Jurassic Park’s Biggest Book Changes Reveal Difference Between Spielberg and Crichton

Movies
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Thirty years ago, Steven Spielberg’s Jurassic Park hit big screens like a genetic-engineered atom bomb. When Spielberg first began imagining the potential of author Michael Crichton’s billion-dollar idea—one which the author shared with him in private before even revealing the concept to the public—the director saw the potential for a modern day King Kong. The comparison would be apt, too, because outside of that 1933 giant ape picture, few spectacles in the history of cinema have left such a big footprint on pop culture.

Still, it cannot be understated just how big Jurassic Park was in its day. While the advent of computer-generated effects had already begun, most famously several years beforehand in James Cameron’s Terminator 2, Jurassic Park’s cutting edge blending of animatronic creations from Stan Winston’s workshop with new CGI innovations at George Lucas’ ILM astounded audiences and critics alike. To this day, it is rare to see digital effects be so seamlessly integrated into a story, complementing the narrative instead of bludgeoning it. In other words, it was just a damn entertaining adventure, as well as the second biggest box office hit of the ‘90s.

A major reason the movie works so well is that like Crichton, Spielberg didn’t treat his visual wonders as just an effect—a spectacle to marvel at and be scared of. Audiences did both, of course, but unlike the dinosaurs of Kong’s Skull Island, these creatures weren’t monsters. They were animals inspired by (if not entirely beholden to) the paleontological research of the time. This emphasis about the scientific study of dinosaurs comes from Crichton’s own instincts, as does the misanthropic cynicism the film reveals toward genetic science.

And yet, unlike Crichton’s book, Jurassic Park the film is crucially not a late 20th century update of Frankenstein, a new-modern Prometheus where the mad scientists are now something even worse–capitalists in search of their biggest payday with the lowest overhead. That was Crichton’s ultimate point for writing the book, but in Spielberg’s film it’s nearly an afterthought. It’s still there (kind of), but you have to search for it because the biggest director of the ‘90s doesn’t see the horror in making astounding illusions. And that difference of sensibility is why the film and book are fundamentally different beasts. Here’s how…

John Hammond and Greed Is Good

The most striking divergence from Crichton’s book and Spielberg’s movie comes down to the father of Jurassic Park himself, Mr. John Hammond. As portrayed by Sir Richard Attenborough onscreen, Hammond enters the film as an irresistible and irrepressible showman. The first shot of the character is Hammond literally popping a champagne cork—someone else’s champagne whose trailer he has barged into unannounced.

One imagines when this sequence was scripted on the page by David Koepp, it was intended to quickly illustrate the sense of entitlement a wealthy figure like Hammond possesses. He’s a rich man who assumes he owns any room he’s walked into (and if he doesn’t he eventually will buy it anyway). But as played by Attenborough in a sharp white suit, the figure is impossibly ingratiating; Santa Claus in a sun hat. There’s a reason Attenborough was actually cast as Father Christmas one year after Jurassic Park in the remake of A Miracle on 34th Street.

In Spielberg’s movie, Hammond is a man who has played God by bringing dinosaurs back to life, but he’s also a well-meaning showman intent on sharing these wonders with the children of the world. And you don’t need the acute vision of a velociraptor to notice Spielberg—a showman himself who in the ‘80s was also heralded as the second coming of Walt Disney due to his Amblin Entertainment—might be able to relate.

It almost certainly informed why Hammond is so different from his literary counterpart. Crichton’s John Hammond is the closest thing the book has to an antagonist. He’s certainly a greedy little bastard. The literary Hammond is a vain, shortsighted, and pernicious man that personifies everything Crichton loathed about the commercialization of science and the rise of corporate consolidation in 1980s research. He’s also a charlatan who practically stumbled backward into cloning dinosaurs. Even after this epiphany, he’s still eager to cut every corner, and cover up every accident and fatality with hush money. Yes, he is a grandfather, but he is not particularly warm toward the children in the book. They are protagonist Dr. Alan Grant’s burden, and Hammond’s annoyance.

