Usually, Hollywood does little justice to novels. Undoubtedly, this has something to do the sense of unity the author or authors impose on their work, despite any tampering on the part of the publisher. By the time the novel illuminates the screen, a horde of individuals—including but not limited to the producers, directors, writers, and the studio bosses—has gone through it in an effort to make it more palatable for movie-going patrons. Sometimes, they change the book so you don’t recognize it or audaciously leave it intact. In the latter instance, the author may have adapted his own work for the screen. Indeed, this seems to be the case with David Fincher’s “Gone Girl.” Typically, Hollywood doesn’t let the author interfere until that piece of literary genius has coined multi-millions at the box office and the sequels and prequels are in the works. Meantime, one of the biggest problems with adapting a novel is the drastic difference between books and movies. Some things that appear promising in print simply don’t translate to the screen. Occasionally, the novel may be too massive for the screen like J.R.R. Tolkien’s “Lord of the Rings” trilogy was until the advent of computer-generated imagery. Surprisingly enough, “The Maze Runner” (***1/2 OUT OF ****) ranks as the exception to the rule; it surpasses its literary counterpart. Anybody who is a stickler for faithful adaptations will grit their teeth at the liberties freshman director Wes Ball and scenarists Noah Oppenheim, Grant Pierce Myers, and T.S. Nowlin have taken with James Dashner’s post-apocalyptic, young-adult, science fiction bestseller. Apart from “The Maze Runner,” Oppenheim has written only one other screenplay and it is for the upcoming “Divergent” sequel “Allegiant: Part 1,” while Myers has written nothing else. Not only has Nowlin been revising the forthcoming “Fantastic Four” reboot, but also he has been hired to script “The Maze Runner” sequel “The Scorch Trials.” Mind you, some of the events depicted in Dashner’s provocative novel wouldn’t have appeared as realistic on screen, principally; Ball and company have altered the Griever’s hole, eliminated the cliff, and changed the Glade layout. I think they have done a splendid job of sprucing up “The Maze Runner” without sabotaging it.
When we meet him for the first time, Thomas (Dylan O’Brien of “The Internship”) is a 16-year old who doesn’t remember his name. He awakens to find himself ascending in a supply elevator “The Box” to a place called ‘the Glade.’ After the elevator jars to a halt, several teens pull him out. Gally (Will Poulter of “We’re the Millers”), Alby (Aml Ameen of “Red Tails”), and Newt (Thomas Brodie-Sangster of “The Baytown Outlaws”) are among those teens. Afflicted with amnesia, Thomas knows nothing about his new surroundings. Initially, Gally proves to be the most inhospitable member of the Glade. He hates Thomas from the moment he sees him. Thomas reciprocates this sentiment and tries to escape. This little stunt earns our protagonist a night in the slammer. When he emerges the following day, Thomas learns escape is impossible. He stares in awe at the towering stone skyscrapers that enclose ‘the Glade’ where the teens thrive on supplies brought in by the Box. Those gargantuan walls that tower all around the Glade constitute the perimeter of ‘the Maze.’ While the sun shines, the Maze doors remain open. At dusk, these colossal doors rumble back together as if by remote control and slam shut.
Thomas discovers some of the Gladers have been imprisoned there for three years. Everybody, our hero learns, performs a specific task. Some tend the gardens; others prepare meals; still others build the enclosures, and some even serve as medics. The job Thomas desperately relishes is to be a runner. Runners enter the maze at dawn and explore the exotic premises until dusk. They scour this enormous labyrinth in search of an exit. Unfortunately, nobody has yet found one. None of the runners prowl around after dark in the maze because grisly creatures known as the Grievers lurk in the shadows. These giant, slimy, bug-like predators scamper about on mechanical legs. Moreover, they can scale walls when they aren’t charging down corridors. Equipped with stingers, they dispense venom that can transform a teenager into a screaming maniac. Miraculously, Thomas lures one of these hideous devils into a corridor as the walls shift and crush it to bits. This is the first time a Griever has ever died in the maze. Horrified, Gally wants to banish Thomas. Things get worse when the Box delivers a girl, Teresa (Kaya Scodelario of “Moon”), and she brings a message that the end is near. Gally wants to kill Thomas and Teresa, but everybody else stands up for the two newbies.
“The Maze Runner” takes its cues from a number of ancient myths, classic novels, and recent movies. First, because the teens tangle with the Grievers, this saga resembles the myth of Theseus and the Minotaur. Second, since guys dominate the Glade with a peculiar code of justice, “The Maze Runner” is reminiscent of William Golding’s post-apocalyptic novel “Lord of the Flies,” published in 1954, about a group of students marooned on a desert island who struggle to survive. Inevitably, “The Maze Runner” resembles the sci-fi saga “Dark City.” In “Dark City,” aliens control a replica of Earth as they try to come to terms with what it means to be human. Similarly, these aliens alter the landscape of their bogus city, much in the same way the maze changes during the night in “The Maze Runner.” Naturally, Dashner’s book bears some resemblance to other young adult novels such as “The Hunger Games” and “Divergent.” Director Wes Ball does an admirable job of generating baffling mystery and white-knuckled suspense throughout this tantalizing tale of terror. Nobody gives a bad performance, and Will Poulter makes a wicked villain. Sadly, the tension and suspense lapses after our heroes survive the maze and prepare for the sequel.
Nevertheless, “The Maze Runner” qualifies as pretty amazing.