By the Book: The Maze Runner

Very rarely does a movie adaptation do the book justice. For every Hunger Games there is a Mortal Instruments. Luckily, The Maze Runner does well translating the literary onto the big screen.

the_maze_runner_book_cover_01Thomas awakens in a moving elevator not knowing who he is or where he is. He is introduced to a group of boys named The Gladers, the inhabitants of a lush valley. But beyond the valley is The Maze, a dangerous puzzle that the boys try each day trying to figure out how to solve and escape captivity. Thomas is just the many is a long line of boys who are sent to this world not knowing their purpose. But then suddenly things change when girl is dropped off along with a note saying she will be the last. Suddenly, the game seems even more dire.

The movie makes minimal changes, usually to facilitate the movie’s action. The biggest change is the complete removal of Thomas and Teresa’s telepathic link. In fact, Teresa herself is mostly down played.  In the book she is unconscious when she arrives. In fact, she talks to Thomas telepathically and tells him that her appearance has triggered “The Ending.”  This is the first of many clues that she and Thomas are not only linked but that they have something to do with what is happening to these boys. The two make use of their telepathy many times throughout the series, so it will be interesting to see how this deletion changes the aspects of the other movies.

The movie is a beautiful representation of The Glade and The Maze. It looks exactly as I hadMV5BMjUyNTA3MTAyM15BMl5BanBnXkFtZTgwOTEyMTkyMjE@__V1_SX640_SY720_ envisioned it except for The Maze walls. Due to filming limitations, you can see the ends of the massive walls but this allows for gorgeous Ariel shots of not just The Maze but the boys’ habitat in relation to The Maze. The production team manages to make the whole area beautiful yet unsettling.

The casting fits perfectly. The group of boys in the book has a wide variety of nationalities, ethnicities and ages, and the movies portray this well. No character is white washed and except for two of the actors, everyone is a relative unknown. This helps when casting an isolated, post-apocalyptic movie. It seems more real when Tom Cruise isn’t being reborn every five minutes. My favorites include Patricia Clarkson and Thomas Brodie-Sangster (Love Actually, Game of Thrones). Clarkson is perfect as the tester who makes a short but impactful appearance about the boys’ origins, and Brodie-Sangster is perfect as Newt, a fan favorite. He balances the aspects of being a leader as well as a scared teen boy well.

The Maze Runner made almost all of its $34 million budget its first week, and the sequels have been ordered. In fact, another Game of Throne actor (Aiden Gillen) is set to join. Here’s hoping the sequels will be as true to their book origins as this one was.

 

 

Divergent: On the Screen and By the Book

On the Screen

 

Divergent is actually a pretty good movie. It’s much better than the YA adaptions Beautiful Creatures and City of Bones. Though it doesn’t live up to the caliber of The Hunger Games, it has its strengths in its own rights. As far as being a good adaptation, the movie does pretty well till it spins out of control in the end changing the last confrontation significantly.

Divergent, like many Young Adult based plot, takes place in a dystopian future. To keep the peace the population is divided into five factions each one elevating one characteristic above any other. Tris was born in Abnegation and must focus on other’s needs before her own. But citizens aren’t forced to stay in their birth faction. As their coming of age ritual, each teenager goes through an assessment where they find out what faction they should be but they are free to choose any of the five. Tris’ results are mixed which is rare and dangerous as it challenges the fragile peace set up by the leaders. Tris chooses a new life where she has to prove she can be dauntless instead of homeless while stumbling into a government conspiracy that will threaten her home faction as well as the whole city.

Divergent is fast paced, keeping viewers engaged in the action. Neither the viewers nor Tris have time to adjust to the dark Dauntless compound. Training begins immediately and romance blooms. The movie is mainly focused on the action with the romance sprinkled in ensuring the relationship between Tris and Four does not over power the story.

Four is played marvelously by Theo James. It is he and Kate Winslet who give the most powerful performances leaving the rest of the cast to be perfectly acceptable but not strong. Before seeing the movies, I had read lots of reviews touting how wonderful James was, but I thought no one could live up to that hype. Though at first glance readers will think he’s not Four, as soon as he opens his mouth, we are convinced. James manages to easily blend the emotional complexity Four manifests. His fearlessness, his kindness, his intelligence all blend together making Four easily fit in a variety of factions. Winslet, on the other hand, is smart and shrewd making Jeanine Mathews, the Euridite’s leader, inherently conniving. From the first time she interacts with Tris, the viewer knows something is not right with this woman. Winslet’s performance lacks innocence and you would never confuse her for raise to fame character Rose.

The movie is thrilling and the music is perfect. Ellie Goulding’s haunting chords match perfectly with what is going through Tris’ head putting icing on the cake. But how does it stake up as adaptation to the book? Keep reading below the pictures for By the Book and spoilers abound.

By the Book

As with most adaptations, there are some casting issues. Jai Courtney’s casting as Eric is horrific and the costume and make-up department don’t even attempt to make him look like the book Eric. (Besides why do people keep thinking he can act?) Shailene Woodley did well with Tris but she isn’t the Tris I saw in my head. My Tris was am ordinary person. She wasn’t glamorous but she had a spirit that emanated from her at every turn. Part of the problem isn’t Woodley’s fault. In an effort to simplify a very complex book, the script cuts down on Tris’ emotional struggles. She doesn’t just choose Dauntless because she thinks the enemy won’t find her. It’s about who she is and the conflict she feels within herself and with leaving her loved ones. This takes the edge off Tris making her character relatable. We all struggle to find ourselves.

