Writing on the Pages – The Maze Runner #4: Chapters 10-11

#01: A Little Background
#02: Chapters 1-5
#03: Chapters 6-9

Hey, you! Finally back to this book. Yes, I’m still reading it, even though it’s been two years since I got it and if I weren’t doing this blog on it, I’d be able to polish it off in two, three days tops. Now let’s see, where was I?

CHAPTER 10

Moving as fast as he could, Thomas crashed through the heavy foliage, thin branches slapping at his face.

… All the while, his eyes stayed riveted on the beetle blade scuttling across the forest floor.

Oh yeah! At the end of Chapter 9, Thomas found a beetle blade – a buglike robot that, according to Alby, is used by whoever set up the Glade to spy on its residents – and decided to go after it. How long does his chase go on? It doesn’t even last to the end of the page.

He’d lost the sucker.

“Shuck it,” Thomas whispered, almost as a joke. Almost. As strange as it seemed, the word felt natural on his lips, like he was already morphing into a Glader.

I’d make yet another snide comment ridiculing the forced usage of this childish euphemism, but something’s changed. Since I started doing this blog and thinking in-depth about this book …

I’ve caught myself using the word.

Dear god, I’m going native! Quick, book, remind me that you’re silly!

A twig snapped somewhere to his right and he jerked his head in that direction. …

“Who’s there?” Thomas yelled out, a tingle of fear shooting across his shoulders. …

“Anybody there? … It’s me, Thomas. The new guy. Well, second-newest guy.”

There we go, thanks, dear! And before you say anything about me being too critical, even Thomas thinks he, and I quote, “sounded like a complete idiot.”

What’s going on now is that Thomas heard a few sudden sounds and started walking towards the point he believes they came from. Without meaning to, he finds himself at the graveyard.

Thomas is already aware of some of the possible dangers of his new existence, and now he is at the one place where this awful truth can be made truly clear. Our protagonist, the new Glader (well, second-newest), is walking over the graves of teenagers, the poor souls who died well before their time without ever learning the truth of the land that ultimately killed them! If handled right, this scene can be a chilling and emotional turning point. What’s Thomas’s next move?

He leaned closer to the first cross. It looked fresh and bore the name Stephen …

Stephen, Thomas thought, feeling an unexpected but detached sorrow. What’s your story? Chuck annoy you to death?

Have some goddamn respect! Guys, if you’re not reading this book, you don’t understand just how irritating this is. Dashner is actually really competent at description and build-up, and the way he described the graveyard itself before this garbage happened strongly evoked a mood of somberness, silence, and reverence. But when he brings his protagonist face-to-face with a reminder that he can die here – and the grave is fresh – he makes the lad crack a joke at the expense of another character.

Is this meant to be comedy relief? This is the precisely wrong moment for comedy! The kid’s in a cemetery made by other kids for other kids, and you, you just – why?!

So he checks out the other graves and sees one smaller than the rest. Taking a closer look, Thomas finds that it contains only the head-and-torso half of a corpse. Etched on the window is a marker …

Let this half-shank be a warning to all:
You can’t escape through the Box Hole.

Thomas felt the odd urge to snicker – it seemed tpo ridiculous to be true.

What did I just say what did I just say?! Is Thomas just devoid of empathy? Was he not raised with respect for the dead? That’s probably one of the most horrific events in the history of the Glade and he freaking has to resist from laughing – have some decency! “Odd urge” doesn’t begin to describe how out-of-place this is!

Okay, two strikes. I try to be patient and forgiving, and I’m not giving up on this reading session just yet!

… He had stepped aside to read more names of the dead when another twig broke, this time straight in front of him, right behind the trees on the other side of the graveyard.

Then another snap. Then another. Coming closer. And the darkness was thick.

There we go! What follows is an extremely one-sided fight between Thomas and an unknown attacker, brilliantly described as “a relentless jumble of skin and bones cavorting on top of him.” This ambusher even manages to really hurt Thomas, driving him into one of the grave markers and biting his shoulder like a freaking zombie! After all the strikes in this chapter, this is a single-base, maybe even double-base hit. And the attacker?

It’s Ben!

… You know, the screaming guy from the infirmary!

… The guy who’s really sick and stuff?

