Maze Runner: The Death Cure is a culmination of all three books and brings it all together. It’s an amazing adventure.
Published in October 2009, James Dashner’s novel The Maze Runner was the first in the best-selling post-apocalyptic YA book series, and became a New York Times Best Seller that captured the imaginations of readers around the world, who described it as a combination of Lord of the Flies, The Hunger Games, and the legendary television series Lost, and broke box-office records when it exploded on the big screen. The books’ legions of fans embraced The Maze Runner, which grossed more than $340 million worldwide.
Reflecting on the story’s appeal, Dashner notes that much of it stems from the “constant state of not being able to predict what’s going to happen next. I wanted my readers, and now the moviegoing audience, to feel like Thomas when they enter the Glade.”
In the original Maze Runner the involuntary inhabitants of the mysterious encampment knows as The Glade were surrounded by an ever-changing maze with 200 foot walls. They were a colony of young men with a singular goal; escape the glade by solving the maze. When Thomas showed up and, shortly after, the glade’s first girl inhabitant Teresa, everything began to change. The way out led them to the truth: they were members in an immense and cruel test.
The second book, The Scorch Trials, was published in 2010 and sold more than three million copies, and the film Maze Runner: The Scorch Trials answered many of the questions posed in the first film.
In Maze Runner: The Scorch Trials the “gladers”, as they were now known, discovered that once out of the maze they were not the only participants forced to endure tests. There were in fact other mazes, other survivors and they were to learn of the organization that had selected them, WCKD. Thomas, who had become the presumptive leader of the group, didn’t trust the message he was hearing that “WCKD is good.” Breaking free from the compound where they’d been housed after being “rescued” Thomas led the survivors of the original maze and others he had encountered in the new facility out into “the scorch”, a desert wasteland that appeared to be all that was left of the world.
Action reaches new heights in this mission-oriented third and final segment of The Maze Runner Series, Maze Runner: The Death Cure, where the motives of WCKD become clearer: Dr. Ava Paige, WCKD’s executive director is close to what she believes is a cure for the disease known as The Flare, an infection that has decimated the world’s population. But the cure comes by sacrificing the few young people left in the world who are apparently immune. In order to free those who have been rounded up as test subjects, including his friend Minho, Thomas must now band together with fellow survivors, old and new, and take the battle to what may be the last remaining city and the final stronghold of WCKD. He must break into the super-secure WKCD headquarters and try to bring down the organization from the inside.
Maze Runner: The Death Cure, picks up roughly six months after the Scorch Trials ended. In the final battle of The Scorch the survivors of The Flare, a disease that has devastated the world’s population, have defined their purpose; to find a safe haven away from the influence of WCKD.
James Dashner was born and raised in Georgia, but now lives in the Rocky Mountains with his family. He has four kids, which some might think is too many, but he thinks is just right. Once upon a time, James studied accounting and worked in the field of finance, but he has been writing full time for several years. (He doesn’t miss numbers. At all.)
From an early age, James wanted to be a writer. He read every book he could get his hands on, from Superfudge to The Chronicles of Narnia, to The Hardy Boys to Lord of the Rings. And telling stories just seemed like the right thing to do. His parents had an old typewriter and James wrote a few stories on that just for fun. All the many books he’s read and all the movies and TV shows he’s watched have served to inspire many of his stories. For example, The Maze Runner was heavily influenced by Ender’s Game and Lord of the Flies.
Whenever James has a tough time writing, he takes a break to watch a movie or read a book, and then the ideas flow so fast he can’t get them all down. He’ll be the first to admit he’s lucky to have the greatest job ever.
James is the author of The New York Times best-selling Maze Runner series, the Mortality Doctrine series, the Thirteenth Reality series, and Infinity Ring, Book 1: A Mutiny in Time and Book 7: The Iron Empire.
The Wes Ball-directed adaptation of Maze Runner: The Death Cure was crafted by screenwriter T.S. Nowlin, who also wrote the screenplays for The Maze Runner and Maze Runner: The Scorch Trials.
Wes Ball grew up in Lake Como, Florida and attended Florida State University where he earned a BFA in Film. It is here that Wes first gained attention for his student short A Work In Progress which was honored with a Student Academy Award. It was at that time that Wes founded his own boutique VFX and Animation Studio Oddball Animation.
