THE MAZE RUNNER Digital HD Review

     December 19, 2014

the-maze-runner-digital-hd-review

Whether you’re a big fan of James Dashner’s book, dig Wes Ball’s film or perhaps haven’t even gotten that far and are just thinking that The Maze Runner might be a good movie for you, the digital HD copy of the film is a worthy purchase.  Maze Runner isn’t perfect by any means, but it’s got one key quality that makes it far superior to many movies at this stage of the release process – it’s very re-watchable.  The clever core concept is a nice draw, but it’s the wildly likable characters at the center of it that make it matter and also make you want more.  Read my full The Maze Runner digital HD review after the jump.

The Film

the-maze-runner-digital-hdThe Maze Runner begins with Thomas (Dylan O’Brien).  He comes to while shooting up in an elevator with no memory of who he is or why he’s there.  When the elevator comes to a stop, the doors open and Thomas comes to learn that he’s now the newest member of “The Gladers,” a group of boys living in The Glade, a grassy area surrounded by gigantic walls sheltering them from the surrounding Maze and the vicious creatures called The Grievers that patrol it at night.  Like Thomas, none of the boys have any memory of who they were prior to coming up that elevator, but over time they’ve pulled themselves together and established a functional society.  While some boys tend to crops and livestock, others tirelessly scour The Maze looking for a way out.

It’s worth noting that this is my second viewing of The Maze Runner.  As a big fan of the book, the first time around I couldn’t help but to focus on the quality of the adaptation and whether or not the changes made enhanced the film.  I still stand by my preference for a tougher initiation process, but there’s also no denying that Ball’s alterations resulted in a perfectly paced movie with very few loose ends.  I still do miss getting The Glade 101 and spending more time with secondary characters like Frypan (Dexter Darden), Winston (Alexander Flores) and the Med-jacks (Jacob Latimore and Randall D. Cunningham), but, admittedly, when you can actually see The Glade abuzz with your very own eyes, some of those details are inherent in the visuals and not worth repeating.

The downfall of a good deal of young adult book-to-film adaptations is the excess of world building.  You do need some exposition when you’ve got a film that takes place in a new society with new rules and new technology, but whereas many films go to great lengths to describe every little detail and then some, Ball’s approach is more rooted in the characters and the action.

The-Maze-Runner-movie-imageAnd it certainly doesn’t hurt that Ball is a visual genius.  Every single shot in this movie is both stunning and serves a purpose, and you’ll pick up on that the more and more you watch it.  For example, that shot of Gally (Will Poulter) jumping into the elevator when Thomas first arrives immediately establishes a good sense of the tone and intensity of the situation.  Then there’s also the one of the poles resting on The Maze doors that makes for a meaningful and very satisfying conclusion to Ben’s banishing.  O’Brien definitely knows how to put on a convincing performance when running from a Griever and jumping from wall to wall, but it’s also the way Ball covers the action that gives the scenes an immersive quality and a wild amount of momentum.

The movie’s got weak spots, namely the fact that Teresa (Kaya Scodelario) is painfully one-dimensional and that the grande finale is a bit melodramatic, but overall, Maze Runner is a particularly well done sci-fi thriller that’s well worth owning, not just because it’s an entertaining watch, but also because the whole idea of The Glade and the way Ball presents it is especially captivating.  It’s fun to get to know The Gladers, pick your favorite, consider how you’d fare in their situation and then try to put the pieces of the puzzle together right along with them.

The Extras

Audio Commentary with Wes Ball and T.S. Nowlin: The Maze Runner marks both director Wes Ball and writer T.S. Nowlin’s feature debut and after listening to this audio commentary, you’ll know why they got the gig.  They really thought every tiny bit of this adaptation through so this is basically 113 minutes of especially thoughtful, interesting details – why they chose to omit elements of the book like the Beetle Blades, why they decided to add certain scenes, how certain scenes were lit, the choice to introduce The Flare early, even things Ball wishes he could go back and change a little bit.  Like most of the material on this special features menu, the audio commentary strikes a nice balance between appealing to those looking for information on the Maze Runner itself and also quite a bit about filmmaking in general.

