Though known primarily for his novels, Michael Crichton made a name for himself in Hollywood not only through popular adaptations of his novels such as Jurassic Park and The Andromeda Strain but also by directing films himself for more than a decade. Westworld was both Crichton’s feature directorial debut (barring the ABC made-for-TV film Pursuit) and one of his earliest original screenplays. Plagued with production woes from the start, Westworld is largely renowned today as a major landmark in science-fiction cinema and an important advancement in film technology.
As David A. Price writes in this New Yorker piece, computer-generated imagery is commonplace at the movies these days. Star Wars gets a lot of the credit for sparking the technological revolution in Hollywood (although there have been a few technological advances since then), and it’s certainly true that the effects team behind that space saga deserves most of the commendation in which they bask. But if the question is where did all of this start? — Star Wars and Avatar and every other CGI-laden movie of the past thirty years — then the answer is almost certainly Westworld.
Continue reading Westworld (1973)
Michael Crichton had an extremely productive early ’70s. Multiple film adaptations of his works were in the making, including a successful version of his 1969 novel The Andromeda Strain, and Crichton himself began foraying into directing and screenwriting. But he continued with prose as well, publishing five novels in the first three years of the decade. Three of these bore his pseudonym “John Lange” and one of them (The Terminal Man) bore Crichton’s actual name; the fifth, a collaboration with his brother Douglas Crichton, was published under another pseudonym that combined the names of both brothers. Suspiciously, an actor named “Michael Douglas” became pretty damn famous not long after.
But that Crichton Brothers book — a somewhat zany story called Dealing: Or the Berkeley-to-Boston Forty-Brick Lost-Bag Blues — sadly is the least effective of those early tales. It’s obvious, even in the film version of the novel, that the pair of writers either couldn’t agree on a direction for the story or just succeeded in writing a story that goes nowhere. Dealing is an absolute slog, and so maybe Michael Douglas’s uptick in fame should be attributed to something else (“like what?”) and not to his deft scriptwriting ability.
Continue reading Dealing: Or the Berkeley-to-Boston Forty-Brick Lost-Bag Blues (1972)
“I never went in much for science fiction,” says a microbiology specialist near the beginning of The Andromeda Strain. His colleague, another world-renowned scientist, agrees, “Nor do I.” They’re on their way to the tiny, isolated town of Piedmont, Arizona, where the entirety of the population has suddenly and inexplicably dropped dead. A military satellite has dropped to Earth around there, and so the scientists are sent in to determine whether this contagion is the work of an alien virus or extraterrestrial organism. But they don’t get too carried away with this notion. They’re men and women of disciplined learning, after all, and their aim is to employ clear reason and decisive investigation to make sense of the disaster.
In a way, this exchange is a pretty perfect representation of many of the works of the late Michael Crichton. To most, Crichton is a genre writer (to most, actually, he might just be “the Jurassic Park guy”); that genre is science fiction, evidenced by Park and The Lost World, Westworld, Sphere, Timeline, Prey, and a few others. Crichton’s written plenty of thrillers outside the realm of science fiction, too, stories concerning train robbers and Japanese corporate espionage and pirates and eco-terrorism. But these never fully eclipsed Crichton’s reputation as a sci-fi guy, and whether he was writing prose or scripts his fascination with technological advancement always managed to shine through.
Continue reading The Andromeda Strain (1971)