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The Maze Runner: World Building on a Budget

October 13, 2014

The Maze Runner movie poster

What I appreciate most about The Maze Runner is what it accomplished on its budget. The $34 million  film is brisk, exciting and well-acted. We don’t get any love triangles, pouting or other YA cliches. We get teenagers trying to escape from a massive maze. The conclusion may be frustrating but it leaves us wanting more. Most importantly, it might teach studios to keep it simple and focus on solid source material and characters instead of throwing money at a wall hoping something will stick.

The Maze Runner cast

Director Wes Ball (FSU alum. Go Noles!) was wise in his decision to forgo Imax/3D and instead keep it simple. He is a young director that knows his strengths and appreciates story. He cast a solid crew of actors, established the characters and moved the film along quickly. I really like what Ball said to Den of Geek in an interview.

I hope that it’ll appeal to people who grew up on Goonies and Raiders [Of The Lost Ark] – that’s what I tried to do. That sense of adventure. And the language in that movie [Goonies], the cursing! We’re not trying to talk down to anybody. There’s kids in it but it’s a little bit more mature, a little bit more sophisticated. It’s not sugar-coated for them. They’re gonna like that I hope. It’s going to be one of those movies that twelve-year olds sneak into

Not much time is wasted and the leanness of The Maze Runner is much appreciated. The post-apocalyptic (Sun storms killed the earth) world is believably stark and unforgiving. The lifespan for some of the characters is surprisingly short as the find themselves on the wrong end of spears, robot spiders and a maze that will smoosh them. We don’t get much character back story. Instead we figure out the characters via their actions. It is unsentimental film making that works in a simplistic A-B-C format.

The story revolves a group of teenagers who are in the middle of a massive maze. They live in a barren sanctuary that shows a level of impressive organization. They’ve found a way to establish peace and a community (I’d like to see a Lord of the Flies type prequel). However, complacency has abounded and that is all changed when a kid named Thomas arrives via a mysterious elevator. He is different from all the others and this starts a chain of events that move logically and quickly.

Dylan O’Brien does a solid job as the main character Thomas. He handles the physicality well and you believe he could quickly work his way into the groups leadership. The character isn’t afraid of the world yet and I dug how that conflicted with the other characters. It helps that he is surrounded by fantastic young actors Will Poulter (We’re the Millers), Thomas Brodie-Sangster (Love Actually, Game of Thrones), Kaya Scodelario (Skins), Aml Ameen and Ki Hong Lee,

The Maze Runner elevator

The film is surprisingly tense and brutal. Kids get wiped out by robotic spider things that haunt the maze at night. These Grievers are unforgiving killing machines and you understand why nobody would want to be stuck in the maze. The stakes seem real and for the most part they are.

The Maze Runner has already cleared $200 million worldwide and is holding really well at the box-office (three weekends in and it made $8.7 million this weekend). The word of mouth is fantastic (A- Cinemascore) and this bodes well for future installments. The director doesn’t want to split the third book into two movies (Yes!) and he has a solid cast to work with.  I love what Ball did on a budget and I am excited to see how he evolves and what his Scorch Trials look like.

Wes Ball director


11 Comments leave one →
  1. johnleavengood permalink
    January 26, 2015 3:06 pm

    I enjoyed this little romp for what it was. But, whereas most movies nowadays borrow a lot from others, this movie did so far too often and with zero subtlety or style. The Lord of Flies roles from Albee’s second-coming to the chubby boy’s self-sacrifice, and rule to ruin. The most obvious samplings were from The Hunger Games. Again, I enjoyed this and it wasn’t masquerading as a masterpiece, but they could have done more with this without actually doing more work.

    • January 27, 2015 10:26 am

      I like how it was lean and told on a modest budget. It didn’t need all the frills to be well done.

      • johnleavengood permalink
        January 27, 2015 3:57 pm

        If they had a small budget, I certainly couldn’t tell. So I guess they did VERY WELL with their budget. The effects seemed good, the young adult acting was as good as I’d expect for a book-turned-movie like this, and the production value felt effective throughout to me. Good job then.

      • January 27, 2015 4:04 pm

        34 million. That is small for a YA film. The lack of love triangle was wonderful. Less pouting is always welcome.

      • johnleavengood permalink
        January 27, 2015 4:11 pm

        Hahaha. Pouting is the WORST when it happens in YA films. LOL. And love triangles….ugh! I’m so glad to be done with Kristen Stewart and her glittered up troupe of vampires and manscaped werewolves. Viva la Maze Runner!

      • johnleavengood permalink
        January 27, 2015 4:20 pm

        And $34 million is considerably less than I would have expected. Actually, as you noted, it makes the movie more impressive.

      • January 27, 2015 4:23 pm

        Directed by an FSU grad!

    • January 27, 2015 10:28 am

      Most movies borrow nowadays so it has become a never ending wormhole of similarities. I just roll with it.

      • johnleavengood permalink
        January 27, 2015 3:55 pm

        They didn’t even try to make their borrowed elements their own. It’s lazy. Snowpiercer had The Matrix written all over it, but I had to read between the lines to see all of the correlations. This fun movie–and it was fun, don’t get me wrong–was blatant in it’s conceptual thievery. They were less borrowed, and more carbon-copied with different character names.


  1. Maze Runner: The Scorch Trials: The Running Strikes Back | Movies, Films & Flix
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