Friday, November 7, 2008

Jurassic Park: More proof that mankind can't leave well enough alone

A very notable event has largely passed under the radar this week due to the buzz about the election and our new President, and that event is the death of author Michael Crichton.

Crichton penned a number of famous books, many of which were translated into movies, including The Andromeda Strain, Sphere, Congo, Timeline, and, my all-time favorite movie, Jurassic Park.

Jurassic Park movie posterJurassic Park is, in a nutshell, the story of a group of people who visit what is essentially a theme park filled with scientifically engineered but real live dinosaurs that break loose and send the park into chaos.

Jurassic Park was the first PG-13 movie I was ever allowed to see. The special effects were astounding for the time and still hold up amazingly well today. The music, composed by John Williams of Star Wars and Indiana Jones fame, still gets me all emotional. There were spectacular panoramic shots and dinosaurs roaring in surround sound on a big screen that evoked in me an incredible sense of awe, wonder, and--when everything went terribly wrong--horror.

After years and years, the film continues to resonate with me. It puts me back in touch with the dinosaur-loving little kid that dwells within almost all of us. When the tension or adrenaline kick in when the characters are being hunted or chased by dinosaurs on the loose, I feel like I'm right there with them. Even the story concepts and the dialogue provide some great fodder for intellectual and philosophical discussions.

I was hooked then, and I'm hooked now.

Of course, after I first saw the movie, I wanted more. The film established a world that felt so much more huge than what was shown, a park and characters that were so much more complex, that I made it a point to read the book.

It's no coincidence that Jurassic Park is also my all-time favorite book.

The book includes more locations than what the movie showed and adds real depth to all the characters, revealing a level of intrigue that the movie barely scratched the surface of. Characters' flaws, shortcomings, histories, and ethical decisions are magnified and the book becomes far more than just a breathtaking story about dinosaurs eating people.

And, like most books that were turned into movies, things turn out a bit differently.

Jurassic Park - T-Rex attackThe characters that appear both in the book and in the movie are essentially the same characters (for the most part), but different aspects of their personalities are emphasized or glossed over in the movie, which I believe affects the way the story is told.

A staple of the Michael Crichton books I've read is that at least half if not almost all of the characters will die by the end of the book in some creative and often-disgusting way, and it's interesting to me that who dies and who survives in the book and the movie are different because of the way the people are characterized.

Crichton was good at giving characters their just desserts. In most cases, anybody who dies knew the risks going in, was relatively insignificant, or gets what they deserve. That's one of the reasons why I can still enjoy the movie as much as the book without complaining about how they changed things around: the things that happen seem to have been changed to suit the characters.

That being said, I was really disappointed when they adapted the book's sequel, The Lost World, to the big screen. I found the book to be a very worthy follow-up to the original and almost as enjoyable, but the film essentially took the basic concept of the book, borrowed one or two of the characters, and went off in a totally different direction that really had nothing to do with anything.

The twist at the end that was not in the book, however, was great, but it made me sad that they all but completely ignored the excellent source material.

Then came Jurassic Park III, which was not based on a book, and which I enjoyed (save for a handful of scenes that just made me shake my head). Rumor has it that there's a Jurassic Park IV in perpetual development, so I'm looking forward to that, should it ever emerge.

Of course, there were a number of spinoff video games, my favorite of which was the Sega Genesis version that allowed you to play as either Dr. Grant, the main character of the first book, or a velociraptor. Ah, platforming goodness, and some pretty catchy music to boot.

As with any other franchise, all sorts of merchandise appeared, like lunchboxes and toy dinosaurs with chunks of "flesh" you can pop out of the dinosaurs' sides to show "battle damage."



Jurassic World book coverRegardless of what Jurassic Park has become or where it will go, the original book and the original movie will forever be near and dear to my heart. They captured my imagination and introduced me to an author whose work I love, and I am grateful for it.

Go watch Jurassic Park. Then, if you can handle some degree of gore, read the books; you can get both of them in the Jurassic World compilation book.

You'll thank me.

Here's to you, Michael Crichton.

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