Hello folks! No, sadly, I am not your usual reviewer, the Bookshelf Dragon. She’s having a little technical difficulty with her computer- I believe there was an unfortunate encounter between her laptop and a rogue glass of soda. Her laptop is going to be out of commission for the next few weeks. Until then, you get this special guest review by your substitute host, Silver Gryphon. I am your reviewer’s primary cohort in crime and we had intended for me to do the occasional guest review… just not so soon.
But due to the aforementioned incident, we’ve decided to rearrange the schedule a little bit so as not to leave you hanging. So without further ado, I give you… Print to Pages, with your temporary hostess, Silver Gryphon.
When you think ‘dinosaurs in the movies’ and ‘dinosaurs in books’, you tend to think of a couple of things. If you’re a young child, or grew up in the nineties, you might think of the Land Before Time series of movies. If you’re a fan of documentaries, you’ll probably think of the Discovery Channel’s renowned Walking With Dinosaurs series.
If you’re a casual moviegoer, or just not a huge fan of dinosaurs, or are a science fiction/thriller fan, there’s probably one title that immediately pops into your brain, one title that has done more to bring dinosaurs into the public eye more than just about any other film.
Most people have probably seen Jurassic Park. It was a spectacular movie, with groundbreaking effects, and served to single-handedly prove that computer animation could produce realistic characters and do so in a convincing (and reasonably affordable) fashion. It came out in 1993, and wow, it still looks fantastic even by today’s standards. But a bit more on that later. For now, buckle up for one long and wild ride, because we’re looking at both the book duology and the film trilogy of Jurassic Park.
Jurassic Park and its two sequels were based off a duology of books by renowned sci-fi thriller author Michael Crichton, author of a rather long list of books including The Andromeda Strain, Congo, Timeline, and Sphere. The two books we’re focusing on here are Jurassic Park and The Lost World: Jurassic Park, and the plots for the books and movies are pretty simple: Scientists obtain samples of dinosaur DNA and clone (with a few minor modifications that have no bearing on the plot whatsoever, nope, not at all) living dinosaurs from it. The dinosaurs are housed on an island that is converted into a combination biological preserve and theme park, kind of like what you might have if you set Disneyland in Yellowstone National Park.
Except that the things that may try to eat you in Yellowstone are considerably smaller than the things that may try to eat you in Jurassic Park.
The park is heavily depended on automated systems, supposedly to showcase the technological marvels that the company building the park, InGen, is capable of. A group of experts- paleontologist Dr. Allan Grant, paleobotanist Dr. Ellie Sattler, and chaotician Dr. Ian Malcolm- are invited to preview the island for a safety inspection, along with the head of InGen’s grandkids, Alexis and Tim. When a disgruntled employee in the pay of a rival bioengineering company shuts down the safety systems in the middle of a tropical storm to make off with a bunch of InGen’s frozen dinosaur embryos, all hell quite literally breaks loose. At this point, one can sum up the rest of the film as ‘the dinosaurs eat everyone except the main characters’.
The Lost World has a slightly different premise. The island Jurassic Park was located on, Isla Nublar, was a showcase, showing live dinosaurs in large pens for public viewings. However, there is a secondary site, Isla Sorna, where the dinosaurs are created. The book and the film differ on specifics, but in short, a group from a bioengineering company are there to capture dinosaurs for use in their own theme park and a group of scientists lead by Dr. Malcolm are there to study the animals in their ‘natural habitat’. Once again, all hell breaks loose and the dinosaurs eat everyone but the main characters.
The third film is… well, it’s the redheaded stepchild of the franchise. Basically, JPIII consists of all the scenes that they couldn’t work into the first couple of films, under the pretense that Dr. Grant is tricked into going to the Isla Sorna Site B location by a couple whose son has gone missing there after a paragliding accident. There’s a new subplot about a Spinosaur that somehow manages to kill a tyrannosaur in single combat, and an actually rather fascinating one about the highly intelligent pack of velociraptors following the heroes because one of them has stolen a couple of their eggs. That’s basically it.
