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The Maze Runner
  • Composed by John Paesano
  • Sony Classical / 2014 / 63m

The first in a series of post-Hunger Games novels aimed at “young adults” (a group of people that only seem to exist in the minds of book publicists – most people call them “children”) written by James Dashner, The Maze Runner sees a teenage boy wake up to find himself trapped in the centre of a giant maze along with other teenage boys.  Occasionally a door into the maze opens but nobody who ventures inside ever comes out again.  One day a girl arrives and they all try to escape.  A movie adaptation of the sequel, The Scorch Trials, is already in pre-production.

I must admit that I wasn’t familiar at all with composer John Paesano before this score came around.  Usually when a major film is scored by a composer I’ve never heard of, that composer turns out to be some guy who turned up to wash Hans Zimmer’s car or something and five minutes later ended up scoring something like Iron Man, but it turns out that Paesano is a proper composer, classically trained, who worked briefly with Jerry Goldsmith, John Williams and – yes – Hans Zimmer.  In the press release for this album, he names a score by each of those three composers as an influence on The Maze RunnerAlien, Jurassic Park and The Thin Red Line, an eclectic collection but one which certainly left me intrigued to hear it.

John Paesano

John Paesano

The album starts with the main theme (which is not heard all that frequently afterwards) – after a bit of a slow build, with a few hints of The Thin Red Line‘s famous “Journey to the Line”, comes the theme itself, which is a tad simplistic but solid enough, with a clearly heroic nature, reminding me a little of James Horner’s theme from The Amazing Spider-Man.  It’s a strong opening, nicely dramatic and surprisingly bold, but things quickly calm down in the following “What Is This Place?” with a fairly desolate soundscape, plaintive guitar strumming overlaying a series of moody atmospherics from winds, strings and keyboards.  “My Name is Thomas” takes that sound as its foundation but adds a layer of emotion on top, a tentatively prodding piano solo leading into the piece which is dominated by a feeling of uncertainty, interesting orchestral textures used to create that feeling.

The first action arrives in “Ben’s Not Right”, a Michael Giacchino-style blending of brass and percussion, quite aggressive and exciting (and I guess there is a superficial similarity to Jurassic Park‘s raptor music).  It’s stylishly done: there’s something quite guttural about it which is very effective.  That sound is very much continued in “Banishment”, which follows, though it’s slightly more distant, suggestive of horrors lurking nearby.  It turns into another very fine track, dynamic and strident.  A lyrical melody emerges at the tail-end of the piece which has an elegiac feel to it, effective if frankly not particularly memorable.

A few moments of calm, soothing reflection come in “Waiting in the Rain”, with more James Horner hints, this time of the forest music from Avatar.  The action’s soon back, in the urgent “Into the Maze”, where a new sound to the score is first heard, some much more modern-sounding electronics which are I suppose inevitable (and to be fair, the orchestra is still dominant) but it does give the score a more “standard” feel than it had previously had.  This is also the case in “Griever!”, some complex orchestral dissonance accompanied by standard-issue 2014 film score electronics, which is a real shame because the majority of the cue is really quite something.  “Why Are We Different?” is more low-key for the most part, but the more ethereal sound later in the cue – electronics and all – actually work very well, which is then developed further in the lovely “Chat With Chuck”.

“Section 7” is an unusual piece made of grander gestures alternating with pretty bland noodling.  Things burst back into life in “Maze Rearrange”, more of that muscular action writing which is really impressive.  “Griever Attack” begins in sombre mood, dark murmurings but you just know from its title that it’s going to get a bit hairy and so it proves, explosive action.  This continues in “Trapped”, powerful blasts of brass punctuating pacy string runs – it’s not for the faint-hearted, but it’s completely musical, dramatically potent and highly enjoyable music.  “Wckd is Good” (which I assume is not referring to the blue, vodka-based alcopop) provides a little respite with its eerie calm, then emotion returns to the fore in “Thomas Remembers”, lovely music for the opening before a passage of fairly unpleasant suspense material.  “Goodbye” is tender and lovely but there’s time for more action yet, with the blockbuster Williams-via-Giacchino style “Final Fight” one of the score’s highlights.  “Wckd Lab” initially sees things return to much more low-key territory but does pick up more of an epic sweep as it develops.  The score draws to a close with the superficially The Thin Red Line-like “Finale”, a rousing and satisfying conclusion to proceedings.

