Wednesday, October 1, 2014

The Maze Runner

The Maze Runner: Poster | A Constantly Racing Mind
D irector Wes Ball takes James Dashner's 2007 novel "The Maze Runner" and along with 20th Century Fox turns it into a Young Adult action adventure tale for the whole family. "Teen Wolf's" Dylan O'Brien stars as a young man sent into The Glade that resides within the middle of a gigantic concrete maze. "The Maze Runner" is a film that has a formula found in recent YA Fiction.  Films in this genre typically originate from a novel, the main character is "chosen" and usually there is a mystery surrounding the protagonists origin. However, Ball's adaptation will resonate not only with the young adult audiences, but with adults as well.

“The Maze Runner” starts with a chaotic caged elevator ride to the surface. Inside the cage is a disoriented and scared youth. A group of teens roughly his own age greets the boy once the elevator reaches the top. As they open the top cage door of the elevator, we can see canned goods and other provisions in the cage with the boy. The group asks the young man for his name, but he can't remember. When they pull him out of the cage, he dashes away from the group. When he sees the enormous concrete wall, he stumbles and falls. The boys in The Glade are pf various ages and races. There is Alby (Aml Ameen - "Lee Daniels' The Butler"), the first to arrive in the Glade and welcomes the new kid to the group. Then there is Gally played by Will Poulter ("We're the Millers," "The Chronicles of Narnia: The Voyage of the Dawn Treader,") who  is more antagonistic toward this new kid, whom they name Greenie. Having no memories is disorienting at best, panic inducing at worst. This is a new world for the kid and Alby explains the rules to him. First rule is that no one goes into the maze. However, the new kid notices that he sees two other boys wake up early and waits for the maze to open, which it does daily, and then they run in it. Alby explains that they are Maze Runners and it is their job to map the maze and look for a way out. That night the boys enjoy a tribal atmosphere as the boys light a bonfire and wrestle in the dirt. Gally is there fighting with another boy. As Alby and the boy pass, Gally challenges the kid to a round. Gally is the clear champion, however, the new guy makes a good go at him. Gally slams the kid to the floor. As he hit the ground he hits his head, and the boy remembers that his name is Thomas (O’Brien) and as he gets up, he shouts out his name. He is a person now. 

The Maze Runner: Arrival | A Constantly Racing Mind
No one offers the boys and the audience a reason for the maze and for their existence there. Although Thomas has memories of his past life, they are at best fleeting. Most of the first half of the film takes place in The Glade. This gives us time to get to know characters like Newt, played by Thomas Brodie-Sangster, who is the voice of Ferb in "Phineas and Ferb," and plays Jojen Reed in “Game of Thrones.” Newt is amiable and instantly likes Thomas and has his back. Minho (Ki Hong Lee), the other Maze Runner, who helps Thomas when the maze trapped the two overnight. Blake Cooper ("Prosper"), short and stubby, Cooper's Chuck reminds me of Piggy in William Golding's "The Lord of the Flies." Finally, we meet Teresa (Kaya Scodelario - "Moon," "Clash of the Titans," "The Truth About Emanuel"), the only girl in The Glade. Teresa’s arrival brings some amusement, but along with it, a foreboding on the horizon. Thomas is clearly the chosen one, the hero of this story. O'Brien, however, plays the role of Thomas as very one dimensional, while others around him seem more solid. Looming in Thomas's fuzzy memory is Ava Paige played by Patricia Clarkson ("The East," "Shutter Island," "The Green Mile," "Jumanji") . Thomas isn't really sure who Paige is, but he does remember her telling him that "Wicked is good."

Many people question the meaning of life and some philosophies point in the direction of happiness as the ultimate goal in life. However, that leads to the next question; what is happiness, while other worldviews have more hedonistic values. In "The Maze Runner,"  the boys' existence in The Glade is a metaphor for our existence on this planet, and that the reason for being is a grand test. Not only are we being tested for our will to survive, but also for our worthiness of survival. If we pass the test, there are greater glories that we can ascend to. Part of the test is solving the mysteries in life, finding those little clues that hint at at something more than just what we are and will lead us to the next level. 

