Run this maze

Maze Runner is an “instant on” film where the lead character is put into prompt danger without any sense of whereabouts or purpose. In this case Thomas (Dylan O’Brien) is thrust upward in an elevator with little light, shrieking panic, and dominating sound.

Falsely thrilling as it is, Maze Runner is immediate and open regarding its existence as teen drama. Formulaic plot strategies, turning Thomas into a memory erased, exposition decoy, are employed to rapidly carry this fiction toward action – but leaving a minefield of logic holes behind.

Dialog employs all manner of vernacular and slang. Greenies, Grievers, The Changing; they all serve to deconstruct this cordoned off mini-world which sits isolated in the center of an illogically humungous maze. Each member of this all-boys club is split into a faction (more slang: builders, slicers, runners) to more easily digest a fairly thick main cast, a smart narrative decision to breakdown the material for an intended younger audience.

Based on James Dashner’s novel, Maze Runner is the polite Lord of the Flies where instead of more devious social breakdowns, these teens bond and survive. They’re an efficient unit with a simple leadership hierarchy in order to better service the needs of low attention span demographics.

Of any of Maze Runner’s issues, its studio reality is the ultimate barrier: It’s the opening film of a series.

Maze Runner reaches its battles quick, a series of high amplitude, frantic energy action set pieces which serve to build chemistry between The Glade’s populace. Even on a rather lean budget for teen sci-fi considering the genre’s blossoming popularity, monsters and green screen extensions are well constructed.

While an underlying mystery questions the maze’s existence and punctual shifting, specific interactions between the kids do suffer. Gally (Will Poulter) is a stand-in for loose conflict, a villain of minimal (even groundless) consequence when the imposing scale of the walls and some spike-laden creatures which exist inside them are more than suitable.

Of any of Maze Runner’s issues, its studio reality is the ultimate barrier: It’s the opening film of a series. The secrets which are exposed in a charged climax are set-up; Maze Runner feels almost unfinished given the lack of closure. In some way, Dashner’s work feels almost reversed in cliches, back loaded in a tale of apocalypse while still separated from assured answers. Still, Maze Runner is fluid and dynamic as it nears those sequel bait goals. [xrr rating=4/5 label=Movie]

A past victim's remains @ 1:07:09

In some way, Maze Runner is important visually – it’s the first Fox film not to be distributed on 35mm film to theaters. Film projectors need not apply. As such, this was of course captured digitally too, split between Arri and Red cameras. Resulting images are often spectacular.

Using a dour palette for only certain scenes (mostly in the maze), the presentation is often lively in a disciplined mix of greens, blues, and earthen yellows. The Glade carries pleasant greenery and drying grass, while various color filters knock them down with a coating of mild blues. Flesh tones are unaffected.

Lush contrast aids all, offering sterling highlights. Darkness carries thick shadows with only minor lapses in density as the feature nears the end. Those are minor incidents. Encoding work never creates any pockets of noise or compression. Bitrates are perfect.

Maze Runner’s purest element is fidelity, striking in close with strong resolution stretching into the background. Sections of trees are visibly defined in aerials, adding an important sense of scale to this drama. Facial and costume definition is purely resolved. Inside the maze, extensive aging is noted from various weathering to wall crawling plants. This disc maintains all of those narrative assistants. [xrr rating=4/5 label=Video]

An urgent sonic presence opens this enthralling DTS-HD 7.1 mix, creating beefy LFE from the outset as the elevator is blasted vertically, with all manner of rattles from clanging metals splitting off into the channels. Maze Runner is undoubtedly intense, with plentiful action to spread the wealth of this enveloping audio presentation.

Those seeking constant pulses of low-end material will find it with turning gears opening the maze each day, a warning horn which swallows the soundfield, and closing walls as characters are trapped. That doesn’t even account for the machine-like beings which slam their piercing legs down when on full attack, or their ability to scatter around the soundfield.

This track never loses focus. It’s everywhere. The way it spins around with the camera, capturing needed motion, is wonderful. Outdoor ambiance is consistently strong and evident to set a persistent stage. Maze Runner is also careful about balance, working John Paesano’s notable score between the more booming activity. [xrr rating=5/5 label=Audio]

Director Wes Bell is a frequent visitor to these bonuses, beginning with his commentary. In tandem is screenwriter T.S. Nowlin. Bell continues his chat (optionally) over some deleted scenes.

Navigating the Maze is lengthy at 42-minutes, predictably running through the usual talking points (origins, effects, casting), if doing so with some energy. The Chuck Diaries is a short blurb about casting Blake Cooper and the rather unorthodox way it happened. Ruin is an animated short done by Bell which was originally optioned as a feature length film. A strong gag reel, two visual effect breakdowns, and galleries are the disc’s last components. [xrr rating=3/5 label=Extras]


Click on the images below for full resolution screen captures taken directly from the Blu-ray. Images have not been altered in any way during the process.

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