Watch the Film?: Meditation on Adaptation (The Maze Runner)

I am what you would call an advocate for the book. I remember once noting this to a professor who asked me why I thought that film was a lesser media – I’m not sure I responded correctly at the time (isn’t that always the way?) and – but upon thinking about it I would say this: film isn’t necessarily a lesser media, in fact it is a great way to tell story, original and retold. It is within adaptation that the difficulty lies.

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Adaptation fundamentally means adjustment or, in biological terms: a change in structure wherein an organism becomes better suited to its environment. So, extrapolating that, a good film adaptation of a book is not simply being faithful to its original text but rather altering it, or actively engaging with its themes and structure and motifs and characters etc…, so that it is better suited to its media. This doesn’t mean leaping away from the original text in great bounds either, an adaptation should keep the raw essence of its original form but create changes in order to better fit the written word into a visual experience. I use the word create here because I think its important that filmmakers are actively creative when adapting a book to film and not simply parrot the book back to us on screen (like, I would argue, The Hunger Games did) or tell their own story with a book’s character names and place (take Starship Troopers or the Bourne series or the new Alice in Wonderland which, if you ask me, is really more like Through the Looking Glass…). My go to example of great film adaptations: The Shining and The Princess Bride or perhaps something like Clueless. These films have the core of the book with them but they also tell truly great stories on the silver screen.

Now, I think that contemporary adaptations have a particularly hard time fulfilling my definition of a “good adaptation” because \33457-=*contemporary viewers do not stand as a united front in terms of what makes a good adaptation. Actually, I think much of the problem, as with many things, lies within Hollywood’s drive to make money *sighs* (here I say “Hollywood” very liberally because my knowledge of who “Hollywood” actually is is vague). “Hollywood” has been prone to producing adaptation films that adhere strictly to their books, and this is honestly to the films own detriment, I mean look at The Golden Compass or Percy Jackson, these films simply didn’t work because there was no creativity in the writing and creating of the film but instead an attempt to tell a complex story within the span of two hours… which leads to cutting out important things and the shoddy/over-fast handling of very important topics.

But, after watching these films the books have been (mostly) spoiled and this, of course, leads to the line of thinking: “Oh, I’ll just watch the movie.” So, perhaps what I really want out of an adaptation is the sudden urge to know more about what I just saw and to run for the book. Alternatively, if you’ve read the book, to sit back and ponder the interesting changes made, and why and to what they were highlighting.

However, just as there can be bad movie adaptations of awesome books there can be awesome movie adaptations or not so great books… which brings me, finally, to The Maze Runner.

It is no secret that I was not a big fan of Dashner’s book The Maze Runner – actually, I was so annoyed by the book that I refused to read any more of the series. After finishing the movie however, I was driven to potentially reading (and certainly watching) the rest of the series. Here, I think, is where the film medium excelled over the book:

  1. Thomas. From one page to the next Thomas was inconsistent in his emotions, his knowledge and abilities. On one page he is terrified of the maze, on the next he is happily laughing with a fellow glader and on the next he is determined to get into that maze no matter what. As a reader it was hard for me to relate to Thomas because he was never consistent. The film skipped this and focussed on Thomas’ inexplicable drive to enter the maze (which remains explained but is implied that it’s because Thomas is someone exceptional in WCKD’s eyes), this made Thomas a more stable character through which we uncover Dashner’s world. Also, in the film, Thomas almost immediately starts remembering his life before the maze – this takes forever in the book. Perhaps it’s because I’m an adult, and therefore experienced, reader but… it’s kind of obvious that the amnesia was induced by whoever put these kids in the maze and that they had previous lives… why make it a secret?
  2. The gladers, in the film, were nicer and more focussed. That’s not to say that they weren’t a bunch of scared boys stuck in a maze, but they didn’t immediately ostracize Thomas – this never made sense to me (especially since just a few chapters later Thomas is Mr. Bossypants “let’s jump into the maze and save someone”). If you are group of boys stuck to work together to find your way out of a maze, why would you hate on someone who is supposed to help you? Sure you always have to have your jerk characters, but the more the merrier when you need to work together, no? I say that they were more focussed because their character’s were more consistent, I suppose. Gally is always nasty, Minho is always brave and quick, Alby is always a reserved guardian figure etc… Some depth is nice but the book was all over the place.
  3.  SPOILERS – The Key to Escape in the book was super annoying. Thomas, in all his willful I-wanna-kick-the-maze’s-butt-glory, finds a secret door. REALLY? These kids have been in the maze for 3 years and they haven’t found a secret door that Thomas basically just walks up to? … In the film, after Thomas outwits a Griever (which I really liked because it shows just how “special” Thomas is in a nice action sequence) Minho uncovers a device in it’s body which leads them to the exit. This is a great change, first of all it’s a lot quicker, second another character gets a chance to shine and third… it makes sense!!
  4. No telepathy in the film. Obviously a good choice particularly because in the book the telepathy remains unexplained and inconsistent (why not use it all the time and to your benefit in the maze? why is it only when Thomas is there that there is telepathy?) and simply because telepathy doesn’t make a nice leap onto the silver screen.
  5. Teresa – Finally, though there are more things I could say to the film’s credit, the film did fail in on respect. Sort of. Teresa, in the first book, has sort of a bigger role to play. Yes, the film cut out the super long annoying coma state that she is in (why???) but they also cut out her figuring out the code of the maze, which was very nice to see in the book and helped us understand why WCKD might send a girl (because girls and boys think differently). In the film she supplies some comic relief and she is as tough as any of the boys in their escape but really… she kind of just feels like she’s tossed in there because they need a girl in the movie too.

I loath to call anyone a “bad” writer, that in turn implies that there are “bad” readers out there and I am an advocate of reading no matter the material. With that in mind, please accept that for me The Maze Runner was terrible writing – not in it’s grammar or word choices – but in it’s character development, predictable and annoying dialogue, and worst of all were the many MANY inconsistencies and logic disconnects. Perhaps this isn’t bad writing but bad editing? Ultimately, I think this is because the book was just too darn long. Film has a limited amount of time to tell it’s tale, and I think The Maze Runner managed to smooth over inconsistencies and disconnects by simply cutting them out.

The Maze Runner film got to the heart of the story without using all of the time-consuming devices of the book and by making some interesting, and logical changes. Ultimately it was the movie that would have driven me to the books.

What did you guys think of the book or the film? Any other films that you would call excellent adaptations?