Monday, September 22, 2014

The Maze Runner

It all started with The Hunger Games. Then came Divergent, and if Divergent took all the drama of The Hunger Games and ran wild with it (which it did) then the latest to join the club, The Maze Runner, borrowed the gritty action and survival, and built a mystery to surround it; a conundrum; a puzzle... like a maze.

But it's counterproductive to compare these movies no matter the similarities -- it seems like any YA dystopian story is doomed to be underrated now, and why? Because there's already one good story like that, so we don't need any more? I beg to differ with that, and so does every rom-com since Sleepless in Seattle, and every superhero movie since Iron Man. Before I start on a tangent, (if I haven't already) I'll say this and move on: The Maze Runner is a solid story that can stand on its own two feet, pays attention only to itself, and has a promising future ahead of it.

Look at these guys. Do you think they care about anything except what is happening right in front of them?

Thomas wakes up one day and has started a new life. He arrives via underground elevator to a large open glade surrounded by towering walls, inhabited by a bunch of boys around his age. He has no memories of his life before and neither does anyone else. Outside the walls is a dangerous maze with no obvious exit, and every day the bravest and fastest of those boys run through the maze looking for the way out. Inside they have a farm, food, handmade buildings, personalized jobs, and safety from vicious maze-dwelling creatures provided by the walls when they close at night. It's almost a nice place. But soon after Thomas' arrival, things start to change.

Like, for instance, a girl crashes the party.

So, I've read these books. I've nearly finished the last one, and I like them. I'll try to refrain from nit-picking details in my book-to-movie comparison, but the fact that I'll be tempted is a very good indicator as to how much I liked them. Likewise, it's a very good indicator to the quality of the film for me to say that I think it's a very good adaptation. The part of me that believes that adage that "the book is always better" balks at every slight change, but the part that understands what makes a good movie reminds me that it's all for the best.

When you feel sad
Or under a curse
Your life is bad
Your prospects are worse...
(brownie points if you know what that's from)

And it really is. As I noticed each change I analyzed its necessity, and honestly, the majority were good, helpful changes that gave the film better flow and structure -- and the rest were neutral at worst. One thing though, that needed no change, and was only improved by additions was the cast of characters.

Thomas isn't a character-type -- he isn't particularly remarkable, or easily defined by ticks, or mannerisms or flaws. But somehow, Dylan O'Brien becomes him fully, and fleshes out the character in a way that is right by the book. It may be a case of a great casting choice, but either way he does a fine acting job. He has the most to do, and does it all with easy believability.

My one complaint would be that he runs funny.

The rest of the characters jump straight out of the page as well. Aml Ameen as Alby, Blake Cooper as Chuck, and particularly Ki Hong Lee as Minho, the most characterized of the characters. The most changed was Will Poulter's Gally -- the character was greatly improved and he dominated the screen. I wasn't a big fan of Kaya Scodelario as Teresa, but the same goes for her book version, so no problem. My personal favorite character of the group Newt was luckily played by my favorite actor of the group Thomas Brodie-Sangster, who got to keep his British accent (unlike the Scodelario and Poulter) and very simply was Newt. I even noticed him slipping in a subtle limp.

Left to right - Newt, Thomas, Teresa, and Minho (and Frypan and Winston). Looking forward to more of all of them -- the year wait for the first sequel will be a long one.

Brutal, in-your-face handheld camerawork created the exact right edgy, gritty ambiance the film needed. It was so perfect that I didn't even mind the side effect -- occasional shaky-cam that degraded some of the action. Director Wes Ball took the style of the novel and amplified it, making a tightly woven unique piece that was thrilling and mysterious, and sets up for the sequels to complete the story with the exact same amount and height of quality with which it was began.

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