"All books are either dreams or swords,/You can cut, or you can drug, with words." - Amy Lowell, 'Sword Blades and Poppy Seed'

Friday, June 24, 2011

Film Friday: Jurassic Park

Crichton, Michael. Jurassic Park. New York: Ballantine Books, 1990. 399 pages.

"An astonishing technique for recovering and cloning dinosaur DNA has been discovered. Now mankind's most thrilling fantasies have come true. Creatures extinct for eons roam Jurassic Park with their awesome presence and profound mystery, and all the world can visit them--for a price. Until something goes wrong...." (description from book cover)

Book Rating: **** (out of five)
Film Rating: *** (out of five)

  • Premise. As a cautionary tale of the dangers of unbridled scientific power has the potential to be dry and didactic, but when the story is that we've used our power to create dinosaurs that are in turn destroying us is highly entertaining.  It is also absolutely terrifying at times.
  • Writing Style. Crichton's writing is engaging and when characters such as Ian Malcolm are explaining technical concepts, they are are clearly, while still being relevant to the plot.
  • Characterization. Some of the characters, such as Hammond, are rather one dimensional (though Crichton makes his narrow-minded focus disturbingly plausible).

I find the world that Crichton creates to be both engrossing and terrifying.  For me, the suggestion of dinosaurs actually escaping the island is almost creepier than anything else.  I also find his descriptions of the dinosaurs fascinating.  You can feel the intelligence of the velociraptors, which is what makes them particularly disturbing.  The book is very difficult to put down, though I wouldn't recommend it for bedtime reading.  The book tends to get your adrenaline up, which makes it difficult to fall asleep :)  What makes some of action moments with the dinosaurs so effective is that you care about many of the characters, and that the whole situation is the result of the arrogant blindness of Hammond, who throughout the book refuses to acknowledge that anything has gone wrong.

While I'm sure that some of the science used to create the dinosaurs is specious, the real scientific and mathematical theories presented in the book are deftly woven into the plot, which prevents the book from feeling overly technical.  Personally, I think that this book is probably the best introduction to chaos theory for non-mathematicians. Ian Malcolm's views on modern society and scientific practice are fascinating and depressing. Crichton is obviously skilled at combining his scientific background with entertainment.

The Film:
The movie is certainly entertaining and chalk full of amazing special affects. Aside from the lower injury and fatality count of the movie, it lacks what makes the book so powerful. Some of the most suspenseful moments are absent, as are many of the comments on chaos theory.  Also, there is no suggestion of dinosaurs escaping the island.  What elements are shared between the movie tend to be more powerful in the book.  The movie begins with a worker being pulled into a cage by a raptor.  In the book, we see a doctor receiving the terribly injured body of a worker who was involved in a "machine accident," and Crichton's description of the injuries and the reaction of the doctor makes the scene more effective than simply seeing a worker dragged away from his fellows in the movie.  I also think that this is an instance where the embellishments of our imaginations are creepier than all the special effects in the world.

This is not to say that the movie is bad.  I enjoy watching it (I am partial to Sam Neil), and the movie requires no thought for enjoyment.  It also has its own great moments, such as a T. Rex being seen in a rearview mirror that says "Objects in mirror may be closer than they appear," and my favorite lines of dialogue: "Ian: God creates dinosaurs. God destroys dinosaurs. God creates man. Man destroys God. Man creates dinosaurs. Ellie: Dinosaurs eat man. Woman inherits the earth."  So, I recommend both, but (surprise, surprise) the book is better.


  1. WOW do I love your blog background...it is so cool. Where is that cool house?


    I will be having two different giveaways on my blog......one starting tomorrow and one posted right now.


    STOP BY.



  2. @ Elizabeth: Well, that "cool house" actually used to be the winter palace of the tsars in St. Petersburg, Russia. It is currently one of the buildings that make up the Hermitage, the major art museum in St. Petersburg. This library was preserved as a "palace interior" as opposed to the rooms that house a fabulous collection of western art.

    I look forward to reading your blog!

  3. Bren, I very much agree on your analysis of both the book and the film, but in the first line of your film commentary, I think you mean "chock-full" rather than "chalk full" :)

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