2014 has brought a wealth of Young Adult books to the screen and the latest to join this ever growing list is James Dashner’s The Maze Runner which does not walk through its cinematic version of the story. This year has seen a number of post apocalyptic science fiction stories to be adapted from Young Adult literary roots and made into films for this targeted audience.
Unlike the other films on offer in 2014, this trilogy was written by a man. The initial story in the franchise looks like a well ordered version of Lord of the Flies without a pig’s head and with younger Glade denizen of the Chuck possibly filling the metaphorical shoes of Piggy from Golding’s novel.
The biggest difference between the two tales of an all boy environment sans adults is that in Dashner’s world, the lads have all banded together and follow the few rules set up by the group in order to survive. Of course the other difference has to do with how the young males got to their isolated location. Accidently in the 1954 novel and purposefully sent to the Glade in the 2007 book.
The film adaptation, directed by Wes Ball in his maiden voyage helming a feature length film, has a largely British cast and The Maze Runner sets out on a quick pace that never walks or meanders through its story line. This rapidly moving film keeps interest in the events on screen at a premium although it does lose a little from being lax with the James Dashner plot mechanics.
The source material involves much more in the way of puzzle solving and teamwork between several characters. This reworking of characters and their traits, along with their interactions with hero Thomas changes the dynamic and when Chuck has a poignant moment late in the film, it fails to impact because the movie neglects to show the special relationship between the two boys.
Ball also opts to get rid of the thinking portion of the plot with an end result that is confusing at the climatic, and exciting, end of the film. Some of the other characters have their roles dramatically shortened, despite being major players in the story and others have been changed so that their actions, which follow the book at the end, really make no sense.
These are a few of the things that do not work well with the adaptation by no less than three writers, Noah Oppenheim, Grant Pierce Myers and T.S. Nowlin. However, despite the slight feeling of disappointment the film works very well. The Grievers, which again have been altered in terms of the original story, are truly scary and disturbing, just as they are in the book.
The maze itself is impressive, foreboding and visualized so well it feels like the audience and the players in the film have stepped right out of the book. The actors starring in the feature do a great job. Thomas Brodie-Sangster, who endeared himself to the public as Liam Neeson’s stepson in Love Actually has now grown up and does a brilliant job as the only Brit actor allowed to keep his native accent in the film.
The other English child actor who made filmgoers shed a tear or two when he was little was Will Poulter from the 2007 film Son of Rambow. His performance as Gally was good considering that filmmakers allowed his character to lose something in the transition from page to screen.
Dylan O’Brien plays Thomas with a conviction that is impressive and believable. He easily proved that he needs not rely on television to define his work. Kaya Scodelario, another English performer, is another who has shown that the TV in the form of teen drama Skins has not trapped her on the small screen either.
Inside the maze itself, the Glade looks pretty much like it is described in the novel. Overall, the film is an impressive adaptation and like most books transferred to screens big and small, some things are inexplicably changed while others, like dialogue, are kept intact.
The best thing about The Maze Runner, beside the fact that it does not do a pedestrian walk through its story, is that viewers do not need to have read the book. While it may help to explain some things that the movie glosses over, or has removed, the action can be followed and is entertaining. The film keeps viewers guessing, even at the end of what is obviously the first in a new franchise. The Maze Runner opens on September 19. Fans of the books may feel somewhat conflicted while being excited about seeing the book brought to life. Viewers who have not read the books should be prepared for a great Young Adult action/adventure film.
By Michael Smith
AMC Town Square Theater 18