Big Screen Streaming: The Maze Runner

Big Screen Streaming: The Maze Runner

-Film Review by Roger Market-

Hollywood is currently craving film adaptations of young adult “dystopian” novels taking place in frightening and undesirable worlds, often with a teenage romance at the core. The Maze Runner, which opened on September 19, is the most recent addition to this lineup. Although not perfect, the film tells a surprisingly grown-up story that both teens and adults can appreciate.

The movie begins with the first scene shown in the trailer: the traumatic arrival of Thomas (Dylan O’Brien) in “the Glade” via an elevator called “the Box.” Suffering from chronic amnesia, he is forced to join a community of distressed young males. Every month, a new boy is delivered to the Glade, Thomas learns from his new companions. Each new arrival has no memory of his past, but within a day or two remembers his name. The community rests in a glade at the center of a dangerous and terrifying maze. So far, all attempts to escape have been in vain.

The plot thickens when Thomas is attacked by a “glader” who appears to have gone insane. “It’s called the changing,” one boy explains. Their peer has been stung by a giant maze-dwelling beast called a “Griever,” causing him to act viciously and irrationally. Untamable, the infected glader is thrown into the maze as the gate closes for the night—an unfortunate turn of events because no one has ever survived a night inside. Each day, a group of boys called the runners attempt to navigate the maze. Their efforts are seemingly futile. They’re all doomed unless they return before the gate closes at nightfall.

Trailer-intrigued viewers will not be surprised when Thomas is selected to be a runner. He’s destined to change everything and to find a way out. Dylan O’Brien is well cast in the role of Thomas. Although he’s had only eight roles since he started acting in 2011, he’s been honing his craft for the past four seasons as the goofy but kindhearted supporting character of Stiles on MTV’s Teen Wolf series, quickly rising to fan favorite status. Earlier this year, his creepy portrayal of the villain of season 3B was especially well received. O’Brien has proven before that he’s adept at comedy and being the voice of reason, but this new turn on the series allowed him to show his range and his ability to be the leading man. Now, in The Maze Runner, O’Brien earns his place center stage. His growing friendship with young glader Chuck (Blake Cooper) is touching to watch unfold, and his determination to find a way out of the maze and save everyone is clearly visible in his eyes, mannerisms, and tone. The question is, can he actually succeed? After all, the maze is a formidable villain, complete with sections that open only on certain days, a gate that waits for no runner to pass through, and, of course, the unbeatable patrolling Grievers.

Despite the intricate set and special effects, viewers will be surprised to learn that The Maze Runner is, by today’s standards, a low-budget adventure movie. The film cost only $34 million to produce. In contrast to other recent dystopian movies that had much larger budgets, The Maze Runner reminds audiences that less can be more so long as there is smart directing and the right cast. Divergent had a budget of $85 million, and so far, The Hunger Games series has gone from $78 million for the first movie to $130 million for Catching Fire. That’s more than two/three times the budget for The Maze Runner, which clocks in at almost two hours with an 113-minute total runtime. For more perspective, another interesting comparison can be drawn from Tammy, a 97-minute comedy recently reviewed on monologging. This film cost $20 million to make, only $14 million shy of The Maze Runner’s modest budget. Tammy featured fireworks and a waterfall; The Maze Runner created an entire world.

As the trailer advertises, a girl by the name of Teresa (Kaya Scodelario) does arrive in the Glade shortly before the film’s midpoint. In a unique and refreshing twist, this movie avoids classic Hollywood pitfalls pandering to a typical teen audience by injecting an unnecessary love story. Teresa initially represents another example of the changes taking place in the Glade, the arrival of new characters that don’t fit the status quo. Ultimately, The Maze Runner is a story of survival led by Thomas, a brave new addition to the Glade. The hero needs Teresa’s help, however, if he’s going to unlock the secrets of the maze and save everyone. The ending is pretty much what the viewer (who hasn’t read the book) expects based on setups earlier in the film but there are enough surprises and compelling performances to make for an enjoyable viewing experience. So go see The Maze Runner now, and when it comes time to enter the corn mazes this Halloween, you’ll be more than prepared for twists, turns, and monsters galore!


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