Well, even if you can’t remember him, it’s him!

CHAPTER 11

Thank goodness we’re done with that trainwreck of a chapter, and this one’s already off to a good start with our hero getting pounced!

Ben crouched, ready to spring for another attack. At some point a knife had made an appearance, gripped in his right hand.

Excuse me, Dashner, did you just say that a knife manifested from nowhere? Was it too hard to edit the previous chapter so that he was holding one the entire time? Okay, forget it, I just wanna see a fight. Give me the fight!

“Ben!”

Thomas looked toward the voice, surprised to see Alby standing at the edge of the graveyard, a mere phantom in the fading light. Relief flooded Thomas’s body – Alby held a large bow, an arrow cocked for the kill, pointed straight at Ben.

“Ben,” Alby repeated. “Stop right now, or you ain’t gonna see tomorrow.”

Aw yeah, the stakes just got raised!

The rest of this scene is just awesome. Ben suddenly tells Alby, “If you kill me, you’ll get the wrong guy,” and goes on to make vague, frightening statements about how Thomas is bad (more accurately, “bad, bad, bad, bad, bad”) and wants “to take us home … out of the Maze” – which is apparently terrible. Ben gets increasingly fidgety, Alby starts counting to three, Thomas is on the verge of flipping out, and then:

There was the sound of snapping wire. The whoosh of an object slicing through the air. The sickening, wet thunk of it finding a home.

Ben’s head snapped violently to the left, twisting is body until he landed on his stomach, his feet pointed toward Thomas. He made no sound.

This story’s reached Lord of the Flies territory, with Ben being the first (I expect more) kid to be killed by other kids – fittingly, in the graveyard. Who knows how many of the other Gladers buried there went through this mysterious “Changing” like he did? How many also died from another Glader’s hand? What was up with the whole “He’ll wanna take us home” thing? Is it a delusion that others before him had? Oh, how nice it is to be critically thinking about this book again instead of sitting there with that 4chan George Costanza face.

Thomas does a little critical thinking of his own: after understandably hurling, he has a realization about all the crap he’s been through.

He’d now been at the Glade for roughly twenty-four hours. One full day. That was it. And look at all the things that had happened. All the terrible things.

Surely it could only get better.

Let’s recap the last 24 hours of Thomas’s life. He:

  • Woke up in a dark hole, trapped in a cage with no memories of his life
  • Found himself in a freakish weird new world while strange kids poked him
  • Got hassled by almost everyone on his first day for no good reason
  • Learned that they’re all trapped in the middle of a maze with robot spies watching them and giant monsters lurking within the maze itself
  • Got suspiciously denied any answers to any of his questions about their situation
  • Was attacked by a psycho with a knife
  • Watched said psycho get arrow’d in the face and freaking die

And these are the first eleven chapters of the book … out of 62. Poor guy.

Out of sympathy for our friend here (and because I was able to write so much on these 1.5 chapters alone), I think I’m gonna cut off this post here. I’ll finish the rest of Chapter 11 in the next edition of Writing on the Pages.

Sincerely,
RADDman

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Shouting at the Screen – Jurassic World: First Reactions

Previously, on “Shouting at the Screen – Tribute to Jurassic Park,” I wrote about being on the verge of watching Jurassic World:

Guys. I’ve waited fourteen years for this. I’ve spent two-thirds of my life waiting for a film that, at many points, looked like it   would never happen. Now it’s finally upon us, and I can almost guarantee that no one you know is more excited than I am.

After that strenuous wait, it finally came: the night of Thursday, June 11, 2015. Entering a local movie theater, with a little over an hour to spare before a 10:40 showing, were a group of twelve excited teenagers – my brothers, plenty of friends, and myself (in my Jurassic Park tee).

Which, as those who have  seen the movie know, is taboo if you work there.

Which, as those who have seen the movie know, is taboo if you work there.

Despite an at-first jarring change of scheduling (some of us had to work early in the morning and theaters don’t really bother with pure midnight premieres), the night went off to a great start. Friends who hadn’t seen each other in a very long time cheered upon meeting again, and after learning that the showtimes we intended to see was already sold out, we quickly found an only slightly later screening at a different (and generally cheaper) theater. And once we finally got there, the hour passed quickly and we secured almost a full row for ourselves with the best seats in the house. The atmosphere was kinetic – you could feel the hype, the stirring and swelling of the crowd’s mood.

