BOOK TO FILM: The Maze Runner

This book to film comparison contains spoilers.

poster3Thomas is deposited in a community of boys after his memory is erased, soon learning they’re all trapped in a maze that will require him to join forces with fellow ‘runners’ for a shot at escape.

Adapting The Maze Runner for screen has led to quite a few changes being made. But it appears the changes have all been for believability purposes. The concept of the Maze and the Glade is strange enough without adding random mind control and telepathy to the mix.



I think the concept of the Gladers’ memory could do with a little more explanation for those new to the franchise. I guess it makes sense that people don’t remember their names for a few days and it adds an element of betrayal because the characters have been stripped of everything, including their own identity.

Welcome to your initiation, in which you may remember your name or get concussed. Or both.

Welcome to your initiation, in which you may remember your name or get concussed. Or both.

But it does need to be made clearer how the rest of their memory has been affected. In the book, Thomas talks about understanding various concepts and remembering certain experiences but he is never able to remember who was with him when he learned these things. He can remember, for example, getting the ‘birds and the bees’ talk but not who gave it to him. In the movie, this explanation is absent and newcomers have to guess the limitations of the characters’ memories.


Life in the Glade

Broadly speaking, the Movie Gladers and the Creators of the Maze have less interaction with each other. There’s no mention of the Gladers making specific requests for supplies and the beetle blades—which exist in the book as little electronic spies—are never seen lurking around. The notion that they are being watched by the Creators is not substantiated until the end of the movie when the survivors find themselves in WCKD headquarters (the full WICKED acronym was altered for the movie) and see the surveillance for themselves.

And the Grievers huffed and puffed and basically tore the stick buildings down.

And the Grievers huffed and puffed and basically tore the stick buildings down.

While the buildings in the book have been designed for specific purposes (like the Homestead and the Map Room), the Movie Gladers appear to be living more under their own steam. Instead of relying upon modern conveniences provided by the Creators, they seem to have hand-crafted their buildings and learned to live in a rudimentary yet effective fashion.

Even the use of water seems to be unconnected to the Creators. In the book, water is pumped in through pipes and the Glade is later discovered to be an enclosed space. The movie, however, does show rain falling, which makes sense as the Movie Glade is later seen to be open from above. This also means that the sky of the Glade cannot be controlled or greyed out the way it was in the book. The Glade is no longer a safe place but there is less sense of impending doom because, above them, the weather continues as normal.

You guys are adorable, really.

You guys are adorable, really.

Though their existence gives the impression that they’ve been completely abandoned and shoved into this place, the Movie Gladers have still built a life for themselves. The early scene of the party in the Glade shows that the Gladers aren’t just focused on getting out of this place; in the meantime, they’ve become a family.



The movie demotes the relationship between Thomas and Chuck to acquaintances. They share some sweet moments on screen but the connection from the books is lacking.

It's okay, kid. I still like you.

It’s okay, kid. I still like you.

Book Chuck isn’t just a cute kid. He’s Thomas’s first real friend in the Glade, his guide, a constant presence, and at times even his mentor. In the movie, I can’t bring myself to connect with Chuck’s death the way I did when reading the book because Movie Chuck never gets the development his character requires.

Compacting Chuck’s character did allow the movie to further develop the characters of Alby and Newt. In Thomas’s first days, they act as his unequivocal guides, eliminating the need for Chuck to explain things that Alby and Newt won’t share. The characters are both noticeably less edgy than in the book; Movie Alby in particular is much gentler about Thomas’s introduction to the Glade.


The Maze

The movie’s solution to the Maze is both simpler and weirder than the books. In the book, the key lies in the maps of the Maze and the words that the Maze has been spelling out.

I know you know how to put letters in the Maze, people.

I know you know how to put letters in the Maze, people.

While this would take time for anyone to figure out, it is something that the Gladers would discover in time. The Griever Hole could have been discovered through sheer luck and determination, or the Creators’ anticipation that Thomas would go through the Changing and remember it.

In the movie, the only way that the Gladers are able to find the exit to the Maze is by killing a Griever, stealing its little homing device thing from inside its body and following the beeping. The only thing that could be reliant on the Gladers’ memory and perseverance in the Maze is the exit code derived from the sequence in which different sections open.

Thankfully the Creators willingly supplied us with some Super Glue.

Thankfully the Creators willingly supplied us with some Super Glue.

The Maze too seems to be simplified for the movie. Instead of walls moving every night, the only change in the Maze appears to be that different sections open up every so often. That at least might explain why the Runners decided to build a 3D miniature of the Maze. There would be no use in constructing that miniature if it had to be moved around all the time to allow for different patterns.


