Perhaps timely, as I await the release of Jurassic World: Dominion, I thought it might be fun to explore my relationship with the franchise as a whole and maybe you’ll have fun reading about it. SPOILERS ahead for all Jurassic Park films and novels released to this date.
The first film holds up amazingly well special-effects wise because it contains mostly animatronic dinosaurs which was always incredible to me. The soundtrack is great, the dinosaurs are powerful and terrifying, the editing and filming is awesome. I always dreamed of having an animatronic (preferably the T. rex of course) outside my house as a child. I also had vivid nightmares of T. rex creeping outside my window as a child… maybe I watched these movies a little too young? In any case, the imagery of the movie is burned into my brain, and the scene of the T. rex attack on the tour vehicles is one of my favourite scenes in any movie ever. The Lost World is filled with animatronics and mostly convincing CGI as well and in that respect it holds true to the Spielberg vision of the original and “feels” like the first film in that way. I really like it, lots of animatronic tyrannosaurs roaring and stomping around, the infamous long grass scene, all of it is great fun and exciting and I have watched it and enjoyed it many times.
When I first saw Jurassic Park III I was really bothered by it. During the first quarter of the movie, the new dinosaur antagonist is introduced, Spinosaurus, and the creature defeats and kills an adult T. rex. This was very bothersome for me since T. rex was (and is) my favourite dinosaur, and as such felt like it should always be shown as superior. Looking back at it now, I’m not as bothered by the Spinosaurus (it’s probably the best part of the movie) but there are some major holes in the plot and general bad movie making that went into JP3, but it’s still a fun movie to watch because there are dinosaurs (and some scaly Pteranodon types) interacting with people and each other.
The Jurassic World movies are less paleontologically inclined, but still fun for the same reasons as JPIII. Jurassic World was my first Jurassic film that I watched in a theatre and the experience was super fun and exciting. It rekindled my excitement and passion for dinosaurs. Leading up to the sequel’s release (Jurassic World: Fallen Kingdom), a tie-in videogame was highly anticipated by myself: Jurassic World Evolution. While the game had its problems (especially right at release), it delivered on fantastic looking dinosaurs and atmosphere which meant that I could immerse myself in the Jurassic Park world and immerse myself, I did. While playing the videogame I read and very much enjoyed Jurassic West by John Foster. Jurassic West is an excellent introduction to the world of technical paleontology books, describing the Morrison Formation dinosaurs* and their environment. There are a few subjects like paleontology that I had always been interested in from a popular aspect, but had never delved into the more dense scientific books of that field. Jurassic West opened wide the doors to learning more and more intensely about paleontology to the point where now I have a decent paleontology book collection (something I plan to write about more in future).
*these are some of the most famous household name dinosaurs such as Stegosaurus, Brachiosaurus, Brontosaurus, Apatosaurus, Diplodocus, and Allosaurus, as well as many others.
Despite the problems with the sequel films (I think they have less… integrity? Consistency? Majesty?) they sparked and renewed my interest in dinosaurs and fossils and they’re still very fun to watch! I look forward to the next installment coming out in the next few days…
Now I’d like to take a look at another aspect of Jurassic Park that I have enjoyed for a long time… the novels…
After watching the movies (JP and TLW) countless times I was trawling through my local library and found the novel Jurassic Park by Michael Crichton. I only then realized there was a book that the movie was based on. I borrowed the book immediately and dove in. As I was in elementary school (somewhere between 9 and 11 years old by my calculations), I was disturbed by the adult language and graphic descriptions of violence, certainly far more terrifying than anything I had seen on-screen. A standout example is the scene that details Dennis Nedry’s grisly demise at the jaws and claws and spit of the Dilophosaurus. He is literally blinded and holding his own intestines as the dinosaur slowly eats him. I distinctly recall reading sections of the novel while sleeping over at my grandparents’ house and being nervous that they would wonder what it was I was reading. The Dilophosaurus attack sequence was the point at which I quit reading Jurassic Park several times before finally reading all the way through. By then, the book had become a part of my Jurassic Park experience and I would re-read the novel (and its sequel, though not as often) many times. It has become something of a comfort book for me, which may be rather strange but what can you do!
The first novel (especially the first ¼) is written in a journalistic report style and there is considerable mystery and intrigue building up to the reveal of what John Hammond is doing on Isla Nublar. Despite myself already knowing exactly what InGen was doing and how they were doing it, I found this mystery aspect very appealing and still think that the first chunk of the book is an excellent slow build of tension. The buildup establishes an air of authenticity giving the novel a feel of something that might have happened but was not reported on in the wider media. This pseudo-historical style is taken to an extreme in Michael Crichton’s introduction which blends fact and fiction in a way that plants you right in the middle of the “InGen Incident”.
The novels grew with me. The discussions of scientific ideas such as Chaos Theory, Heisenberg’s Uncertainty Principle, and genetics went way over my head the first half a dozen times I read the books, but after going to university for Biology, I found that I appreciated the level of detail and “correctness” that is contained in these discussions. Michael Crichton did his research, and it shows.
