‘The Maze Runner’ and Issues Encountered with Book-to-Movie Adaptations

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I’ll have to admit that The Maze Runner didn’t capture my attention when I saw it on bookshelves several years ago.  As someone who had finished two-thirds of The Hunger Games (and still hasn’t finished Mockingjay – we’ll see if I can manage to do so before the film’s November release), I was pretty much over dystopia.  The first two Hunger Games installments were great and I thoroughly enjoyed the movies.  The last few years, stories told via YA book and film have been dominated by dystopias.  I’ve read my fair share of book synopses featuring disappearing adults, teenagers with wiped memories, and children killing each other in their own societies.

The Maze Runner isn’t entirely different from its YA counterparts, but when I read the book last month I was pleasantly surprised by how much I liked it.  The book isn’t perfect, but it’s a breath of fresh air for me.  It only made sense for a film version to be released.  And with Teen Wolf’s Dylan O’brien starring as the lead, it was to be expected that the film would garner enough attention for a film franchise.  20th Century Fox seemed to know this, as the sequel started pre-production before the release of the first installment, and its release date was just announced today as September 18, 2015.  Wes Ball’s feature length debut has gained plenty of attention.

Going into the film I was well aware of its mixed reviews from critics.  I didn’t have the highest expectations, but I wasn’t expecting a Mortal Instruments (see here) either.  Walking out, I couldn’t say I was disappointed, but the movie definitely didn’t exceed my expectations.  It faulted from issues with adapting books into films.

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It’s expected that The Maze Runner would include some changes, but I would say at least 60% of book events were either changed or left out.  The book takes place over several weeks with the main character introduced to the world of the Glade, an open field surrounded by a large maze that teenage boys have cultivated into a community over the process of three years.  Thomas has no recollection of anything before he was brought into the Glade by the Box, a crate that carries up a newcomer boy with amnesia every month along with supplies.

Author James Dashner has created a whole world full of colorful characters, original slang, and terrifying creatures much like the world of Harry Potter.  Unlike the first Harry Potter film installment, The Maze Runner doesn’t really give viewers much time to take in this world.  For a very brief moment we get to know more about it, but soon after we are whisked away into action sequences and change triggered by Thomas’s arrival.  In its 113 minutes, it’s definitely hard to capture the same feeling the book gives off, but I found myself viewing several unnecessary changes on screen.

For starters, the complexity of some characters were really simmered down.  In the book, one of the film’s antagonists, a Glader named Gally (Will Poulter), was given more of a backstory.  The relationship between Thomas and another fellow Glader, Alby (Aml Ameen), is more strained in the book than we see in the movie.  Minho (Ki-hong Lee), a runner of the maze, is less of a hero in the book than he’s made out to be in the movie.  Conflict is placed much more in the hands of Gally than we see in the book.

Another change I have an issue with has a lot to do with the main plot of the book and how the characters escape their entrapment in the Glade.  In the book, Thomas seems to have been sent to the Glade in order to help the Gladers escape.  To solve the maze.  To find a way out.  In the movie, Thomas just appears to coincidentally be involved in the Gladers’ escape.  Granted, Thomas does do a lot to challenge the rules enforced and set in place by the Gladers over the years in order to change things.  But when it comes down to it, the whole mystery of the maze seems much less complex than portrayed in the book, and the characters could have much more easily found a way out without Thomas’s help.

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Teresa (Kaya Scodelario), a girl who shows up in the Glade not long after Thomas, feels less important in this adaption than in the book as well.  The connection felt between Teresa and Thomas is weaker, and their backstories are less emphasized.  She acts more as a background character than a centralized part of the plot or important counterpart to Thomas.  Another character who entered the Glade coincidentally as the others are about to escape.

I can see how the changes were made for cinematic effect.  Certain things that worked on page might not work on screen.  Building Gally up into more of a villainous role was a good decision, but less emphasis placed on other plot elements was not.  The Maze Runner attempts to simplify its story to make things easier for the viewers, but in the end, it loses much of the complexity and inner conflict that made the book worthwhile.

When a friend asks me whether the movie was good or worth seeing, it’s hard for me to respond.  I usually try to read the book before I see the film, but sometimes I wonder if it’s worth it or not.  Some of my favorite films are based on books that I’ve never read, or I have and still enjoy the film better perhaps because I watched it before reading the book.  Would I have enjoyed The Maze Runner better had I not read the book first?  More importantly, what would I think of it?  What do I say to someone who hasn’t read the book and doesn’t share my preconceived thoughts?

I would say the film was good, but not great.  It’s definitely worth your time to watch.

But more than anything I would say you should read the book.

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