The Maze Runner

Film review: The Maze Runner

WARNING: There will, as usual, be spoilers involved.

My peak cinema season kicked off with a trip to see The Maze Runner, which I had much anticipated (especially as the release date had been postponed from Valentine’s Day ’14). Don’t judge me, but I actually took a notebook and pen with me to the cinema, so that I could record my reactions there and then, as the story unfolded and Dylan O’Brien’s charm radiated from the screen. Although it was (obviously) dark, and I couldn’t see what I was writing, I found it to be a useful experience, and I think I’ll do it in the future.

Let me first talk about the opening scene. For the first few seconds, we are left in darkness, and the black screen allows for sound alone to set the scene. You can hear all these clanging, mechanical noises, and then suddenly, Thomas, our protagonist, comes into view. As the lift rattles and rises in the shaft, the tempo increases, and you can actually feel his fear of the unknown. Even in those first few seconds, we get a sense of danger, and the not-too-subtle ‘WCKD’ stamp on a crate hints at what is yet to be discovered about Thomas’ situation.

Characters

  • Thomas was by far the most interesting character to observe. I liked his reaction of pure bewilderment as he first entered the Glade, how he questioned the rules, and how he let his moral judgment override the expectations set in place for him. I believed in Thomas – he gave us all hope – and he just so happened to be played by a gorgeous actor who nailed the role.
  • Minho (pronounced ‘Meen-ho’ in the film – don’t you hate it when names sound different in your head?!) wasn’t introduced near the beginning, even though he is a key character in the story. In the scene where Gally challenges Thomas to a fight, you can see Minho’s face burning with silent rage – the intensity in his eyes. It becomes obvious that he is a deep thinker and uses his experience in the Glade/maze to make wise decisions. Also, he is well respected among the Gladers, and doesn’t appreciate Thomas’ risky behaviour – “You don’t get it: we’re already dead.”
  • Gally was perfectly portrayed as the stocky, brutish bully by Will Poulter. What struck me was the way he was obsessed with keeping to the rules and his refusal to accept change. As soon as Thomas stepped on the scene, he knew things would be different, and I believe that he feared losing the attention and power he had earned from the Gladers. His strength and commitment to the community’s wellbeing was admirable, but his need to belong became increasingly more desperate throughout the film, creating tension in the Glade.
  • Newt was a cool character to see presented on film. He could be seen nonchalantly leaning against wooden posts or casually explaining the ground rules to Thomas. He was the kind of guy I would have wanted to become friends with – friendly but edgy and shrewd. Thomas Brodie-Sangster was the actor: lanky, dirty blonde hair, and smug smile to complete the look.
  • Alby didn’t do much for me. Although it became clear that he was the most respected Glader who led the community, he wasn’t the strongest character, or one that made an impact on me; I didn’t feel particularly sad when he died, and I felt that life in the Glade could continue without him.
  • Chuck was absolutely adorable! I just wanted to pinch his chubby cheeks and give him a huge hug! He was very well cast, and really brought out the true essence of the character.
  • Winston was a character that I could not remember from the book. Therefore, I was surprised by the amount of dialogue he was given, despite not being a main character.
  • One character I do remember from the book is Frypan, but I don’t recall his appearance the film. His name was etched into the wall with the rest of the Gladers’, but his name was never used in dialogue, and I was a bit upset that he wasn’t part of the main cast.
  • Onto the women… Teresa was simply awful. Kaya Scodelario’s performance ruined the film for me, in a way. I know that a few other cast members were British, but her American accent was the least consistent and the least convincing. Teresa is supposed to be special, but she ended up blending in with the rest of the Gladers almost immediately, and accepting her situation without much debate. Overall, I was not impressed, and expected more from the character.
  • Ava Paige wasn’t bad… I just wanted to say that she looked and acted exactly like Kate Winslet as Jeanine Matthews in Divergent, and Meryl Streep as the Chief Elder in The Giver. The hair and white dress, as well as posture and speech control was mostly the same, so she didn’t leave much of an impression on me.
  • The Grievers weren’t what I expected at all. Everyone’s interpretations are different, but somehow I expected a slug-like beast with mechanical saws, spears and pincers poking out of its body. Instead, we saw giant robotic spiders with gooey heads and a claw at the end of a scorpion-style tail. For me, what ruined the effect was their movement. They scuttled along too fast, as if they weren’t even touching the ground, so they looked a bit ridiculous in places. I know it’s fictional anyway, so that shouldn’t matter, but to me, aesthetics always matter!
  • In general, the characters were convincing Gladers who seemed to know their place. Sometimes their actions (particularly those who had no dialogue) seemed contrived, but mostly you could tell they had Glader instincts; eg. at one point in the maze, Winston is afraid the trapped Griever will suddenly lash out, so his hand instinctively goes to his knife in his belt.

