Book Versus Film: THE MAZE RUNNER – 11 Ways The Film Is Better

So, as in my first ‘Book Vs. Film’ post on DIVERGENT, I’m going to break down the differences as I see them between the film and book versions of  The Maze Runner. However, where this will differ is that unlike Divergent (which I think works as both), somewhat controversially, I think The Maze Runner is actually better as a movie! GASP, I know … Here’s why:

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THE STORY 

When Thomas wakes up in the lift, the only thing he can remember is his name. He’s surrounded by strangers – boys whose memories are also gone. Outside the towering stone walls that surround the Glade is a limitless, ever-changing maze.

The maze is the only way out – and no one’s ever made it through alive, thanks to bio-mechanical monsters the boys call ‘grievers’ who’ll hunt you down and tear you apart. Then a girl arrives. The first girl ever. And the message she delivers is equally  terrifying. Everything is going to change

As stories go, THE MAZE RUNNER is basically ‘Lord Of The Flies … in a maze’. It’s concept gold, a brilliant idea. As far as dystopian YA goes, such disparate groups of characters are usually led by a female protagonist too, so immediately this story is differentiated by virtue of it being a virtually all-male environment, too. It’s no wonder this has been an incredibly popular property in there dystopian genre.

Now, onto my SPOILERIFIC review of the book and the film …

THE BOOK

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Like so many YA properties, The Maze Runner is told from Thomas’ POV throughout. For me, the strongest element of the book is the characterisation: it’s layered and unusual, bringing us characters we recognise that are subtly different to what we expect.

Thomas is a complex character, capable of great empathy and understanding of others’ emotional needs. He becomes very close very quickly to the youngest member of The Glade, Chuck. He’s strong and capable, like you’d expect in a YA hero, but he is neither brooding or irascible, but open and honest.

In this version, Minho and Newt play very strong roles ‘upfr
ont’. Minho is a young man of Korean descent and not a ‘typical’ BAME character: he is loud and flamboyant, prone to outbursts, yet also cunning and clever. He is manly and strong, able to run at huge speeds and is a good leader of the rest of the Runners.

Newt is second in command to official Glade leader Alby. Like Minho he was a runner, but now he limps after a run-in with a Griever. Newt is nearly always in good humour, except when he has to sort the rest of the boys out: then he shouts, but he remains a fair leader and does not let his heart rule his head.

Both Minho and Newt like Thomas and trust him at his word. Abby is less effusive and there is a  undercurrent of dislike between him and Thomas from the start. However, it’s Gally who attacks Thomas, claiming he ‘remembers’ him – plus he spends all his time trying to discredit him.

Dialogue throughout is excellent, with the boys talking in a completely new dialect that’s nevertheless very easy to follow – from new words like ‘klunk’ and ‘slinthead’, through to new expressions and ways of talking, ‘Good that’. When Teresa arrives, Thomas seems to remember her as she does him; they discover they’re able to communicate telepathically.

Overall, The Maze Runner is a four star read for me: the characters are excellent, but some of the plotting feels a little muddled. Read my full review, HERE.

THE MOVIE

As with any extremely popular movie adaptation, the screenwriters have to stay more or less ‘on track’, otherwise audiences simply won’t accept it. And author James Dashner certainly starts the book *like* it’s a movie, with Thomas in the lift on his way to the Glade … Screenwriting-wise, learning WITH a character about a new situation is an ‘oldy but a goody’ and this works very well indeed.

Unlike the book however, the film seem to make more of the actual RUNNING, with new set pieces that are not in the source material, such as The Blades sequence.  It’s also one of the very first things Thomas does. He legs it from the Gladers, someone yelling ‘Looks like we got a runner!’ … only to have to stop when  he discovers the Maze walls. This is an inspired start and really cements us in the story world, whereas in the book Thomas ends up pranking Gally with Chuck, which seems a bit of a departure.

Other small, key differences include

2) Time scale / story world  In the book, the boys have been in the glade for two years. In the movie, it’s three. I suspect this is to have a larger cast, since one Glader per month is delivered by the box. In the book, the graders have all kinds of stuff like a well stocked kitchen with condiments like mayonnaise, but in the movie they live solely off the land, which I think works much better.

3) Dialogue. The screenwriters make use of the impressive dialect from the source material, but only pepper the words here and there. Thomas and Minho also use ‘normal’ swear words like ‘shit’ and ‘son of a bitch’.

4) The Griever problem. In the book, everyone’s seen Grievers and knows what they look like. One of the characters even shows Thomas straight away what one looks like through a handy window in the maze wall. In the movie, there are no windows and no one has seen a Griever and lived to tell the tale. This immediately makes it ‘feel’ more dramatic to me, especially as Thomas will be the first one to kill a Griever.

5) Grief serum and beetle blades. The beetle blades from the book – the Glade’s version of CCTV – are missing altogether. This is good because it means the Gladers don’t know they’re being watched (thus feeding into Gally’s storyline), though some might suspect it. The grief serum is only introduced with Teresa, in time to save Alby. Before this, the boys all died of Griever stings. In the book, they had grief serum all along, which saps jeopardy in my opinion.