Despite what I wrote in my previous post, I tried not to get sucked into that very buzz. Even the most excellent films can be ruined by overly high expectations, and I was not about to let a film for which I’ve been unusually patient fall into that black hole. “Besides,” I figured, “it’s a Jurassic Park sequel. How good could that be?” But once the lights dimmed, the twenty minutes of trailers crawled past, and that familiar music started, I found myself perched at the edge …

Oh yeah. The movie was awesome.

And I never doubted that it would be ... (besides that early script with the raptor mercenary baloney)

And I never doubted that it would be. (… Besides that early script with the raptor mercenary baloney)

The first thing I would talk about is the climax, but that ending must be seen to be believed, so I won’t talk about it. Instead I’ll start by saying I was genuinely ecstatic during the build-up to a full view of the park, featuring that classic John Williams theme, because at long last we got to see John Hammond’s vision finally come to life. Yes, the first movie was all about why that vision could never work out, but that just adds a layer of intrigue to seeing it happen – even if it’s slightly perverse, like watching a forest fire and knowing you can do nothing about it. And yes, we know it’s doomed, but I enjoyed it while it lasted.

Besides, just look at the place! Instead of taking a rail-guided Jeep tour through different paddocks in the jungle, guests can ride next to sauropods and stegosaurs in giant glass ball things called Gyrospheres. The Jurassic Park Visitor Center was replaced with a state-of-the-art Innovation Center, featuring moving hologram creatures and a digging site for little ones. Speaking of which, the Gentle Giants Petting Zoo is the cutest thing ever you can ride a baby Triceratops and hug a baby Apatosaurus why isn’t this real I don’t care if Velociraptors eat me alive as long as I can live out my childhood dreams like this cute.

cretaceous cruise

But anyone who’s been to Islands of Adventure knows this one is a bad idea.

It’s not just the park itself that’s thrilling: the movie was a lot more engaging than I expected. For starters, it was actually a bit scary. All we knew about the main monster going in was that it was a big meat-eater like the T. rex and that it was going to escape and wreak havoc, both par for the course in this film series. But as the movie goes on and we find out more and more about the Indominus rex, it gets more disturbing. This monster of a dinosaur, created in the lab specifically to be threatening, is a psychotic killing machine with a slew of hidden tricks. My youngest brother said he wouldn’t have been surprised if it sprouted wings and took off with the Pteranodons.

Oh yeah, those guys! Remember Jurassic Park III, when we first see those rats with wings attack? In that one, it was only one rat with wings. As you could see in the trailers, there’s hundreds of them, and they swarm the guests! What was not clear in the trailer was that it wasn’t just the regular Pteranodons, who were freaky enough but at least didn’t have nasty pointed teeth: there’s also Dimorphodons, which do. So you can either get picked up and tossed around by giant flying lizards or get your face bitten off by the same thing, except smaller and with freaking dinosaur heads. The actual attack scene is shocking, especially because it has the most egregiously brutal death in the movie.

Some parts are thrilling in a different way, a more “wow” kind of way. The scene where Chris Pratt’s character, Owen Grady (how did I go this long without mentioning you?), is first shown training the Velociraptors is so cool. Ever since 1993 we’ve known that species as the smartest, fastest, most vicious monsters on the island. Here we see a guy freaking tame them (kinda). He tells them to lift their heads up, and they lift their heads up! And they just get cooler as the movie continues.

Well, not quite like this.

Well, not quite like this, but you get the idea.

But my favorite “wow” moment, and my favorite scene (besides the climax, seriously, oh my god) was when Zach and Gray, the token children, find a deserted building in the jungles of the park’s restricted area. Having learned nothing from the last time they went somewhere in the park that they weren’t supposed to go (hint: they’re not in a Gyrosphere anymore), they enter and see a spacious room with staircases on the sides. Zach picks up a banner from the floor that reads … “When Dinosaurs Ruled the Earth.”

jp banner

Chills.

They found the Visitor Center. They left Jurassic World and rediscovered Jurassic Park. And for all of us watching, this moment and the whole scene are nostalgically breathtaking.

