Recently I came across a nonfiction book, “Travels” by Michael Crichton at a book sale. The book itself was so-so due to the fact that only about a third of it was actually about traveling, but the author’s writing style impressed me so much I sought out one of his novels. The novel, I must say, did not disappoint.
“Jurassic Park” is a fascinating read, more so because it does not parallel the famous film. It was written before the film, and includes much more detail, in scientific explanations, characters, and adventures. Crichton knows how to craft a thriller. If there had been no film it would be a great read on its own, but because the film is so familiar to me I found myself inevitably comparing film and book – not critically, but in admiration to each as excellent examples of their respective media. The film is a trimmed-down version of the story, as it had to be as a primarily visual experience.
I don’t know what process the filmmakers went through to choose their material. One important section of the book that was completely left out of the film is the pterodactyl scene, when giant bird-like creatures attack Grant and the kids. It later appears in “Jurassic Park III”, in which different characters stumble upon the aviary. It doesn’t show the island being destroyed in the movie; Spielberg may have felt that would have been anticlimactic. And in the film Hammond is presented as a benevolent grandfather figure; I wonder if that was adapted when they signed Richard Attenborough for the part. It’s hard to imagine Attenborough as the deceitful, deluded, self-serving, egotistical character in the book.
The differences, as I say, do not detract from the reading experience. In fact, the opposite is true. The fact that the book had such a profoundly different structure contributed to my enjoyment, as part of the reason I read on was to find out Crichton’s take as a novelist on the material. He’s a good writer. He’s not a poet, to be sure; the language is rudimentary. But he knows how to craft a story, how to weave a tense tale. It makes me open to reading more of his books. In fact, after I finished “Jurassic Park” I ordered its sequel, “The Lost World”, as I am interested to see how the continuing story differs from the second Jurassic Park film in the next book.
Anyway, everyone knows that dinosaurs are cool, and Crichton is good at using them to great effect to produce fascination, thrills, and terror. This book made him a very rich man, and it’s easy to see why. The fear of great beasts like dinosaurs strikes a primal nerve; we feel repelled and attracted at the same time. I used to play with dinosaur toys when I was a kid, and I never missed a chance to watch anything on TV in which dinosaurs figured prominently.
So pick up a copy of “Jurassic Park” sometime and enjoy the ride. It’s not something that would be considered great literature, but it’s a hell of a lot of fun.