Soon after, Wes found himself working alongside Tom Hanks on the IMAX-3D documentary Magnificent Desolation, where Wes was the Previz Supervisor. In addition to this critically-acclaimed project, Wes and his Oddball team designed title sequences, created CG-animation and produced VFX for such companies as Playtone, Walt Disney, and Universal among others.
In 2012 Wes created, produced and directed the original 3D short film Ruin. He released it online and within a short time it had gathered over 5,000,000 hits. The film catapulted Wes into the conversations of new directors to watch. Two months later, the feature version of Ruin sold to Fox Studios in a pre-emptive bid. That same week, the studio began talks for him to direct his first feature film The Maze Runner. Produced for $34 million, the film went on to make $350 million worldwide and launched a franchise. The sequel Maze Runner: The Scorch Trials premiered in September 2015 and became a worldwide hit. Wes is currently in post-production on the climax to the series Maze Runner: The Death Cure, which is scheduled for release January 26, 2018.
Wes’ film production company Oddball Entertainment has a first look deal with Fox. In addition to Ruin, Oddball’s current development slate includes the fantasy-adventure Mouseguard based on the award-winning comic book series written and illustrated by David Peterson, the action-adventure In Search of Humans, the epic fantasy Fall Of Gods based on the illustrated novel created by Rasmus Berggreen and Michael Vogt, and an untitled supernatural thriller to be directed by Jason Eisener.
T.S. Nowlin is a graduate of the Florida State University film program who currently resides in Los Angeles. His credits include The Maze Runner (2014), Maze Runner: The Scorch Trials (2015), Phoenix Forgotten (2017), Maze Runner: The Death Cure (2018) and Pacific Rim: Uprising (2018). He’s currently represented by Adam Marshall at Management 360 and Daniel Cohan at ICM Partners.
As the director of all three films Wes Ball describes the differences in the worlds where each story takes place:
“The first film, with the maze, was all cement and decay. The second story was the sand and rust of the scorch and this film, The Death Cure, is a world of glass and steel. They each have their own tone and color palate.” But it’s the world of steel and glass, a world that the gladers are not even certain exists that will become the target as they take the battle to WCKD.
The battle against WKCD actually started at the end of Scorch Trials. As Ball explains: “In the third book there’s this whole idea of a resistance, a group opposed to WCKD and I thought ‘Wouldn’t it be nice to bring that in early?’” Having the warring factions show up at the end of the second movie is a slight deviation from the book and Ball is grateful to have the latitude to make those kinds of creative adjustments. “There are things that aren’t exactly like the book but they’re inspired by the books and that’s why we’re fortunate that James (Dashner) was on board for all of this stuff and the choices we’re making. We wanted to do what we could with respect to the fans and what they want to see.”
James Dashner confirmed his approval, stating, “The fans of the books are very loyal to the stories and very protective of them but some things just work better in a cinematic universe. Wes Ball has been great in finding those things that I think the fans have embraced as well.”
To create this journey the production needed a location that would provide all of the diversity of the scorch, to the city, to the safe haven and everything in between. To achieve this they traveled to Cape Town, South Africa. Named the World Design Capital in 2014 by the International Council of Societies of Industrial Design, the southern cape provided the perfect backdrop for the “last city” with its tall buildings and modern architecture.
The location also afforded the production the chance to travel to the edge of the Kalahari Desert to shoot the film’s exciting opening train sequence. The scene, shot over five days near the town of Upington makes for an exciting, hit-the-ground-running, opening sequence.
“I think it’s going to be one of the coolest sequences we’ve ever done,” says Dylan O’Brien. “It’s a great way to kick off the film and absolutely sets the tone. The whole movie’s really a rescue mission and it’s a special sequence in this exciting trilogy.”
O’Brien appreciated the scene because it allowed audiences to pick up seamlessly from the last film. “Scorch Trials started at the exact moment that the first film ended. With this film, it been about six months and you can see that these guys have been busy. They’ve taken that time to get organized, to come up with a plane and to go save Minho.”
Wes Ball describes that instant at the end of Scorch Trials, when the others turn to Thomas and asks if he has a plan, as a defining moment for the character: “You see the leader emerge,” he says simply.