Having the teens wake up with no memory is a metaphor for us as humans in that we arrive on Earth with no memories of any previous existence (if there is one). That we are on this Earth with little or no direction and have to determine our own set of rules and create our own societies and civilizations. Alby, the first, tells about a time when life in The Glade was chaotic and turbulent before rules. Alby the lawgiver, made the rules, and that following them was important or people will die. Like in the early days of the human history, we made up laws that, at the time, made sense. Rules like "don't eat pork" because you had to cook pork properly to kill all the bacteria that incubate within their systems. Or laws that define sex between male and female(s), because in the ancient world the tribe needed a constant supply of new members while forming a self sustaining society by providing workers, soldiers and children. Remember, there is safety in numbers. Rules that don't necessarily apply in today's world. 

In the metaphorical world of "The Maze Runner," Teresa serves as a sort of Eve to Thomas's Adam. While Thomas is not the first person to enter The Glade, which represents a sort of Garden of Eden, he is the first to have a spirit of adventure and a quest for knowledge. Prior to his arrival, the residents of The Glade, including the current Runners, 
only explore the maze in a passive manner; because it is their role so they do so. 

In traditional religious texts, which maligns the role of women, the author here too twists the role of women to serve the narrative as the harbinger of doom. In Greek mythologythe ancient Greek poet Hesiod, wrote the poem "The Works and Days.” In the story,  the Greek gods created Pandora as a punishment for man. Pandora is the similar the Eve character in The Bible. In The Glade, the residents live in relative peace, protected from the Grievers at night (because the Maze doors close at night), and if they follow the rules,and  work together, they too will live as prisoners in a peaceful world. With the arrival of Teresa, the creators have both literally and symbolically sent her with a mes declaring that "she is the last". But also like Pandora, she also brings with her -- hope. 

After pulling out a small metallic cylinder from a dead Griever, a biomechanical
spider/scorpion creature, the teens discover a clue to their existence, and possibly to their escape. Many religions and charismatic speakers claim to have found The Way, some have visions like the Apostle Paul, or John of Patmos, or others like the Prophet Mohammed, who has claimed instruction from angelic beings, while others find these clues in golden plates hidden in the Earth. Thomas and Minho try to decipher the mystery of the symbol and the electronic 7 that glows on the side of the cylinder labeled with the letters WCKD. Gally is the Doubting Thomas and Judas combined into one character. He is intent on the keeping current social structure and like many conservative voices today who preach the horrors of change, he clings to the myth that what we have in this world is the best we will ever have. Chuck is our innocence lost. His instant liking for Thomas and his willingness to break the rules on his behalf by bringing him food when Thomas is in the punishment pit, tells us he aligns himself with what is good in the story. 

Wes Ball has four directorial credits with three of them being short films. Most of Ball's experience in the film industry is in the art department working on documentaries creating behind the scenes special features. Ball worked on "Cirque du Freak: The Vampire's Assistant - Guide to Becoming a Vampire," "Star Trek: Aliens" and a whole slew of graphics for various "Star Trek" documentaries. His first special feature was for the 2004 version of Tony Scott's "Man on Fire" titled "The Making of 'Man on Fire'." As his first feature length film, Ball gives us a fine introduction into the world of James Dashner's trilogy of "Maze Runner" novels. 

Scriptwriters Noah Oppenheim, Grant Pierce Myers, and T.S. Nowlin provide the viewer with plenty of action, adventure, and mystery. The scriptwriters renders Dashner's novel into something that theater goers can digest in just under two hours, by weeding out plot points that work well as literature but fail miserably in cinema. There is plenty of questions to answer, and just enough clues enticing us to see what happens next in "The Scorch Trials." John Paesano's ("When the Game Stands Tall," "DreamWorks Dragons") score is brassy and loud, giving the film a very full and mature feeling. Enrique Chediak's ("Europa Report," "Repo Men," "28 Weeks Later,") cinematography establishes the world of the "The Maze Runner" as visually stable and impressive. I found “The Maze Runner” is a fun adventure film, but a story that one can reflect about our purpose in life and who is really running the show.

Movie Data
Genre: Action, Mystery, Sci-Fi, Thriller
Year:  2014
Staring: Dylan O'Brien, Thomas Brodie-Sangster,Aml Ameen, Ki Hong Lee, Blake Cooper, Kaya Scodelario, Will Poulter Patricia Clarkson
Director: Wes Ball
Producer(s): Marty Bowen, Wyck Godfrey, Gotham Group, Lee Stollman, Lindsay Williams
Writer: Noah Oppenheim, Grant Pierce Myers, T.S. Nowlin, James Dashner (novel)
Rating: PG-13
Running Time: 113 minutes
Release Date: 8/8/2014

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