At the time of Jurassic Park’s release in 1993, author and screenwriter Michael Crichton was a man perplexed. Business Week magazine had published a story by journalist Malcolm Brown which indicated that those in the biotechnology field should have felt some fear from the impact of Steven Spielberg’s adaptation of Crichton’s novel, in which dinosaurs are cloned to serve as the main attraction of a new theme park and then run amok.
“Malcolm Brown quoted some people saying they were very upset about the anti-science bias of Jurassic Park,” the late author said incredulously in an interview conducted at the time. “It’s not there. I am not anti-science, although I have been critical of science. I mean, I have been writing stories that are about the bad outcomes of science for 25 years.”
As evidence, all one has to do is look at such Crichton-scripted or spawned films as The Andromeda Strain, Coma, Westworld, Runaway and The Terminal Man. Despite this, “No one has ever called me anti-science. I’m trained as a scientist. There are a lot of other scientists who have written these dystopia things. This is baloney.”
Crichton saw it as indicative of a much larger problem. “There is something going on in our country in which it is perceived to be okay to complain about all criticism and to see criticism as dangerous and unfair and to try and stop it. I call it academic fascism. It’s a kind of fundamentalism, basically, and many different groups are picking it. Some of the scientists are using this idea that ‘our work ought not to be criticized’ or ‘the criticism is harmful.’ Please! These are people who are changing the genes in our food and they don’t want to be criticized. Let’s face it, it’s the lack of criticism that’s dangerous. It is the areas where no one pays attention that we get in trouble.
“Jurassic Park is completely implausible,” he continued. “Come on! My life work is cautionary tales. You know, I think it’s in the nature of my personality. I’m surrounded by what I see as hype. Here is the latest drug. Here is the latest new computer. Here’s the latest — it’s going to be great. Part of me responds, ‘Is it really? Is it really going to be so great? What about this and what about that?’ That’s just my response. I guess The Terminal Man was a book that I wrote in the seventies where I really hoped that the book would shut down an area of work that had to do with implanting electrodes in brains. I didn’t like it. I had seen some very bad examples and thought it ought to stop, but other than that I don’t feel myself taking such strong positions.”
Of his numerous novels-to-films, it is easily Jurassic Park that is the most successful. Interestingly, it took Crichton 10 years to write the original book.
“I started this project in ’83 and I put it aside, in part, first because I didn’t have a story,” related the author, who was educated at Harvard College and the Harvard Medical School. “It didn’t work. Second, in ’83 there was an incredible dinosaur mania in America. The kids had dinosaurs and there were dinosaur bed covers and dinosaur clothes. I thought, ‘I’m not going to write something that appears to exploit this trend.’ The trend never went away and I guess it’s always been there. But I have been interested and have really paid attention now for 10 years. I am here to tell you that I don’t understand it. It is everywhere. It’s in Italy, Germany, China, Japan.
“Just to give you a short example,” Crichton added regarding the appeal of creatures prehistoric, “when my daughter was 18 months, I had just finished the book and we were getting ready to go to the zoo. I said, ‘What animals are we going to see in the zoo?’ She said, ‘Hippos’ and I said, ‘Yes.’ You know, you’re tying the shoes and just listening. She said, ‘Zebras’ and I said, ‘Yes,’ and she said, ‘Dinos,’ and I said, ‘No, no dinos.’ She looked at me like, ‘Parents never do what you want them to do. I know there is a part of the zoo with dinosaurs and you’re not going to take me to it.’ She had these toys and they were as real to her as anything else. So these young kids don’t have ideas about extinction. They can’t distinguish.
“At another stage, now when she is twice that age, I take her over to Stan Winston’s to see the dinosaurs being made, because she likes dinosaurs and knows all the names. I thought, ‘These are incredibly accurate, she’ll like that.’ A couple of other little people went that day, too. The kids did not like it. Too big and scary. These are full-sized dinosaurs. So now I’m thinking, when they have the little things and they are playing the games, what are they doing? What do they imagine when they see Stegosaurus or when they look at the big skull? I’m perfectly happy to talk about it and they go, ‘Wow’ every 15 seconds. But on some other level, they are made uneasy by things, and I don’t understand it. All I know is that it [the appeal] is not as simple as people think.”
While Crichton was fascinated by the ongoing world-wide obsession over dinosaurs, he wrote a decidedly violent novel which by no means was intended for a young audience. The film adaptation, strapped with a PG-13 rating, is no less intense, though in a different way than its source material.
“The problem that I had in the book and that Steven had in the movie is to convince you that the dinosaurs are real,” he detailed. “I can’t make them [physically] in print. I have to describe what they do. So, I had them eviscerate because I can’t show them to you. I’m looking for behavior and one of the behaviors that I can do is the violent behavior, but I also know in a book that as you read it, you are your own filmmaker. If you don’t want to see that image, you don’t have to see it. You do something – you read it, but your picture is something else. So I’m not worried about upsetting you. In fact, I am pulling from another kind of tradition – which I haven’t usually used in my work, because it is sort of Stephen King or Robert Ludlum – where these things happen all the time. I’m kind of in a way enjoying the use of that, because it’s not familiar to me. In a movie, it has a very different effect. In a movie, you can’t stop the image. It comes in and as a result, the minute you see evisceration you go, ‘How did they do it?’ You don’t believe it for a second. You’re not upset for a second. You know they didn’t kill the actor. You go, ‘Plastic tubing. Did they go to the butcher?’ You don’t accept it and by the time that you are pulled out of the movie, you’re not participating. So it is stupid for a movie to build in situations that will yank you out.
“The one thing that is very clear to me, which is now sort of beyond discussion, is at the time Steven first started to plan this, what was on the table and was very clear to everyone, is you had to deliver the most believable dinosaurs that have ever been made. In order for the project to work, you really had to amp up the visual persuasiveness of the animals. If you didn’t do that and if you did everyone’s traditional idea of dinosaurs in the middle of this story, then it would not be of interest. Nobody was really clear how that could be done. That was perceived as a major problem. Now, of course, the movie is so amazing, you just kind of take it for granted. My reaction on seeing the movie is that I liked it very much. Along with being an E-ticket ride, it has many qualities and it left me very thoughtful.”
Jurassic World: Fallen Kingdom, the fifth installment of the film series, will reach theaters on June 22nd.
Images: Universal Pictures