This kind of reverence for the first film shows that Colin Trevorrow is a total Jurassic Park geek and clearly giddy to be involved in this project. Besides being ridiculously entertaining, his script (co-written with writing partner Derek Connolly) is overflowing with callbacks and nods to the previous films. It’s only been three days and massive articles listing all of them have already been compiled, but I’d just like to name a few personal favorites:

  • The tributes to both the late Richard Attenborough, CBE (a lovely gold statue of his character John Hammond stands in front of the Hammond Creation Lab) and the late special effects wizard Stan Winston (there’s a “Winston’s Cafe” in the boardwalk area)
  • In the beginning, Zach and Gray’s mom tells them to push the green button on their phone when they see it. In the first movie, as Hammond guides Dr. Ellie Sattler into restarting the power, he tells her something like, “Overhead there should be a green button. Push it.” How freaking obscure.
  • The scene with the dying Apatosaurus, a genuinely saddening scene that darkly parallels the introduction of the Brachiosaurus in the first one
  • It’s part of the climax so I can’t say much, but it’s clear where Trevorrow stands on the T. rex vs. Spinosaurus “debate”
That's how you know a true fan.

That’s how you know a true fan: taking this one-minute fight scene way too personally!

Just to prove that I’m not just a corporate stooge paid by Universal Studios to shill Jurassic World (meaning this whole blog was just an overly elaborate scam to convince its few readers to see a film that everyone was already going to see), I will tell you that this movie was not entirely great.

There was this one scene where Claire Dearing (is that her last name?!), Bryce Dallas Howard’s character and the aunt of the token kids, talks with their mother (who spends almost the entire movie weeping) about how she has to spend the day with her nephews. The mother tells Claire that she’ll know the importance of it when she has her own kids. Claire says she’ll never have kids, and her mother has the gall to tell her that yes she will someday. Lady, if Claire doesn’t want kids, she doesn’t want kids. The implication that every woman has a maternal instinct that will push them to have children is, well, prehistoric. And I get that her character arc is about learning to care, both for the dinosaurs in the park and her nephews, but it still bothers me that they had to include that.

Besides that nitpick, I fully accept that this movie is not as good as the first Jurassic Park. It really is yet another bloated, CG-heavy, summer blockbuster full of shameless product placement made solely so Universal could make tons of money off the JP name in this age of sequels and franchising. Every reviewer and critic saying this is so bold and original.

However, just how many movies can be as good as Jurassic Park? Okay, that’s not the best excuse in the world, but it’s clear that Trevorrow and the cast and crew didn’t half-bake this film when they so easily could have coasted on the brand name alone. It’s certainly not Jurassic Park III: these people cared about the property and did their best. It’s got awesome scenes, amazing dinosaur action, Chris Pratt’s magic touch, fun writing, fun acting, and overall it’s just enormously satisfying – at least for a fan like me.

Maybe that’s not a professional opinion. Maybe it is sketchy that the first film’s heroes are scientists and the heroes of this one are a grizzled ex-Navy man, a corporate lackey, and a couple of tourists, as the New York Times points out. Maybe it is a cheap cash-in that’s paid off tremendously. But I entered the movie theater as an eager twenty-year-old and left feeling like I was seven and spoiled, and that’s what matters to me. Those fourteen years of waiting paid off – for me, the people who watched it with me on opening night, the thousands worldwide who gave a total $500 million to the film’s box office winnings in the biggest opening weekend of all time, and, of course, to Universal. Roll around in your money, you greedy punks, you earned it.

Sincerely, RADDman

P.S. A quick public service announcement to the people who have sent snaps on SnapChat of the final fight in this movie: don’t.

Shouting at the Screen – Tribute to Jurassic Park

Man, isn’t Jurassic Park awesome?

jp lake

jp trex

ian malcolm

Obviously.

Right now it’s really hard to find the right thing to even talk about first. There’s so much to this film, a cultural giant that has loomed over our world like that first beautiful CG Brachiosaurus since it exploded on the big screen exactly 22 years ago today. I was born the year after, so I’ve never known a world without this movie, and I suspect the same goes for many of you. What should I say first, on this 22nd anniversary, to honor a movie that not only excited the world, but strongly affected my own life with all the times I saw it as a kid?

