Wednesday, August 29, 2012

Jurassic Park by Michael Crichton

Jurassic Park by Michael Crichton (Random House - Ballantine) is a comfort (re-)read for me. Of late, I’ve been tackling more challenging reads and trying to cut down on my “I think I won’t like these” to-read stacks, so I took a break with some dinosaurs.

I saw the movie of Jurassic Park before I ever read the book, and I saw it when I hadn’t been to a movie in several years. The experience was, as you can imagine, memorable: here are lifelike dinosaurs, wondrous and awful. And scary. They will roar you.

I am not afraid of monsters under the bed. I am afraid of dinosaurs under the bed. I heartily approve of their demise into fossils and petroleum products even as I get excited to fuel up at a Sinclair station. And I find that any Jurassic Park movie is a great companion for an afternoon on the treadmill (or, of late, this, to better avoid neck and back pulling issues).

And, I’m sorry to say, the movie—the first, at least—is better than the book.

I’m a big fan of this kind of adult sf, of stuff where we have to fight disease or figure out that wormhole or battle the problems of ancient creatures brought back to life. Terra Nova, canceled as it hit its stride, was right up my alley, as Revolution will be this fall (up my alley, that is; it's too early to predict demise). But even as I love, love, love the scientific details, the ideas about space and physics and biology, I recognize that the stories are sometimes lacking. I used to say that I liked the book and movie of Jurassic Park equally, as you’d like two very different siblings, but this last read, I had an editor brain turned on.

What’s not to love about Jurassic Park? Well, throughout the book are features that appear in many similar books and that are hard to balance. For example, there are a lot of characters in the book, and the movie does a good job of combining several people and cutting others down to cameos. (Not necessarily in the best of ways; in the book, Dr. Wu plays a much bigger role as a scientist who buys into the idea that he can simply keep making new versions of dinosaurs until he hits on the right one. In the movie, BD Wong  gets a few seconds of screentime to explain the use of amphibian DNA; we all know that Asian actors don’t get a lot of roles, so that sucks extra.) 

The biggest character changes are in the children and Dr. Grant. Lex is transformed from a whiny victim to a much older girl who’s still not fond of dinosaurs, but who helps save the day with her computer skills; Tim is younger, but doesn’t lose his dinosaur knowledge, and takes on some of the vulnerability that book-Lex is supposed to embody (but in the book, she is a character that could have been cut with no real loss to the story, unfortunately, except for gender balance). Dr. Alan Grant, a Hawaiian-shirted, cowboy boot-wearing, bearded dino guy, goes from being just the guy who knows all the stuff to the guy who’s experiencing the amazement of his life’s work come alive, to, in the film, the guy who grows through his reluctant relationships with kids Tim and Lex. 

Hammond, Arnold, Nedry, Muldoon, and Dr. Ellie Sattler each keep similar roles in the books and films, or similar amounts of importance, but I appreciate that they aged Ellie up so that she’s clearly Grant’s colleague and not just some hot TA. Mathematician Ian Malcom isn’t as much of a hotshot in the book as he is in the film, and interestingly enough for me, a lot of his dialogue made it straight into the film, with only a few changes, even though he’s the voice of explanation; strangely, his ranty monologues work in the film, but I might have to credit Jeff Goldblum for that. Genarro, the lawyer, lives much longer and has more to do in the book, shadowing Muldoon and representing arrogance in big business; his role as meal in the film is nothing more than a cheap lawyer joke, and Hammond acquires most of Genarro's traits, as well as more of a conscience.

All of this adds up, though: Jurassic Park the movie is streamlined. There are no extra people, events, or scenes. The implications of the science are not so much discussed as they are illustrated; we see the chaos theory in effect as things spiral out of control. Most importantly, the characters, almost all of them, grow and change in the film, whereas in the book, they pretty much stay the same, and the interest is in how they solve a problem like maiasauru.

In summary, this provides an exercise: Read, watch, figure out how to amp up conflict, streamline…and some books should be more like films.

And don’t move. They can’t see you if you don’t move.


  1. My library prebind copy fell apart (dogs really do like prebinds best), and I don't know that I will replace it. I don't think my students have even heard of the movie.

    1. Heh. Maybe if they've been on the theme park ride of the same name... Some stuff is pretty outdated, too, though it's not so bad since we know the year throughout. I might not have thought of the book if I hadn't seen it in a pile at my house to go to charity and decided to rescue it--though I confess I bought an ebook because charity these days is a way to cut down on dust and book piles.


Related Posts with Thumbnails