Book v Film: The Maze Runner

“Are they changed because they want to go back to their old life, or is it because they’re so depressed at realising their old life was no better than what we have now?”

Based on James Dashner‘s 2009 book, The Maze Runner is the first in a trilogy of novels, directed by Wes Ball, that begins in a post-apocalyptic setting known as the Glade. When Thomas (Dylan O’Brien) wakes up with no memory apart from his name, he soon realises that he has been trapped in a gigantic maze with a group of other boys. By piecing together fragments of his past with clues that come back to him in his sleep, Thomas begins to uncover his true purpose, as well as the possibility of an escape. But is there an exit to be found? And is the world outside even one worth returning to?


The following post is a review of the film adaptation in comparison to the book. You can read my review of the book on its own here.

The Maze Runner is a dark story full of adventure, hope, determination, and desperation. Centring on a group of young characters who are forced to grow up in unbelievable circumstances, it’s this dark approach to its dystopian setting that makes The Maze Runner a refreshing approach to your typical coming-of-age story.

It is the perfect novel to be adapted. With the maze’s epic scale and the novel’s dystopian atmosphere, the setting urges to be visualised, which is the film’s biggest success from the novel. The whole appearance of the Glade and the Maze brings the story to life superbly, with the scale of the walls and view of the maze from afar adding some much-needed dimension to the story.

One visual that I didn’t agree with, however, was that of the Grievers. In my head, the Grievers rolled into robotic minstrel-shaped ovals when moving through the maze. In the film, they appeared more alien than robotic, but this isn’t a flaw, only a personal aggravation.

Aside from the visuals, it’s the strength in The Maze Runner‘s original story and the way in which it develops that makes the book such a good one to adapt, as there’s so much constantly left to find out. With no memories, we know nothing of the world outside of the Maze; whether it has been burnt to the ground, has been taken over by a strict government, or if the Maze is simply somebody’s idea of just a bit of fun. Glimpses of the world outside through visions and piecing together of information are slowly unravelled, but it doesn’t sound promising. All we know is that this group of boys need to find a way out, if there is one at all.

Whilst most of this story adapts well, the film is constantly ambiguous and there are many plot holes left unexplained for viewers who haven’t read the book. The changes the writers have made in adapting the story, as well, open up even more flaws, but I will go into these changes further down.

With a brilliant cast of young actors, the adaptation also fails in overshadowing most of the supporting characters. Newt (Thomas Brodie-Sangster), Gally (Will Poulter), Minho (Ki Hong Lee), and Chuck (Blake Cooper), are still big players in the film, but there’s never enough emphasis on them for you to care enough about them. In the book, Thomas works closely with everybody, getting to know the different jobs and the Keepers of these roles. It’s easy to see Thomas’ relationship with Newt forming in the film, but there’s not enough focus on the other boys and how they work together, meaning that characters including Winston, Jeff, Clint, and Frypan, all feel insignificant.

You can buy the film on DVD here

Obviously, there’s not enough time for the adaptation to detail everything in the way that the book did, but, in the end, it’s difficult to remember the names of any of the other Gladers that survive aside from Thomas and Teresa, so I don’t know how this will translate into the next instalment. The film, especially, misses out on developing Chuck’s friendship with Thomas. It does attempt to show his vulnerability with the scene of him talking about his parents, but it doesn’t have the same emotional impact at the end, since you don’t see Thomas as the inspiration and mentor that you read him as.

As for other relationships and characters, I do appreciate that the film doesn’t hover over any flirting or romantic sparks between Thomas and Teresa (Kaya Scodelario), as this first instalment needed to be a film about these boys working together and finding out their purpose, without having any other distractions. But, again, some pretty big changes create huge flaws in the relationship between Thomas and Teresa, but I will again explain more about this further down.

Overall, the film itself is a decent teen sci-fi, with stunning visuals and a dedicated effort from director Wes Ball. My issues, however, lie with the scriptwriter, Noah Oppenheim, due to the huge changes from the novel. In my eyes this wasn’t a good adaptation, so let’s look at why that was.

Differences From The Book:

It’s always a difficult decision to make as to whether you should read a novel before it is adapted or to read it after seeing someone else’s vision of it played out on the big screen. It’s that reason that I always choose to read the book first, as this allows you to imagine your own world before the next big director comes along to put their own personal stamp on it. There’s no better feeling than to fall in love with a story and its characters and to be highly anticipated for the release of its film adaptation, but your hopes can all come quickly tumbling down when the adaptation isn’t exactly what you hoped it would be.

