Michael Crichton’s novel Jurassic Park was first published in the year 1990, and quickly shot up the best seller list, becoming Crichton’s best known book. It was adapted into a blockbuster film in 1993, directed by Steven Spielberg. The film also became a huge hit but was a very different beast to the novel, both in terms of theme and characterization. Readers are often surprised when going back to the original book and finding how different the book was before making the transition to the big screen. While both works are classics of their genres, this piece will showcase the differences between the two, showing how different they are even if they share the same characters, plotline, and principal ideas.
The book’s content is for lack of a better word not family friendly. While the film has several disturbing or scary sequences (such as the Velociraptor scene in the kitchen), it was given a much more whimsical spin thanks to Spielberg’s involvement. The novel, however, features numerous violent, gruesome scenes that are not for the faint of heart. A straight adaptation of the novel would certainly have been an R rating at the very least.
The thematic heart of the novel is also much more of a cold, science fiction thriller, in the vein of Crichton’s earlier works such as The Andromeda Strain. The dinosaurs are utilized to explore the themes of chaos theory and challenges the readers to think about the questions raised. Many pages are devoted to the science behind the story, including numerous sequences where Ian Malcolm (played by the marvelous Jeff Goldblum in the film) waxes philosophical about the dangers of creating dinosaurs. In contrast, the movie is lighter, being a mostly family-friendly adventure film that touches on these themes but does not devote the soul of its work to them.
The characters in the book also underwent significant changes between the page and screen. The novel’s cast fit the colder vibe Crichton is aiming for, a more intellectual experience than an emotional one. They often speak in science jargon, appraising the situation in these terms, always matter of fact and to the point even in stressful situations (like being hunted down by the Tyrannosaurus when the containment system fails). Some characters only undergo small changes, such as Dr. Alan Grant and Ellie Sattler, who remain palaeontologists brought in to consultant on John Hammond’s park.
Hammond himself is a different character altogether. In the film he is a grandfatherly type, misguided but ultimately genuine in his desire to create a dinosaur park, Hammond in the novel is an outright villain. The problems the park suffers are all traced back to him, as Hammond cuts corners to bring his park to life, defrauding investors and blackmailing his own employees. His motivations are inherently selfish, desiring to bring the park to life only to make money, expositing in private he only will allow visitors with the most money he can squeeze from them into Jurassic Park. He even uses his own grandchildren as pawns, bringing them to the park solely as emotional blackmail if his investors try to shut him down.
The book also features more elaborate sequences featuring the dinosaurs, such as more species featured, a pterodactyl attack, and more chapters featuring the famed Tyrannosaurus, including several chapters where the T rex pursues the grandkids down a spiralling river. With the complexities bringing dinosaurs to life onscreen, it makes sense that the film could only feature them in a handful of scenes, although they certainly made the most of when the dinosaurs did appear. Still, it shows how powerful the imagination is, no budget required to bring action to life.
In the end, neither work is better than the other, each presenting a different look at the same material. The book is more of an intellectual experience, while the film is an emotional action-adventure. I’d highly recommend reading the book and showing how different a work can be before changes are made in adapting it for the screen.
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