In 1990, Michael Crichton’s Jurassic Park appeared in bookstores around the world and promptly began a roaring trade. Within just three years, Stephen Spielberg’s blockbuster film adaptation arrived in theatres.
But Spielberg didn’t spend that three years going through the usual director’s rigmarole of having to bid for and secure the rights to the material, before only then being able to write a script and draft in the army of personnel needed for its production. The whole three years were spent actually making the movie, because Spielberg – who was at the time writing a screenplay with Crichton that would eventually become television series ER – had had the rights to Jurassic Park since May 1990, a full five months before the novel was even published.
Basically, Jurassic Park was always going to make a fantastic movie. So obvious was this in fact that Crichton himself agreed to co-write the screenplay adaptation along with David Koepp. And the world was not disappointed. Jurassic Park’s masterful mixture of ground-breaking special effects, abject terror, well-timed moments of humour and strangely moving set pieces, all washed along with one of John Williams’ most memorable (and unexpectedly beautiful) soundtracks, made it one of the most famous – and most commercially successful – movies in history: It made $900 million worldwide just during the original release and continues to this day, twenty-two years after its release, to be in the top fifteen highest grossing movies ever made (including the adjustment for inflation).
Despite Jurassic Park’s gold-dust content, however, the movie did actually depart a fair way from the novel’s original material. In the book for example, John Hammond doesn’t visit Alan Grant and Ellie Sattler personally, he phones them. Nor are Alan and Ellie romantically involved. Also, Lex is younger than her brother Tim. These sorts of changes are understandable though from the simple point of view of cinema-seat-filling. Including a romance is an obvious move for any movie, Lex was made older because she was one of the only two females in the entire story, and Spielberg was hardly going to hire Richard Attenborough to play the park’s blithely cheerful visionary owner and then have him off-screen for his first scene.
In other areas, however, the changes were slightly more questionable. Take, for example, the opening sequence. It shares with the novel the death of a site construction worker, but whereas the book has him die quietly at a clinic, from eerily unfamiliar wounds, Spielberg kills him off in a cacophony of screaming, animalistic screeching and shooting. We still have the tropical rain that Crichton mentions in the book’s opening sentence – but that’s it. It is literally as if Spielberg opened the book, read the first line, then chucked it over his shoulder with a cry of “yep, got it – let the dying begin!”
Clearly, it would be completely wrong to read the book page for page alongside the movie. FIlms have their own rules, and thank goodness they do (Leonardo DiCaprio’s Nintendo infused trip in Danny Boyle’s The Beach comes to mind.) But Spielberg’s liberty with the material is important for the fact that it leads directly to the next part in Jurassic Park’s story, that of Jurassic Park: The Lost World.
The novel of The Lost World was released in 1995 and was again followed within three years by the movie, again from Spielberg, bearing the tagline ‘something has survived.’ A more accurate rending of that phrase, however, probably should have read “something has survived that died a very horrible and definitely final death the first time around.” That something was Ian Malcom, who actually died in the first novel. He is, of course, the main character in The Lost World though.
This is where everything gets interesting – and then goes straight to hell.