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Friday, 20 February 2015

The Maze Runner (2014).

The Maze Runner (2014).

So, I wasn't much interested in watching this film when it came out, and my interest in watching it came about entirely accidentally, the result of needing a book to cover a couple of train journeys and only having turgid crime, the Frozen novel, and the book of The Maze Runner to choose from. As you can imagine, it was an obvious choice.

I did enjoy the book, although it probably wouldn't be making an appearance on any recommendation lists I'd be making, so it seemed like a not-terrible idea to check out the film, and maybe do a review with some comparison work.

The Maze Runner follows Thomas, a young man who wakes up with no memory in an ascending box, which deposits him into the Glade, a small community of teenage boys at the centre of a vast and imposing Maze. As Thomas attempts to adapt to this new life, it starts to become clear that he's more deeply connected to the Maze and its origins than he could know. 

Pictured: One of the few moments where these three aren't staring longingly at
each other. And I'm pretty sure this is just a promotional poster.

One thing that was immediately obvious when watching the film is that the tone and pacing were odd, especially at the beginning. In the novel, the Glade and the boys who inhabit it is presented as confusing, hostile and alien: There's a dialect barrier, people are reluctant to give Thomas any information and have very little patience with his confusion, and one of the foremost figures in the Glade, Gally, insists that he recognises Thomas and hates him. In the film, the Glade is fairly serene: People, including Gally, are friendly; they are free and open with information; even the danger of the Glade and the Maze is oddly downplayed, with dialogue deliberately adjusted to reduce mentions of how many boys have died. 

(Gally even comes off as downright reasonable, amicable, and healthy for most of the film, as opposed to the book where he's embittered, haunted by what few memories he has, increasingly paranoid, and implied to be suffering from some form of PTSD.)

The pacing is also bizarre. Events are compressed enormously, resulting in a strange disconnect as the major story beats just fling themselves at you out of nowhere. If you don't know the book, the pacing will turn the film into a bizarre string of seemingly nigh-unconnected, jumpily edited together moments; and if you do know the book, the result is a jarring, packed-together footnotes version of the storyline.

See here our deuteragonist, introduced more than halfway through the film.

The other effect of this is that moments which should have an emotional impact just end up falling flat. There are several major character deaths throughout the film, but while they were reasonably effective in the book, where we had gotten to know these characters and see their friendships with those around them, in the film they just feel like pieces being taken off the board, because you're not at any point given an opportunity to form an emotional attachment to any of them. 

It is, at least, a very pretty film, which some gorgeous settings. Well done to the underpaid CGI people who created the Maze, which looks intimidating, vast, and both ancient and industrial in nature. Well done also to whoever designed and animated the Grievers, which are very sinister and frightening to look at, although they start to lose their punch a little towards the end of the film.

The cast is composed entirely of very good actors, but none of them are really bringing their A-game, and quite a few of them barely have the opportunity to - Kaya Scodelario, playing a major character in the book, has her total screentime drastically cut down, leaving her with barely any time to show her acting chops. The standout performance probably has to go to Thomas Brodie-Sangster who, while being a total miscast (being, as he is, small and elfin looking, and playing tall, brawny, square-jawed Newt), does put in easily the most charismatic and engaging performance of the bunch.

Except you, obviously, CGI Griever.

(Speaking of miscasts, well done to the studio for not whitewashing anyone. I realise that's an incredibly low bar for me to set, but since it's a low bar that studios constantly seem to fail to reach, I think it's worthwhile to give some praise where it's due here.)

The soundtrack is fine, but not memorable in the slightest, so there's that, too.

The film's left open for a sequel, and with a sequel hook besides, but I'm not really sure it should get one. The second and third books of the trilogy were incoherent messes, and it's difficult to imagine that the films would be any better. But moreover, this wasn't a very good film. It was a terrible adaptation of some fun but hardly brilliant source material, and the result is something that only barely manages to tell a story, and does so in the most lacklustre fashion possible. Even if books two and three were inspired tomes whose every word filled the soul with divine light, this film still wouldn't warrant a sequel.

It's just - man, I did want to like it. I did. But I didn't.

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