Now, this is not the place for me to go into the sheer amount of grade-A stupid present in the series, both the books and the movies. At least, not all of it. I’ll save a breakdown of Lost World, at least, to the Nostalgia Critic. That said… there is a lot of it. I just don’t have time to go into too much depth, because I’m tackling all five stories and if I went into all of the stupid moments, we’d be here for a month.
This is also not the place for me to go into the problems with the dinosaurs. Most of the dinosaur problems can be explained as ‘they’re not real dinosaurs, they’re genetically engineered monsters based off of dinosaurs’.
That said, Spinosaur would never beat Tyrannosaurus Rex in a fight. Ever. Stick to your fish, big guy.
Let’s start at the logical place to begin: The first book and movie, Jurassic Park.
Now, I haven’t read any of Crichton’s works beyond the JP ones, but I will give him this: He did an excellent job building up suspense with this book. He opens with a little lecture on the history of bioengineering and some of the things it faced in the latter half of the twentieth century, and then uses two rival companies, InGen and BioSyn, to set up his story. Neither is presented in a particularly good light, but as I understand it, that idea of ‘science is evil’ is pretty typical of Crichton. BioSyn, though, is clearly painted as the more evil of the two, with its habit of using industrial espionage to steal and reverse engineer other companies’ research and its predilection for conducting hazardous experiments on unsuspecting subjects, such as one rather chilling account of a rabies virus altered to be transmissible via the air rather than through biting.
And here we get to the first bit of stupid: Who the heck okays that kind of research? I mean, it’s the rabies virus we’re talking here, not chicken pox. Now, I know I said I wouldn’t get too deep into the idiotic moments of this series, but this is a big point of annoyance with me. Through both his books, Crichton goes way out of his way to have his scientists make the most idiotic, hare-brained decisions humanly possible, and then some. He went out of his way to make the park fail. Making everything that can possibly go wrong do so? In the most ridiculous way possible? Even if a ten-year-old could be expected to choose the option that is less stupid? Yeah… that seems to be Crichton’s trade secret here. It’s almost like there’s an entropy curse from the Dresden Files on the books- all that’s missing is having a frozen turkey falling out of a plane and hitting the T-Rex on the head. It would certainly fit in with Malcolm’s theories about chaos, now that I think about it.
The first book actually has a nice bit of buildup to the reveal of the park itself, which is kind of nice. It really gets the readers pumped for finally seeing the dinosaurs, while seeding in concerns about the stability of the island. There’s a whole subplot with mysterious lizards appearing in Costa Rica and attacking babies and small children, and a chapter where a mainland doctor has to try and treat a worker who’s been injured by a raptor. Every so often a hint that the mysterious animals are dinosaurs crops up- one little girl attacked by an escaped compsagnathus draws a picture of the animal that bit her and one scientist with dino-loving children identifies it as such, though the idea is shot down by the other CDC doctors. After all, dinosaurs are extinct, so one couldn’t possibly have bitten this kid… It’s not until nearly a third of the way into the book that the main characters actually get to the island.
Now, while Crichton has the whole suspense thing nailed, his characters are actually a little shaky. They’re not very deep, because the book is plot-driven, not character-driven. It’s not a bad thing, given the sort of work this is, except for a couple of cases.
First, the kids. In the book, Alexis is about eight and her brother Tim is just a bit older. Alexis seems to deliberately scream, cough, or panic at exactly the wrong time, every time, and spends about ninety percent of her time bickering with her brother or whining or generally being a pain. At no time does anyone turn around and say ‘Shut up kid, you’re gonna get us all eaten’. Thankfully, this was changed for the movie, where she became a 13-year old computer nerd- excuse me, ‘hacker’- and her brother Tim made into a 10-year-old dinosaur nut who hero-worships Dr. Grant. Both the kids get a slightly bigger role in the film as well, and it works out quite nicely.
