Oh great, another teen dystopian flick, right? Yes, The Maze Runner seems like an also-ran following the lead of the Hunger Games and Divergents of the world, and yet it called to my mind an entirely different predecessor: Cube. In both films, a group of strangers wake up in an ever-changing, deadly maze with no memory of how they got there, and must band together to find their way out. Another similarity: they're both surprisingly entertaining.
As efficiently directed by Wes Ball, the film thrusts viewers right into the nightmare without any preamble, following lead character Thomas (Dylan O’Brien) as he wakes up inside an elevator depositing him in a huge field filled with scruffy young men who have cobbled together a primitive society. From there, he has to learn how to fit in while rediscovering his own identity and figuring out the intricacies of the high-walled and monster-filled labyrinth surrounding his new home. The script is a bit clunky and obvious at times, but the overall plot moves with all the precision of the maze’s clockwork-like reconfigurations, making the film’s nearly two-hour length speed by. Unfortunately, it doesn’t quite stick the landing since it’s a lead-in to next year’s sequel, leaving some questions unanswered and raising some more rather than providing much tangible resolution.
The actors are an intriguing blend of Brits selected for their acting talents and Yanks chosen for their chiseled looks, giving the dialogue a bit more heft than one would normally expect from the subject matter but still offering teen girls sufficient eye candy. Alpha hunk O'Brien hails from MTV's Teen Wolf, and here he's far more effective running than emoting in his lead role, never quite delivering the depth of character required. Thankfully the English team save the acting day, with Will Poulter (We're The Millers) portraying a startlingly menacing antagonist, Thomas Brodie-Sangster (Game of Thrones) a sage-like acolyte, and lone female Kaya Scodelario (Skins UK) the mysterious final entrant to the maze.
The Digital HD presentation carries the same 1080p/DTS 5.1 surround technical specs as Blu-ray, assuming your broadband connection is up to the challenge. Image quality is superb, completely devoid of noticeable grain or artifacting, while the immersive soundtrack delivers punchy bass through the thunderous and plentiful action sequences. I experienced no technical glitches during my viewing, making this format the full equal of Blu-ray.
Purchasing the film through iTunes eliminates any potential buffering issues by archaically force downloading the entire film to your device rather than just streaming from the cloud, with the tradeoff of loss of precious storage space until you figure out how to delete it. Frankly though, I find iTunes so completely frustrating to set up, navigate and operate that I'd recommend any other digital source for this, such as VUDU or PlayStation Store. But that's a whole other review. The film is packaged with an assortment of bonus features including five short making of documentaries, deleted scenes, and a gag reel. I'd love to tell you more about them, but iTunes made it impossible for me to actually locate and watch them even after multiple attempts.
The Maze Runner is available for purchase and rent today on Digital HD, as well as old-school disc-based formats.