6) The Cliff. In the book, Thomas and Minho ‘kill’ no less than four Grievers by supposedly getting them to run off the cliff inside the maze. I had some trouble visualising a cliff in the middle of a maze (seems a bit odd to me), plus we discover later that The Griever Hole, the Gladers’ eventual escape route, is beyond the cliff-face … So why would falling down here be such a problem? It’s not that I don’t get it *at all*, it just seems a bit woolly somehow.

7) First Griever death. In the movie, Thomas tempts a Griever to chase him as maze walls are closing. This not only squishes the Griever, it enables the Gladers to go back and take a look at the bio-mech for the first time and retrieve its ‘brain’ which contains a tracking/homing device. This forms a major plot point as Minho and Thomas later ‘follow’ where this homing device takes them … straight to the Griever hole. Nice and straightforward and very exciting, since Thomas only just escapes getting squished himself.

8) The maze itself. They already know the maze is unsolvable before Thomas gets to the glade. Minho knows the patterns and combinations of maze off by heart and shows Thomas via a scale model (Alby has kept this news from the rest of the Gladers to prevent panic). But these numbers will be the ones the escapees all need to get out of the maze via The Griever Hole, of course. In the book, they don’t realise they can’t solve the maze until the last minute but instead work out the patterns are creating words from a variety of maps which Alby then burns cos he doesn’t want to leave. Luckily, Newt had already hid the maps, which seems off when Alby told him to hide them.

9) Massacre in The Glade. When the maze doors don’t close for the night, the Grievers descend on the glad. This is a scary sequence and one of my favourites, where many Gladers are killed, including Alby. In the book, for some reason the Grievers come each night and only carry off one victim per night (had this come earlier in the plot, this could have worked, but it felt ‘too late’). Here, the filmmakers use it to propel Thomas and the others into a decision – do or die – with Gally telling them they should stay in the Glade.

10) Endgames. In the book, there is an epic fight with multiple Grievers and they get through the Griever Hole where there are yet more Grievers. I found it difficult to believe that kids could take on so many bio mech monsters and still have any left standing, especially when none were stung (which again, seems a bit handy). In comparison, in the movie they storm just two beasts and though some Gladers are killed, I could believe that strength in numbers would deliver them through. Secondly, when they get through to the other side and find the lab deserted, with WCKD’s message to them, this felt stronger than everyone simply waiting for them.

11) Gally’s story arc makes much more sense. In the book, Gally says he remembers Thomas and tries to throttle him, but weirdly doesn’t get banished like Ben does. This is ‘fixed’ in the movie by having Ben remember Thomas when he gets stung by the Griever. What’s more, in the movie Gally is resentful of Thomas: first because he’s the new kid getting so much attention; then he beats him in the ring; then he is brave and respected by Minho for killing the Griever; then for bringing the Grievers to their door.

Everything Gally does, is completely understandable so when he tells the others he not only doesn’t want to leave, but that they BELONG to the maze, we get it — even if it is screwed-up logic. What’s more, Gally’s behaviour in the movie brings forth a philosophical layer in keeping with Plato’s allegory of The Cave  – the idea that many people PREFER to be oppressed, rather than take risks or make the effort of going against ‘the norm’.

In comparison, in the book Gally is a big problem for Thomas and then simply disappears, making his way out through the maze which seems rather handy. Even though Gally reappears with the creators and it’s suggested he’s being controlled somehow, we don’t really know why they would call him back or for what purpose. When Gally then tries to kill Thomas, again it seems a little weird (after all, aren’t WICKED *pleased* with Thomas’ leadership??), whereas in the movie Gally follows them out to stop them leaving, because he’s so desperate to be right.

CONCLUDING:

Though The Maze Runner as a book has excellent dialogue and characterisation, I prefer the movie because every plot element they bring in is (in my opinion) an improvement on the original. Being a movie, it’s inevitable some of the psychological element is lost, especially regarding characterisation: Minho is not as flamboyant or irascible as the book (though he retains his other ‘non typical’ qualities) and Alby is your classic wise, self-sacrificing leader in the movie, which is a little dull. That said, Thomas is still a very interesting and unusual male protagonist, not afraid to show his feelings, either with Teresa or especially at Chuck’s untimely death. Lastly, Gally’s much improved story arc gives another, much more philosophical layer to the story that more than makes up for the loss of the psychological element in my view.

What did you think? Which do you prefer, the movie or the book? Let us know in the comments! 

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4 Comments

  1. Avreet

    I think your opinion would be a little different if you read or watched the next movie or book (Scorch Trials). You don’t seem to really understand the meaning of the maze. I recommend the next book in this series, it will give you a better understanding of the truth.

    1. Lucy Hay

      Yeah, read the whole trilogy. I’m also a script editor for movies, so know that stories need to stand on their own two feet without the help of the next book, especially if they’re going to be adapted as films. Thanks anyway!

  2. Solar

    I completely agree. I loved the first maze runner book, accepted the scorch trials, hated the death cure and loathed the prequels. I generally enjoy books more than movie adaptations but in this case the whole trilogy took something mediocre and made it amazing.

    1. Lucy Hay

      I thought the books were better than mediocre, the dialogue was especially good. But overall yes, I felt much more invested in the movies because the plotting was much leaner and focused

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