The second case is Dr. Malcolm, the chaotician. It’s hard to pay attention to anything about him that resembles ‘character’, because he exists for the sole purpose of being Crichton’s mouthpiece. This is more of a problem in the books, where he pretty much doesn’t open his mouth unless he’s saying that something is going to go wrong no matter what, that the scientists are amoral idiots who are more dangerous than a toddler with a gun, or that he knows what’s wrong and isn’t going to say what it is. The fact that he’s high on morphine for a good chunk of both books does not excuse this repetitive, irritating, smug behavior. There’s a scene in the book where he has Dr. Wu, one of the park scientists, pull up a graph of sizes for one of the dinosaur species. The sizes plot out a perfect bell curve, which is exactly what you’d expect with a normal, healthy population.
Problem is, the park populations are batch-bred, so the graph should have clusters around an average size based on the age of each batch, not a bell-graph. Malcolm knows this, and delights in the fact that he knows and the scientists don’t. He pulls this sort of ‘trick’ over and over and over again, until you are frankly quite relieved to see the tyrannosaur bite him. The first book claims he dies, but Crichton resurrects him for the second because apparently he couldn’t write Lost World without his pet author fillibuster delivering device.
Now, the book has two very big advantages over the film: it has time for all its plot, including the background about BioSyn, which is directly responsible for the disaster in the park because it was the company who hired the disgruntled Dennis Nedry to steal the embryos, as well as several plot hooks about dinosaurs trying to escape the island (and sometimes succeeding in doing so), and it has time to go in-depth about the science behind the park. We get extended explanations on just how the DNA is extracted and how the sequences are patched and how the dinosaurs are engineered. Heck, we even get explanations for why the raptors are so bloody-minded- they have no raptors to teach them dino-ethics and culture, so they’re basically sociopaths who kill for fun.
Unfortunately, a lot of that plot expansion just makes the sheer stupidity of the humans all the more obvious. The movie fairs much better in this regard, because most of the movie-going population isn’t going to question that sort of thing if you don’t bring it up, so the stupidity is far less painful. Plus, you get to see the awesome dinosaurs.
The film follows most of the plot of the book, with the exception of the BioSyn thing and with a few major scenes cut out, such as the river trip, the dactyl aviary, and the little girl who gets attacked by compies at the beginning. Don’t worry though, those scenes show up in later films. The science is pretty much condensed into an info-dump tour ride when the characters first get to the island, which, frankly, is a pretty awesome way of giving exposition. Jurassic Park is a theme park meant for tourists, so naturally the paying tourists would want to know how the dinosaurs are created and just as naturally, InGen would make a little dumbed-down presentation for them that makes sense as a tour ride. This is probably my favorite instance of giving a bunch of exposition all at once in any film I’ve ever seen. Besides these cuts, the only major things cut are the plot about the raptors nesting in the wild and trying to migrate to the mainland. Other than that, the plot is pretty much just streamlined, and it works well. It makes a lot more sense than some other book-to-movie conversions I’ve seen. The single biggest character change comes in the form of John Hammond, the creator of the park and head of InGen. In the book (only the first, as he winds up getting eaten) he’s a childish, arrogant man who just wants to make lots of money by having a unique theme park. In the movies, he’s a rather kindly old grandfatherly type who wants to share the joy of seeing living dinosaurs with the world and the purely capitalistic motivations are foisted off onto the character of the lawyer. Some other characters are cut or combined together, but that sort of thing always happens. No one really gets any real characterization outside of a core group anyway and serve mainly as redshirted dino fodder.
It’s the second book and film that’s pretty much the worst of the series. The stupid level really gets turned up to eleven in the movie, and the second book basically serves as a way for Crichton- excuse me, Ian Malcolm- to preach about chaos and behavior theory leading to extinction and how humans are idiots who are going to destroy themselves and the world. There’s not much actually interesting going on here, apart from some karmic deaths in the case of the group trying to steal dinosaur eggs and some distinctly non-karmic deaths in the case of the scientists’ mechanic who gets eaten by a T-Rex while trying to keep their trailer from sliding over the edge of a cliff. Way to go, Crichton, kill off the only character you’ve managed to make me actually like. Great way to keep me reading.
