Jurassic Park: From Crichton to Spielberg

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Warning: major Jurassic Park spoilers below.  If you haven’t seen it by now, why don’t you take a long walk off a short pier, or at the very least get out from under that rock.600full-jurassic-park-poster51XuIErIiIL

Michael Chrichton wrote his novel Jurassic Park in 1990.  He managed to create a sense of verisimilitude and realism by using facts and technical evidence to make his fictional work seem more authentic and genuine. This is accomplished by backing up claims using false documents, scientific data, or citing fake sources to help blur the lines between what is real and what is fiction.  Jurassic Park is full of invented scientific documents that explain bio-engineering in great detail, and is often considered science fiction for this reason, even though it doesn’t have anything to do with space, time travel, or aliens.  It does actually have a lot to do with science though, especially genetics. Not only did Crichton’s Jurassic Park become a bestseller, but in 1993 Steven Spielberg, who also directed Jaws, adapted it into a blockbuster film that won many awards and even a few Oscars.  Both the film and the novel did very well on their own, but as in most book-to-film adaptations, they are very different from one another.  Entire scenes and characters were changed, important information was dropped for time’s sake, and even some of the less important dinosaur species were removed from the movie.  If the book was a bestseller, why did Spielberg decide to change so much when making the film, and what effect did that have on the overall theme of the movie itself? Most people will say that the movie is one of the greatest ever made, but that doesn’t mean we should disregard the book by any means.  I highly recommend the novel for anyone who is interested in getting more out of Jurassic Park than can be gained from the movie by itself.

 

Easy Mode

  • Most of the prologue is not in the movie
  • The ages of the children are switched around, making Lex the older of the two.
  • Alan Grant and Ellie Sattler are not romantically involved in the book (I’m fairly certain of this)
  • Gennaro survives in the book but is killed in the movie
  • The sick animal in the movie is a Stegosaurus and a Triceratops in the film
  • Muldoon survives in the book
  • For some reason Grant doesn’t like kids in the movie, but in the book this isn’t really the case
  • Hammond is killed in the book but not the movie.
  • Muldoon is killed in the movie but not in the book (I’m so confused)
  • Ed Regis isn’t in the film at all.  He was the Head of Public Relations for InGen)

Hard Mode

The novel Jurassic Park is separated into five sections called iterations, the first being an introduction and the last an epilogue. It begins with several animal attacks in Costa Rica by what is thought to be a strange lizard that walks upright and has three-toed feet. In the prologue, a doctor there named Roberta Carter has a patient brought in with tears and scratches across his body and lacerations as though he was mauled by an animal. She also notices a slippery foam that stinks all over his body. The workers that brought him in insist that he was in a construction accident on a neighboring island, but the doctor is suspicious. The patient whispers “Lo sa raptor” before he dies. She looks up raptor in the dictionary and finds out that it means “abductor” in Spanish, but “bird of prey” in English.

The novel then switches to a family on vacation in Costa Rica. A man, his wife, and their daughter. They drive out to a beach where the daughter is attacked by a lizard. She is taken to the hospital and treated. Nobody sees the lizard other than the little girl, and how she describes it makes it sound like a new species entirely. She describes it as having three toes and standing upright. The doctor has her draw a picture of the lizard. The picture is sent to a specialist, who decides that the lizard is a basilisk, although he admits that the lizard in the picture looks different and is a bit inaccurate for any lizard species. The specialist travels to the beach later and finds some monkeys eating an odd-looking lizard. He decides that it’s the same lizard that bit the girl, so he sends it to another specialist who is a lizard expert.

Next the book transitions again to a woman that finds three of these lizards eating a baby, which not wanting to get in trouble, blames the baby’s death on sudden infant death syndrome. Back in the lab, another person see’s the girls drawing of the lizard and says that it’s a dinosaur. After a long argument, they send it to testing. Now by this point we are already a good way through the first iteration in the book, but not a single thing that has been mentioned so far appears in the film at all. The novel focuses on the study and testing of these lizards and the samples being sent all over. The lizard bite, the baby getting eaten, the little girl, the drawing, none of it. The film starts at the second iteration, which is where Alan Grant the Paleontologist, who is the main protagonist, is introduced. There is so much going on in the first iteration, why would you remove it? All of the fantastic plot development and foreshadowing and suspense is gone. In fact, it’s never mentioned that the dinosaurs made it to the mainland at all. The lizard, which in the book was later found out to be a Procompsognathus, or Compy.

