The Maze Runner (2014), written by Noah Oppenheim, Grant Pierce Myers, and T.S. Nowlin, is a script based on the book of the same name. Let’s analyze it.
- Draft Read: “Blue”
- Type: Spec
- Page Count: 109
- Reading Speed: Medium
- Setting(s): The Glade
- Plot Structure: Linear, Spanning multiple days
- Genre(s): Action, Sci-Fi
- Theme(s): Prison, Friendship, Horror, Coming of Age
- Protagonist Change: Moderate
When you’ve just read a tight script like Ford vs. Ferrari (2019), it’s hard to look at The Maze Runner screenplay and not feel disappointed. But where The Maze Runner struggles in writing, it excels in concept.
Holy heck, a unique premise. Sure, it’s an adaptation, but it’s interesting. A bunch of teens and young adults are stuck in a psychological and primitive prison. Yes, there are similarities to other books, screenplays and stories, but it feels unique.
Also worth highlighting are the interactions between the teen characters, all of whom have defined roles and help advance the plot.
It’s hard to pinpoint why the screenplay feels weak. Perhaps it’s just obvious by the style. Let’s look at some examples. On Page 92, three gladers (prisoners), walk up to the lair of the grievers (killers). It’s a big, serious, dangerous situation in The Third Act. Here’s what one of the gladers says:
But as they approach, all is quiet. MINHO and THOMAS trade looks.
Where’s the welcoming committee?
On Page 93:
THOMAS, aiming his cross-bow, stares down the GRIEVER, now ten feet away. He shouts up to MINHO and NEWT
You ever notice? These things smell awful…
Okay, the last thing I do when there is a crazy killing animal 10 feet away from me is bust out a one-liner, especially one that doesn’t land. And then trail off with the “…” for reasons I can’t figure out.
There are other examples; a plot hole on Page 93 where THERESA, another glader, says they (the gladers) should take another look at the door to escape, yet she wasn’t present (or if she was she was useless to the overall cause) when Thomas first tried the door.
With that said, if this blue draft is the second draft of a screenplay (it’s not always), it’s not expected to be polished. But among other questionable decisions, I do wonder why one would interject one-liners into the Act Three battle climax of a screenplay.
Lastly, the screenplay introduces the fact that there will be a sequel (there are two). This leads to a cliffhanger and a few somewhat out-of-place lines in Act Three that foreshadow what will happen in the next installment. I’m not sure how one can tee up a sequel without detracting from the current script, but it does take away from the screenplay’s power.
The best aspect of the plot is that it keeps us interested as it is slowly revealed. We start off like the protagonist, unsure of where we are and what the story is about. As he learns more about his surroundings, and himself, we do too. He has to learn fast to make things work; and when things start to seem like they will slow down, Thomas, the protagonist, takes his first big risk: staying overnight beyond the safety of the Glade.
What’s so great about the scene is just how quickly it happens. Within a quarter of a page, Thomas goes from lowly newcomer to taking the impulsive leap of fate (Page 18):
And THOMAS bolts, leaping over Gally and Aron, and racing into the Maze, just as the doors SLAM shut behind him.
That unpredictability or ohh shit moment catches the reader off-guard and grabs their interest, just like when Dragline joins Luke in the final escape attempt in Cool Hand Luke (1967).
Why is Thomas a strong protagonist? He’s an underdog, made fun of, strong (both mentally and physically), cares for others, the list goes on. But he doesn’t appear overly cocky, arrogant or possess any of the features that lead a viewer to dislike the protagonist. A few of the supporting characters feel one dimensional, such as Alby, the leader, who (I think) is killed off after he goes into shock or Chuck, who uncharacteristically takes a bullet for Thomas in a way I can only visualize like the The Simpsons’ Huey Long scene.
Dialogue & Pacing
I’ve already shared quite a few examples of dialogue. In past analyses, I mentioned the fact that older writers seem to struggle when writing for people half (or a third of) their age before (see Nerve (2016)). With that said, the dialogue was usually believable, but there were too many (not so) subtle changes that jumped out as uncharacteristic and unrealistic.
Pacing, as noted above, was strong. That’s an advantage of adapting a novel, you mostly need to cut out content from a story, only leaving the important parts that reveal character or move the plot forward.
I’m fading a bit here, so I’ll keep this short: The Maze Runner is a teen movie with the emotional impact of a teen movie. In other words, it’s not especially deep. There are some intense, thrilling moments, but it’s not the type of script that touched anyone’s core.
Best Part of The Script
The first 10 pages are worth reading as an example of efficient character introductions as well as world-building.