There are so many details that I love about the books that are lost in the films. They keep Compsognathus packs in the park to clean up the sauropod and other mega-herbivore dung. The T. rex swims after Grant and the kids, a very plausible behaviour nicely on display in the recent BBC documentary Prehistoric Planet (Highly recommended viewing!).
Another standout scene is the Tyrannosaur escape sequence. I’m unsure if it’s because the scene in the film is so iconic and informed my reading of the novel, but that scene in the book always gives me the same sort of chills and goosebumps as the scene in the movie does*.
*there was one time that I was up late rereading Jurassic Park for the umpteenth time when a thunderstorm slowly rumbled and approached and reached a crescendo just as I read the T. rex escape scene. A wonderful, immersive experience.
There are major differences in the book’s portrayal of characters versus the movies: Dr. Grant has a beard in the books and is not romantically involved with Ellie Sattler who is a much younger grad student. The lawyer, Donald Gennaro, is an action hero (there is a scene where he fires a rocket launcher at rampaging velociraptors) instead of being eaten on the toilet. The children are reversed in age, so that Lex is the younger kid in the books, and the hacker skills are the older Tim’s as well as all of the likable qualities. Lex takes on all the whining and whingeing in the books and Tim has all of the dinosaur fascination and computer knowledge. Dr. Ian Malcolm is a stand-in for Michael Crichton himself in a lot of ways in the novel, cautioning against the progress of technology for technology’s sake and generally describing research that Crichton obviously found compelling. He generally maintains this author-stand-in role for the movie, but with more “ums and uhs” and very unique line delivery (thanks, Jeff Goldblum… seriously thank you). John Hammond is another major departure from the novel. In the film, he’s a likable grandfatherly figure with dreams and drive. He’s played by David Attenborough’s brother, Richard Attenborough, and apparently modeled some of his mannerisms off his natural history obsessed brother. In the novel he is a rich eccentric who is only interested in money and profits. As a villain in the novel, he meets an untimely end which is rather brutal when you imagine the movie-version character. He gets turned around in the park, falls into a ditch and is nibbled to death by “compys” (Compsognathus), the little green dinosaurs that swarm Dieter in The Lost World film.
The Lost World novel is Crichton’s only sequel, and he runs into some problems. The main issue with a sequel to the Jurassic Park novel was the journalistic news-report style of the original. The closed nature of the first book kept the InGen Incident under wraps and the epilogue mentions offhand that Ian Malcolm died of his injuries in a hospital. As mentioned previously, Ian Malcolm is Crichton himself in the novel so to fulfill this role in the sequel he had to return from the dead. Just as he was killed “off-screen” so to speak in the epilogue of JP he is resurrected in the introduction to TLW.
Another character that returns in the sequel is Lewis Dodgson, who in the novels is the ‘main villain’. He’s the guy who hired Dennis Nedry to steal the embryos for his company BioSyn, a genetic engineering rival to InGen. He actually interacts with the dinosaurs himself in TLW, as he travels to the island with a small crew. His colleague, Baselton, has a great death scene. It rectifies in the books one of the silliest ideas proposed in both book and movie: that T. rex can only see movement. This bothered me as a kid because I wanted T. rex to be the biggest baddest dinosaur ever (see my reaction to the Spinosaurus deathmatch). Later on, I objected to this portrayal because it just doesn’t make any sense for an active predator to only see moving objects as prey. In The Lost World book we have Baselton get captured by the T. rex because he was “misinformed”. Dodgson is also later fed to the tyrannosaur babies in their nest.
There are some other fascinating bits of dinosaur lore in The Lost World. There’s an encounter with chameleon-Carnotaurs that can colour-match their backgrounds so effectively that they are almost invisible to the main characters (hmm, sounds like a certain hybrid dino in the Jurassic World movie…). The sauropods are described as keeping their necks horizontal, which was vogue at the time (and something I was already keen on after Walking with Dinosaurs) but has since been overturned (https://tetzoo.com/blog/2019/1/18/the-life-appearance-of-sauropod-dinosaurs). The explanation given in the book for why they might have long necks was for counterbalancing their long tails, used in defense. A bit of a stretch if you ask me (see what I did there?), but animals that are still living today often surprise us with their bizarre anatomies.
The scientific discussions and monologues by Malcolm in the sequel are focused on animal behaviour, evolution and extinction, subjects that are closer to my areas of interest than genetics and complex systems focused on in the first book. Some of these discussions are fascinating and great writing in my opinion and others are a little bit off (see my comment above about the sauropod neck-tail balance theory). TLW is more of an adventure novel than JP, but there are still a lot of dense scientific concepts discussed and presented alongside the usual fun interactions with living Mesozoic dinosaurs.
Both books are excellent if you like dinosaurs and/or science, if you like a good thriller, or if you like the movies and want more detail/discussion.
Hopefully you enjoyed my personal thoughts/experiences with the Jurassic Park franchise books and movies.
For previous paleontology themed blogposts, see: