“Life Finds a Way”: Jurassic Park by Michael Crichton


Normally, when books are made into movies I try to read the book first. There are plenty of exceptions to this rule of course, but usually I do my best. However, in the case of Jurassic Park I really had no choice in the matter. Released just a few months before I was born, there was no way I would be capable of reading the novel before I saw the movie. And, in some ways, I’m glad about this, because it’s made me appreciate the book so much more.

I love dinosaurs. In fact, I’m pretty sure if I hadn’t settled on the idea of being an author so young I might have pursued a career in a science-related field. Probably be a paleontologist or something to that nature. And I fully credit Jurassic Park with fueling my love of dinosaurs—not The Land Before Time or any school documentary. Somehow it was more fascinating to see both docile and violent dinosaurs on film than just a happy world where everyone mostly gets along. Reality fiction, if you will.

After having my love of dinosaurs reignited by the release of Jurassic World this summer, I decided that it was high time that I read Michael Crichton’s novel that started the whole thing. And to say that I devoured this book would be putting it lightly. I did not take my time reading it like a velociraptor stalking prey; I busted through this novel as easily as a T-Rex throws a Jeep. I loved every second of it.

So, firstly, to clarify—the novel and the movie are different in many ways, but the basic plot is the same. Mr. Hammond, an eccentric billionaire who loves dinosaurs, creates a theme park with genetically-manufactured dinosaurs brought back from extinction by the (then) relatively new process of biotechnology. He invites several experts in their fields to the island who served as consultants during the early phases so that they can see his hubris, and things go okay for a while until everything goes horribly wrong.

Dr. Ian Malcolm: “God creates dinosaurs. God destroys dinosaurs. God creates man. Man destroys God. Man creates dinosaurs.”

Dr. Ellie Sattler: “Dinosaurs eat man. Woman inherits the earth.”

I would say that one of the best aspects of the book is the amount of research you can tell Crichton put into this. Every page drips with information and you learn as you go. Yes, creative license is also running amok through the pages, but we (obviously) can’t know for sure the behavior and social structures that were present when dinosaurs ruled the world. In some ways, this is covered within the novel itself. When they recreated the dilophosaurs, they were unaware that the animal had the ability to spit poison at a distance of fifty feet or that its bite had bacteria similar to that of a komodo dragon. They account for the difference between what they can learn from the bones and what is assumed by scientists, with what actually happens with the organic creature.

Dr. Wu, basically the guy behind it all, even says that they don’t even know for sure that the dinosaurs they’ve created are real. Since they filled the gaps in the DNA fragments with DNA from other creatures, it means that they don’t have a ‘pure’ dinosaur. They have a dinosaur/amphibian combination of sorts.

Most of the science is artfully explained, which is to say that it’s easy for the everyman to understand. However, I did find that a lot of the computer-speak flew over my head. Which isn’t to say that it’s because the technology within the novel is outdated now, but is to say that I don’t speak computer.

The characterization, for the most part, differs wildly from the movie—so it was almost like reading an entirely new story. Instead of being a distant, semi-awkward guy, Dr. Alan Grant loves kids, is in his forties, and is kind of the hipster of the paleontologist circle because he is a firm believer that dinosaurs were warm-blooded. Ellie Sattler, a twenty-four year old grad student under Dr. Grant studying prehistoric plants, is still amazing and I think that the new information I got about her character really made me wish more of it had been put into the movie.

Mr. Hammond, to me, is the biggest change of all. Gone is the lovable grandfatherly man who wants to just bring joy to children, and in his place is a man with blind ambition, who sees how much money he can make off of this idea, and—even in the midst of chaos—refuses to see reason. His grandchildren are different too. In the novel, Timmy is eleven and loves dinosaurs and computers. Lex is eight and all she cares about is ice-cream. In some ways I liked the development of Timmy, but Lex got annoying pretty fast. Of course, that’s realistic. An eight year old in a life-and-death situation is still an eight year old. She’s still going to talk loudly at the wrong times, whine constantly, and not fully understand the gravity of the situation.

But, dear God, I wanted to slap her.

It was a backtrack for me to go from the semi-sullen, talented hacker Lex in the movie to nothing but “I want ice-cream”. I understand the decision and why it’s there, but I’m going to pout about it for a couple of days.

Dr. Ian Malcolm was the only character the movie fully ruined for me. Because all I could picture was Jeff Goldbloom lying seductively on a table and saying ‘uh, um, ah’ over and over. However, I would say that Malcolm was one of my favorite characters in the book, and not just because he was the guy in the horror movie who knew it was a bad idea to go to the cabin in the woods and went anyway. He is the guy no one listens to, because he sounds crazy—but he’s right. And yes, he’s full of himself because chaos theory is the A-list actor of physics, but it works for him as a character.

Dr. Wu, John Arnold, Mr. Gennaro, Dr. Harding, and Muldoon are all fairly well-developed even though they are more background characters in the movie or not even in it. We understand why they were all specifically chosen for the park, and what they think of it and how they feel about it, and it’s nice to see how each of them handle what happens within the novel and their individual cruxes. Dennis Nedry was a character I had to hit refresh with, because all I could imagine was Wayne Knight and I didn’t want that to affect my view of him. In the novel, he’s a computer genius, in his mid-twenties, and overweight and sloppy. His whole motivation for what he does is that Hammond slighted him during the development of Jurassic Park’s software, and didn’t pay him for the extra work as well as blaming all the technical issues on him. So, I feel a bit for Dennis because it sucks that he had to pay so much for being walked over, and his death in the novel wasn’t as satisfying as it was in the film.

And, oh the deaths. Obviously when Michael Crichton wrote the screenplay for Jurassic Park, he took Hammond’s view on things and seriously toned down the gore. There is a ton of graphic detail to the violence within the novel, and each death made me cringe. From a nameless Costa Rican baby in the beginning to a well-deserved justice in the end, I read each one and felt. A lot of the deaths in the movie happened on camera, but in the novel we’re frequently in the perspective of the character as it happens. It makes it more horrifying to me.

The descriptions of the dinosaurs are vivid and beautiful, each different in their own ways, and you come to recognize some species by earlier clues given in the novel so that you can foreshadow what will happen.

The ending is different too, but I loved the climax, the false-sense of hope midway through, and the final almost-cliffhanger that makes me want to buy The Lost World as soon as I can.

What can I say? If you love the Jurassic Park movies, read this book. If you love dinosaurs, read this book. If you love spine-tingling thrillers, read this book.

I would also like to say that book didn’t need a half-developed romance plot that went nowhere to keep my attention, because it was all about the DINOSAURS.

Because the history of evolution is that life escapes all barriers. Life breaks free. Life expands to new territories. Painfully, perhaps even dangerously. But life finds a way.