THE MAZE RUNNER Comic-Con Panel Recap: Dylan O’Brien and More Reveal the Grievers; Wes Ball Says He’s Aiming to Shoot Sequel This Fall or Winter

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The “YA adaptation” genre has been rather female-dominated when it comes to feature films, but a unique entry is aiming to take hold this fall with Fox’s The Maze Runner.  Based on the James Dashner novel of the same name, the story revolves around a teenager who wakes up in the middle of a maze with no memory of who he is, surrounded by other teenage boys who also don’t know who they are, where they are, or what the maze is.  Fox touted the film this Friday at San Diego Comic-Con, with Dashner, director Wes Ball, and stars Dylan O’Brien, Will Poulter, and Kaya Scodelario in attendance.

In addition to discussing their approach to the adaptation, entering into a marketplace that has recently been dominated by female-led stories, and changes from the book, Ball revealed that they’re hoping to start shooting the sequel The Scorch Trials later this year if the first film performs well.  Hit the jump to read my full The Maze Runner Comic-Con panel recap.

the-maze-runner-dylan-obrienPanel Highlights

  • Dylan O’Brien said tackling a character with no memory and no backstory was “easy in a way”, as he knew the same amount as his character.
  • While Ball was meeting with Fox about adapting his short film Ruin into a feature film, he was given The Maze Runner to read.  The Lord of the Flies aspect of the story instantly grabbed Ball, as did the menacing nature of the maze.
  • Author James Dashner saw the final version of the film recently and described it as an emotional experience, saying he was “shaking and bawling” afterwards.  “They took the vision of my book and turned it into this magnificent film.”
  • Poulter plays the closest thing to a villain in the film, but he said they aimed to create a character that was morally conflicted. He’s “a bit of a coward” and is fearful of the outside world, and thus is keen on staying in the Glade.
  • Poulter described his and O’Brien’s relationship in real-life as “full-on bromantic.”
  • On playing the only female in the cast, Kaya Scodelario said it was fun, adding, “they would look after me but also bully me.”
  • Ball cited Jurassic Park and Aliens when discussing his aim in designing the Grievers, which are the antagonistic characters that terrorize the kids.  “A Frankenstein, bio-mechanical creature” was the idea.
  • Ball wants to keep the full Grievers reveal hidden from the marketing, but he showed some footage of the characters in Hall H (described in detail further down).
  • On the prospect of a sequel, Ball said they’re aiming to shoot this fall or winter, adding that he thinks they can do something “really special” with the next one, The Scorch Trials, saying he hopes to make a true saga that opens up the story.  I imagine this all depends on how well The Maze Runner does opening weekend.
  • Ball also revealed a concept art image from the follow-up that showed a few characters trekking through a ruined city. 

dylan-obrien-the-maze-runnerFootage

The first bit of footage we saw was a clip of what appeared to be the opening scene, which began in pitch-black darkness accompanied striking, mechanical sounds before revealing that we were in a small cage inhabited by Dylan O’Brien, who wakes abruptly and subsequently vomits.  The shrill sounds provided a great atmosphere of claustrophobia and terror, as we followed O’Brien through the increasingly fast-moving elevator before it hit the top and opened to reveal a group of boys the same age.  Once O’Brien reached the surface, he began to run, much to the amusement of the onlookers, before he discovered that he was in an open area surrounded on all sides by an enormous maze.

We were also shown another clip that involved a Griever attack on Thomas.  Ball is trying to keep from revealing the creatures in the marking, but we got a really good look at the design.  It’s best described as a sort of “robo-spider.”  The legs are mechanical, while the body is organic and grotesque, complete with insect-like hairs and sharp teeth.  It was actually a really cool creature design, but the scene took place in the dark so it was hard to fully see.  Definitely intriguing, though.

They also showed us the film’s new trailer, which teases more of the story and scenery without giving away all the goods.  It should be online shortly.

the-maze-runner-dylan-obrienAudience Q&A Highlights

  • O’Brien said one of his favorite scenes to shoot was the wrestling scene, which they rehearsed early on but didn’t film until three weeks into production.
  • Scodelario’s favorite day on set was when she spent an entire shooting day on the top of a tree with O’Brien.  She said that was when they really spent time together as actors and got to know each other better.
  • Dashner revealed that he has a cameo in the film.
  • On the difference between working on Skins and The Maze Runner, Scodelario said she was young on the TV series and worked out a lot of teenager issues.  For The Maze Runner, “she’s not playing mediator between people, she wants to survive.”  She said she really admired the character, who made her feel braver.
  • Was there anything in the book that they regret not putting into the movie?  “It was all about condensing down the story and making sure suspense and momentum was maintained.”  Dashner said every change that had to be made “made perfect sense”.
  • On a male-centric YA story entering a marketplace dominated by female-driven YA adaptations: “I don’t know if Thomas would beat Katniss in a fight or anything—I think she’d take him out with an arrow before he could do anything,” replied O’Brien.

the-maze-runner-maze-imageFinal Thoughts

Though the YA genre has gotten a bit of a bad wrap, recent films like The Hunger Games: Catching Fire and The Fault in Our Stars have proven that there’s great material to be mined.  On that note, The Maze Runner looks to be a fresh and fascinating story that we haven’t quite seen before.  I was encouraged by the footage we saw during the panel, especially Ball’s visual approach.  Instead of shooting on a soundstage against green screen, Ball shot most of the film on location, giving it a much more genuine look and feel.  Somewhat surprisingly, I find myself having high hopes for this one.

Click here to catch up on all of our Comic-Con 2014 coverage thus far.

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