So in the novel, it takes a good 50 pages to really understand that there are dinosaurs, but the readers still don’t know where they come from or why they are there on the island. In the film, in the first three minutes we see a raptor try to eat a worker at the park. It is made very clear that there are dinosaurs in Jurassic Park. We are then almost immediately introduced to the Paleontologist Alan Grant and his partner, Paleobotanist Ellie Sattler.

Some Other Differences

In the book, Grant and Sattler are visited by Bob Morris, an EPA investigator. He tries to dig up information on John Hammond, who created Jurassic Park on Isla Nublar, and InGen, which is his company. Morris says all kinds of bad things about Hammond and his practices in genetic engineering. “You like the part where John Hammond is the evil arch-villain? John Hammond’s about as sinister as Walt Disney.” (Crichton, 74) Grant and Sattler see an x-ray of the lizard that bit the kid and they really believe that it’s a dinosaur, although they are curious as to whether it’s fake or not. After Morris leaves, the phone rings and Hammond calls them on the phone and invites them to take a vacation to visit his “biological preserve”, which is actually Jurassic Park.

In the film, Bob Morris is completely removed, and instead John Hammond himself visits Grant and Sattler at their dig site in Montana. For a long time this didn’t make any sense to me. I wondered why they would cut out this important character and make Hammond himself visit Grant. I then realized that Morris made Hammond look like a bad person, by saying that he is irresponsible and suspicious. We are informed by Morris that Hammond has been sponsoring digs and has the largest source or amber in the world. We also learn that he recently purchased an island off the cost of Costa Rica to use as a biological preserve. Earlier in the movie right after the initial dinosaur attack, we are shown a mosquito encased in amber is found and harvested. This is much more important in the book and is explained much more thoroughly. So instead of Morris informing Grant of all of this and making Hammond look like the bad guy like in the novel, he visits Grant himself and is shown to be one of the good guys. So early in the novel we have a protagonist Alan Grant with possible antagonist John Hammond, and in the film we have protagonist Alan Grant, but no definite antagonist yet until we meet Nedry, which for the most part is the villain in both the movie and the book. This is on thing that is kept the same. He is being paid by a rival company to steal dinosaur embryos from Jurassic Park and to bring them back. Since Nedry built the computer system for the park, he thinks this will be easy.

Once everybody actually gets to the park, the novel and the movie get somewhat closer together in essence. The people visiting the park are as follows:

  • Alan Grant the Paleontologist and Ellie Sattler the Paleobotanist (who as far as I know aren’t romantically involved in the book)
  •  John Hammond, the owner and creator of the park
  • Ian Malcolm, who is a mathematician that is obsessed with chaos theory
  • Tim and Lex Murphy, who are Hammond’s grandchildren
  • Donald Gennaro, who is kind of like a lawyer for InGen
  • Dr. Wu, a scientist that developed the dinosaur engineering process
  • John Arnold, the head engineer
  • Robert Muldoon, the game warden at the park
  • Ed Regis, who works at the park and is assigned to babysit Tim and Lex
  • Dennis Nedry, who is the computer technician and the antagonist that is hired to steal the dinosaur embryos.

There are a couple other minor characters like the veterinarian, but they aren’t important enough to mention. Needless to say there are a lot of characters that we have to remember. Even though the novel and the book get closer to each other plot-wise at this point, there are still some big and important differences between the two. Where Spielberg’s movie excelled in special effects, it lacked severely in the information department. The novel has everybody go through a complete tour of the park and it thoroughly explains the cloning process, how they extract dinosaur DNA from a preserved Jurassic mosquito trapped in amber. It explains how the DNA is extracted and modified to make them all female to prevent breeding, how they also inject frog DNA to help with the missing links and to fill in the gap, and much more.

