by Brad Langhoff
Staff Dinosaur Man
It was a Saturday in late July, and I was far too sick to go outside to get the farmer’s tan I had been promising myself since winter. With yet another shitty Jurassic Park sequel hitting the theaters, I figured I would watch the decent original for the first time since I was young enough to actually know the names of the film’s unwitting, dinosaurian villains. I quickly realized that the film was essentially a rehashing of Mary Shelley’s Frankenstein: a one-dimensional warning that what we “ought” and “can” do aren’t exactly one in the same. The film doesn’t portray meddling with nature as intrinsically bad, as Shelley seemed to suggest — just that doing so ignorantly is as stupid as stupid gets.
Making these connections between a recent film and an older novel, I couldn’t help but think of what Crichton’s actual novel must’ve been like. So, when I ran into a stack of Crichton’s little money maker that, according to its front cover, “started it all”, I couldn’t help but be seduced by the title’s blood red font and the overall minimalistic design. What I found inside was certainly worth more than whatever the poor schmucks who saw Jurassic World: Fallen Kingdom paid for their movie tickets, ranking an “I’m glad I dropped the cash” on a scale from “that blew” to “God might be real.” The book was certainly not the stuff of a great American novel, but it was far more horrifying, science-heavy and nuanced than its multi-million dollar child, albeit very emotionally deficient.
Have you ever wondered what a T-rex smelled like, or how the distribution of a species’ height could indicate that the geneticist of a nefarious biotech company royally fucked up? Crichton answers these questions by flexing his STEMlord muscles. Although the added science and math, from the honest-to-God graphs of bell curves, to the actual sequences of computer code that Crichton probably paid some other dweebs to come up with, would be too much for a film, they fill up the void in a novel lacking any sort of gripping dialogue and emotions. The fact that Jeff Goldblum’s character, mathematician Ian Malcolm, can rant about how science is bullshit with perfect grammar and logical consistency while riding into death on a wave of morphine is disquieting to anyone hoping for realism in anything outside of the dinosaurs and super-computers. But Crichton does knock those areas he doesn’t suck at straight out of the (Jurassic) park. Not only does he make the science easy to understand and entertaining, but his novel is also horrifying in ways the movie isn’t, thanks to his scientific imagination and attention to details being paired with the written word. The film can’t describe the sweet, yet nauseating stench of the T-rex’s mouth, nor does it even bother to include a scene in which the rex drags one of the two children by its four-foot long tongue from behind a waterfall. Whereas the novel makes me want to shit myself, the film only makes me question which dinosaurs are CGI and which are animatronics.
Outside of these differences and the more fleshed-out philosophy – which I’ll bore you with soon enough, don’t worry – it’s hard to characterize other ones as broad trends of “good” and “bad.” Almost all of the characters are different, for better or for worse. Grant’s hatred for children is reversed in the novel, just as many of the characters’ are in their entirety. The movie’s lawyer is lanky, cowardly and awkward; meanwhile the book’s is a veritable beef-cake with a dash of courage who not only survives, but also kicks a velociraptor’s ass. The kids are a bit less flanderized in their clumsiness and helplessness, but Hammond is less of a bubbly Disney type figure and more of an evil, egoistic businessman wielding genetic technology in a work of sci-fi – that’s to say, a total archetype. Perhaps most innocuous of the novel’s unique features is how it wraps itself up with an almost pointless examination of the velociraptor nest and the bombardment of the island by a fictional Costa Rican air force, explosions galore.
Now, what ultimately sets Jurassic Park, the novel, apart from Jurassic Park, the blockbuster, is the former’s stronger emphasis on its raison d’etre. Crichton makes sure you’re damn well aware of the problems of modern science, and why the institution itself may be rotting from the inside out. He does this by throwing tirade after tirade from Malcolm at the reader, some of which are borderline profound while others hardly register as more than sophisticated shower thoughts. It is truly a literary machine gun technique, which was pronounced enough to make me question whether I was reading Jurassic Park or being lectured to by one of Ayn Rand’s heavy-handed screeds. All of my shit-talking aside, the points Crichton uses Malcolm to explain, and the viscerally graphic scenes of disembowelment to add emotional heft to, are fairly reasonable. I can see modern science being corrupted by perverse incentives to establish a name for one’s self; making too confident a prediction without enough information certainly can’t be wrong; scientists standing on the shoulders of giants could most definitely exercise less caution toward the pre-existing science they’re seeking to exploit; genetic technology is powerful, and under the wrong hands could create some Jurassic Park-esque nightmare. Ultimately, though, it reads too much as hysteria, and a lot of Crichton’s talking points are just that – talking points. It takes over a generation to approve new genetically engineered biologics, and institutional review boards keep academic research as ethical as could be and mountains of regulation ensure that companies wouldn’t even dream of pulling off the bullshit InGen got away with.
With that all said – I highly recommend reading Jurassic Park. The writing style isn’t fantastic, but it’s intellectually stimulating and easy to consume, making it much like candy compared to whatever meatloaf of a book you’d find in English class.