If the preponderance of dystopian sci-fi drama coming out of Hollywood right now is to be believed, the future is a pretty miserable place. Between the strictly segregated society of Divergent and the violent rebellion of The Hunger Games: Mockingjay - Part 1 comes The Maze Runner, an adaptation of the novel by James Dashner directed by visual effects expert Wes Ball, in which Thomas (Dylan O'Brien) wakes up in a small community of teenage boys who have been stripped of their memories and trapped at the center of an enormous, ever-changing maze.
The supporting cast of The Maze Runner includes Will Poulter (We're the Millers) as Thomas' fellow Glader, Gally, and Kaya Scodelario (Skins) as Teresa, the only girl ever to arrive in the Glade. Gally is suspicious of Thomas and dislikes his refusal to play by the rules, while Teresa appears to have some kind of connection to Thomas that only makes the other boys more wary of him.
Screen Rant got a chance to sit down with Poulter and Scodelario at San Diego Comic-Con 2014 this summer, and we combed over the topics of mazes, monsters, romance, villainy, and what The Maze Runner's place is in the current line-up of young adult novel adaptations.
There are quite a few monsters in the maze. Where they created using practical effects or CGI?
Kaya Scodelario: It was CGI. We had a guy in a blue lycra suit on set with a stick and that's all we had.
Did he wave the stick at you threateningly?
KS: He did, it was good. He went for it.
Was it the same with the set? Was it mainly green screen?
Will Poulter: What's so awesome about Wes [Ball] was as much as his background is kind of based in visual effects and as much as that is a focus for him, I think he was very keen to try and give us enough to react to, so the performance didn't fall by the wayside or our reactions weren't kind of secondary to what was going on visually. So with things like the set we had actual pieces of the set there to react to, it wasn't just like we were watching imaginary doors closing, they actually built the doors, working doors, with the corridor.
KS: We also had that stuff on the laptop, though, what was it called?
WP: The pre-vis.
KS: The pre-vis. So he'd got a system up so we could see what it would look like eventually. Very very rough, but just so that we could understand it a little more from the visual effects point of view.
Part of the world-building in the book includes the slang used by the Gladers. How much of that made it into the movie?
WP: Yeah, there's some "shucks" and some "shanks" being thrown around. "Klunk..."
KS: I don't ever use any of the slang.
WP: No you don't, do you? Because I guess it's the kind of thing that comes about from being there for a long period of time. But yeah, shuck, shank, klunk... there were a couple of others. "Greenie..."
Is it hard to make that sound natural?
WP: Yeah, it was, but that was another thing again, one of the things that was taken from the book and sort of transplanted into the movie. From page to screen there are some things that don't transfer that well, and we've already talked in other interviews about how the telepathy wasn't working and James approved that, and he approved every single transition. But I think we found some of the language really worked, and kind of gave this unique vibe, because it makes sense that they would develop their own slang. Some of them have been there for years.
Plotwise, how much does the movie deviate from the book?
KS: Not an awful lot. I think it's just practical things that have to work within film, that you can't translate, but I think the fans will be happy with it. Any of the differences they will understand and some of them are for the better, so I don't think anyone's going to be particularly upset about it.
What do you think has led to the current interest on sci-fi movies set in dystopian futures?
KS: Because it doesn't seem that far away nowadays, I don't think. With the movement of technology and social media, that doesn't seem too crazy any more. There are so many things happening now that you've seen in films from years ago, like cloning and all of those things are actually happening now, so we can kind of visualize it a lot more, and I think our generation particularly know that we're going to be a big part of that, we we're kind of fascinated with how human beings will fare in the world.
WP: Yeah, I think with the rise of technology and the advent of online activity there's an argument that that's kind of stifling our imagination... but I've found the opposite through this experience, seeing the fan art that people produce for The Maze Runner and the videos that they post etc. I think that the way technology's going, it's only serving to improve people's appetite to be creative and gives them more tools in order to execute their creative visions.
What's the relationship like between Teresa and Thomas? Is there any romance there?
KS: I've never seen it as romantic, even reading the books, I don't think James' intention was to make it romantic. I think they have a connection that you sometimes get with people, and you can't quite explain, and sometimes you mistake it for lust or love. But I think they just, they understand each other, they have a love for each other that isn't a sexual love, it's not what we would nowadays see as a relationship. I think the instincts are to survive and to help each other and to care for each other. There's no time for "Let's go on a picnic date."
WP: They're not like, running through the maze and going, "Let's stop off and kiss each other."
KS: There's none of that bulls**t, it's very much, we need to survive and look after each other, we need to look after the group. And that's what I really liked about the script, that it wasn't a love triangle or anything like that. It's just a human connection.
WP: And it's one of the differentiating factors when you compare it to other films in that bracket, like The Hunger Games and Divergent and stuff. I think it's one of the things that kind of makes it unique and sets it apart.
Did you consider Gally to be a villain when you were playing him, or were you quite sympathetic towards the character?
WP: My view on Gally is that he's not quite a villain, he's more kind of this conflicted character, and that's something that me and Wes totally clicked on. I think that my thing as an actor, choosing a part, is that I have to question whether I respect a character, and I don't feel like I can actually represent them unless I can respect some aspect of them. So it doesn't matter, the most vile, horrendous character you can think of, I think unless they have some thread of rationale, I don't think I could personally play them. And I understood Gally, I understood where he was coming from, I empathize with him a bit.
So we tried to draw that out of him a little bit, whereas in the book he's leaning more towards that villainous sort of character. But I suppose in many ways he's the antithesis of Thomas, who's very much the kind of born leader and hero, and I'm kind of... I get it wrong, and I lose the respect of the Glade, which I guess makes me more a villain than a hero.
The Maze Runner opens in U.S. theaters on September 19th, 2014.