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Getting Under the Radar with Maze Runner, a Movie Review

27 Sep

TheMazeRunner1Ever since the success of a series of young adult novels to cinema, namely Harry Potter, Hollywood studios are clamouring to find the next big thing. Maze Runner shows what the rat race is going to be like after the end of past sagas like Twilight and series tossed into limbo like The Chronicles of Narnia. These days, Hunger Games is close to wrapping up and newer products like Divergent, Percy Jackson and Ender’s Game are questionable if another film will get made. Only half stands a chance of seeing its cinema journey come to an end.

Fans of Maze Runner will no doubt want to see how James Dashner’s book trilogy will translate to screen. Not everyone will have read the Maze Runner series so the big question is if prior knowledge is going to be needed in order to appreciate this translation. Fortunately, not much.

Anyone groomed by what was seen in Harry Potter and the Goblet of Fire may find some familiarity with what can happen when people enter the cat’s cradle. As Dumbledore said in the film version of the book, “In the maze, you’ll find no dragons or creatures of the deep. In fact, you’ll face something even more challenging. You see, people change in the maze … but be very wary, you could lose yourselves along the way.”

Whether that piece of dialogue means going insane or falling victim to the traps contained in the concrete labyrinth, there’s even a foe which Thomas (Dylan O’Brien), this movie’s main protagonist, has to face: he has to contend with a fierce rival, Gally (Will Poulter). For both young men, they have to know who their friends are in order to survive in this jungle society that seems to have modelled itself from William Golding’s Lord of the Flies.

The big difference between that classic to this film is Thomas’ curiousity about what the outside may reveal. That leads him into trouble amongst the council, known as the Gladers that is led by Alby (Aml Ameen). They laid down the rules of how their tribal order works.

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Just how they have managed to survive for three years is not without question. The movie is very good for developing a huge air of mystery about what lays beyond this enclave. There’s a definite air of tension that can be seen when O’Brien and Poulter face off. As for whether they were rivals in a past life, no one will ever find out. There’s certainly a lot of back story that can help develop what this movie is about and audiences are just as invested as Thomas is to wonder what lays beyond the doors. Half the fun of this movie is in figuring out who is watching these boys and what their motives are.

To watch the few who have gone in the maze means unleashing a lot of terror. These Runners, as they are known, attempt to map out the maze. In what they find are only numerical riddles painted on edifices of concrete and metal. Years of ruin and some flora growth suggests that some creatures have taken up residence. A few of the boys have even met up with a techno-organic 10′ scorpion-like creature called the Griever.

The astute will no doubt want to pull out Goblet of Fire (Bloomsbury edition) and flip to page 543 to find that even Potter had to deal with a similar foe. The tropes used in this genre of fiction rarely changes, and some viewers may wonder if making this creature an arthropod was on purpose so that what one movie could not do can get used in another (many years later). The sound design for this beast really has to be noted, since it blends a few clicks and growls from many a Predator movie to give this film an air of familiarity.

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That also includes the cinematography which offers nothing really new. The way the scenes are framed might conjure forth moments like when Bilbo was hiding from the Ring Wraiths or dodging Trolls. Once when a viewer has viewed many a chase scene, they will have seen them all. Even the traps that the boys have to evade is nothing exciting. At least the mystery, tension and drama that’s developed will have some viewers wanting to know more about the characters, and the only way is to look at the books.

The movie condenses a lot of story into 113 minutes. It’s moderately successful in not requiring viewers to know the source material for at least half the film. The other half, however, falters in plot holes and raising more questions than offering answers. As a trilogy, the series fleshes out the characters more than this film can explain in one sitting.

Also, the first book answers more than a few nagging questions that the final act never fully explained. Plot holes exist in the latter part of the film. When running, or making a film for that matter, these pitfalls can destroy a movie. As for how long it will take for this series to wrap up, its lifespan will be limited to how fast the filmmakers can finish a trilogy before the lead actors fully mature into adults.

3½ Stars out of 5

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