Jurassic Park by Michael Crichton
Length: 400 pages
Jurassic Park stands as one of my all-time favourite movies. I saw it in the theatre three times, and again last year when it was released in 3D, and I’ve seen it countless times on video since. I just love it. It’s just as good today as it was back then, and the special effects really stand up, unlike any of the horrible sequels.
I was mainly reading fantasy as a teenager, so I never picked up the novel, despite the endless recommendations to do so. In the last decade, with unfortunate snobbery on my part, I wrote Crichton off as the science-fiction Dan Brown of the 90s. I actually read his autobiography a few years back and really enjoyed it, but I never paid his fiction much mind. That was definitely an error on my part, because this was a joy to read.
He struck a great mix of science and adventure. although the science should be taken with a grain of salt and the adventure without too much consideration for reality. The first quarter of the book might be a bit slow, if the reader didn’t know what was coming, but it lays the groundwork well. He focuses more on introducing the science than he does the characters during this, and I wonder how strong they’d be in my mind if I didn’t have the movie to draw from. It’s hard to say. The public relations office for the Park, Ed Regis, was really the only main character who was completely absent from the film, and he felt fairly fleshed out. He didn’t go through any great arcs of character development, but I felt like I had a pretty decent understanding of him.
Since most people know the film, I thought I’d just list some key character differences (for really no good reason):
– Ed Regis’ character was merged into the lawyer, Donald Gennaro, for the film. Gennaro was actually fairly courageous in most of the novel. A lot of his film cowardice was taken from Ed Regis. He’s even against the park being opened, and sides entirely with Malcolm.
– The kids were shuffled a bit for the movie. Tim still knows everything about dinosaurs, but he’s also the computer whiz in this. Lex is only eight and as such is utterly useless. As a bonus she’s also quite annoying. I get why she’s there, which is essentially to add the tension of unpredictability, but ugh. She fills her role almost too well. I was starting to root for the dinosaurs in parts.
– Ian Malcolm is similar to his movie portrayal, but is used almost exclusively to spout exposition as arrogantly as possible. Every time I got to a scene with him, it was a bit of a bummer, as I knew the pace was about to come to a crawl. I enjoyed what he was saying at times, it was interesting, I just wish Crichton found a more elegant way to deliver it.
– Ellie Sattler is maybe the closest the movie got to sticking to the novel. She’s just as smart and strong-willed, but in the novel she’s in her early twenties, which is interesting I thought. If the movie was made today, I wonder if they’d still make the character older.
– John Hammond is almost frightfully mad with his vision for the park. The film paints him in a much more sympathetic light. In the novel, he just doesn’t see reality, even when everything’s falling down around him.
– The warden, Robert Muldoon, is a bit more interesting in the novel. He’s a thinly veiled Hemingway – a man in his 50s with a sweet grey mustache, brought on staff after living life as a hunter in Africa and working in Hammond’s wildlife park in Kenya. He turns out to be a drunk, and is ultimately a bit useless, but he’s still fun to have in there.
– The lead biologist Henry Wu actually has a part in the novel, with backstory and everything. Hopefully the actor who played him in the film hadn’t read the novel first, because getting that script would have been a bummer. It does completely make sense to remove him mostly from the movie, though, for time constraints.
– Dennis Nedry and John Arnold were quite similar in both versions. Arnold never tells everyone to hold on to their butts, though, and Nedry’s motive is explained a bit better.
– Alan Grant is still pretty awesome, but a series of scenes involving him had me scratching my head. After the jeep attack with the Tyrannosaurus, which was very similar to the movie version, he gathers the kids and makes his way through the park, stopping to sleep in a maintenance shed for the night. They wake up quite early and walk out into a field, where almost immediately they get caught up in a Hadrosaur stampede brought on by the attacking Tyrannosaurus. They climb a tree to avoid being trampled and Grant falls asleep while they’re up there. When he awakes, they climb down, find a raft and a river and set out. The Tyrannosaurus finds them again and swims after them like a freakin’ giant crocodile before getting distracted and leaving them unharmed. Grant then falls asleep again. On a river, with kids on the raft, and who knows what trying to eat them from all sides.
I thought I had trouble functioning without coffee. Does he have adrenaline-induced narcolepsy? What’s going on here?
I really enjoyed both the novel and the film and the differences between the two, but the ending of the novel is just idiotic. Essentially everyone who’s alive and still safe decides to crawl into a velociraptor nest to count the eggs. Gennaro, who is still alive in the novel, is frightened to enter and as such is painted as a coward. He’s even forced to enter by Muldoon, whose main conversation topic throughout the novel is how deadly velociraptor are. It’s like his main deal. They needed to count the hatched eggs to compare with the computer’s tally of how many of the animals currently existed on the island (which we already learned was flawed). The whole scene is there to give an exciting ending, but it feels so tacked on and goes against everything we learned about the characters.
The nice thing about the novel was that characters like Robert Muldoon and Dr. Henry Wu, who had to be made minor supporting characters in the film, had much more interesting roles. There was also an overarching threat of the animals leaving the island that made everything even more tense in the book. Apart from his tendency to close scenes with someone falling asleep, and his use of exclamation points and ‘then suddenly’, I wasn’t bothered by Crichton’s writing. It’s not amazing, but it’s serviceable. I somehow expected worse the way some people went on about him. He can really write an action scene, at the very least.
I’ll read more of his books, I think. I have Timeline sitting on my shelf, so I’ll probably start with that, but I’ll be sure to also pick up The Lost World.