Fallout: a world of mutants and metal armies

April 11, 2024
4 mins read
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A popular post-apocalyptic game with an “atompunk retro-futuristic style” makes it to streaming TV and ASHTON BROWN loves it madly.

TV show and movie adaptations of video games have been pretty hit-and-miss over the past few decades. Many consider Super Mario Bros (1993) to be solely responsible for production companies avoiding game adaptations due to the tremendous misfire it was. Which I don’t think is fair – Mortal Kombat and Street Fighter were also absolutely terrible.

Oddly enough, it wasn’t until the second attempt of the source material with The Super Mario Bros Movie in 2023, which smashed box office records for an animated film (and to a lesser extent its rival Sonic The Hedgehog) that production companies started to see dollar signs once more. HBO’s The Last of Us really cemented the appeal of these adaptations by being nominated for a swathe of Emmys and being genuinely good television.

So it is no surprise at all that other popular video game IPs are being swept up by major streaming platforms in the battle for our attention (and money). Amazon Prime’s Fallout is the latest attempt at this and after having the absolute privilege of watching the first two episodes of the show, I am delighted to say that it’s incredibly successful.

For those who aren’t gamers, the Fallout series was launched in 1997 and has seen a variety of different games spanning generations of consoles, and since 2004 has been produced by the gaming powerhouse Bethesda. Described as a post-apocalyptic role-playing game with an atompunk retro-futuristic style, the Fallout series has amassed huge numbers of fans since its late ‘90s inception. The Amazon series doesn’t follow the storyline of any one game, and in fact is a totally new story which follows on from Fallout 4.

I think a big challenge for gaming adaptations is being able to find the balance between being accessible enough for newcomers and non-gamers without dumbing down the source material or overexplaining the world-building to fans of the series. Fortunately, Fallout strikes this balance. Having only briefly played Fallout 3 but nothing else in the franchise, I was basically going in blind, and at no point did I struggle to understand or follow the rules of the world nor did I ever feel like I was being patronised with explanations. On the other hand, my date, who was a big fan of the games, never felt like he was having to sit through endless expositional hand-holding to keep newbies up to speed.

Narratively, Fallout follows three main characters whose worlds collide at the end of the second episode. After an incredibly affecting prologue, the story jumps 200 years after multiple nuclear explosions, where humanity’s wealthy and privileged have been living a life underground, safe from the fallout of said nuclear explosion. Known as ‘vault-dwellers’ they know nothing of the outside world having lived a life of underground bliss. However, the world above wasn’t destroyed by the nuclear war, it simply evolved. A world of mutants, metal armies and deformed creations lived on, reshaping a completely different existence for humanity.

When disaster strikes the underground world, vault-dweller Lucy (Ella Purnell) must leave and enter the world above. Lucy serves as an incredible protagonist to root for, skilled and capable when it comes to combat but naive enough when it comes to the surface world that she becomes the perfect companion for expositional storytelling. Above ground, Aaron Motens Maximus is learning what life is like as a training soldier in a chaotically violent world, and Walton Goggins as The Ghoul shows the perspective of a villainous mutant after as much blood and bounty he can shoot his way through. All three actors perform their roles with absolute perfection, bringing a witty relatability into their characters’ journeys. It’s hard not to root for each of them regardless of how inane, vile or ridiculous their actions are, because they perform it with such a grounded honesty that the bizarre circumstances they are living through seem all the more real and believable.

Jonathan Nolan may be a name that sometimes disappears in the Oppenheimer-sized mushroom cloud of his brother Christopher, but his direction of this similarly nuclear themed show is nothing short of exceptional. Balancing the mix of genuine humour with ultra-violence is no mean feat, but Nolan does so with an almost Tarantino-esque understanding of the genre. Showrunners Geneva Robertson-Dworet and Graham Wagner have done an incredible job of understanding the source material and striking the balance of genres while also acknowledging the narrative differences required when adapting successfully from a game to the silver screen. Not once was there a lull in the action or storytelling. I found myself genuinely laughing out loud as the jokes landed perfectly, and then just as soon was making audible gasps at the sudden shift to the ridiculous video-game-like violence before I had even caught my breath.

Fallout doesn’t water down the grittiness for the sake of its humour but also doesn’t miss a joke for the sake of taking itself too seriously – a difficult balance but one that is absolutely mastered here. At one point I turned to my mate and had to stop myself from saying, “This would make an amazing video game”; the highest compliment I could offer given the source material. Like the acting and direction, the art direction, set and production design of this post-apocalyptic world is nothing short of stunning and provides a fully immersive scenario as the canvas for the storytelling. An impressive and fully realised fantasy world awaits… one that feels scarily plausible the more its origins are realised by the viewer.

When the back-to-back pilot episodes ended, I sat there hoping that they might accidentally play the entire 8-episode season then and there. But at least from today (11 April) I can continue this incredibly engaging, hilarious and thrilling journey through the Fallout universe on Prime Video.

Despite only having seen two episodes I can confidently say that Fallout is going to be an incredible piece of television and well worth watching. Don’t let your love of the games or lack of interest in them prevent you from watching this masterfully crafted show, which stands confidently on its own three feet, due to mutation caused by nuclear fallout, medical malpractice…or both.

+ Fallout in its entirety is available to watch on Prime Video from 11 April.

 

 

 

 

Ashton Brown is Witchdoctor's craft beer writer and film reviewer, and a self-professed geek, horror fanatic and post-rock enthusiast.

Ashton Brown is a freelance reviewer, writer, actor and director. You may have seen him on some ads (he's the big hairy guy) or at the NZ Comedy Festival. He's Witchdoctor's craft beer writer and film reviewer, and a self-professed geek, horror fanatic and post-rock enthusiast.

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