In the film, conversely, Hammond very much is a reincarnated Walt Disney—the public persona on ABC, not the union-busting one who cheered the black list behind the scenes. He also is the closest character Spielberg has to an avatar. Like the director, the cinematic Hammond explores cutting edge technology to entertain children. While he obviously is out to make a buck—after all, he “spared no expense”—he genuinely means it when he tells his lawyer, “This park is not built to cater only to the super rich. Everyone in the world has the right to enjoy these animals.”

It’s a lovely sentiment, though a bit at odds with a character who built his park on a remote island resort far from the U.S. (a choice in the book that makes more sense when you realize Hammond did it to skirt U.S. regulations, as well as labor and safety laws).

Later in the film, Hammond reveals his true motivations to Dr. Ellie Sattler (Laura Dern) after things go wrong. “With this place, I wanted to show [children] something that wasn’t an illusion. Something that was real. Something that they could see and touch.” It may as well be the manifesto for a director who likely would’ve put a real-life dinosaur in Jurassic Park if such a thing were possible. In which case, how can Hammond be a villain?

To be fair, Crichton wrote the first draft of Jurassic Park’s screenplay. However both that and subsequent drafts by Maria Scotch Marmo were largely thrown out—including how in all of those drafts Hammond died, although never as vividly as in the novel where he’s devoured as a wounded animal by compies, drifting from their toxins into a submissive oblivion. It was after Koepp came aboard to craft the script fully to Spielberg’s specifications that Hammond was fully realized as the benevolent lover of his grandchildren who comes to agree with Grant that the park must be abandoned. Spielberg’s final shots of Hammond being forced to abandon his dream by a helicopter at sunset are effective, even sympathetic toward a great man whose dreams surpassed his grasp.

It’s a departure though from the novel where the only great thing about Hammond was what a tasty lunch he made.

Who Lives and Who Dies

John Hammond’s fate is not the only one changed from Crichton’s novel, however. In fact, most of the ensemble shifts around the core characters of the story, with half of the iconic revered death scenes in the film never occurring in the book. The lawyer Donald Gennaro (played by Martin Ferrero in the movie) who’s devoured by a T-Rex while sitting on the toilet? He survives the novel and is even one of Crichton’s typical highly educated and elite professional protagonists. The rugged big game hunter Robert Muldoon (Bob Peck), whose dying words are the infamous “clever girl?” Not only does he live in the book but he manages to kill one raptor and wound another. Meanwhile characters who are not in the film, like a publicist named Ed Regis, or barely in it at all, such as B.D. Wong’s Dr. Henry Wu, are big players who become even bigger snacks on the page.

The reasons for this are open to interpretation, especially the minimizing of Henry Wu, who unlike Hammond, is a sympathetic figure in the book—the actual Dr. Frankenstein who’s aware he made a deal with the Devil by working for Hammond and InGen. And it is for that reason that, in spite of his regrets, he must give the devil his due in an especially gruesome scene where a velociraptor pulls his intestines out while Ellie can only watch in horror as he feebly fights back. Perhaps because the movie is less interested in the sinister portrayal of capitalism in science, Dr. Wu was minimized (a worse possible reason might be Hollywood’s lower interest in diversity in the ‘90s).

Yet much of it feels designed by Spielberg’s penchant for doing whatever makes for the best movie moment. As indicated by a Tyrannosaur “sneaking” into the Visitor Center at the end of the movie without being seen or heard (or that an oxygen tank could blow a shark to pieces at the end of Jaws), Spielberg is fond of dispensing with all logic if it maximizes the movie’s impact.

And because Ed Regis was removed from the film to shrink the ensemble, why not make it Gennaro who gets eaten by a Rex? And a big one at that, not the meek baby Rex kill in the book. Additionally, it would seem Spielberg has a special interest in vilifying lawyers. Consider that he named the mechanical shark in Jaws Bruce after his own lawyer at the time, and when thinking of the worst thing an adult Peter Pan could become, Hook has Robin Williams’ middle-aged Pan turn out to be a selfish, ambitious attorney. Hence one of that movie’s great lines when the Lost Boys mimic Shakespeare and shout, “Kill the lawyer!”

