02 February 2014

Jurassic Park, Michael Crichton

Another in my sequence of reading matter where the book pales in comparison with the film adaptation. Jurassic Park the book reads at times like a scientific manual, at times like an essay, but rarely like a full-throttle adventure story. It would take visionary Stephen Spielberg to achieve that. But I'm getting ahead...
The book's premise is marvellous, extracting dinosaur DNA from the stomach contents of flies preserved in prehistoric amber; the tropical island setting is mysterious; and the attempt to explore the moralities of cloning is admirable, but taken as a whole the novel is unconvincing and its execution, disappointing.
Crichton approached the work from a scientific standpoint but rather than allow a flow of knowledge from author to reader through character dialogue and through demonstration, Crichton inserts heavy chunks of exposition which would sound at home in a crusty textbook. When he does use dialogue, it's quite unnatural; nobody spouts numerous paragraphs of science without a single response from his listener.
I wanted to feel the shock, excitement and terror of the outsiders invited to the island, then trapped when the dinosaurs ran amok, but they scratched their chins and stood around observing the animals as if they were exhibits in an average zoo. The visitors' reactions were calm and studious. Perhaps that's how an aloof scientist might respond but not a paleontologist or a botanist or even a mathematician, surely? Incidentally, nobody mentioned that the dinosaurs featured date mostly from the Cretaceous period. I suppose 'Cretaceous Park' doesn't quite have the same ring!
A further blow to credibility came when the Park's owner brought his young grand children to stay. I doubt Crichton had spent a lot of time with children to judge by their antics; the eight year-old girl has the voice and vocabulary of a four year-old, really; the eleven year-old boy sounds like a university student. What do they say, "never work with children and animals?"
At very unlikely moments, sometimes under threat of imminent peril, instead of running for their lives, characters ponder the ethics of cloning, and lengthy, thinly disguised essays trip from their lips. Stephen Spielberg cut through the mire and brought a concise and exciting story to the big screen using only a fraction of the novel. Spielberg wisely kept scientific details to a jokey, theme-park-exhibit minimum, and relegated ethical issues to a minor role. After all, people want to experience Tyrannosaurus Rex, not debate him.
Crichton's follow-up, The Lost World, together with material excised from the original novel, would provide the basis for two less successful sequels. I hear a fourth film, Jurassic World, is in the works for 2015. Crichton is no longer with us but his original idea lives on.

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