I spent my childhood with my nose in a book, opting out of studying chemistry or calculus to instead camp out in the Young Adult section of the library (sorry, mom and dad). Apparently, modern American filmmakers are on the same page as little 10-year-old me; the sheer amount of film adaptations of YA novels in the last few years is astonishing.
Watching some of my favorite YA novels play out on the big screen has been exhilarating (“The Hunger Games” series), tear-jerking (“The Fault in Our Stars”) and at times, very disappointing (“The Giver”…that one still hurts). In the case of “The Maze Runner,” however, my feelings are a bit more complicated.
“The Maze Runner,” directed by Wes Ball, is based on James Dashner’s 2009 sci-fi/teen dystopian novel. The story follows a group of boys who find themselves mysteriously transported into a small forest (nicknamed the Glade, and its inhabitants the Gladers), surrounded on all sides by an enormous and terrifying maze that rearranges itself when the sun goes down.
Each month, a new boy is sent to the Glade, unable to remember anything about his life or who it is that sent him. The boys develop a sort of society that is as peaceful as their circumstances allow; that is, until Thomas (“Teen Wolf” heartthrob, Dylan O’ Brien) is brought to the Glade.
His arrival sets off a violent chain of events that drastically changes life in the Glade. He befriends the Runners, boys who explore and map the maze during daylight hours, and begins planning an escape from the Glade.
In the midst of this revolution, the first girl (Kaya Scodelario, of “Skins UK” fame) is sent to the Glade, with an ominous note – “she’s the last one.” Fearful of their waning resources, the Gladers begin to turn against one another.
As tensions rise, the horrors of the maze begin to bleed out into the safe haven of the Glade. The Gladers must then piece together what remains of their memories to uncover the mystery of why they were sent to the Glade and how to escape.
What really makes this movie is the prolonged element of mystery, which makes suspenseful moments even more nerve-wracking, as the audience is privy to as little information as the Gladers themselves. The Grievers, creatures that terrorize the maze and the Runners, are just realistic enough to send a shiver down your spine.
It’s one of those films that keeps you on the edge of your seat, with one supposedly insurmountable disaster segueing directly into another. It’s also a lot more disturbing than I expected; the violence depicted far surpassed what I remember from the novel.
One letdown is the lack of on-screen time devoted to character development. I suppose there will be more time for this, as production for the second movie (“The Scorch Trials,” tentative release date in Sept. ’15) was just green lighted, but it still felt like there was very little shown from the relationships between the characters. I walked out of the theater feeling very little attachment or connection to the movie characters, while I was very moved by the way there were written in the novel; then again, this is a common qualm people have with cinematic adaptations of written stories.
It’s time to add “The Maze Runner” to the list of popular YA novels that double as cinematic blockbusters; the film hit #1 in the box offices of almost 50 countries its opening weekend. Whether you’re already a fan of the story or not, “The Maze Runner” is an exciting sci-fi thriller that has a little bit of something for everybody.
RECOMMENDED: “The Maze Runner” is a great time for sci-fi and mystery fans of all ages.