“I’m a movie fan actually, before books. I see every movie that comes out, so having this thing that I actually pictured in my head, come to life on the big screen is easily the highlight of my career,” he told Variety Monday at the New York premiere of “The Maze Runner,” held at the SVA Theatre and presented by Teen Vogue. “ I always picture things cinematically in my head, and then try to translate into the written word. That’s just how I work. It felt pretty natural for it to come back into a movie.”
In point of fact, Dashner said he drew on both television shows and movies during the writing of the book, as well as the blueprint for all stories involving children fighting for survival on an island.
“’Lord of the Flies,’ I think that influence is pretty obvious to people,” he said. “The maze at the end of ‘The Shining,’ I saw that as a kid. Scared for life. It stuck with me. The TV show ‘Lost,’ I was watching that show while I was writing it, you can see its influence.”
The story of “The Maze Runner” is of a boy named Thomas, who wakes up with amnesia on a mysterious tropical island called the Glade. The only way out is to negotiate his way through the titular maze, a feat that none of the other castaways have previously completed, owing to the presence of the cybernetic spider mutants that patrol said labyrinth. Obviously, nailing the look and feel of the maze is key to making the film work, and Dashner said that was the first piece of concept art that director Wes Ball showed him.
“Probably, more than anything else, it matched my vision: The stone and the ivy and the archaic, ancient look to it. It’s how I imagined it, it’s how I tried to explain it,” he said, “And I knew from then, ‘OK, you got my book.'”
The film’s cast is composed of mostly younger actors with more television experience than film, with the exception of Patricia Clarkson, who plays Chancellor Ave Paige, head of the organization responsible for the maze and the spiders and all the carnage, and who is set to play a larger role in the sequels.
“I was sent the script in the usual way, I read it and thought, ‘This is quite beautiful and bold and exhilarating,’ and I love my character. There’s not much to do in the first installment, but she takes us through the rest,” Clarkson told Variety. Just don’t call her a villain. Well, you can, but she won’t, as she clarified before hustling inside for the opening reception. “Well, I think that’s left to you decide!”
Fans of genre fiction, especially fan of movies based on popular young adult novels, often have very strong opinions about who should embody their favorite characters on screen, and little modesty about sharing said opinions. Fortunately for star Dylan O’ Brien, best known for his role on MTV’s “Teen Wolf,” the internet approved of his casting. (And two fans snuck into the press section of the red carpet to reiterate their approval, and in the process almost got elbowed by at least one veteran entertainment journalist.)
“I learned about the book auditioning for the project, and then I was getting in tune with the fanbase through Twitter. At first, some of my ‘Teen Wolf’ fans were also ‘Maze Runner’ book fans, so they were all really excited and typing to me that they’re excited I got cast,” he said. “There was never anything negative around me, it was always positive from the fans.”
The actual maze is not quite as massive as it looks on screen, but it’s not completely a product of CGI either. “It’s like an empty warehouse, but the cool thing about the movie that I think people might not expect is how much we had to actually interact with, despite how large it is with visual effects, we did always have a world to be in and an environment to be in, and the visual effects just enhanced everything,” O’Brien said.
Having an actual space to interact with was, for the most part, helpful for O’Brien and his co-stars, but one early scene where he runs into the maze and almost gets crushed by closing doors was almost a bit too realistic for the star.
“Doing the doors thing freaked me out a little. But I was fine. I was just trying to get it over with,” he said. “I can definitely be a little claustrophobic, if I think about it.”