When asked what would happen if the dinosaurs made it to the mainland, Dr. Wu says, “Look, we’re not fools. We understand these are prehistoric animals. They are part of a vanished ecology-a complex web of life that became extinct millions of years ago. They might have no predators in the contemporary world, no checks on their growth. We don’t want them to survive in the wild. So I’ve made them lysine dependent. I inserted a gene that makes a single faulty enzyme in protein metabolism. As a result, the animals cannot manufacture the amino acid lysine. They must ingest it from the outside. Unless they get a rich dietary source of exogenous lysine-supplied by us, in tablet form- they’ll go into a coma within twelve hours and expire. These animals are genetically engineered to be unable to survive in the real world. They can only live here in Jurassic Park. They are not free at all. They are essentially our prisoners.” (Chrichton, 207)

The above quote really promotes one of the overall themes of the novel, which is greed and the abuse of scientific power. Ian Malcolm says, “But scientific power is like inherited wealth: attained without discipline. You read what others have done, and you take the next step. You can do it very young. You can make progress very fast. There is no discipline lasting many decades. There is no mastery: old scientists are ignored. There is no humility before nature. There is only a get-rich-quick, make-a-name-for-yourself-fast philosophy. Cheat, lie, falsify-it doesn’t matter. Not to you, or to your colleagues. No one will criticize you. No one has any standards. They are all trying to do the same thing: to do something big, and do it fast…And because you can stand on the shoulders of giants, you can accomplish something quickly. You don’t even know exactly what you have done, but already you have reported it, patented it, and sold it. And the buyer will have even less discipline than you. The buyer simply purchases the power, like any commodity. The buyer doesn’t even conceive that any discipline might be necessary.” (Crichton, 586) This is why I love Malcolm, he is so philosophical, funny, witty, and smart. He understands that according to chaos theory, long-term prediction is impossible in any situation. He says that chaos isn’t random or unpredictable, but that complex systems actually have some kind of underlying order. I really dislike that Malcolm’s character is shut up in the film. He just barely mumbles that the park doesn’t work. In the novel, he really sits and explains chaos theory in detail and why he thinks the whole park will not work and that things will go wrong. He knows it’s inherently unpredictable. When small things go wrong, they open the doors to bigger things to go wrong. Small changes in any intricate system can have huge unknown effects. This is chaos theory, and I wish it were a much larger part of the film because it is so interesting.

That is just one of many technical quotes from Dr. Wu that just really give the reader an idea of how these dinosaurs behave, how they live in the park, and how they are controlled by the team. In the film, they watch a 3 minute movie that explains basically nothing, just like one of those “informational” theme park rides. I was actually a bit angry at how little they explained anything in the film. It’s like they didn’t care about how it was done, they just wanted to get to the special effects.

Not only is the beginning of the movie and the amount of technical information different in the movie, but the characters themselves are all changed in one way or another. In the book, John Hammond is the bad guy, but in the film he’s basically like Walt Disney. The reader understands that Hammond made a huge mistake in making the park very early and how dangerous it is. In the movie, we get the feeling but we are much more sympathetic toward him. This may have been on purpose considering that Hammond dies in the book but lives in the movie. Another character that changed a lot is Dr. Ian Malcolm. He is actually the only character that I actually liked more in the movie than in the book. In the book he is much more serious about chaos theory and what will happen at the park. He is obsessed with the inevitable. He also believes that the dinosaurs will escape the island and make it to the mainland (which happens in the book, but not in the film). Malcolm dies in the book, but he escapes with only some semi-minor wounds in the movie. Ed Regis doesn’t even appear in the movie, his character is split between Gennaro and Ellie Sattler. Spielberg felt that Ellie didn’t get enough attention in the novel, so he wrote out Ed Regis and gave her some of his duties. In the film, Grant and Sattler are a couple, but they aren’t together in the book. Sattler was actually just one of Grant’s students and is engaged to somebody else who isn’t mentioned. Spielberg probably did this to add sympathy toward these main protagonist characters and to add tension to the film when there aren’t any special effects going on. Dr. Wu is a huge character in the book as well, but he barely shows up in the film. He is in the control room through most of the novel, spends a lot of time explaining the technical details of everything going on at the park and how they created the dinosaurs, and explains the DNA in detail. He is very important to the book but he is only in the movie a couple of times and doesn’t really say that much at all. He is killed late in the book by Velociraptors, but he escapes the island on a boat before the power failure caused by Nedry in the movie. Dennis Nedry is one of the only human antagonists in the novel. He is the one that shuts the power down at the park that causes the dinosaurs to escape in the first place, so it’s technically all his fault. This is one of the few characters that stayed the same in the film, not much changed about him. He is killed by a Dilophosaurus before he could escape the island with the embryos. Hammond’s grandchildren’s ages were swapped, making Lex the older one. Spielberg wanted to make Lex into a stronger character, since in the book she was young and scared, sometimes even annoying. Tim kept his dinosaur knowledge in the movie, but all of his major skills and character traits were given to his sister Lex. Lex helps reboot the computer systems and turn the park’s power back on, but in the novel it’s actually Tim that does this.

