When I was about 5 years old, there were two recurring themes that took up playtime with me, my brother and our cousin: “Star Wars” and dinosaurs. Why dinosaurs? Simple: “Jurassic Park” was maybe the coolest movie ever at the time. Steven Spielberg’s film had it all: cool characters, excellent effects, a fun and exciting pace and, of course, the breathtaking dinos. Every kid who saw that movie acted like a T-rex or a velociraptor for at least a month afterward.
It wasn’t until middle school that I discovered that one of my favorite childhood movies came from a book. Michael Crichton wrote “Jurassic Park” in 1990 and filled it with his trademark science lingo. The basic plots of the two are similar: A group of experts is flown to an island where dinosaurs have been brought back to life in hopes of building a one-of-a-kind zoo. Through some sabotage and a touch of hubris, the security measures go haywire, and the humans have to fight for their lives to survive the park and put the island behind them. With the 3D release of the film coming out April 5, it seems a fitting time to compare the film and book versions.
While the basics of the stories are similar, the changes in the details make the two very different experiences. The movie focuses on being an exciting and exhilarating thrill ride with just enough of the book’s intellectual discussion on genetics and misusing the powers of science to make the audience think a little. The characters are witty and a little sillier, but all of them are enjoyable in their own rights. The book’s tone is much drier, in part because there isn’t much differentiation between the characters and in part because it places so much focus on the intricate specifics of every aspect of control in the park.
The book’s narrative path is a strange one. It sucks readers in from the get-go with mystery that isn’t found in the movie: Crichton jumps around through tales of some early encounters with dinosaurs that got away or employees who were accidentally mauled getting medical attention. The reader’s path to discovery is well written, as layers of what’s happening at the park become revealed piece by piece, as does the intriguing shady side of the scientific field. It takes a while before we meet the main cast of characters who will eventually fight through the park, and even when Alan Grant, Ellie Sattler and the rest show up, they aren’t really treated like main characters. The story bounces back and forth so often and with such a large cast — the number of people in the park is nearly doubled from the movie, and each one is treated with similar attention — it’s hard to focus on any one character’s story arc.
Normally, this kind of diversity among characters is what makes reading the book more rewarding than watching the movie. But in “Jurassic Park,” all of these characters are lacking just that — diversity. Just about every character’s thoughts, actions and dialogue can be seamlessly be transferred from one to another without any discernible difference, and that includes the children. The movie’s characters are very distinct: Grant is the scholar who doesn’t have time for anything aside from his passion, Sattler is knowledgeable but much more laid back and easy-going, Tim is energetic and excited to see all of the dinosaurs, his sister Lex … well, OK, so Lex just screams a lot. The only complete characters in the book are mathematician and chaos theoretician Ian Malcolm and the park’s energetic and maybe a little mad creator, John Hammond.
The ongoing war of opinion between these two is what really drives the book. The dinosaurs running rampant are secondary; while there is much more involvement in trying to bring order to the park and trying to get out alive, most of it comes without any real meaning or importance aside from the overarching theme that man cannot hope to control nature. Malcolm is played perfectly in the movie by Jeff Goldblum, and he does provide the most important highlights of the character’s argument against the park, but they’re contained to the first half of the movie, before the dinosaurs break loose. After that, in the movie, Hammond realizes just what he’s done and realizes, with great humility, that his dream cannot be. Because of this, Malcolm’s rebukes cease. In the book, Hammond continually thinks himself and his idea bigger than they really are. He garners none of the childlike sympathy his movie iteration does. Because of this, Malcolm’s greatest and most biting lines come near the end. Having the adversaries (seemingly) die in the end is only fitting, and it’s something that doesn’t happen in the film.
The book is certainly worth a look if you’re interested more in the science and theories behind “Jurassic Park.” But for overall entertainment, the movie is the stronger version. As for the sequel, “The Lost World,” well, that’s a different monster.