Well, I suppose you should first know that for a long time I was obsessed with dinosaurs. I was that one kid in your elementary classes who knew everything about them: the different types, where and how they lived, and even how to properly pronounce/spell names like Micropachycephalosaurus. I read every book and, later, every website I could find that’d teach me even a tiny tidbit of trivia. More importantly for this post, I watched every movie I could get my puny hands on, from BBC’s Walking with Dinosaurs to Disney’s Dinosaur to all those Land Before Time sequels (Jesus Christ, they’re making number fourteen right now?!).

So naturally, when my parents decided to ignore the PG-13 rule and showed me the film at a ridiculously young age (first grade? Kindergarten? Earlier?!), I gushed over it. Sure, it was scary, but more than anything I was just so thrilled to see these people interacting with what really felt like real dinosaurs! That may go completely against the point of the film, but that didn’t matter. I adored it.

Recently, I rewatched it with my brothers and some friends, and it’s impressive how well it holds up. The scene with the Brachiosaurus is as captivating as ever, the build-up and reveal of the Tyrannosaurus rex remains one of the most thrilling in the history of monster movies, and those goddamn raptors still provide actually effective jump scares. Even in the visuals department, the 1993 CG doesn’t look prehistoric. Heck, it’s aged far better than most of the computer effects-heavy genre flicks that came in its wake. And man, just listen to that luscious, triumphant John Williams soundtrack!

All these years and viewings later, we can still enjoy every moment, from the beginning when a black guy dies first to the end when they fly the wrong way off the island.

“Mr. Spielberg, the sun sets in the west. If this island is west of the mainla-” “Shut up, it’s beautiful.”

Of course, the film is not perfect. People like to hate on Tim and Lex, and it’s not that hard to see why. They can be a load at times, especially when they almost get themselves killed through extraordinary stupidity when the T. rex first shows up and Ian Malcolm breaks a leg trying to save them. It doesn’t help that Lex is one of those ’90s teen edgelords (ooh, she’s a “hacker” and a vegetarian!) and Tim is an overbearing know-it-all. But I can’t help liking them, and not just because I’m charmed by the subplot where Dr. Alan Grant learns to deal with kids.

Think of which audience their inclusion was intended for: probably kids! And when I first saw this movie, I was a kid, like them! Heck, I was Tim! I was the dinosaur geek who would be in awe at the presence of a famous paleontologist like Dr. Grant, and I would have asked him a million questions too, and I would have screamed and needed saving when the T. rex broke through the fence. Whether critics and older viewers find them annoying or not, Tim and Lex weren’t meant for them. They were meant for all the young fans watching, including me.

That said, this is still one of the movie's funniest moments.

That said, this is still one of the movie’s funniest moments.

I saw this film at an impressionable age, and it affected me big-time. I could go on with all the memories I have about being “The Dinosaur Boy,” but those are for another time (when I’m dead and can’t feel embarrassed by my past anymore). These are some memories specifically related to this movie:

  • I was born a year after the first film and I was too young to be aware of The Lost World: Jurassic Park‘s release, but I still vividly remember seeing a Miami billboard advertising Jurassic Park III for the first time. Six-year-old me stood up in the car and cheered. I loved the movie (I was six, okay?), but all the other first-graders and I knew who the real winner of the T. rex and Spinosaurus fight would be.
  • A couple of years later I achieved what I thought was impossible: I visited Jurassic Park! Islands of Adventure became the coolest place on Earth. I walked through the iconic gate, freaked out in the River Adventure, and got to pet a dinosaur in the Triceratops Encounter (a sadly discontinued attraction). The place still gives me chills, even if I’m apparently too big to do half the things there.
  • This old Jurassic Park Institute website, tragically defunct now, used to be one of my favorite websites for dinosaur knowledge and news (another was Enchanted Learning, wonderful for kids). It had an extensive “Dinopedia,” Dino News, a Dino of the Day, and all kinds of neat info. I used to compile dinosaur facts, jokes, and trivia in my own, totally unlicensed Jurassic Park Institute newsletters, which I taped around the house each week. Just a nine-year-old’s cute arts-and-crafts stuff.