The movie falls for one of the fatal mistakes made by City of Boones: emotional and complex issues are so minimized that they should have been left out because they don’t make since. It City of Bone sit was the fact Alec is gay; for Divergent its Al’s suicide. The movie spends about four minutes on his story. As non-dauntless is under lots of pressure to not become factionless, but his plight only comes out with the attack on Tris. The movie implies that he killed himself just because of the attack. But that isn’t the case. Al is an example of breaking under the stress and how not everyone can break out of their faction. But the movie never gets this thoughtful or reflective.

On the flip side the movie makes changes that make no sense. These span from minuscule facts (they drink the elixir in the school instead of getting a shot) to major plot points. As a reader the ending was atrocious. To give Winselt more screen time, the final confrontation comes between Matthews, Tris and Four. Eric is summarily dismissed before ever reaching the Dauntless compound. Tris must attack Matthews with wit and violence creating a whole new scenario that will unbalance the relationship that the two had in further books.

Until the end, the adaptation isn’t bad but fans come out with a bad taste in their mouths–especially since the majority of the film was well done and entertaining.

 

By The Book: Catching Fire

Catching_FireCatching Fire is the best installment in The Hunger Games series. The book is essentially two different stories. The first is rich in theme and looks at the very real consequences of the first novel. The second part takes Katniss back into the arena and this time she has to make friends.

The second film opens with Katniss hunting on the day the Victory Tour starts. But even here, Katniss does not feel safe and an intimate encounter with Gale just makes her life more difficult. She leaves for the Tour with instructions from Snow: convince me you and Peeta are in love or your loved ones will die. But Katniss cannot end a revolution that has already begun. To try and put out the fire, Snow announcing the special requirement for the Quarter Quell: only previous Hunger Game victors will compete. Katniss is going back in the arena.

The movie minimizes the events in District 12 in order to spend the most time with the arena and training. Gale has a shining moment, but the depth of his involvement in the revolution is underplayed. Any traces of “cousin” are removed. Pivotal moments, including Plutarch’s watch and Katniss meeting the escapes and escaping the electric fence are gone.  There is no flurry of wedding dresses or preparation. While Gale’s most important scene is intact and Katniss’ love for him truly shown, the whole experience seems rushed. The book takes time to deal with the themes of revolution, causality, love, and family. The movie just manages to make Katniss scared while not truly seeing the desolation the District comes under.

But the Quarter Quell is spot on. The Games is the most faithfully adapted from any of the books so far, following the catchingfirekatnissevents pretty much to the letter. This is when the movie is the best: putting the action of the arena onto the screen. Each of the traps in the arena come alive with great care and detail to attention. The obstacles are as scary to the view as the characters. The biggest change in the arena? Peeta can swim.

What really makes this adaptation shine is the casting. For once, the casting is well done and the character truly comes alive. Jena Malone as Johanna Mason is perfect. Malone gives the perfect edginess to the character. At first glance Sam Claflin doesn’t seem like Finnick but when he turns Finnick’s arrogance into charm and brings to life the struggle with emotional depth that theta the character keeps hidden behind that facade. The rest of the candidates, also, look like I had imagined them.

The producers of the movies decided to split Mockingjay as two movies. I argue that Catching Fire should have the one spilt. Not only does it contain two different stories but the themes with in these stories are very different and seem like different novella in and of them. The starting of the revolution would not have been so rushed and the emotions could truly play out. This would lend easily to two self-contained movies, ending with the announcement of the Quarter Quell.

Of course as a movie, Catching Fire is amazing and the whole production pretty well captures the books. But this one would never have been split in two: you can’t keep the audience from their violence. Like the Capital, we want The Games.

By the Book: Breaking Dawn

Contains Spoilers

The Twilight Saga movies have a tumultuous history. The first adaptation was a horrible movie, slicing and cutting at fan favorite books passages. The movies became increasing better culminating with Eclipse. Break Dawn Part 2 takes after Eclipse as an adaptation; it takes the best from the book and makes it better.

Breaking Dawn Part 2 includes material from the last 400 pages of the book and picks up where the last movie left off: Bella’s transformation to vampire. Overall the movie is a loyal adaptation to the source material. The movie cuts out small portions in order to move the story along. The only real loss was the fear J. Jenks felt for Jasper (and I was hoping for a created flashback for that).

But like the other installments, it reduces or cuts out character completely. With this being said, the movie does include the majority of the Cullen’s witness though it cuts down on the Volturi clan. These new characters are well cast and, unlike previous installments, look like the characters in Stephenie Meyer’s book. And many of the characters lines come directly from the book.

Changes in the movie do make correct some issues with the novel. I personally was quite upset that there was no fight after the build up of other vampires. Other complained that there were no deaths and fans did not have to mourn. I understand this point, but I like for my characters to live. The twist ending changes these complaints making the movie compelling and keeps fans on their toys. It’s like watching The Walking Dead and getting a great surprise in the TV that wasn’t in the comics. Fans should stick with the movie through the twist, no matter their first reaction. In fact, the ending gives a more “happily ever after” outlook than the book by including scenes Alice envisioning the future.  Even the credit give homage to the whole cast and fans feel like they are saying good bye to old friends, just like they felt when they closed the final book.

The movie also makes Bella a little less perfect. She has great self control but in the movie she actually gets close to the human before turning back. Unfortunately, the acting does not hold up in her fury towards Jacob though Stewart does well with the mother/daughter bond. It boggles me why Bella has more color as a vampire than she did as a human. Otherwise, seeing beloved characters come to life is a treat for fans.

Breaking Dawn Part 2 is one of the better movies in the Twilight Saga and Melissa Rosenberg expands on the material already written by Meyer. Fans will be please with the ending of this installment as a stand alone movie, and also as an ending to a beloved movie journey.