When Death Cure opens, it is clear the team have had time to come up with their plan. They are a different group, organized and on the offensive. It’s a plan so audacious it requires that they steal an entire moving train car in their attempt to save Minho.
“The train heist was good fun,” says Berry Pepper, who plays Vince, a leader of the Right Arm resistance. “Definitely one of the highlights of filming. It’s amazing, it was so hot out in the Kalahari. I’d be doing an action sequence, leaping from the car, climbing the train, and I’d be soaked to the bone, and then I’d stand around for ten minutes and I’d be dry. The sun was just so baking hot. I’d never experienced that before, that kind of heat. But it was also equally stunning, just beautiful out there. I’d never been in a location like that before, it was a great leg of the shoot, for sure.”
Rosa Salazar, who plays Brenda described the location as a very good match for the New Mexico location where Scorch Trials ended. “When you travel to Upington, you think this could be Albuquerque. The terrain is extremely similar. This could be wherevers’ville, Montana… then a group of villagers come, and you realize very quickly, you’re in Africa! There’s a completely different thing that happens in your brain when you realize you’re in Africa. You aren’t in Albuquerque or wherevers’ville America. You’re in a place where people still band together and they rise up. Where people have an interest in what’s going on around them and they say it and they vocalize it and they fight. People here, they will fight, they will rise up. And I love that because that’s what this movie is about.”
Having rescued a train car full of young people, all immune to The Flare, headed for the test labs of WCKD, the ultimate goal is get everyone to the safe haven. Once again, it is a place that no one was sure really existed. First introduced in The Scorch Trials when Brenda tells Thomas, “Jorge thinks you guys are a ticket to the safe haven,” it’s a moment screenwriter T. S. Nowlin describes as “the carrot at the end of the stick. The moment they hear there is a paradise.”
The one to shepherd the growing number of young people to this new place to live is Vince. “He’s just a survivor,” says Pepper about his character. “I think like everyone he’s been forced to buck up or die. WCKD has the antidote and they pretty much hold everyone’s lives in the palm of their hands. So, he’s trying to survive and take as many people with him as he can.”
For the spectacular beauty of the “safe haven” the filmmakers and cast members went to the South African coastal park Koel Bay and the Kogel Bay Beach Resort. With sheer mountains jutting up around the scenic beaches, it provided production designer Daniel Dorrance with the perfect spot to create the camp which in many ways mimics the look of the original gladers camp. The difference being, instead of the steep walls of the maze being a prison, the mountains provide security.
Bringing an already spectacular location into the Maze Runner universe was a perfect fit for Dorrance’s talent. As Wes Ball explains, “Dan is really good at taking a practical location and turning into something very cool, unique and special.”
“Once we found this beautiful beach,” notes Dorrance, “we knew we could erect tent-like structures on them and have kind of the beginning of their world, which has sort of gone full circle back to the maze, in that they lived off the land.”
As the director of the entire series, Wes Ball is appreciative of the cast member’s dedication to each other, their devotion to the series and the camaraderie they’ve maintained. Reflecting back to the first film, Ball says, “When I first came on, I wanted to get all of them into a group together. I wanted them to spend like a whole week out in the glade, out on their own, just learning how to survive. And we brought out this awesome guy that, you know, um, kind of trained them with, in survival, and they learned how to like get their fingernails dirty, all these city boys, you know, make them feel like they belonged in this place.”
He continues, “At the same time that connected these guys in a way that has just been really, really special, because like they’ll pick themselves up when they’re tired or something’s not working right. It’s just a really awesome little family of these guys that have just become, I think, friends for life. It’s been a lot of fun kind of helping them, making it real for them, you know what I mean? So I’m happy about that.”
As someone who wasn’t isn’t involved from the beginning, but has very much become a part of the group, Barry Pepper assures that they are all on the same mission, which is to live up to the fans’ expectations for the story, “They don’t need me to get them all pumped up. These fans are hardcore, man, they’re going to love The Death Cure. The locations are absolutely stunning and unique and you’re getting a little bit of a throwback to the maze, the ‘Grievers’ might make an appearance… you get sort of everything. It’s a culmination of all three books and The Death Cure really brings it all together. It’s going to be an amazing adventure.”