But here’s the biggest impact that the film had on me:

Stego

This is some kind of fuzzy Stegosaurus toy made for the release of The Lost World: Jurassic Park. It was a present for my third birthday from a tia who probably scanned a Target shelf full of JP merch and said, “Eh, this’ll keep him quiet.” On the very day I got him, a door was accidentally shut on its tail, lopping it off, and I think that was when he developed a completely unique identity: “Stego.”

I feel that every kid growing up has something like Linus’s security blanket from Peanuts or Calvin’s stuffed tiger Hobbes in, um, Calvin and Hobbes. For my two brothers and I, Stego filled that role and became the fourth brother. I took him everywhere, from school to the movies to vacations all over the Americas. I talked with him about any problems I had and he regaled me with tales of life in dinosaur times. I even taught him how to read using Dr. Seuss books!

(… But he was scared of The Cat in the Hat because we once lost him at a Barnes and Noble and he was discovered reading the same page over and over while worrying if he’d never see us again. Yeah, Stego taught me much about responsibility.)

He may have been created as merchandise to encourage children to watch an age-inappropriate blockbuster sequel, but he became one of my best friends growing up. He may have three disembodied legs in a shelf somewhere around the house (they resist all superglue) and much of his fuzz is gone, but that sure isn’t because I didn’t love him. He may not accompany me on all my adventures or speak to me as he once did, but Stego will always hold a special place in my heart and my memories.

So Stego, this post is as much a tribute to you as it is to the series that brought you into being. Thanks for being an awesome friend for all these years. My brothers and I still love you, and you’re totally coming with us to Jurassic World.

And even though much of the paint on his face is gone, he still always bears a smile.

And even though much of the paint on his face is gone, he still always bears a warm, welcoming smile.

On that note, you may have thought that there was more to my writing about Jurassic Park than its 22nd anniversary and a heap of nostalgia. Yes, we are on the eve of the release of Jurassic World, but I’m not writing this just because I’m excited for the movie. I’m writing this because this is the culmination of fourteen years of eager anticipation.

What many people don’t realize is that the fourth Jurassic Park has been in the works for fourteen years. Sure, it pales in comparison to the 65 million years it apparently took to make the first one, but this means more to me because I was there for all of it. I was there in 2002, a year after the third film’s release, when Spielberg officially announced it was happening and he’d serve as executive producer. I was there when Ain’t It Cool News leaked a draft of John Sayles’s script, which involved five genetically-enhanced Deinonychus, each named for a hero from Greek mythology, getting trained for rescue missions. I was there when they said that script was scrapped because … just reread that.

I was there when Richard Attenborough died, preventing John Hammond from appearing in the film, and when the original books’ author Michael Crichton died, causing the filmmakers to consider calling it quits out of respect. I was there every time Sam Neill flip-flopped about playing Dr. Grant again. I was there every time a new screenwriter was announced and dismissed, every time someone involved said that the script was being rewritten, and every time the film fell further and further into development hell.

Eleven years passed since that first announcement. In all that time I went through elementary school, survived middle school, and graduated from high school. I made and lost friends and girlfriends, hilariously stumbled through puberty, developed a passion for writing, studied abroad and lived in London, and basically had a life (or at least the childhood and teenhood portions of it). So it’s not like my life was swallowed by an obsession with this movie. However, in that decade-long span, I would check up on its progress (or lack thereof) every several months or so. It wasn’t always at the front of my mind, but it was never too far.

My patience paid off in 2013, when they finally landed a director in Colin Trevorrow, who then co-rewrote with writing partner Derek Connolly a script by the team that wrote Rise of the Planet of the Apes. After all that time, some people were not convinced that a horribly-delayed fourth film for a series with only one popular film would be any good. Then they got some actor I’d never heard of two years before, yet another Chris in Hollywood, and now everyone’s hyped. And here we all are now.

My first reaction to this casting

My first reaction to this casting

Guys. I’ve waited fourteen years for this. I’ve spent two-thirds of my life waiting for a film that, at many points, looked like it would never happen. Now it’s finally upon us, and I can almost guarantee that no one you know is more excited than I am. So get on your merchandised graphic tee, strike up the “Weird Al” Yankovic, and hold onto your butts!

Sincerely,

RADDman (formerly the Dinosaur Boy)