The-Maze-Runner-movie-imageDeleted Scenes (with Audio Commentary): As someone who wanted to spend more time getting to know The Gladers and how their society operates, these deleted scenes are quite the treat.  There’s an additional scene with Alby (Aml Ameen), an extended introduction to Chuck (Blake Cooper), a moment highlighting the Med-jacks, some scenes with Frypan and more.  If you listen to the commentary, it’s clear that most of this was cut to keep the film moving and it was likely the right choice, but it’s still great stuff for a fan to watch, even after the fact.

Navigating the Maze: The Making of the Maze Runner: This is a pretty extensive making of the movie featurette that offers up a comprehensive sense of what it took to make this thing happen and also what it was like on set.  The piece has loads of great material like footage from James Dashner’s visit to set, a bit about how the production design team created the structures in The Glade using material they harvested nearby and tons of VFX insight including some fascinating video revealing how they shot the Griever scenes on set.  But, the most enjoyable elements of “Navigating the Maze” are the ones focusing on the group dynamic.  I’ve heard the cast and crew talk about how much they love working with each other in interviews, but actually seeing them interact on set really does make you feel how close they all are and also how much they care about honoring the source material.

The Chuck Diaries: Blake Cooper didn’t get the part of Chuck because he scored an audition in a traditional manner.  He tweeted at Wes Ball insisting,“I’m your Chuck,” and Ball actually agreed to consider it.  Cooper sent in a video-recorded audition and, sure enough, he got the part.  “The Chuck Diaries” essentially lets the viewer live Cooper’s dream, going from his audition tape straight through to his experience on set.

Gag Reel: I’m a sucker for a good gag reel and was expecting big things from this one because based on all the bonus material that precedes it, it looks like there was a good deal of joking around going on, but the Maze Runner gag real is actually the only mildly disappointing piece on the special features menu.  It’s nice seeing the cast get silly and goof up, but the snippets capturing botched dialogue and crazy faces are so quick and jam packed together that it starts to feel repetitive.  If those were the only types of bloopers they had, this piece could have been cut in half.

The-Maze-Runner-movie-imageVisual Effects Reel: Now this is a must-see.  Clearly there’s a lot of impressive VFX in this movie, but just wait until you see the final shots side-by-side with what it really looked like on set.  The set extension work on this movie is absolutely mind-blowing and the creation of the blades in Section 7 of The Maze is equally impressive.

Ruin (with Audio Commentary): After you blow through that visual effects reel, be sure to check out Ball’s short film “Ruin” because it shows why he was able to nail the digital imagery in this film.  “Ruin” is an entirely digital post-apocalyptic thriller centering on one man as he tries to evade the futuristic ship and mechanical drones on his tail.

Digital Comics: Here’s another winner for anyone looking for more on the film’s supporting characters.  Ever wonder what it was like for Alby when he first arrived in The Maze?  “My Friend George” offers up a taste of what went down during the earliest days of The Glade.  Then there’s “Run Alone,” which focuses on Minho (Ki Hong Lee) having to come to terms with the fact that no matter what happens, he can’t map The Maze alone.

Galleries: Instead of the posters and film stills we’ve seen time and time again for the theatrical release, this gallery actually shows of some of Ball’s personal images including photos, storyboards and concept art, a favorite of which is a Griever Christmas card.

Final Thoughts

The Maze Runner digital HD won’t disappoint.  Whether you’re really into the story or just want to know more about making a movie, this package offers a wealth of fascinating material and it’s all oozing with passion and heart.  While watching the film itself or pieces like “Navigating the Maze” or “The Chuck Diaries,” you can practically feel how dedicated everyone was to doing James Dashner’s work justice.

This was also my first experience sorting through an entire special features menu in digital HD and while it does take some getting used to, the format’s got loads of potential.  I had this terrible habit of clicking out of the bonus feature menu all together rather than just clicking the back button, but besides that, it is relatively easy to hop from one extra to another.  It also includes a “Cast & Crew” section where you can find the names of key talent involved and then see all of the material they’ve worked on that’s available in the iTunes Store.  Clearly it’s a tool for selling more movies, but there’s definitely been times when I’ve watched one thing and then went to look for more from a particular actor or director, so having it readily accessible is a nice option.

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