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.


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?


21 responses to “Watch the Film?: Meditation on Adaptation (The Maze Runner)

  1. I agree completely!! I was so unimpressed with the book that I nearly didn’t bother with the film…it was such a good adaptation though! While I’ve given up on the novel trilogy, I’ll be watching all the movies :) I loved the film version of Paper Towns – I wasn’t blown away by the book, but the film added something to the story. x

    • Glad to hear I’m not the only one!
      I have yet to actually read ANY John Green (is that awful?) but I have heard this (complaints or “meh” reviews) before about his novels… interesting. I’ll check out the films. :)

  2. Hai there Stephie,
    Thanks for sharing this.
    Honestly Ihv watched the movie , the maze runner part 1.
    But Im not kinda reader, I dont read the novel (yet).
    Hv you watched the maze runner part 1? DO you plan to watch part 2?

  3. I think that The Maze Runner, as a book, would have been slightly more enjoyable if it weren’t so violent. I mean, such goriness is better suited to a film.

    • Hmm, I didn’t notice the gore – probably because I was so annoyed by the characters. Interesting that you should point out that gore is best suited to film – I think, in many cases your right (the reaping from HG film was a heart stopping scene, for instance).

      • Exactly. And when I say gore, I refer to the scene where Winston was attacked by that silver ball thing, as well as every scene containing a Crank. Reading the book, I didn’t experience the thrill I would have seeing it on-screen.

  4. I watch the movie first.. and then i lose my desire to read the book.
    Yesterday i watched the second movie The Scorch Trial, and i thought the second movie was more good and exciting than the first one.
    I’m curious about the next movie but i think it’s a little bit (or a lot) different from the book. Should i read the book?? :)

    • Well… I wasn’t a big fan of the first book, so I’d say no. But I would recommend that you read The Hunger Games or Harry Potter, for example.

      • I already finished read Harry Potter.. and for hunger games.. it’s the same case like maze runner.. already watch the movie.. and not so in to read the novel.. :)
        Thanks for the advice..

  5. I never read the book, but I really enjoyed the movie. I thought the young actors were all exceptional, and that’s yet another factor: there’s how the director wants the character portrayed, and there’s how the actor is able to portray him. Fine job on both counts, I thought. Glad to hear the Scorch Trials is also good.
    You’re so right about film adaptations needing to actually adapt the book. I remember seeing the third Harry Potter movie with my young daughter, and she was furious at how they had changed things from the book, while I thought it was the first movie that was any good! I think Hollywood is a little afraid of the rabid fans who, like my daughter, can’t imagine changing a thing about their beloved book. Trouble is, they’re just wrong!

    • Yes!
      I think you are spot on – Hollywood fears angering the hardcore fans because they are the market who will definitely see the film and word of mouth and reviews are everything.
      I thought the third movie was the best too ;)

  6. I completely agree about the character development it was totally predictable. However, I sucked it up and kept reading i’m pleased to say I was pleasantly surprised with the second and third books I liked them much better. In the movie the characters were portrayed quite differently. I definitely liked how they were all played in the movie better, except Teresa she was kind of just there and not as vital as she was in the books.

    • Yeah, Teresa was just… there? The last one to arrive and that’s about it. SO perhaps I should give Scorch Trials a try before I check out the movie?
      Thanks for the comment! :)

  7. I would say that a very good adaptation is The Book Thief. It managed to capture the essence of the book while also going off the book a bit to make the film stand alone. I never thought that the movie would be good because I was skeptical on how Death would come across, but I was pleasantly surprised to find that they did a wonderful adaptation of him (or her).

    • Yes, I also thought The Book Thief was well done – a really nice visual of the book, and they cut stuff and reworked stuff very nicely. :)

  8. I actually enjoyed the Maze Runner series a lot. Although I have to agree with you that it wasn’t great writing concerning the character development and the emotions in this book. I have read all four books in this series, and I recommend reading them all. :) Reading the other books really explains a lot. Although the prequel, The Kill Order, gets very confusing, that is the only downside to these books in my opinion. I really enjoyed the movie and will definetely watch the others. Thanks for writing this great post!!! Love it!

    • Thanks for the comment! I’m glad to hear another opinion, and of course lots of people must love The Maze Runner, it’s super popular! I’ve agreed to give the next book a try, and so I shall. Still, I’m glad it was transformed into film as I think the media really suits the story. :)

  9. I really enjoy the Maze Runner movies. You can tell that they have a really cinematic-minded person writing the screenplays, or maybe Dashner always knew he was writing a series that translates better to screen. Either way, I agree that the books are VERY difficult to get through – the writing is just choppy and all over the place…sorry Dashner…but the story told within them is pretty good. I think this is the case of Dashner being a pretty good storyteller, but his editors pushed this series out the door before it was ready to hop onto the dystopian teen fad. Maybe had he had more time to edit or tweak, the character development wouldn’t be so inconsistent.

    Either way, I agree completely that TMR makes a much better film than a book. The Scorch Trials was awesome too, for that matter. It was very different from the first film, but held its own well as a middle act in a trilogy.

  10. Is anybody else the type of person who yells at the TV like in the Harry Potter movies? No? Okay… Now, some movies are better than the book, but it bugs me when they say it is the same. No, it is not. It could be a decent movie on its own, but I read the book. Therefore, I scream at the TV. Yay. I read TMR, and it was ok, I thought. I read it before it became super popular. Take that!!! Anyway, in the 1st Harry Potter movie (only one that I have watched btw) Hermione needed to have solved that code. It shows about the sense wizards have. Why can’t she help Harry? There will also be a 9th book coming out in 2019. The Last Unicorn movie (one of the best fantasy novels of all time) has even some of the same lines. The songs added just that little extra bit of kick. The Golden Compass, I yelled at the screen for that one. He dies. He doesn’t live. Get it right, people. Now, I’m not saying the movies are bad. There are certainly a few cases where the movie is better than the book (I can’t think of any, but….)

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