Who doesn’t love the original Jurassic Park movie? Since its release twenty plus years ago, I haven’t met one person that doesn’t like it. I have met plenty of people that have told me that the book was better than the movie. It would take me a couple of years after the film’s release before I read the book for myself, and then I was able to form my own opinion on it.
The basic plot is science gone mad. A genetics company develops a way to clone nearly anything, but they choose to focus on cloning extinct dinosaurs to fill an amusement park. They build the park on a remote South American island that has little government regulation thanks to their hefty financial contributions to the region. They are in the final stages of the project before it opens to the public.
It wouldn’t be a very entertaining book if the park opened successfully without any problems. There are a lot of similarities to Michael Crichton’s other story that was also a major motion picture about a theme park, Westworld. I’m not sure what trauma he suffered at a theme park, but it has inspired a few great stories. Instead of malfunctioning robot cowboys, now it’s genetically engineered dinosaurs that will wreak havoc in the park.
The owner of the park, John Hammond, needs to calm the nerves of his investors because of a few recent mishaps. So, he invites a few experts to tour the park to sign off on it before the grand opening. He also has his grandchildren there because he is in the running for best grandpa and worst grandpa contests simultaneously. It doesn’t take long before things start going wrong and attempted industrial espionage release the dinosaurs from their enclosures.
It’s interesting to me what made it into the movie and what was cut or changed. Some of the things that were cut from the book ended up being used to inspire scenes in later pictures. For example, the aviary full of pterosaurs. It wouldn’t be until the third movie that the aviary would make an appearance on the silver screen, but it’s a pretty big scene in the book. There are plenty of other examples of scenes from the book that weren’t used in the first movie but were used in later ones. No other books really come to mind that has been mined for material to be used in later movies like this. In a way, the film franchise is a remix of scenes from the two original Jurassic Park novels.
When I first saw the movie, I never really understood what Dr. Ian Malcolm was doing at the park. Dr. Grant and Dr. Sattler’s presence made sense to me. They are both paleontologists that are there to help legitimize the authenticity of the park and provide more information about the possible habits of dinosaurs. Dr. Malcolm is a mathematician that specializes in chaos theory. I don’t feel the film does a good job of explaining why he is there, but after reading the book, it makes a lot of sense. Basically, Malcolm was hired to run some simulations to see how viable the park would be with all the planned security features. He concluded that there were too many variables and that something would go wrong. So, Hammond brought him back to show him, and his investors, that his theories were wrong. None of that is really explained in the movie very well.
One change that I found interesting is with the grandchildren. In the book, the older of the two siblings is a boy who likes computers and likes dinosaurs, and the girl is the younger one and a tomboy. The movie has the girl as the older one that knows computers and the younger brother is really into dinosaurs. I’m not sure why these changes were made, but both versions feel right in their respective medium. Whether it is the older brother looking out for his little sister, or the big sister looking out for her younger brother, they are great characters that illustrate a bond between siblings that may not start out liking each other, but they will protect the other because they are family.
Several scenes are in the book that is not in the movie. Like the baby raptors hitching a ride on a boat to the mainland. Ian Malcolm cleverly deducing that the dinosaurs are reproducing in spite of their genetics supposedly making it impossible. The young tourist girl being attacked on the beach by a pack of tiny dinosaurs. Dr. Grant and the children being chased down a river in a raft by a swimming Tyrannosaurus rex. Many of the staff at the park get more time to shine in the book. A lot of changes were made adapting the book into a major motion picture. The biggest scene removal completely changes the ending of the book.
The book ends with the survivors fighting a nest of raptors in a volcano. So, the island is actually a volcano, and the park uses its geothermal energy to help power the park. None of that is mentioned or seen in the movie. Before the survivors can escape, they need to blow up the nest of the alarmingly expanding population of the raptors that have set up shop in the volcano. Extremely different from the movie’s ending with its epic dinosaur deus ex machina.
I don’t know if the fact that I saw the movie before I read the book had influenced my opinion of the book. I don’t think anyone is wrong for thinking the book is better than the film, but I personally enjoy the movie more. While there are details lost in the motion picture, the story is more focused, and the special effects really sell the idea that these dinosaurs are alive. Over two decades later, for a film that helped pioneer modern CGI, the dinosaurs still look spectacular. The novel is excellent, but it wasn’t as magical for me as seeing those dinosaurs come to life on the big screen for the first time.
Novel by Michael Crichton
Original Publication Date: November 20, 1990