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Gurglings of a Putrid Stream

Thoughts on books and other assorted topics.

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My name:  Brian Martin

Jurassic Park

Jurassic Park: A Novel - Michael Crichton


Many more or less random thoughts about Jurassic Park, book and movie. Rife with spoilers, including the ending. Intended for people who have read the one and seen the other.

1. Book/Movie Difference. The screenplay was written by David Keopp, but based on the book and an adaptation written by Crichton and Malia Scotch Marmo. So it shouldn't be surprising that the basic structure is the same in both. In both, the first major plot twist occurs when the kids arrive on the island, the midpoint is the first Tyrannosaur attack, and the second major plot twist (the fuzziest of the three) shifts the focus from the Tyrannosaur to the Raptors. In that sense, the movie is quite a good adaptation. The details, however, make it interesting.

2. The wonder. The book has no real corollary of the scene in the movie when Grant first sees living dinosaurs. This is one of the movie's best scenes, capturing bone-man Grant's amazement at seeing flesh-and-blood dinosaurs for the first time. Crichton tells us that every kid loves dinosaurs, but has Grant, all grown up now, react to them in a much more matter-of-fact manner, which is both unrealistic and less than enthralling. Overall, Grant has less personality in the book.

3. Grant. When the Tyrannosaur tosses the land rover with Tim inside into a tree, Movie Grant climbs up and helps Tim down. Book Grant is absent during this entire episode, and Tim gets down by himself. This small change is indicative of a much larger one. In the movie, of course, Grant doesn't relate well to children, and his growing paternalism is a theme of the story. In the book, he likes kids. True, Grant's nervousness around kids is an awfully convenient trait in the movie, but it serves two purposes, neither of which is evident in the book: it stacks emotional drama on top of the action and it provides an avenue for humor. Jurassic Park -- the book -- is all but humorless.

4. Ellie. As I recall the movie, Ellie is Grant's colleague, and between them exists a certain sexual tension. Not so in the book, where another opportunity for emotional drama is ignored. Book Ellie is Grant's student, and she's engaged to a doctor in Chicago. (I find myself torn in a right-brain/left-brain sort of way regarding Ellie and the kids. On the one hand, Crichton's depiction is more realistic, or at least more likely, but Koepp's is decidedly more entertaining.)

5. The kids. When does "convenience" become "contrivance"? Regrettably, both book and film answer this question. In both, Tim is a miniature Dr. Grant, who loves dinosaurs and knows a lot about them. This is convenient, but acceptable, simply because it isn't so egregious as to pull us, scoffing, out of the story. That doesn't happen until the third act, when (in the book) Tim is able to figure out a complex computer system, a feat that (in the movie) his "hacker" sister, Lex, duplicates. The book scenario is absurd because Tim supposedly learned about complex computer systems at his dad's workplace. In both book and film, Tim and Lex's parents are in the process of a divorce. In the book, it's made clear that Tim and his dad don't really get along. So we are asked to believe not only that Tim's dad would take his son to work on a regular basis, but also that he would do this when he can't even relate to the kid. And then, of course, that Tim could pick up anything of value just from occasionally watching his dad's co-workers using computers. The movie doesn't improve on this scenario. It's one thing for one of two kids in a movie about dinosaurs to be a dinosaur nut, but quite another for the other (in a movie about dinosaurs, remember) to just happen to be a computer hacker when exactly that skill and knowledge is required to save their lives. In the movie, Lex is Tim's older sister; in the book, she is even younger than Tim, and (thankfully) isn't forced to justify her existence by being "useful."

6. Malcolm. The biggest difference between book and film is that, in the former, Malcolm dies. It's a relief, really. This is one of those examples of messy adaptation. In both book and film, Hammond dislikes Malcolm, and in the book it's easy to see why. Malcolm is a fashionable blowhard. Yes, he disagrees with Hammond, but he is so arrogant and holier-than-thou that one suspects Hammond would dislike him anyway. Some of this translates to the film, but nobody counted on Jeff Goldblum's characterization, which is so twitchy and fun that Malcolm takes on the aspect of an endearing eccentric, and his preachiness is easier to take.

7. Chaos Theory. According to Wikipedia, Crichton "uses the metaphor of the collapse of an amusement park showcasing genetically recreated dinosaurs to illustrate the mathematical concept of chaos theory and its philosophical implications." Given Crichton's use of "iterations" for "chapters," this may, indeed, have been his purpose. But if so, it ends up as so much gobbledygook. For all I can tell (from either book or movie) chaos theory boils down to this: "shit happens." Which is where just about every story in the world begins.

8. Gennaro. Gennaro is the lawyer. In the movie, his character is combined with that of another man, which is to say that in the book, it is this other man who, during the Tyrannosaur attack, bolts from the land rover, leaving the kids alone, and gets eaten for his cowardice. In the book, however, Gennaro survives. But Crichton totally blows his character. Because he is a lawyer, everybody hates him from the get-go. Then Crichton spends a large portion of the book "rehabilitating" him: the lawyer chooses to accompany the big-game hunter, Muldoon, on a number of dangerous missions. All this, only to have Grant, Muldoon, and the others turn on him in the end -- without ever showing us any reason for the change in attitude. It's as if Crichton suddenly remembered Gennaro was a lawyer and lawyers, of course, are weak-kneed weasels. (In fact, it's particularly funny in that Crichton tells us at one point that Grant finds Gennaro in a camp vehicle, where he took refuge from a bunch of small dinosaurs. Later, with just a sentence, Grant recalls how he found Gennaro "huddled and terrified" in the truck. From sensible to pathetic in three words. And it's all b.s.)

9. The ending. A dumber ending Crichton has never written. At the end, Grant decides that he simply must track down the raptor nest. Originally he wanted to do this to prove that the animals were breeding. That is proven earlier, though, so now he needs a new reason to be an idiot. According to him, allowing the Costa Rican military to blow the island to hell is insufficient; they must first account for every animal born on the island. The reason for this is unclear, and the plan is foolish on its face: they only have time to inspect one nest, and that only if they can find it in time. Naturally they do, where we learn the stunning fact that raptors migrate, or would if they could. Knowledge like that shocker is worth the stupidity, I guess.

10. The book. Jurassic Park has become Crichton's "signature" book, and that's a shame because it is one of his worst. The characters are dull, the narrative logic is poor, and the science (apart from the scientific premise) is meaningless. It's greatness lies only in having inspired a movie that is better in every way.