So at the end of the film, Nedry dies, giving us a sense of revenge, since he is the antagonist. The feeling is much stronger in the book but its still there in the film a little bit. Dr. Grant spends a lot more time with the kids in the novel than he does in the film, especially after the Tyrannosaurus Rex attacks their tour carts. Another change is that in the novel, Grant doesn’t seem to like the children at all at first and definitely has more of an awkward personality a lot of the time. In the movie, he eventually warms up to the kids as the film goes on, probably, again, to add dramatic tension, which Spielberg seems to want to add everywhere even though there was plenty in the book already. Grant and the children live, along with Ellie, Hammond, and Malcolm. Hammond dies in the book, which is perfectly fine because he’s more of a bad guy anyway. “Hammond lay very still, as still as a child in its crib, and he felt wonderfully peaceful. When the next compy came up and bit his ankle, he made only a halfhearted effort to kick it away. The little animals edged closer. Soon they were chattering all around him, like excited birds. He raised his head as another compy jumped onto his chest, the animal surprisingly light and delicate. Hammond felt only a slight pain, very slight, as the compy bent to chew his neck.” (Crichton, 757) Malcolm is the only character in the novel that understands how dangerous the park is. He is against wielding the power of science without earning it. Both Hammond and Malcolm die in the book, but live in the film. “Hammond had an accident. Found him near his bungalow. Must have fallen.” “Is he alright?” Grant said. “No compys got to him.” “What about Malcolm?” Grant said. Muldoon shook his head.” (Crichton, 396)

Conclusion

Jurassic Park is an amazing novel that has a wonderful plot, memorable characters, and many important themes including greed, obsession, and the dangers of scientific power. I was actually a bit disappointed with the film after reading the book because of the lack of scientific information, the weak(er) script, and the focus on special effects instead of focusing on the scientific nature that makes the novel so great. It is a good movie for what it is, but I think that if they would have kept it closer to the book it could have been so much better.  But here’s the thing to remember: the book and the movie serve two different purposes.  The film gets you excited about these dinosaurs in a way the book never could.  The book gets you excited about the science behind it, the motivations of the characters involved, and the ethics and philosophy involved in this park’s creation.

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2 Comments

  1. UndeadMeatHead says

    It’s been several years since I’ve read the book, but this brought back all kinds of memories of it. It also reminds me of how many differences between Crichton’s The Lost World and Speilberg’s The Lost world. It’s almost blasphemous how much the second installments movie and books were different.

    Also, just wanted to point out, while in Jurassic Park it says Malcom died, but he is the main protagonist in The Lost World. And Dodson was another minor character in Jurassic Park, but became the antagonist in The Lost World, where in the film, it’s the nephew (I believe) or Hammond.

    From Wikipedia:
    Six years after the disaster at Jurassic Park, Ian Malcolm—who is revealed to have survived the events of the previous novel via a retcon—teams up with paleontologist Richard Levine after learning about Isla Sorna, the “production facility” where the park’s dinosaurs were hatched and grown near Isla Nublar (the Jurassic Park site).

    1. Sir Dalski says

      Man, I really need to re-read/rewatch The Lost World. It’s been way too long and I can’t really remember it well enough. Thanks for the reminder (and for the great comment)!

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