Is the Adaptation Better?: Jurassic Park

Come June, the world will welcome another installment of the “Who-knew-genetically-breeding-dinosaurs-was-a-bad-idea” saga. Don’t get me wrong. I love Jurassic Park and most of the subsequent films. Full Disclosure: I have not seen Jurassic World. One of the things that sparked my love of dinosaurs was that original film. And not long after I started to really get into reading, I was able to find the original book that the film was based on. And that was a revelation. It suddenly dawned on a ten-year-old Nic that sometimes *cough* most of the time *cough* films and TV shows are based on books. So, with the passion of a precocious child that loves dinosaurs, I started to tear into the Jurassic Park book by Michael Crichton.

I didn’t finish it… I didn’t even get that far. In hindsight, I realized that my experience as a reader at that time was not prepared for Michael Crichton. I just got so excited by the prospect of dinosaurs, that I really didn’t understand what I was reading. And it wasn’t until I had tried reading the novel again in high school, this attempt ending successfully, that I wasn’t entirely sure if I understood what had happened in the movies either. So, I had to re-watch them too. And of course, because the debate of “which is better” is a constant with anything that is adapted, I compared and contrasted the two.

For those who haven’t read the book, do it. Michael Crichton is amazing and I will push all of his books, especially his posthumously released Dragon Teeth, which can be checked out or put on hold, as with many of Crichton’s other novels, at your local White Oak Library… Just saying… And if you haven’t seen the first Jurassic Park film, I’m surprised. It had a heck of a box office weekend. But I’m not here to judge.But, go watch the movie too,… which is also rentable from your local library… Just saying...

This is your final warning about the spoilers that lie ahead:

So, let’s look at one of the main differences between the film and the book: Corporate Espionage!

I know that this doesn’t seem like a main part of the narrative,which is dinosaurs and stuff. But the corporate espionage was the cause for all of the “hijinks” that our characters faced. Or at least a storm and the corporate espionage, but I digress.  In both the book and the movie, a disgruntled systems programmer named Dennis Nedry, portrayed by Newman from Seinfeld, shuts down the security systems in order to steal dinosaur embryos for a competitor of InGen. This… doesn’t end well for him. But while many of the plot points surrounding the character, even with the movie cribbing some of Crichton’s dialogue for him, Nedry is handled very differently from medium to medium.

In the book, and in classic Crichton fashion, there is a mystery as to who the shadow saboteur is at the start of the book. It is a pretty typical move for a thriller to hide the identities of a double-crosser or the villain until the moment of maximum shock. And the way Crichton does this is very well done, hiding Nedry’s identity in his personality, practically showing the reader who he is before the turn happens. A particular moment of this is a snarky comment he makes to Lewis Dodgson, his contact for InGen’s competitor, where he insults the man’s hat as some kind of disguise. As one of the few characters in the book who would unleash that level of snark, it can be telling. And upon re-reading, it makes that particular reveal almost more dreadful, like the cosmic irony of it all is the driving force for the ultimate outcome of the story. And I think that is what makes the movie’s way of dealing with Nedry more satisfying.

The movie doesn’t hide his identity or intent at all. Right there from the start, we have the snark and frustration that would push someone to ultimately commit a crime in Wayne Knight’s performance. (Side note: Crichton also had his hand in assisting with the script, which makes sense with how close the film is to the book, even down to dialogue.) And knowing who is the “villain” from the onset, at least for this film and Spielberg as a filmmaker, makes every subsequent shot of Nedry increase that level of dread the audience feels. While there is wonder and beauty in beginning of the movie, the audience knows something bad is coming. And they know who is going to cause it. I feel that that makes the film really drive through to the T-Rex messing stuff up.

While there are more differences between the book and the film *John Hammond, in the film, is much more grandfatherly and endearing (and also doesn’t die by dino), Ellie and Grant don’t have any romantic chemistry in the book, with a more explicit student/professor relationship, Ian Malcolm looks or acts nothing like Jeff Goldblum* the two mediums definitely have different feels to them. And even though the book is very well done and showcases what made Michael Crichton a great writer, I do feel that Jurassic Park the film is able to tell the story in a more spellbinding way. Visual, it just does it better.

Now, I can already sense the itchy finger of some hot take brewing, but I don’t mean that to say that we should compare movies to books on a visual basis. One is literally a collection of moving pictures and the other is words. They are not the same. And Crichton had already dipped his foot in movie-making with the original Westworld (1973), so there was a possibility that he could have done Jurassic Park as well. But no one just blockbuster like Spielberg. He practically invented it. With Spielberg’s hand on the wheel, we were all treated to something really special, both visually and thematically. But mostly visually.

And it’s not the case, as with some adaptations, that the film was made so many years after the book that technology had a chance to catch up. There were only 2 years between the books publication and a red carpet premiere to give us a scene like this. Or even this one. Ok… maybe not so much that last one…The film was so influential and advanced that practical effects team for the film had to rework their entire craft just so CGI didn’t make them obsolete. Today, almost any blockbuster that gets shown in a theater has one element of CGI in it that was pioneered by Industrial Lights and Magic, the team for Jurassic Park. And despite the amount of details, the story that Crichton tells in his novel, and character development I think he got right (See: Grant and Ellie having an educator/student relationship), it’s all essentially there in the film, with the story better molded for the medium, ensured by Crichton having a good working relationship with Spielberg so as not to tarnish the story, and even some positive changes from the book in terms of character development (See: John Hammond as a caring grandfather and not a cold, Machiavellian venture capitalist). As time marches onward and technology continues to advance, some films look like they are of a particular era. With Jurassic Park, it’s mostly the costumes that give it away. The effects look that good and I will gladly watch this movie whenever I find it on TV or if I just want to watch it.

So, in the inaugural posting of Is The Adaptation Better?, I have come to the verdict that while the original book is good, Jurassic Park the film is better.

Agree? No? Wanna just yell at me for even doing something like this?… Cool. Let me know in the comments.

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