And that’s my let down with The Maze Runner. If I hadn’t read the book beforehand then this could have easily been in my Top 10 films of this year, but because I loved the novel so much, I’m largely disappointed with how it’s been adapted.

Here are the major changes, in chronological order:

  • In the book, Thomas remembers his name straight away. The whole premise of the story is based on a group of boys who have no memory aside from their name but, in the film, Thomas has no memory whatsoever. He remembers his name a little later on, but it’s a very pointless change.
  • In the book, Gally has been stung by a Griever before Thomas arrives. There’s a great chapter at the beginning of the book where Thomas sneaks up the stairs of a building to find Gally writhing in pain, but none of this is explored in the film.
  • In the book, many Gladers have already seen the Grievers, been stung by them and have survived, because they already have a serum for it. In the film, the medication comes up in the box with Teresa, and anybody who has been stung by a Griever has died. In the book, they, therefore, do not banish Ben because he has been stung either, since they can already heal him, but they do banish him for his actions towards Thomas.
  • It is common knowledge in the book that the Changing brings back some of the boys’ memories, which is supposed to be why Gally has such a bad attitude towards Thomas in the beginning, since he has seen him in his visions of his past. This is something else not properly explored, and it would also better explain why Ben and Alby attack Thomas during their Changing processes in the film, which isn’t realised until later on.
  • There are no Beetle Blades in the film. In the book, these are little beetle-shaped cameras that have WCKD written on them, that move quickly around the Glade. The Gladers believe that these Beetles let the Grievers know of their whereabouts.
  • Thomas sleeps alone in the book as he feels like an outcast. In the film, he’s very much a part of the group.
  • In the book, the Gladers draw maps of the Maze and the different patterns it makes. These patterns spell out a code, which is the password used at the Griever entrance. In the film, there are no maps. Instead, there’s a huge model of the maze (which seems kind of pointless when the Maze changes so often?), and the code is merely the sequence of sections. This change opens so many inconsistencies, but luckily most of them go over your head in the film if you haven’t read the book. For those that have, however, this change is filled with flaws.
  • In the book, Thomas and Teresa can speak telepathically, a narrative device which is used in the whole trilogy but completely skipped over in the films. This is also how Thomas gets some of his memory back, and how he sees the visions of WCKD rather than in his dreams like in the adaptation.
  • In the book, Teresa is in a coma for weeks but, during this time, she is able to speak to Thomas using their telepathic powers. She then, unintentionally, triggers “The End”, which is when the sky turns grey and the Maze doors remain open. In the film, she is only in a coma for a day or two, and The End comes much later on, with no connection to Teresa.
  • It is never supposed to rain in the Glade. The sky is supposed to remain blue, and it’s only when the sky turns grey that the boys notice that something is going wrong, ie The End.
  • In the book, Thomas and Minho send a Griever flying off a cliff edge, which is how they find The Griever Hole, an invisible barrier where the Grievers enter. In the film, they find something inside a Griever which tells them to go to Section 7, which is where they find a cave-like entrance, instead.
  • With The End causing the Maze doors to remain open, the Grievers begin killing one person a day in the book. In the film, they have one big rampage of the Glade and kill many people.
  • In the book, Chuck is killed by a dagger thrown by Gally aimed at Thomas, and then Thomas attacks Gally. In the film, Chuck is killed by a bullet and then Minho kills Gally with a spear.
  • In the book, the Gladers meet the Creators but, in the film, they are all dead before the Gladers arrive. They do not meet or talk to Ava in the books, either, she only appears in the Epilogue and is mentioned in a flashback.

Overall Verdict:

The Maze Runner film has some great moments and it’s a story that works incredibly well on the big screen, but it’s also filled from start to finish with constant changes and inaccuracies when comparing it to the book. It’s always something to be expected from a book adaptation, as changes inevitably have to be made for a number of different reasons.

Alas, whilst there are many annoyances running through my head, The Maze Runner was still an enjoyable film, and everything is brought together well at the end. Most of what the film misses out on or changes from the book is quickly rectified, although there are a few changes that may cause problems in future adaptations, but the last 20 minutes or so more than make up for its initial flaws, explaining everything solidly and getting everybody anticipated for what’s to come.

Even though I’m not a huge fan of this first film, The Maze Runner is still a fantastic story and I’m definitely going to continue reading the rest of the trilogy, so all I can do is hope that the adaptations get better as keep going.

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