This week I will be sizing up The Maze Runner by James Dashner. I chose it because I loved the books and I loved the movie. However, my affinity for each was for totally different reasons. I also just found out the sequel, The Scorch Trials, will be coming out in September 2015.
To be fair, I hated the book at first. I picked it up because it had been out forever, gotten lots of great reviews and I don’t like not knowing what all the fuss is about when it comes to book buzz. I am not one of those readers (or viewers) who likes to be dropped in the middle of an introductory scene and have to exert myself to figure out what is going on, at least in general. Normally, it’s enough to make me put a book aside and move on.
By the end of the first paragraph, I knew there was no way I was going to read two hundred odd pages of this discombobulated tale. By the end of the second paragraph, I was even less interested. I told myself at the end of every page for the first seventy pages that I really didn’t like the story and felt like I was being emotionally blackmailed into reading on. I mean honestly, I had had enough of the piecemeal plot and nonsense dialogue. It was clearly a waste of my time. Which if you haven’t read the books, is EXACTLY what Dashner intends. He wants the reader to be at a complete loss for as long as his characters are. By the end of the first chapter, I was as pissed and confused as Thomas was.
Photo credit to www.thefilmequals.com
Hats off to Mr. Dashner and his ability to engage readers in such a way that putting down his books is nearly impossible. By the end of Maze Runner, I was simultaneously thrilled and pissed that I had two more books between me and the answer to “What is WICKED?” I have now read the entire trilogy as well as The Kill Zone. I found them all excellent once I got over being mad about getting strong armed into reading them courtesy of my own well stoked rabid curiosity.
When word broke a year and a half ago that Maze Runner was to be made into a movie I was thrilled. I was even more excited when I heard Dylan O’Brien was to head the cast. I had watched him on Teen Wolf (a show made far more entertaining and compelling than it has any right to be thanks to its generally outstanding cast) and found him very talented. Someone to watch if you will. The director was a virtual unknown and not even thirty. Wes Ball proved his directing chops quite thoroughly as far as I am concerned. I was also quite pleased to see Ball has signed on for both The Scorch Trials (Movie #2) and The Death Cure (Movie #3). Seeing that the time was taken to enlist actors young enough to pull off the teen feel of the movie was another boon. I am not a fan of movies that fail to observe that most basic congruity. Twenty seven year old men in high school attire tend to blow my suspension of disbelief. You don’t see much of that here which is great.
The movie sticks to the basic material of the book and the general premise but it loses substantial punch in the details that are left out. However, surprisingly, this does not make it a bad movie, only gives it a different feel than the book. There are a few points worth mentioning that diverge the screen version from the paper one in major ways. There are dozens of articles on the Internet listing the exact things that were changed. There were hundreds of minor things that were different and most of them didn’t have much of an impact unless you had read the book and plan to go into dissection mode when you watch a film adaptation. I will only touch on the short list of large plot points that I felt made a difference.
So what was it like?
The book and the movie open in similar fashion with Thomas moving up into black space in a metal cage. In the book, he goes for hours and we learn a bit more about his character. With the initial solid feel for Thomas, Dashner gets the reader engaged within a few paragraphs and nosy about the maze nearly as quickly once the box surfaces. In the movie, Thomas comes up into the Glade fairly quickly without the initial confusion and one on one time with Thomas. The difference being he gets lost a bit in the opening scene in the craziness of the Glade, Gladers and awe inspired by the maze around them. While the initial hook is set in generally the same way, things begin to change after that. Not big story changes per se, but more like the texture and feel of the story changes.
In the book, there is more time allotted for Thomas to remember his name, be angry, shocked and confused about how he got to the Glade in the first place. Thomas getting to know the Gladers occurs in a completely different way. There are huge chunks of backstory left out and many interactions between Thomas and various characters cement certain relationships and completely change others between the two mediums. For me, I would have rather seen the character development hit a bit harder. In the movie, I was taken aback a few times at how easily Thomas seems to fit right in with the Gladers and go straight to the top of the hierarchy. It is much different on the page. On paper where he ends up is not all that different so it is not a big detractor, but including some of that backstory would have given the main characters more punch and made viewers more empathetic to Thomas and the Gladers in general.
Photo credit goes to www.thetimes.co.uk
On the screen, Thomas starts rocking the boat day one and most of the Gladers are happy to jump on board. On the page, it takes much longer and Thomas is viewed with much greater suspicion. The movie version does not necessarily lose anything here if you haven’t read the book but on the page it makes more sense for Thomas to be trying to rally the Gladers behind him when it finally occurs. It also shows the Gladers in a far more compelling and intelligent light as you see the more involved struggle they go through to follow Thomas or push for his banishment. I read several Lord of the Flies comparisons referencing the movie and on screen that feel is certainly there. On the page, the Gladers are not nearly as impulsive and mindless as the boys in LOTF.