It’s the second movie that really suffers though, with a so-called ‘predator expert’ who takes an injured infant T-Rex into the trailer, decides to try and pet a baby stegosaur in front of its parents, and then proceeds to walk around the entire second half of the story with blood from the baby Rex on her shirt. No, really. Nice job breaking it, hero. Nice job pissing me off, writer. The other character in the film that is really ridiculous is the eco-Nazi photographer who deliberately sabotages the cages holding the dinosaurs caught by the other team and lets them stampede through camp, who takes the injured Rex to the trailer in the first place, and then sabotages the hunter’s equipment- the guy who is doing his best to get everyone off the island in one piece, the guy who actually gets some character development when he comes to terms with the idea that maybe hunting isn’t such a fantastic sport, and who actually shows remorse for his actions when he hears that his team members are getting eaten right and left. Fortunately for all our sanity, this guy doesn’t get eaten. Sadly, though, the eco-Nazi who put everyone in such massive danger to begin with doesn’t get eaten either. The movie does cut out an interesting subplot involving a prion disease that is responsible for a lot of big herbivores dying and being able to support a high predator population, but I’m pretty sure that plot was only there as an explanation for why there was a Rex or a raptor behind just about every tree. Fortunately for my sanity, in this movie as well as the first, most of Malcolm’s speeches on chaos and science are cut way, way down. He gets more in Lost World than Jurassic Park as he’s the main character, but it’s not nearly as bad as in the books. In the first movie he only got about two of his speeches, both abridged, and since he spent most of the second half injured and drugged, the scriptwriters apparently decided to focus on the more mobile characters to facilitate human-dinosaur interactions.
The second movie also differs the most plot-wise. The writers reworked the plot significantly, making it so that it was InGen under Hammond’s successor who was behind the round up of dinosaurs for a new park, while in the book it was a team led by BioSyn employees trying to steal InGen’s work. But people still get eaten, so it boils down to mostly the same thing. Except for the T-Rex being brought to and rampaging through San Francisco. That was new for the film- and didn’t make much sense for that matter. At least it gets to the point of the dinosaur island much more quickly. In the book, Crichton again tries to build up suspense by dropping hints about a second island, but it falls flat this time. We already know that there must be a second island since there’s a second book (we know it can’t be the original island because it got firebombed by the Costa Rican military in the first book), and it messes around a lot with Malcolm being arrogant and deliberately mysterious, so that we don’t even get to Site B until nearly a third of the way in. By that point, if you’re like most people, you just want to get to the freaking dinosaurs. That’s what you picked the book up for- the dinosaurs, not lectures.
The third movie is, as I said, mostly to showcase all the stuff that didn’t happen in the first two films along with some new dinosaurs. Its actual plot isn’t based off of either of the books, just scenes from them. Upon re-watching, however, I realized that, as a dinosaur horror movie, it’s actually not that bad. It’s pretty good, in fact. At least, not compared to Lost World. It’s not fantastic and it certainly has moments where your forehead will become intimately acquainted with the wall as you bang your head on it, but it’s not as bad. It has a lot more character development than the first two, since it starts off with a far smaller cast, starting with about ten people and whittling it down to five, and it’s not constantly preaching about how science is bad. Granted, Grant does get in some barbed comments about the scientists behind the creation of the park, but at least we’re spared Malcolm for this one. Thank you Spielberg, for that relief. There’s really only two absolutely painful moments of dumb in this one- the bit where the missing kid and his soon-to-be-eaten companion go parasailing around Site B to begin with, and the bit where Grant’s assistant Billy steals a couple of raptor eggs. JPIII, unlike its predecessors, is a lot more forgiving when it comes to karmic deaths, as Billy does not get eaten, though a flock of dactyls do make a good go of it. My favorite part of this movie are the raptors. Here, they’re presented as highly intelligent, social predators rather than just monsters who are out to eat everyone. They’re even following the heroes more to get their eggs back than to eat them, and Grant actually manages to communicate with them for a few minutes in a scene that is really, really cool. They’re characters in their own right, and get the appropriate design upgrades to reflect it, with each raptor having its own pattern and distinct appearance. If you disregard the fact that real raptors were probably only as smart as dogs, and that the film dinosaurs are not real Velociraptors but more closely resemble Deinonychus, then there’s very little to criticize here. They are seriously awesome, intelligent, and surprisingly complex for movie monsters, and I love them. Forget the Spinosaur, give me more raptors. (Though I don’t think one can beat the scene where the characters are chasing the sound of the satellite phone, only to realize that the Spinosaur ate the satellite phone and is standing right behind them.)
