Director: Wes Ball
Actors: Dylan O’Brien, Kaya Scodelario, Will Poulter, Thomas Brodie-Sangster
Writers: Noah Oppenheim, Grant Pierce Myers, T.S. Nowlin (screenplay), James Dashner (novel)
Runtime: 113 min
Film adaptations of popular young adult novels have been bombarding our cinemas as of late. These films often have a dystopian setting and feature brave and attractive young people fighting for their rights and freedom in a world ruled by evil adults. The latest film in this genre is The Maze Runner (2014) by director Wes Ball. After reading – and not particularly enjoying – the book by James Dashner, I did not have high hopes for the movie version. However, the film benefits from the removal of many of the more horrific elements that are to be found in the book, and presents a solidly entertaining and exciting addition to the world of YA dystopian film.
When Thomas (Dylan O’Brien) wakes up in an ascending elevator with his memories wiped completely clean, he cannot even begin to imagine what lies in store for him. Thomas emerges into a world of teenage boys who have all been placed into “The Glade” with no idea of who they are, why they are there, or what they are supposed to do next. The boys have created a working society, and most devote their time to the tasks of everyday survival, such as gardening, cooking, and caring for the animals that are present. The elite members, however, spend each day running the giant maze that surrounds the Glade, searching for a way out while trying to avoid the horrific monsters known as “The Grievers.” Although the boys have settled into a routine over the past three years, all that is changed when Thomas arrives and the world to which they have grown accustomed begins to alter irreversibly.
One of the greatest differences that I noticed between the book and film versions of The Maze Runner was the overall attitude of the boys trapped in the Glade. In the film, the boys show many moments of friendliness and kindness, making it easy for an audience to hope for their survival and escape. The increased sense of camaraderie found within the boys in the film version certainly results in a gentler work, but this alteration may be necessary for a medium where an audience makes quicker judgements based on what they see first hand. In terms of acting, all of the young actors played their parts with eager competence, with standouts including Thomas Brodie-Sangster as the approachable Newt and Will Poulter as the less kindly Gally.
This film is shot with a frantic and frenetic energy that reflects the emotions and actions of its protagonists. Director Ball makes effective use of lighting, keeping his monstrous “grievers” predominantly in the dark and capitalizing on the boys’ – audience’s – fear of the unknown. The settings in the work also bear mention, as the scenes set in the stark buildings of civilization offer effective contrast to those filmed in the lush forests of the Glade. This filming technique forces one to consider which setting is actually preferable, and asks one of the more poignant questions presented by this film that may be aimed at kids but holds some appeal for thinking adults as well.
Although I often become frustrated by unnecessary book adaptations, I believe that The Maze Runner works well as a film. The characters are likeable and sympathetic, revealing a few particularly strong young actors, and the story remains fresh and thought provoking even as it calls to mind other young adult dystopian works. As the novel upon which this film is based is only the first in a trilogy, the story is incomplete and clearly sets up for a sequel. It will be up to audiences, and subsequently, film studios, to determine whether or not viewers will be shown what happens next, or if they will have to read it for themselves.