Ed. Note: Our “Love Story” feature encourages writers to tell the story behind their love for their favorite movie, music, or television show. Today, Jeremy writes about the movie Jurassic Park.
Like most human adults, I have many selves in me. Two of these selves love Jurassic Park. One, the professional software tester self who loves a good tale of technological disaster, you can read about over at Tester’s Notebook. The other, the ten-year-old self who loves dinosaurs, you’re going to read about right here, right now.
You remember 1992, right? Of course you do. You were only ten, but you remember. You loved the idea of colossal lizards with colossal teeth and colossal spikes and colossal horns battling each other for world domination in a time so old it was older than ancient and older even than historic (which never even seemed possible), a time before humans ruled the Earth and ruled you — humans like your parents and your teachers and especially your brothers, so much bigger and meaner than anyone should be, but not any bigger than a dinosaur, no, nothing so big as a beautiful, breathtaking, terrifying dinosaur. I know you remember 1992. You had dinosaur books, dinosaur stickers, plastic dinosaur toys, not dinosaur bedsheets, but yes a reversible dinosaur blanket that featured FOUR different species. You had stuffed animals, too, remember? Some of them from The Land Before Time? You saw that in a movie theater four years earlier, and then you saw it again on video, and again, and again several more times. You remember 1992, right? Dinosaurs? I know I’m not the only one.
Around this time, a classmate and good friend of mine named Steve began telling me about a book in which a present-day park had real dinosaurs. Not drawings or cartoons, not fossils in a museum, not some kind of weird robo-dinos. Real dinosaurs attacking real humans, described in real gory detail. The book was called Jurassic Park. I didn’t know what a Jurassic was, and all of the parks I knew could only hold a baseball diamond and maybe a hockey rink. But this park sounded amazing and terrifying, and so did this book. It was intimidating, though, the thought of reading an adult book. I wasn’t as smart as my friend Steve and the book was what, 50,000 pages? I did my best to imagine the scenes Steve eagerly described and filed away the thought of actually reading the book myself.
This is where my memory ripples like rainwater in a mud puddle. Was there a trailer for the Jurassic Park movie during the 1993 Super Bowl? My edition of the paperback novel is copyrighted March 1993. Did my mom buy the book for me? Was it in Waldenbooks at the mall? I know I read the book before seeing the movie in June 1993. Were there several late nights with my desk lamp craned over top of my pillow while I read just one chapter more just one section more just one page more? During that first read, how many times did I read page 197, in which Dennis Nedry is sliced open and devoured alive by the Dilophosaurus? (Don’t worry, friends, that isn’t what plays through my mind when I perform my impression of the movie’s Dilophosaurus for you.) How much of the science, technology, and mathematics did I understand at the time? Was I just excited to be excited about such topics? Did my loving obsession with dinosaurs lead me to read the book and the book’s loving obsession with chaos theory in turn led me to subjects like actuarial science and software testing as an adult? Or did dinosaurs bring me to the book and a built-in propensity to explore uncertainty propel me through it? I seem to have abandoned the rippling rainwater and begun sprinting with a twisted ankle through a jungle of wild speculation and personal introspection.
I hope it’s clear by now that my tiny eleven-year-old frame carried two things into the movie theater when I saw Jurassic Park: a love for dinosaurs and a love for the novel upon which the movie was based. And, look, I love the movie Jurassic Park. I love the music; playing the theme in middle school band was such an accomplishment for me as a saxophonist that I’ve never played the instrument again. I love the way the movie introduces different dinosaurs: the terror when the unseen velociraptor kills an anonymous worker; the awestruck wonder when Grant and Sattler and Malcolm first see the brachiosauruses; the heart-stopping moment when we see first the T-rex’s claw gripping the no-longer-electrified fence and then the T-rex’s head swallowing chunks of goat. I love Jeff Goldblum’s one-liners and Samuel L. Jackson’s one line, er, “Hold on to your butts.” I love everything about the way Steven Spielberg creates suspense, including the fact that it holds up 22 years later. I love that even though the movie scared the living bejeezus out of me, I convinced my mom to take me to see it again when the dollar theater showed it.