Grievers and Gally

In the books, the Gladers know what Grievers look like. They have a handy little window through which they can see them. The way they’re described brings to mind a giant ugly sluggish thing.

Run. Run for your lives.

Run. Run for your lives.

In the movie, no one who has ever seen a Griever has lived to tell the tale. Well, until Thomas gets there. They turn out to look like giant half-mechanical spiders, which is probably a good thing. Giant slugs may not have come across as terrifying on screen.

There is no such thing as Grief Serum in the movie until Teresa arrives bearing exactly the right amount for them. This means that being stung by a Griever becomes a death sentence and therefore there is really no point for Minho to drag Alby back to the Glade after he is stung.

Based on the movie’s rules about surviving Grievers, Minho really ends up being stuck in the Maze overnight not because he’s saving his friend but because he’s too sentimental to let him die out in the Maze. I don’t have a problem with that, but a simple line saying, ‘I couldn’t leave him out there’ would have given meaning to his actions.

You make some valid points about a lot of things, buddy.

You make some valid points about a lot of things, buddy.

The lack of Grief Serum also strongly affects Gally’s character in the movie. Without the Serum, he can’t have gone through the Changing and come out with memories of Thomas pre-Glade. His antagonism has been toned way down and his relationship with Thomas boils down to simple distrust and annoyance rather than an unexplained hatred.

The movie definitely makes me empathise with Gally more. For the most part, Movie Gally seems like a reasonable guy, just trying to do the right thing by everyone. You can see where he’s coming from on every topic. He remains steadfast in his views and the way he eventually kills Chuck is not as a result of direct mind control from the Creators but of confusion and the effects of a Griever sting.



Teresa’s first appearance in the book includes a written note, robotic muttering and abruptly sitting up to inform the Gladers that, ‘Everything is going to change.’ Her role is notably different in the movie. She comes bearing a note from the Creators, and wakes long enough to recognise Thomas, instantly (and reasonably) placing him under suspicion. Personally, I like Teresa’s movie introduction better. It maintains a sense of foreboding but the information is delivered in a far more subtle way.

I hear we're telepathic besties.

I hear we’re telepathic besties.

One of the big changes to Teresa’s character (and Thomas’s, for that matter) is the shared telepathy. It’s a weird and almost unnecessary device in the first book and I was worried about how it was going to come across on screen. Turns out I didn’t have to worry: the telepathy has been completely removed. I’m not bothered by its absence; the movie seemed to be aiming for believability and telepathy may have been pushing the boundaries a little too far.



When book Thomas arrives in the Glade, he is immediately accepting of his circumstances and really only has questions. Movie Thomas’s entry into the Glade is a much more intimidating experience. Scared out of his mind, he tries to run from the people he believes to be his attackers.

I see creepy underwater dream people.

I see creepy underwater dream people.

In the book, Thomas admits to Chuck early on that he feels like he’s been to the Maze before. He has an overwhelming urge to become a Runner because he feels like he can solve the Maze or at the very least that he should be out there trying.

Movie Thomas has dreams or flashbacks about his time before the Maze but doesn’t discuss them until Teresa appears. He is intrigued by the Maze but expresses no strong desire to be a Runner. There are a few instances that could be read as Thomas being drawn to the Maze but, without any context or verbalisation, it seems Thomas is merely interested in seeing what the Maze looks like.


The ending

I feel the book has more of a climax than the movie, perhaps because the events in the book are more spaced out. The time spent in the Maze has been compacted for the movie and, as a result, the Gladers have almost no time between one dangerous event and another. With the action at a constant peak, the true climax of the movie doesn’t feel like it stands out from everything else.

We're dead. We're dead. We survived but we're dead.

We’re dead. We’re dead. We survived but we’re dead.

Though the finer points differ, both mediums end with a cliffhanger: the Gladers escape the Maze and soon find out about the Flare and are whisked away by anonymous ‘saviours’. Chancellor Paige discusses the Maze trial’s success with the board of WCKD.

Since The Scorch Trials was already in the works by the time The Maze Runner hit screens, I’m surprised that there is no mention of Group B. If the movies intend to follow the same structure as the books then Group B really does need to exist or the resolution of The Death Cure is going to fail spectacularly.


The verdict

Although there have been a lot of changes in the crossover from book to film, I understand and appreciate almost all of them. The screenwriters did an admirable job of distilling The Maze Runner down to its finest points, making the story more of a fight for survival rather than the illusion of free choice.

I’m looking forward to seeing how the story continues with the release of The Scorch Trials in September this year.


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