The only thing maze-like in The Maze Runner is how misleading it is

AFTER finding the novel so disappointing, I wasn’t expecting the film adaptation of The Maze Runner to be any better. Its heavy marketing towards fans of The Hunger Games was little more than a desperate attempt at dragging itself along on the coattails of a more successful series. As to whether or not it should be lumped in with all the other teen dystopians currently being crammed down our throats – it shouldn’t. The sense of constant surveillance and the slang which the characters use may remind you of Orwell’s 1984 and Burgess’s A Clockwork Orange, but don’t be fooled into thinking that The Maze Runner offers any form of social commentary just because it sets itself in the post-apocalyptic future.

mazerunnerAt best, it can be called a science fiction – and a poorly executed one at that. The science in the novel, and in turn the film, is so vague that the research appears to have been done at the back of a classroom, whilst only occasionally paying attention to what the teacher is saying. I can’t help but wonder if the author, James Dashner, saw how much research he would need to give this novel an ounce of realism and thought, “Sod it! It’s only a kid’s book”.

Nevertheless, I found the film far more enjoyable than the novel. Freed from a narrative shackled to its vigilante protagonist, I found myself easily immersed in the world presented on the screen. I was particularly impressed with the film’s use of camera angles and sound, which ensured that the audience was pushed right into the action.

I am also relieved that the film didn’t remain entirely loyal to the book. The changes in the script improved the original plot, especially in areas where it didn’t make much sense. For example, I preferred how ‘the Griever hole’ was an actual hole in the wall, rather than something invisible that was suspended in mid-air. I also approved of the psychic link between Thomas and Teresa being scrapped because I felt that it broke the boundaries of science-fiction and moved into the realm of the supernatural.

The Maze itself was impressive to see brought into existence. When the film swapped out the bus for a helicopter ride at the end, it allowed the audience to appreciate its vastness and intricate detail. I also liked how the walls added to the danger of being trapped inside, instead of being left as passive objects that moved around when nobody was looking.

As to characterisation, I would normally say that the film did the best it could in a limited amount of time, but that would be implying it had something to work with. The Maze Runner’s main female character is a clear example of how the novel is more concerned with action and having its hero save the day than creating compelling characters. Throughout most of the book, Teresa is either in a coma, locked away or doing whatever Thomas wants her to do. I also felt that Dashner spent way too much of the narrative repeatedly pointing out how pretty she is as if it brought more to the plot than a description guideline. Fortunately the film gave her character much more agency. This meant that when she did show strength, it didn’t come across as being token feminism that had been chucked in to appease female members of the audience.

For anyone still planning on reading The Maze Runner, I would recommend ignoring the shops luring you into buying the whole set, and go see the film first before deciding that you want the book. That way, you won’t be misled into believing it is anything more than a badly-written, purely sensory piece of fiction.