In Jurassic Park, this becomes literal when the lawyer character is reduced to a transparently greedy, spineless figure who dies cowering on a toilet.

Meanwhile Muldoon’s death was a byproduct of removing Henry Wu and needing someone to get raptor’d onscreen. Plus, it’s, again, a great movie moment when the hunter becomes the prey and cannot help but tip the hat to his devourer. Although one wonders if Spielberg regretted killing off Muldoon, since he had Koepp create a doppelgänger in the sequel The Lost World: Jurassic Park (1997), but even as played by the late-great Pete Postlethwaite, it was not the same.

When Dinosaurs Ruled the Earth

Despite the above differences, the biggest, and perhaps most telling, departure from the novel is how the dinosaurs themselves are depicted—going all the way down to how they escaped from Jurassic Park’s confines. After all, one of the first scenes in the book is a little girl getting mutilated on a beach by compies that have already escaped the park (a scene Spielberg would later adapt in The Lost World sequel).

The reason for this inclusion is that despite introducing a cartoonishly loathsome and disgruntled employee in Dennis Nedry (Wayne Knight’s character in the film) as the reason the park’s systems failed on that particular night, Crichton’s implication is any system, especially those designed by human hands, is doomed to deterioration and destruction. It’s destined to descend into chaos. The book is even structured in sequences around the Chaos Theory espoused by Ian Malcolm (which Jeff Goldblum only gives a hint of in the film).

Jurassic Park was always fated for horror, and the finale of the novel is the characters realizing this upon learning velociraptors have already built a thriving nest away from their paddock. In the movie, though, the collapse of Jurassic Park is largely the result of one odious buffoon named Nedry. The film doesn’t even seem to notice the irony that Nedry is disgruntled because he’s in charge of the park’s entire automation but is being low-balled by an employer who insists he “spared no expense.”

Crichton is obsessed with the hubris and vanities of mankind as a species; for Spielberg the concern is on the relationships between the curmudgeonly Dr. Alan Grant (Sam Neill) and the two children he must become a protector of and mentor to in the park, as well as the pure visceral horror of Muldoon telling a hyperventilating Dern, “We’re being hunted. From the bushes straight ahead.”

This applies even to the dinosaurs themselves, because it is within Henry Wu’s point-of-view chapters in the book that we learn they’re not actually dinosaurs at all; they’re corporate engineered mutants that rely so heavily on the DNA of frogs and other modern day amphibians and reptiles to fill in their genetic codes that they bear only a loose resemblance to the creatures that went extinct 65 million years ago.

To Crichton, this is the ultimate punchline; even the dinosaurs are a shortsighted lie conjured up by corporate interests and scientists too overworked to notice they were giving the creatures the ability to switch genders thanks to the DNA of African bullfrogs.

Tellingly, this subplot is entirely absent in Spielberg’s Jurassic Park. His dinosaurs are intended to be seen as the majestic and terrifying beasts of the Jurassic and Cretaceous periods, walking the earth again. And as far as millions of children in the ‘90s were concerned, they were.

Which is the entire point of Spielberg’s seminal movie: the illusion finally became real. Ironically, it was during the hyper-commercialization of the story in increasingly mediocre sequels that one of the Jurassic World flicks revealed Crichton’s original idea: these aren’t what actual dinosaurs would’ve looked like. Yet perhaps that’s one more important thing about Spielberg’s vision. The ideas explored in his movie matter less than how they make you feel, and in Jurassic Park the director took a solid techno-thriller and turned it into one of the grandest and most awe-inspiring cinematic wonders committed to celluloid.

Looking back, the Jurassic Park franchise never stood taller than when a T-Rex let out a mighty roar at the end of the original movie as a banner reading, “When Dinosaurs Ruled the Earth” fell to the ground. As far as Spielberg’s movie is concerned, they still do. It ain’t Crichton, but it’s a classic for a reason.

The post Jurassic Park’s Biggest Book Changes Reveal Difference Between Spielberg and Crichton appeared first on Den of Geek.

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