The movies themselves are stunningly gorgeous. The outdoors scenes were filmed mostly on the Hawaiian island of Kaui’i, which is often used as a stand in for ‘tropical jungle’ scenes. The park design is pretty cool, but it’s the dinosaurs that get your attention. The dinosaurs are part CGI, part robotics, and in a few cases, part prosthetic suits. Jurassic Park came out in 1993 and was the first film to use major photo-realistic characters that were done with CG, and holy crap, ILM did it brilliantly. Even nearly twenty years later, the dinosaurs look awesome. I’m an animation student, and I’ve long since cultivated an eye for animation that looks off- lighting’s wrong, texture’s wrong, movement’s off, that sort of thing. Bad animation, or outdated animation, tends to be really obvious to me. Jurassic Park’s CG dinosaurs, though, look amazing to me. It’s at a level only one or two levels behind Avatar, which I consider to be one of the most beautifully animated CG/live action films ever. In the first two movies, you pretty much can’t tell that the dinosaurs are not real, and the only way to distinguish between the animatronic dinosaurs and the CG ones tends to be what they’re doing. If it’s moving around a lot, it’s probably CG. If you’re really looking you can identify the CG dinosaurs by lighting patterns and textures that don’t quite fit, but you’re so busy going ‘Holy CRAP, that’s a freakin’ DINOSAUR’ that you don’t really care. JPIII actually suffers the most here, with a lot of the CG Spinosaur scenes being more obviously CG, but just about everything else looks better than the previous films (especially the raptors). To top it off, the music is by John Williams and the foley artists really outdid themselves for all three films, so the movies sound absolutely amazing as well.
So now we come to the real point of this review: Which is better?
Well, between the Jurassic Park book and the Jurassic Park movie, I’m gonna have to go with the movie. Yes, it cuts out a lot of the setup and exposition, but it still manages to get across the idea of ‘science without limits is bad’ without managing to insult basic human intelligence too badly and without sounding horrifically preachy. It’s got a more focused storyline as well, and the casting is really excellent. Sam Neill will always be Dr. Grant to me, and Jeff Goldblum manages to do well enough with the character of Ian Malcolm that I’m not constantly rooting for the T-rex to eat him. The changed characters of Hammond and the kids also work well, and most of the technobabble regarding bioengineering and chaos theory is cut, leaving us with the classic and beautiful sci-fi thriller we love.
Between the Lost World book and film, I’m actually going with the book. Yes, it’s got a lot of annoying Ian Malcolm and a lot of scientific doomsday predictions and it takes forever to get to the island, but the characters make more sense and they’re less painfully stupid than the film version. For one, there’s no eco-Nazi photographer sabotaging the other team and setting everyone up to get eaten, and then escaping a karmic death because ‘he’s advocating for the environment’ or something. Really, there’s a difference between being pro-green and getting several dozen people killed because you let the dinosaurs out and destroyed their ability to defend themselves from the multi-ton predators who are looking for snacks. And the movie treats this as a good thing. Ugh.
That said, I’m going to have to rank Jurassic Park III as being in the middle of this pack. It had an enjoyable plot, better characterization, a much less annoying lead character, a very cool take on a predatory species, and was less painful all the way around. Also, the ending was pretty awesome, though they did decide to cut the scene of fighter pilots dogfighting with the dactyls…
Final verdict, from best to worst:
- Jurassic Park (film)
- Jurassic Park (novel)
- Jurassic Park III (film)
- The Lost World: Jurassic Park (novel)
- The Lost World: Jurassic Park (film)
On an ending note: Apparently Universal was working on a fourth installment of the Jurassic Park franchise (hopefully one that would deal with the plot of dinosaurs escaping to the mainland), but the idea has at the very least been put on hold since Michael Crichton’s death a few years ago.
Phew, we got through all that! Thanks for sticking with me through two books and three novels. It was a pleasure writing for you all, and I will be back again in the future with more reviews from Print to Pages.
This is the Silver Gryphon, signing off.