September 18, 2014 / 8:29 PM / 4 years ago

'Maze Runner' sets hopes on O'Brien and big screens for young adults

LOS ANGELES (Reuters) - When MTV’s “Teen Wolf” heartthrob Dylan O’Brien first auditioned for young adult dystopian film “The Maze Runner,” director Wes Ball thought he was too “cool” to play the movie’s innocent, vulnerable lead.

Cast member Dylan O'Brien poses at a press line for "The Maze Runner" during the 2014 Comic-Con International Convention in San Diego, California July 25, 2014. REUTERS/Mario Anzuoni

“I wasn’t even sure that Dylan was the right guy at first,” Ball said with a laugh. “It took me a lot of time to talk to Dylan, to just get to know him and understand that he can do the very emotional, soft, nuanced stuff.”

“Maze Runner,” out in U.S. theaters on Friday, is based on the first novel in James Dashner’s young adult series. It follows a group of boys with no memories of their past, living in an isolated, mysterious paradise called the Glade, trapped by a giant moving concrete maze that is their only escape.

It is also Twenty-First Century Fox’s first film to be shown on a 270-degree panoramic screen called Barco Escape, which will be featured in five Cinemark movie theaters in Florida, Illinois, California and Texas.

The three-piece screens aim to immerse viewers into the film, from the claustrophobic elevator box that Thomas, played by O’Brien, travels to the Glade in, to a tense action scene when he tries to escape from the rapidly changing Maze.

A lot rests on the shoulders of 23-year-old O’Brien, a former teen YouTube star, as he plays Thomas in the first installment of a three-part franchise “Maze Runner.”

“It’s completely opposite to the themes of these kids having to compete against one another and kill one another,” O’Brien said, comparing “Maze Runner” to young adult films such as “Hunger Games” and “Divergent.”

“This is very much about these kids having to come together and survive.”

Inspired by William Golding’s 1954 novel “Lord of the Flies,” Dashner hopes his story appeals to both young adults and adults with its contemporary sci-fi themes.

“It’s refreshing to have the main character be a male for once, seems like there’s been a lot of female leads,” he said.

Made for $30 million and filmed in under two months, “Maze Runner” is Fox’s attempt to grab a slice of the young adult film audience who are being reeled in by franchises.

But not all young adult book adaptations have successfully performed at the box office. Last year, “The Host,” “The Mortal Instruments” and “Ender’s Game” performed below expectations.

“The reason some of those movies didn’t work is because they weren’t adventurous,” Ball said.

“Maze Runner” may escape the same fate, with U.S. opening weekend projections of $37 million. The director is already scouting locations for the sequel, which changes tone as characters become fugitives.

“This movie is about them deciding to take their lives into their own hands and risk death to find a way out of this prison they’re in. The next film is a crazy journey and it’s really about them finding their identity,” said Ball, who made his feature film directing debut with “Maze Runner.”

Reporting by Piya Sinha-Roy; editing by Patricia Reaney and Andrew Hay

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