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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Professional Fangirling

A 5-step guide to becoming the ultimate fangirl

  1. Choose a fandom
  • A fandom is a collective group of people who form an obsessive community where they can share an interest in a specific topic. Find something you’re fanatical about – for example, a TV show, book, film, actor or sports team.
  • Make sure you know the name of the fandom you belong to. Some popular examples are: Whovians (Doctor Who fans), Directioners (One Direction fans) and Danosaurs (danisnotonfire fans).
  1. Know the basics
  • Shipping: When you fantasise about two people or characters being in a romantic or platonic relationship and want them to be together, regardless of their gender or whether they are fictional or not. For example, if you ‘ship’ characters Four and Tris from the Divergent series, you could refer to the couple as Fourtris.
  • OTP: One true pairing. This is your favourite combination of characters from a fandom, your ultimate ‘ship’. It’s possible to have a number of OTPs, depending on how many fandoms you belong to. In the YouTube community, my personal OTP is Troyler (Troye Sivan and Tyler Oakley).
  • Feels: shorthand for the word ‘feelings’, and used to describe an intense emotional response, such as sadness, excitement or awe. For example, “OMG, the ending to The Fault In Our Stars gave me so many feels!” Grab a box of tissues and get ready to embark on a rollercoaster ride of emotion as you grieve the death of your favourite character, or squeal in delight as your OTP becomes ‘canon’.
  • Canon: An idea, belief or aspect of a story that is true to the original work. When it deviates from the plot but is accepted by the fangirl, the term used is ‘headcanon’ because it’s canon in their head. For example, in Harry Potter, it’s canon that Harry marries Ginny, but in your headcanon, Harry could end up with Ron!
  1. Interact and contribute
  • Tumblr: The number one place to find like-minded people and scroll for hours through the endless content your fandom has to offer. Create your own GIFs of Honey Boo Boo drinking her go-go juice or write a reflection of the moment when Alex Gaskarth made eye contact with you at the All Time Low concert for a split second.
  • YouTube: Watch the highlights of a sports match you missed, an interview with cast members from an upcoming film, a videogame un-boxing, or a book haul vlog. Whatever your interests, there will always be related videos for you to view. Or why not create your own videos? All you need is a camera and something to talk about.
  • Twitter: Be the first to know what’s going on in your fandom by following fellow fangirls, and let your idols know how much you admire them by retweeting and “favouriting” their every post. Use the relevant hashtags to immerse yourself in conversations about trending topics. Twitter is a simple means of entering various competitions for winning ARCs, merchandise, and VIP tickets to exclusive events… And don’t forget to wish your favourite band’s lead singer’s girlfriend’s cat a happy birthday!
  • Facebook: Click “like” on all the pages related to your fandom. This will generate a more interesting news feed, full of news updates, exciting release dates, memes and competitions to enter.
  1. Share your passion
  • For the artists: Try drawing your favourite characters from a memorable scene, compile a montage of quotes or screenshots, or create an alternative movie poster or book cover. You can use any media, but if it’s not done on the computer, take a photo of your work or scan it in so that you can upload it to a website dedicated to like deviantart.com, which specialises in displaying fan art.
  • For the musicians: Create your own soundtrack for a TV show, book or film, based on the themes, characters and setting. Think about how the lyrics could relate to your interpretation of the storyline. You could put the songs in a playlist on YouTube for others to enjoy, or burn the playlist onto a CD to give as a personalised gift to a friend who belongs to the same fandom.
  • For the writers: Start up a blog and dedicate it to spreading love for your fandom. Make sure you promote your blog to generate a wider audience by including the link to each new post on your social media accounts. You can take inspiration from pagetopremiere.com – a brilliant website which targets fandoms of popular book-to-film adaptations. If you’re into creative writing, try writing fanfic. You can come up with alternative endings to storylines or devise a cheeky narrative between your OTP. Don’t be afraid to be a bit unorthodox – you are the writer and your headcanons are valid. Read examples on fanfiction.net for ideas.
  • For the adventurous: After spending hours locked in your bedroom on your laptop or phone, you may want to go on an adventure! Book tickets for events like meet-ups and conventions to be surrounded by fangirls just like you. Check band websites for tour dates and CD signing events, and authors may have book-signing tours, so check out their websites, too. If comics and cosplay are your thing, head to Comic-Con, whereas Katsucon is for those who are into Japanese culture. If you love YouTubers, some big events for your calendar include: Summer In The City, Vidcon, DigiFest and Playlist Live.
  1. Be proud
  • Merchandise: Whether it’s Manchester United’s new season football shirt, an Adventure Time poster, a Fall Out Boy wristband or a mockingjay pin, make sure you get kitted out with awesome merchandise from your fandom. A visit to Pulp and Afflecks Palace is definitely worth your time. Alternatively, you can browse through websites like distrctlines.com, dftba.com and hottopic.com. I recommend cafepress.co.uk because, as well as choosing from an array of unique designs, you can create your own, which is really cool.
  • Show off about your fandom and be proud to belong to the community. How about singing the school song in Elvish next time, or resolving an argument with a game of “Rock, Paper, Scissors, Lizard, Spock”?

Remember – stay safe while on the internet, and don’t give out any personal details/arrange to meet up with strangers, even if you both think you’re Jacksgap’s number one fan. Have fun exploring your fandom, and DFTBA!

Glossary of fandom jargon:

GIF – graphic interchange format, a compressed file format used for pictures.

Vlog – video blog

ARC – advance reader’s copy (of a book)

Meme – an image or video, typically humourous in nature, which is spread around the internet using a variety of captions

Fanfic – shorthand for “fanfiction”, meaning a fictional story based on the original work, written by a dedicated fan

Cosplay – shorthand for “costume play”, an activity in which participants wear the costumes of fictional characters and create a subculture based on role play

DFTBA – “don’t forget to be awesome”, the slogan of the Nerdfighter fandom

To look up definitions of more words in pop culture, use urbandictionary.com.

Valentine’s Day: Top Ten Love Songs

As Valentine’s Day is fast approaching, I sifted through my iTunes library to compile a list of my 10 favourite love songs. They make me smile, feel all warm and fuzzy inside, and sometimes give me chills*! Here’s the selection (in reverse alphabetical order, to jazz things up a bit), as well as links to the videos on YouTube, and a quote I like from the lyrics. Enjoy!

 

1) We’ll Be A Dream – We The Kings ft. Demi Lovato

“We’ll take control of the world like it’s all we have to hold onto and we’ll be a dream”

 

2) Vanilla Twilight – Owl City

“The stars lean down to kiss you and I lie awake and miss you”

 

3) Sarah Smiles – Panic! At The Disco

“Velvet lips and the eyes to pull me in – we both know you’d already win”

 

4) Rhythm Of Love – Plain White T’s

“My heart beats like a drum, a guitar string to the strum: a beautiful song to be sung”

 

5) Rescue – The Summer Set

“When you need me I’ll be there, a friend in the eye of a storm”

 

6) I Want Crazy – Hunter Hayes

“I’m booking myself a one-way flight – I gotta see the colour in your eyes”

 

7) Fever* – Michael Bublé cover

“Thou givest fever (when he kisseth) – fever with thy flaming youth”

 

8) Everything – Michael Bublé

“You’re the swimming pool on an August day, and you’re the perfect thing to say”

 

9) Be Your Everything – Boys Like Girls

“I’ll be your shelter, I’ll be your storm, I’ll make you shiver, I’ll keep you warm”

 

10) Backseat Serenade – All Time Low

“Lazy lover, find a place for me again”