Tuesday, September 30, 2014

The Maze Runner in Theaters Now

I loved the movie adaptations of The Hunger Games and Divergent, and the preview for The Maze Runner (PG-13, 113 min.) had me pretty excited. But much as James Dashner's endings in all the Maze Runner books fell short of my expectations and hopes, this movie disappoints. I think, perhaps, if I'd not read the book (especially as recently as I have), I would have liked the movie better. But watching the movie first and finding out the ending would have ruined the mystery and tension of the book. So, I guess my recommendation is this: If you are a movie person, watch the movie first. If books are always way better than movies to you, read the book first. Enjoy the story first in the medium you like best, and if you must, check it out in the other, too.

The story is this (taken more from my memory of the book than from the movie, though they are relatively the same). Thomas awakes in an elevator box of sorts, moving slowly and mysteriously toward an unknown destination, but the worst of it is, Thomas remembers nothing about his life. He knows how life works and the names of objects. He just can't remember anything specific pertaining to him except his first name. But everything is about to get stranger. When the box opens, he finds himself in a community of teenage boys who are all like him, no memories, and who are stuck in a giant maze full of monsters. Thomas is supposed to do what he's told, have a good cry if he needs to, and adapt to his part of making their community work. But Thomas is too curious for his own good, and he's not just going to sit by and do nothing.

The premise was fascinating to me. I like stories such as Lord of the Flies, and the TV show Lost. And out of this whole series, The Maze Runner, most similar to those, is my favorite book. The ending is decent enough in that it provides some answers without needing to resolve everything (overall, I don't like how Dashner resolves everything in the series, but if you take this first book by itself, it's fine). I figured the adaptation to a movie would be pretty straightforward, and I was excited to see the story come to life in that way.

Now, hear me out. I know you have to change things when you adapt a book into a movie. Things have to be shortened, focused. If a story takes place in a character's head in the book, you have to figure out a way to translate that to a medium that's largely outside the character's head (unless you provide character narration, which some movies do). So, I get it. I'm not one of those who swears the book is the only way to go. This blog is about books and movies because I really like both, and I love to see adaptations. Now, the adaptations don't always work for me, but I can generally see a movie as a separate entity from the book and not be too disappointed.

But...(you were waiting for it, weren't you?), The Maze Runner movie annoyed me just a tad. It started with small details here and there, different from the book. I was prepared for the big cuts, but the small changes were surprising. They seemed unnecessary and made less sense than the way the details were written in the book. I will try to avoid major SPOILERS here, but if you are concerned, stop reading now.

Some of the changes didn't hurt the movie, but I don't think they helped either. They were just inconsistencies that bothered me, especially when I couldn't see the point of the change (for instance, in the buildings the boys built for themselves). One of those rather minor details that I do think does hurt the movie, however, is the presentation of the mysterious medicine vials. In the book, the medicine comes up in the shipments of survival goods the boys periodically receive from the Box. When they are attacked by the monsters, the boys use this medicine. In the movie, another character arrives with two medicine vials in a pocket, and the movie uses them conveniently for two major characters. Aside from that seeming very coincidental and accidental in the movie, it changes the story and doesn't make sense, to boot. It makes more sense for the boys to already have medicine they use as needed.

Okay, so I'm going to have to go into SPOILER territory (more for the book than the movie, though). If you were braving it out until now, congrats but you've been warned. One thing that really bothered me is that the sci-fi technology is dumbed down. There are some really cool things in the book like telepathy and invisible portals. That's not a spoiler for the movie because those things don't exist in the movie. So, yay, I didn't spoil it for you. The movie only spoiled the book. I can't figure out why the tech was changed. Some things in the book are just not explained. Could that be it? They wanted a more believable world than what the book presented? But that change is going to affect the rest of the story even more than it did the beginning. Stripped of some of those details that make this world so interesting, they're going to have to make up stuff that isn't in the books just to fill in the cracks in future movies. I already thought the pacing was a little slow for this movie, and now some of what makes the book more interesting is gone. And if they bring it back, it will seem inconsistent and have me wondering why they took it out in the first place.

Perhaps my biggest complaint is that the way the kids get out (and that's not spoiling because you knew they would) is totally different from in the book. Okay, "totally" might be an exaggeration, but it's enough different that it affects the story. And it's another change that just doesn't make sense with the way the maze is supposed to work and the answers we discover at the end of the story.

Well, I could go on. Even some of the last shots of the movie get details wrong, but those I actually do understand. It was done for the movie audience to have a better visual that the book doesn't provide. It was a change made for the movie to make a better movie. If you haven't read the book, it works. If you have, it's just one more way the tech is changed that disappoints.

Aside from being annoyed by detail changes, I do have one moral concern to share. The book and the movie have some pretty violent moments. Kids are killed, and the worst part is that hardly anyone stops to mourn or seems to care, except with the one character who's played up to get the audience to care. But PG-13 is an acceptable rating.

Having said all that, I'll admit I didn't dislike the movie entirely. It was enjoyable to watch one time and see the characters, like Newt!, come to life, though there weren't too many other stand-outs, even so. Here was a chance for the movie to improve upon a book that had a few faults of its own. It didn't. So, I give it a shrug and a throw-away three out of five stars.

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