Cinematography

  • Light: When Thomas was in the lift, it was dark, but when he was let out, the brightness was overwhelming – his escape brought relief and a sense of safety. However, when the Gladers were dragged out of the WICKED building, the natural light of the scorched desert landscape caused something like the opposite of hope – the fear of reality. I thought that these examples of contrast in light helped to intensify the characters’ emotions and circumstances. The use of fire in the evening was a simple yet effective way of creating atmosphere in the Glade. Candle lighting cast a mysterious, warm glow onto the faces of the Gladers, whereas the bonfire sparked a dynamic energy among them.
  • Colour: I loved the warm, earthy tones of the images in the film. The brown, beige, cream and pale blue clothing worn by the Gladers blended in well with their environment, and the brown hues added to the raw, almost rustic feel of that setting. The maze itself had a different feel altogether, with its silvery grey walls, dark green ivy and red stencilled numbers. The cold colours here made the space seem more confined, and presented a dark, damp, metallic labyrinth. Another other complete contrast was the desert outside the maze, which was a bright, golden colour. I thought that this over-baked panorama perfectly represented the ruined land caused by the Flare.
  • Shots: Overall, the film was visually stunning. Yet instead of making it look too Hollywood-esque (like in The Book Thief, where you wouldn’t believe there was actually a war going on) the filmmakers managed to keep an authentic feel to the settings, whilst using impressive shots to tell the story from a futuristic point of view. I liked the way the focus would shift from background to foreground, often to sharpen the image quality for a character’s emotion in a close-up and to blur the candlelit backdrop. The focus shifting also lent itself to switching between dialogue between two characters standing near each other. Whilst in the maze, the camera would sometimes show the open sky, then pan down to the claustrophobic space between the walls, and down to the Runners. This smooth action gave us a sense of location and time of day whilst the Runners were below, before we saw them in action, and it was very effective, in my opinion. One other aspect that I liked was the hand-held camera work as the Gladers were running through the crop fields. There was just enough shaky footage to get a sense of urgency and panic, without over-doing it to the point of making you feel uneasy (like in The Hunger Games, for example).

Sound

Sound is definitely not my forte, but I shall attempt to describe my thoughts… Firstly, Alby’s voice was unclear, and often I could just hear a faint whispering coming from the general direction of where he stood. Strangely enough, the voices of other characters seemed to be projected behind us in the audience, no matter where they were on screen. The sound effects were good because they set the scene of a tropical jungle landscape for the Glade, and the mechanical noises complemented the metallic maze. Perhaps the stereotypical tribal noises were a bit over-the-top, though. I also felt that the musical score itself didn’t go very well with the on-screen action. It seemed like a very generic action movie soundtrack, as if anyone could have bought it from a loyalty-free website to layer behind a home-made video for YouTube. In terms of tempo, the music’s increased with the pace of the visuals, but it was nothing that enhanced the experience, and sometimes the sound seemed to clash with the images because attention to detail was overlooked. To put it more simply: it wasn’t exactly Pirates of the Caribbean.

Comparing the film to the book

Although I must have read the book at least 4 years ago, there are still parts that have stuck with me over time. I can’t think of many obvious details that were missed out about the world of the Gladers (except for Thomas and Teresa’s telepathy and the WICKED beetles with cameras), which is a good sign. There was the same idea that you were learning about Thomas’ situation as he was, because his memory had been erased. Everyone starts off from the same point, without prior knowledge, so the storytelling is very important in the film. I’m pleased that the Gladers’ vocabulary was kept in the dialogue. I remember hearing ‘shank’, ‘greenie’, ‘klunked’ and ‘shuck’ (although I wish ‘shuck-faced shank’ could have been used too). I thought that Chuck died before the Gladers broke through to the WICKED HQ, so I was so happy that he lived through that episode. However, I was utterly mortified when he was killed later on. This had a bigger impact on me because I wasn’t expecting his death at that point (my memory must have been wrong, or they could have changed the ending). It was emotional for the audience as well as the characters who had grown so attached to Chuck. In the book series, ‘bergs’ – flying ships – were described as the transportation used, yet in the film, somehow all of the surviving Gladers could squeeze into a small helicopter. Will bergs be used in The Scorch Trials or will helicopters be the standard mode throughout the series of films? Finally, I think that the ending was altered in the film. I recall that in the book, the Gladers just about broke into the HQ, were met by some staff, and the rest was left ambiguous so that questions could be answered in The Scorch Trials. I personally think that the film could have ended with a shot of the white light at the end of the tunnel, rather than spending a few extra precious minutes explaining the Trials and taking the characters out of the HQ. I can see why it ended the way it did, but my idea could have been equally as effective, in my opinion. To conclude, the themes of the book (for example, team building, determination and a sense of community) were illustrated very well in the film, and I doubt that James Dashner could have been disappointed with the way in which his imagination was transformed into another medium of reality.

Questions left unanswered in the film

  • Who were the men clad in black at the end, ushering the Gladers out of the HQ? What was their role and who did they work for?
  • Who was the man in the helicopter?
  • How did the Gladers conceptualise time? One character said, “Meet me in the woods in half an hour,” but none of them wore watches, so how would they have a clue about time?
  • How could the Gladers leave with no food or supplies? The maze was huge and they didn’t know how long they’d be in there for. What if they needed medical equipment etc? Were they so confident that they could find a way out so quickly?
  • Why did Ava Paige feign her death? 

Question for my readers: Have you seen The Maze Runner? If so, do you agree with my ideas and interpretations, or did you have a completely different experience at the cinema? Let me know in the comments below!

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