REVIEW: The Maze Runner
The migration of young adult dystopias from bookshelf to silver screen has been a mixed bag, some being incredibly faithful, some less so. However, we have reached a point where these depressing, unrealistic worlds have saturated the screen category to the point where they seem cut from the same pattern. Now, I admit, far too many films adhere to the predictable three act structure but in this sub-genre, the seams are far more obvious with a lot less variety. As a result, it befalls to the producer and director to find a way to be interesting.
This fall we welcomed the latest contestant in this competition and The Maze Runner, based on the novel trilogy by James Dashner, wins points for atmosphere. After that, it is stunningly dull. In this near-future world, some great solar flames have laid waste to most of the world. As a result, a disease known as the Flare has continued to thin humanity and a dedicated group has taken it upon themselves to spend countless billions designing and building a maze to test selected teenagers to see who is a good candidate for the cure. Or something like that.
We don’t learn a lot of this until the final minutes of the movie and the majority of the time is devoted to the teens trapped within the maze. A new one arrives once a month, coming laden with fresh supplies to sustain the group. The massive door to the maze opens on a schedule and over the years, they have tried to map the ever-changing configuration in order to get free. Of course, it’s not that simple with huge, mechanical beasties chasing them.
Enter Thomas (Dylan O’Brien), the latest arrival, who at first lacks his immediate memories, including his own name, part of the process of transition it appears. The largely anonymous gang shows him the ropes and before you know it; his very presence seems to have upended the “natural” order of things. And before too much longer, the one and only girl Teresa (Kaya Scodelario) arrives with a note saying she is the last.
The screenplay from Noah Oppenheim, Grant Pierce Myers, and T.S. Nowlin spends far too little time on developing the characters or their Lord of the Flies existence. What do they do between maze runnings? There’s no sense of sports, arts, warfare….anything. There are rules and there appear to be factions but only when they need to serve the story. We’re left following Thomas as he navigates the gang and the maze, accompanied by Teresa. A girl surrounded by a bunch of teenagers who haven’t seen a female in years and no one tries to befriend, touch, kiss, or romance her? Absurd. The flat emotional tone, except for utter terror, robs the film of energy and blame goes to director Wes Ball who, in his debut, seemed more interested in the atmosphere and effects than the characters.
The film has been released as a digital download from 20th Century Home Entertainment and will be out on disc Tuesday. The digital picture is swell along with the sound and it comes with the full array of special features to be found on the Blu-ray disc. (I still dislike watching movies at my desk but maybe I’m just behind the times.)
These include Deleted Scenes (with optional Audio Commentary by Ball), none of which address my issues with the story. There’s a worthy five-part Navigating The Maze: The Making of The Maze Runner, with some interesting behind-the-scenes tidbits; The “Chuck Diaries”; Gag Reel; Visual Effects Reels and Ball’s short film Ruin. The Audio Commentary by Ball and Nowlin is pretty straight-forward. There are two nicely produced Digital Comics that build out the world just a bit.