The Maze Runner comes really close to being brilliant – almost all of it is well-composed and vibrant, there are interesting ideas and it’s refreshingly some distance away from the clueless Remote Control soundalikes that tend to dominate these films today.  Paesano knows how to write real music and there’s a decent dramatic flow to the whole thing.  I’ve mentioned a number of influences from other film scores but that’s not a problem for me – there’s nothing blatant and, considering this is the first music I’ve heard by this composer, it’s no surprise that I’m yet to discern his own musical voice.  I think the one thing that holds the score back is that for all the impressive orchestral writing only occasionally punctuated by more irritating electronics, the melodic content just isn’t quite memorable enough – a really strong theme developed over the course of the score to bind it all together would have been what Jerry Goldsmith, one of the influences on the music, would have brought as a matter of course.  Still, there’s an awful lot of promise here and it’s an album I can imagine returning to frequently.  Impressive stuff.

Rating: *** 1/2 | |

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  1. tiago (Reply) on Thursday 18 September, 2014 at 01:46

    I was a little more bothered than you with the gigantic number of influences that we could find on this score. I myself noticed that these influences range from Thomas Newman and James Newton Howard to Marco Beltrami, John Williams and, of course, Hans Zimmer. The main theme itself could be on any of the Brian Tyler’s scores. And I think he didn’t managed to reunite all of these influences in a cohesive sound.

    That’s indeed a good score from Paesano, but I was hoping to see something more original.

  2. ANDRÉ - CAPE TOWN. (Reply) on Monday 20 October, 2014 at 12:26

    James, I decided to view the film after reading your positive comments about PAESANO’S music. The film opens with Dylan O’Brien [as Thomas, the lead character] in a caged elevator, rising to the surface. If there were an opening theme, it was drowned out by the lift banging & scraping against concrete walls AND by paranoiacal shouting by Thomas. Then lots of electronica before the emergence of orchestral music…a very beautiful theme underscores Thomas’ relationship with Newt [Thomas Brodie-Sangster] one of the leaders [of the kidnapped youths] who agrees with Thomas’ radical ideas of escaping from their incarceration. PAESANO emerges as an exciting new muso…both a cyber-composer & orchestral fundi. However, the thematic development needs attention. Some very impressive orchestral passages are heard throughout the movie, but they’re so undeveloped that I have no idea of their relationship to characters or situations. Maybe its not PAESANO’S fault. Directors are notorious for ignoring a composer’s concepts and rearranging their themes into a phantasmagorric confusion…ALFRED NEWMAN’s ‘The Greatest Story Ever Told’…JERRY GOLDSMITH’S ‘Alien’ & JAMER HORMER’S ‘The New World’ come to mind. Thanx for alerting us to this dichotomous score James. It’s one of many on my ‘want’ list.

  3. ANDRÉ - CAPE TOWN. (Reply) on Wednesday 22 October, 2014 at 16:37

    James, I’ve just read Jennifer Harmon’s interview with PAESANO – and it cleared up my gripe about UNDEVELOPED THEMATIC MATERIAL for characters, events & situations in the film. An important consideration is that MAZE RUNNER is the first of a trilogy, and as the composer explains: “I developed some ideas for themes that are going to be expanded into the next movie… [MAZE RUNNER] kinda touches on a lot of areas, story & plot lines…like an intro to where we’re going. And the score does the same thing.” Regarding the creation of the score, PAESANO recorded cicadas (lots of these insects around Cape Town-they emit buzzing noises similar to Tinnitus), field noises,fires & tapped oil drums–then fed these sound-effects into samplers & sequencers “for manipulation and inclusion in the soundtrack. Even though these are hybrid elements in the score, I tried to make them out of organic things, instead of just synths.” A very succinct admission is:”I always tell people I’m writing music for a film – not for a soundtrack [album]…. Not all great scores lead to great albums [and my] score really works well in the film …which is the point of all this, right?” PAESANO discusses fascinating aspects of scoring at

  4. David (Reply) on Wednesday 3 December, 2014 at 19:39

    “The first in a series of post-Hunger Games novels aimed at “young adults” (a group of people that only seem to exist in the minds of book publicists – most people call them “children”) written by James Dashner” The first Maze Runner book was released one year before The Hunger Games.