It’s a sad fact that changes are made to a book before being deemed acceptable for the big screen. Every adaptation has its time in the mangling machine. We’ve all had that favourite book-turned-film, sometimes it’s not up to scratch, sometimes it is. But it’s always been changed. A little. A lot. Despite liking the film, those changes stay with us.
I want to talk about these changes, The Maze Runner edition.
I am soft on future dystopia (and YA) and loved James Dashner’s novels. Eager to see how it had survived the perilous trip from page to screen I
took dragged The Boy to see The Maze Runner and it started me thinking about changes that novels undergo to become films. For anyone unsure, The Maze Runner (hereafter TMR for ease) is the first installment of a YA post-apocalyptic sci-fi trilogy (plus prequels?).
I want to address some alterations to TMR while they’re fresh, as examples of the types of changes that are made. These seem mostly common to all adaptations. The good, the bad, and the what were you thinking, that bit’s important (Looking at you, HP6), that occurs.
There will be spoilers. There will be details about plots of film and book (and the other books). Also if you have neither read nnor seen TMR, this will probably make no sense.
The change to simplify a plot (AKA “The Dumb It Down” Change.)
The main reason book-to-film changes are made is – I assume – to make it smoother and simpler for the ultimately shorter cinematic experience. With a mysterious, multifaceted story like TMR it’s presumably difficult, deciding what stays and goes. It’s all about confusion and problem solving through clues. It’s understandably impossible to recreate each relevant plot point or conversation. But which clues to keep? Which go? How many? A small issue with this film is that much of the clue-y “aha!” stuff is left by the wayside – the code to get out of the maze is reduced to section numbers in a specific order, rather than words spelled out in the nightly changes of the maze, or the simplification of the Gladers not having been given anti-griever serum until Teresa arrives, meaning one less facet to their community to explain to Thomas (and the audience) – the problem being it is almost in danger of being too simple, that the audience is all I don’t understand how that took them two years to solve. The answer is it didn’t. There was more.
The Change that doesn’t change anything. (AKA The “I Guess That Plot Point Wasn’t Relevant at All” Change.)
Telepathy is scrapped. For film-only viewers, Thomas and Teresa are telepathic. On her awakening from her (considerably longer) coma their telepathy connects them emotionally, with them communicating a great deal via their minds.
Telepathy is hard to portray, I understand why it was binned. In an interview, the director – Wes Ball – said (paraphrasing) it would be Thomas and Teresa staring at each other with echoing voice-overs; ultimately a slow interjection in an otherwise fast-paced dramatic tone. While the cut should impact the film more, ultimately their telepathy is pretty unimportant to the longer plot. It’s a device used mainly to build and emphasise a close bond during the first book (which I always found odd, watch me emphasise these kids speaking mentally. How unusual and clearly important, now I’ll never properly make use of it again). While their film-relationship is marginally lost, the film does it’s best to connect them in the time it has. It’s often the character relationships that lose out in film development due to lack of time or skill to show a blossoming friendship and also keep the action-y plot moving.
Changes that mess with future plots. (AKA The “I Think You’re Fudging Up Your Sequel” Change.)
Some changes can affect future (already-planned-for, talk-about-confident) sequels. One that raised my eyebrows was the illogical amount of end-game survivors. On watching I saw maybe eight? (They clearly didn’t fancy paying more extras). At the risk of sounding picky, I want to point out that this is twenty book-wise. Without too many spoilers, almost the entirety of the sequel features the Gladers thrown into another long, tortuous trial, spending most of it being horrifically killed to heighten the terror surrounding our heroes – essentially the only ones to survive the ordeal (naturally). If you enter the sequel with the main characters plus (maybe) three redshirts, how will that fit? Is everyone going to magically survive the killer lightning and bloodthirsty cranks? How dull will that be? It’ll surely be written around, but I’m not confident it’ll work.
Changes like these are my biggest book-to-film peeves, notably Harry Potter and the Half Blood Prince. It’s petty and inconsequential, but it has always irritated me that the book is hidden in the Room of Requirement by Ginny instead of Harry (while they’re doing that weird completely-inappropriate-for-the-situation romantic thing). The fact that the plot had been so thoroughly planned throughout and that during the final book, Harry – and the reader – remembers the diadem, always delighted me. I would have loved seeing the clues JKR wrote into the books represented on screen. But I digress, that is a different matter entirely.
The pointless change. (AKA The “WHY?” Change.)
The maze is round instead of square. Why? Whilst I’m not arguing, I don’t understand why that is necessary. Am I ignorantly unaware of a study finding that circles are infinitely cooler? The Glade is square but not the maze? I don’t understand why.
W.I.C.K.E.D is changed to W.C.K.D. Vowels are offensive to audiences? Only a certain amount of page-space left? People pay less attention to two extra letters?
The change that ends up more confusing. (AKA The “You Changed Part Of This Plot, Now It Makes No Sense” Change.)
I’d like to talk about Gally. While I thought his film-self was more sympathetic and well-rounded – he’s almost reasonable throughout, disagreeing but making solid points – this is partly a problem. Book-Gally is an unrelenting arse, angrily in Thomas’ face all the time and slightly manic due to already being stung by a griever and having some memories. He gets dragged off by greivers upon their first attack of the Glade. Although (wrongly) presumed dead he is found in W.I.C.K.E.D headquarters, where he reappears at the end to (be mind-controlled – this wasn’t represented. Will they just call him a murderer and not reveal his coercion?) kill Thomas.
This scenario is confusing because film-Gally is not taken. He’s present up until arguing with the heroes over leaving the Glade. He adamantly refuses to leave and is definitely staying put. Because that’s who his extra character development turned him into.
Miraculously then, he turns up at the end to kill Thomas, because that is a major unchangeable plot point. Unfortunately the two are perplexing and hard to reconcile.
In regards to this, The Boy turned to me at the end of the film and said “That guy went through all that on his own to get out of the maze…to tell them he doesn’t want to leave the maze?”
That is, essentially, how it comes across. It appears as if this character – who was prepared to kill our heroes rather than leave not twenty minutes ago – battles through all the grievers (that killed nearly all the unnamed extras) by himself, gets through the we-only-just-made-it-as-they-slammed-down stone walls from earlier, puts in the code only Minho knows and makes it to the lab…
…to tell Thomas not to leave?
They should have just had him taken away by monsters and come back frothing crazily. It would have resulted in less confusion.
I really enjoyed TMR, though it may seem otherwise. Seeing a much-loved story represented on-screen makes me happy. I used this film to highlight changes all our favourite books go through to become movies, whether for better or worse.
Have you had a favourite book-turned-film? Which changes stayed with you? Do they fall under any of the criteria I’ve split them up into?