opportunities for Easter eggs fairly than moments of real excitement or tension. There are definitely moments where the infected are utilized in good and interesting ways — Joel attempting to reload his gun while holding a flashlight as a clicker approaches in episode 2 involves mind — but Big Fungus felt like an egregious example of playing the hits and evoking Big Television Moments without adding anything of substance.
We recognize Big Fungus’ appearance and the best way it fights from the sport, and that it’s imagined to be an enormous deal from the music cues and just because of the sheer scale of him. However the show isn’t serious about doing much else with it. He shows up, looks weird and misplaced, after which is completed. It’s not enough to simply point at a recognizable character and say, “I recognize that!” If you happen to’re going to do something, it’s value doing it right. And it breaks my heart that Big Fungus missed the mark.