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Wednesday, December 10, 2014

The Maze Runner (2014)

The_Maze_Runner_coverHow long do you think it will before we get a reality show that pits teenagers against each other in some horrific game? With political parties tearing countries apart and with climate change wreaking havoc across the globe it may not be as far off was one would hope. A dystopian future could be right around the corner, but until then we’ll just have to settle for another young adult adventure novel brought to the big screen and today, we are looking James Dasher’s The Maze Runner.

Written as the first part of a trilogy it made a pretty decent splash back in 2009, with each of its sequels creating consecutively smaller splashes, but The Maze Runner was a very fun read which I quite enjoyed and this book should have easily translated to the screen, unlike say some films like The Giver.

Director Wes Ball starts out strong with this adaptation of the source novel, but my guess is that he was given a clear “This movie must be under two hours!” directive by the studio that resulted in the second half of the film being a bit of a jumbled mess. This is unfortunate as the cast is solid and the art direction is excellent, but they are all undercut by the messy script.

poster maze

For those unfamiliar with the book; the story begins when sixteen-year old Thomas (Dylan O’Brien) wakes up in a rusty elevator that brings him to The Glade. He has no memories of who he is, where he came from or what in the hell is going on, so when he goes a little berserk upon finding himself surrounded by a bunch of strange young men one cannot blame him. The Glade is an encampment that has slowly grown over three years as a new memory wiped inhabitant is delivered once a month, but the kicker is that The Glade is in the center of a MASSIVE maze that in all those three years no one has been able to solve. They haven’t failed to solve the maze because they are group of slackers but because the very nature of the maze seems to make the solution impossible; it shifts and rearranges itself every night and if you happen to still be in the maze at night monstrous creatures called Grievers will surely kill you.

the maze of death 
The Maze

About the Grievers; in the book they are bulbous fleshy monsters that have mechanical appendages that lash out to kill and can even drag you into its fleshy surface but their main weapon is their sting which can cause extreme pain for days if not weeks and can lead to death if not treated. The Gladers are provided with a serum that prevents you from dying.

monsters of the maze 

In the movie they seem more heavily mechanical, with a clear monstrous head, which to me made them less frightening. The movie also completely eliminates that fact that The Gladers have a cure for the Griever venom which is what gives you flashes of memory.

Thomas is introduced to Alby (Aml Ameen) the leader of The Gladers, Newt (Thomas Brodie-Sangster) the second in command, Minho (Ki Hong Lee) the head of The Runners which is the group of boys that tries to map the maze each day, Gally (Will Poulter) who is instantly a huge dick to Thomas for no real reason, and Chuck (Blake Cooper) a sweet kid who had arrived just a month before Thomas.

not lord of the flies 
Lord of the Flies Cos-Players.

Every member must contribute to the group and Thomas is given gardening detail and is sent out into the woods to collect fertilizer. (Note: Who the hell looks for fertilizer in the woods? We clearly see they have pigs in their encampment, one even arrived with Thomas, so there’s your fertilizer you idjit.) While wandering aimlessly through the woods he is attacked by a crazed youth named Ben (Chris Sheffield) who seems to believe that Thomas is responsible for all of this and proceeds to try and tear his head off.

“I know who you are!”

It seems he got himself stung by a Griever and so because of this madness Ben is cast out into the maze to presumably die as no one has ever survived a night in…The Maze!  The group is also a bit freaked out as no one has every been attacked during the day before.


Someone getting stung during the day isn’t the only new thing as the elevator arrives days ahead of schedule to deposit a new Glader but this time it is an unconscious girl and with her is a note saying, “This is the last one.” She briefly regains consciousness long enough to spot Thomas and yell out his name before passing out again, thus causing more suspicion to be aimed at poor Thomas. Also clutched in her hand are two syringes that will be revealed to cure Griever stings.

Thomas calls dibs on the only girl.

Those familiar with the book will have noticed some minor changes so far; as I mentioned earlier that in the book the Gladers are provided with the Griever antidote which can cause flashes of recalled memories which can result in a bit of madness. Gally in the book really hates Thomas because after he is stung and given the antidote he has memories of Thomas being the person behind their entrapment while in the movie Gally is never stung and just hates Thomas because he is a threat to the status quo, but the biggest alteration at this point is that the new girl Teresa (Kaya Scodelario) is not shown to have a telepathic link with Thomas. This is a strange thing for the movie to leave out as it becomes a crucial plot element later in the trilogy but in this movie Teresa is barely given any screen time at all and virtually no character. It’s as if the director believes that girls have cooties and should rarely be seen and certainly not heard telepathically. Now we do get some of Thomas’s weird memory flashbacks that not only alludes to the idea that Thomas was in fact part of the Maze’s creation but that he and Theresa may be talking telepathically, but this is pretty thin and looks like weak fan service.

Gally really, really angry

Worse is to come as Thomas is insistent on everyone escaping the Maze and that he will be their Moses while tonight Gally will be playing the part of Pharaoh. The thing is they never solve the maze as it was intended, Thomas lucks out on killing a Griever when it gets crushed between shifting walls while chasing him and takes a mechanical part from its brain that turns out to be a trigger device that will open a passageway out of the maze. This Deus ex machina device allows them to jettison most of the mystery of the maze found in the book.
The movie does not stint on cool maze running though.

This is most likely due to time constraints, the way the group find out about the exit to the Maze in the book and the complex code hidden in its very structure would have probably taken too long to explain, that or they didn’t trust the intelligence of their audience. I’ll give them the benefit of the doubt and say it was the time factor.

Aside from Teresa’s character getting the short shrift, it’s Gally that the film completely screws up. In the book he is the one of the Gladers that no one really likes and who after being stung by a Griever eventually flees into the Maze and becomes a pawn of the creators, well more of a pawn than everybody else. The movie version is just a two dimensional asshat whose apparent sole purpose is to turn the Gladers against Thomas.  The screenwriter was clearly a fan of The Lord of the Flies.

into the maze

Now this not a bad movie it just could easily have been a much better one. The second half just rushes along at break neck speeds giving no time for character development or plot. Cool shit happens but it doesn’t always make logical sense and this results in the lack of any true suspense. The movie did make considerably good bank at the box off and with a mere 34 million dollar budget it’s not surprising that the sequel is already in the works. Fingers crossed that they will take better care with the book to screen adaptation this time, but some of the changes in this movie will make elements in the second installment a bit tricky to make work. So here’s hoping.

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