I do love the movie Jurassic Park. But it’s impossible to see a movie based on a novel you loved first and not make comparisons the entire time you watch it. So telling my love story for the movie Jurassic Park necessarily involves sharing some of the breaks from the novel Jurassic Park that mattered to me. I don’t want to be that person who tells you how the book was better than the movie, though. I may have once participated in such nonsense, but eventually I realized there’s no point. The truth is that a book is a book and a movie is a movie, and if the two are exactly the same, then one of them is probably terrible. And besides, do you want to know something I found out while writing this piece? Michael Crichton’s original idea for the story was actually for a screenplay anyway; he eventually wrote it as a novel instead, but managed to sell the rights for the movie before it was even published. So in this case it seems doubly foolhardy to venture into “the book was better than the movie” territory. Subjective comparisons aside, here are the (mostly) objective differences that were (and still are) significant to me.
First, the kids. The most glaring and painful difference. In the novel, the kids had a terrific dynamic: Tim was the older sibling, dinosaur-obsessed and computer-savvy; Lex was a baseball-loving tomboy — the whiny little sister at times, Tim’s tiny bully at others. You’ve probably guessed already that I identified pretty strongly with the book version of Tim; you know we both loved dinosaurs. We also both had divorced parents, and while my own dad certainly never told me to ignore my nerdy interests like Tim’s did, I know that I felt the pressure to do so from peers and from popular culture. In the movie, that dynamic between the kids was shattered by making Lex the older sibling — clueless about dinosaurs, but a “hacker” (which apparently was 1993-ese for computer-competent) — and making “Timmy” the younger — dinosaur-obsessed but generally pretty miserable and whiny.
Second, compounding the issue of the kids, Drs. Grant and Sattler. Alan Grant, the paleontologist, loves dinosaurs with unashamed, childlike enthusiasm; children also love dinosaurs with unashamed, childlike enthusiasm; ergo, Alan Grant, in the novel, loves children. Yet in the movie, Grant hates kids. Why? “They’re noisy, they’re messy, they’re expensive… they smell,” he says, but it seems to be nothing more than a setup for the uninspired character development that he ends up liking kids by the end of the movie. But why is it important that he like children by the end of the movie? Ah yes, because his love interest, Ellie Sattler, likes children. In the novel, though, Ellie is a twenty-something graduate student, and while she’s ogled by most of the male characters, there is zero romantic connection between her and Grant. And it’s perfect. I know, I know… complaining about forced romantic relationships in action movies is as tiresome as forced romantic relationships in action movies. But sometimes it’s just okay for a man and a woman to be close without falling for each other.
Third, facts. The novel, being a novel, can share facts with the reader through exposition. Michael Crichton was a master of dumping interesting nuggets of knowledge into the laps of his readers: in Jurassic Park, I learned about dinosaurs, genetic engineering, and chaos theory; in Congo, I learned about gorillas, Africa, and the technology that makes urine potable; in Timeline, I learned about medieval France and quantum theory; in Sphere, I learned about… aliens? deep-sea exploration? I don’t actually remember. You get the point. The movie, however, being a movie, is forced to dole out facts and details about the dinosaurs and the park in an awkward order and primarily through dialogue.
Remember in the movie when Grant tells everyone up front that the T-Rex can only see you if you move? How in the world could he know that? He looked at a bone once and deduced it? In the novel, we see Grant slowly figure out this fact by observing the T-Rex’s behavior in the park. In the end, this just illustrates a difference in the strengths of the two media: that T-Rex scene, and most of the movie, is about suspense and the visual wonder of seeing the dinosaurs; while the novel has some great suspense of its own, much of the joy is in the discovery and piecing together of facts and clues. For me it’s a bit like a rollercoaster and a crossword puzzle: very different experiences, but each no less fantastic than the other.
Did I just favorably compare a rollercoaster with a crossword puzzle? Do you need any more evidence that I love Jurassic Park, in both of its forms? Now if you’ll excuse me, I’m getting back in the line…