When Thomas (Dylan O'Brien) wakes up trapped in a massive maze with a group of other boys, he has no memory of the outside world other than strange dreams about a mysterious organization known as W.C.K.D. Only by piecing together fragments of his past with clues he discovers in the maze can Thomas hope to uncover his true purpose and a way to escape. Based upon the best-selling novel by James Dashner.
Surprisingly more engaging and stimulating than the recent slew of YA adaptations flooding theaters of late — with a couple exceptions, of course, such as 'The Giver' and 'Ender's Game' — 'The Maze Runner' is essentially a re-imagining of William Golding's Nobel Prize-winning classic Lord of the Flies. Although not on the same level of intellectual subtext or embracing allegorical themes about human nature with any genuine seriousness, which could be argued as a drawback and possibly to its detriment, the film nonetheless touches on concerns of civil order, power struggles between adolescents and the tension of groupthink mentality, however mildly. Granted, the script by television producer Noah Oppenheim, Grant Pierce Myers and T.S. Nowlin, based on James Dashner's novel, ultimately shrinks away from such topics, backsliding to the central mystery about the giant concrete walls surrounding the boys.
Thankfully, this is not an altogether bad thing, however, because the movie's strongest success comes from trying to solve that conundrum, of seeking answers to the riddle of why the boys are there while also solving the maze without dying. This is even at the cost of risking the almost idyll-like community the group has diligently worked at establishing for the last three years. Of course, the boys never felt any reason for jeopardizing their pastoral commonwealth dubbed the "Glade," other than sending the occasional "Runner" for mapping the intimidating labyrinth. That is not until the newest member Thomas (Dylan O'Brien) comes along, disrupting an ill-conceived harmony with his curiosity, skepticism and an unexplained determination to challenge and explore the maze for himself. True to Golding's influence, even if only a coincidental correlation, Thomas is the benevolent and selfless Ralph, down to his willingness and perceived lack of fear investigating the Maze and the horrible creatures residing within.
Those beasts, called Grievers, are mechanical, bug-like, bloodthirsty monsters which apparently keep guard at night, making the solution and possible exit all the more challenging because according several others, no one survives the night if trapped inside. Regardless, Thomas refuses to accept his situation as his final fate, taking a gamble in order to rescue two boys and manages to kill one of the Grievers, learning more in a couple days than any other in years. This raises tensions among the group, particularly with Gally (Will Poulter of 'We're the Millers' and 'Son of Rambow' fame) who seems to have been itching to take charge after designated leader Alby (Aml Ameen) falls ill. His opposition, however, is the smaller but seemingly wiser Newt (Thomas Brodie-Sangster), the true second-in-command who clearly wants to maintain peace yet finds Thomas's probing determination infectious enough to bend the rules.
Like lab rats under constant observation, which is not too far off from the truth without also being a spoiler, how the boys tackle and cope with their predicament is ultimately the real test — the predictable core of the plot one can easily guess from the previews. And to spice things up, both as a convenient device as well as a method for adding mystery, the story throws in Teresa (Kaya Scodelario), the only female while also the last member of the Glades who curiously knows Thomas. Though her inclusion seems meant to only hurry up the pace, 'The Maze Runner' offers just enough thrills and excitement with a central mystery that's genuinely engaging. Despite the somewhat frustratingly cliffhanger twist that seeds more questions, ensuring audiences will return for the second installment, director Wes Ball makes a strong full-length feature debut by keeping the tension between the boys fundamental and the CG visuals a supplemental aspect to an already agreeable story.
The Blu-ray: Vital Disc Stats
20th Century Fox Home Entertainment brings 'The Maze Runner' to Blu-ray as two-disc combo pack with a flyer for a Digital HD Copy. The Region Free, BD50 disc sits comfortably opposite a DVD-9 inside a blue, eco-cutout case with a glossy slipcover. The package also includes promos for other books by James Dashner, special codes for the videogame version and an exclusive 24-page color comic book. A couple skippable trailers kick things off before switching to the standard menu screen with full-motion clips and music playing in the background.
The dystopian actioner makes a mad dash for Blu-ray with a top-notch 1080p/AVC MPEG-4 encode that astounds with lots of details and rich clarity. Shot on a variety of HD cameras, the freshly-minted transfer shows clean distinct lines in the rugged clothing of the characters, the wooden huts, the surrounding foliage and along the grey stone walls of the maze. Rust marks on the concrete structure are plainly visible while pores and negligible blemishes in the cast are exposed. The color palette is intentionally on the drab and limited side, true to the photographic style of Enrique Chediak, yet primaries come through accurately and boldly. Brightness and contrast are very well-balanced with crisp, brilliant whites and deep, penetrating blacks that allow plenty of visibility in the darkest portions. Overall, the 2.40 image is excellent near-reference quality.
The sci-fi thriller debuts on home video with a superb and awesomely effective DTS-HD MA soundtrack guaranteed to demonstrate the capabilities of one's system. Rear activity is simply phenomenal, delivering a wealth of atmospherics that discrete and consistent right from the start. The wind blows through the trees in the distance, the faint subtle sounds of movement in the maze disturb the obvious silence of the Glade, and the voices of the boys when gathering in a crowd surround the listener. When exploring the maze, the wind is noticeably and creepily hollow, echoes bounce of the large concrete slabs, and the walls adjust with frightening aggressiveness and presence. Most exciting is hearing the clicking or the metallic stomping of the Grievers convincingly panning all around, creating a terrifically immersive 360° soundfield.
In the front soundstage, the lossless mix generates a wall of sound from the moment we see Thomas riding the elevator to the top. The loud, rackety sounds of grinding metal, cans bumping into each other and air swooshing downward are plainly heard with credible realism off-screen. Throughout the rest of the runtime, imaging remains broad and spacious with outstanding balance and fluid movement between the channels. Dynamic range exhibits clean separation between the mids and highs, allowing the unique stomp of the Grievers on concrete an impressive sense of presence. Although it doesn't actively dig deep, the low-end is equally noteworthy for providing the action, especially when related to the maze, with striking weight and impact. With excellent dialogue reproduction in the center, the movie arrives with reference audio.
Essentially a reimagining of William Golding's classic Lord of the Flies, 'The Maze Runner' is surprisingly more engaging and stimulating than the recent slew of YA adaptations flooding theaters of late, focusing one central mystery and the tensions between adolescent boys. The Blu-ray arrives with excellent picture quality and a demo-worthy audio presentation. With a healthy collection of supplements and goodies, the overall package is recommended for both fans and the curious.