On the page, Theresa is not as much of a player until late in the book. She is really only introduced and makes her escape with them. She is a much bigger player in the remaining books so she needs to be there. However, she is actually unconscious a great deal of the story in written form. I personally think I like her better that way. There are many inconsistencies created on screen with her showing up in so many scenes she was not originally in or she was in but was there for a completely different reason.
Photo credit goes to mazerunnerwikia.com
The biggest departure for me personally was that SHE AND THOMAS ARE PSYCHICALLY CONNECTED IN THE BOOK. They mentally talk nearly the whole time she is conscious and they have the same dreams on several occasions. I realize the difficulty of portraying that in a fashion that is not a collection of dubious voiceovers and don’t fault the film makers for it. But, once Theresa is conscious on paper it is clear Thomas is her concern, she is not nearly as interested in being one of the guys as on film. In the book, the psychic connection makes the fact they are connected in a big way a foregone conclusion. On screen, they don’t know why they both are convinced they are connected somehow. Dashner presents it in such a way that the connection is not only there, but makes Theresa a more sinister and suspicious figure, especially to Thomas. Again, if you have not read the book you don’t miss it. The way it is done on screen is certainly not bad. I even thought a few of the changes added a bit here and there.
There are a lot of changes in the grievers and some of the other monsters and in the maze itself. I honestly don’t think any of those changes detract from the story onscreen. The movie is based on a book after all, and some simplification has to occur somewhere. The movie depiction of the monsters is off in form and function but the on screen monsters are sinister in their own way and which one is better or worse, depending on how you look at it, is a matter of opinion. I personally prefer the written baddies but I think the onscreen ones will measure up well enough to satisfy most.
The final thing I found worth noting (and my only spoiler) was that on the page the griever attacks at the end came nightly for a few days taking only one boy per night and in the movie it was a mass attack. In written form, there was much more conflict and things went down differently among the Gladers. Things in the Glade itself changed providing several sources of external conflict (the sun going out and fluorescent lights coming on) and the extended time created far more internal conflict for all of the characters. It was a pretty big departure.
What did I think?
As I said in the beginning, I loved the books and the movie for completely different reasons. Anyone reading and seeing needs to be aware the two only share basic content. In the books, the characters are stronger and much more three dimensional. Even the bad guys are far worse than in the movie. But since this happens pretty consistently with film adaptations I don’t really count it as a flaw. The movie is an action movie and it moves at a much faster pace. It cherry picks many of the plot's most riveting twists and combines them in a very satisfying way. The screen version takes some liberties, but most do these days, and while the departures were pretty major in some places the story does not lose much in translation. It just takes on a different flavor.
How close was it to the book from 1-10? 1 being it was a totally different experience and 10 being it was line for line…Maze Runner comes in at a 3. It is the same material but the feel is substantially different. Definitely not bad, but one is a character driven work and the other is a plot driven action flick. There are losses and gains with either version.
How did the movie rate compared to the book?
For me, the book is a solid 8 on a 1-10 scale, with 1 leaving me angry for having spent the time reading it at all and a 10 being a place under a spotlight on my coveted favorite reads book shelf.
The movie rated an 8 also on that same 1-10 scale, but only if I consider it on its own merit as a stand-alone film. If I compare it specifically considering how closely the movie followed the book it would come in at a 3 since it is based on the same subject matter but the similarities stop there. I thought much of the author’s voice (which is really good) was lost. However, the movie sped things up and kept the story just as riveting while making it quite a bit more visually stunning (and it is visually stunning, make no mistake there).
I would recommend the movie and the books. I am very pleased to see The Scorch Trials (Book #2) is already in production and the major players cast wise are all staying on. September seems very far away at the moment. If you read the books and liked them and you watch the movie with the mindset that the two are similar but different, I think you will enjoy the film version of The Maze Runner very much. I did. I was also dying to see how they would bring the Maze to life, the answer? Admirably.
A few months after the DVD release and a zillion movie goer reviews later how does it fare?
Fandango: 4. 5 out of 5 stars
Rotten Tomatoes has it at 90 viewers throwing fresh tomatoes with 53 throwing rotten ones, with it pulling an overall 3.7 out of 5.
Movies.com is rolling in with 2 out of 5 stars from the staff critic and 3 out of 5 stars from the general site followers.
Roger Ebert has given it 2.5 out of 3 stars.
Thanks for checking out The Page and Screen! Until next time, happy reading and seeing!
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