1993 is very likely the pinnacle of Crichton-ness: Jurassic Park shot the writer to a level of stardom he’d only grazed with the likes of The Andromeda Strain and Westworld, and filmmakers scoured his existing properties for an opportunity to catapult themselves into Spielberg-level notoriety. This needed to happen fast, before anyone else jumped on a Crichton adaptation, but there were essentially only three of his novels that hadn’t yet been adapted. One was Congo, which featured super-smart gorillas, so that wasn’t much of an option (until it was, years later); second was Sphere, a really weird subterranean “imagination adventure” that couldn’t possibly be adapted (until…well, you know); and the third was Rising Sun, a relatively low-key murder mystery masquerading as a cultural economic diatribe (or is it a diatribe masquerading as a murder mystery?) that seemed to provide a perfect mix of commentary and storytelling. For quick kicks, the choice was an obvious one.
And as tends to happen with projects undertaken for such reasons, Rising Sun sadly marks the downward trend in Crichton adaptations sloping sharply away from Jurassic Park. Probably anything would fail to measure up to Park, but the tale of clashes that is Rising Sun failed thoroughly in every arena (except the box office — it rode Park‘s wave to a pretty good domestic haul). TGSC, baby. TGSC.
One week from today is the wide release of Jurassic World, the highly-anticipated fourth installment in the dinosaur franchise that began with Steven Spielberg’s Jurassic Park. Early reviews indicate that Colin Trevorrow, World‘s director, has delivered a more worthy successor to the original film than Spielberg’s sequel The Lost World or Joe Johnston’s follow-up Jurassic Park III. If that isn’t enough in and of itself, we might root for World to actually be as good as Park rather than just “better than the crappy ones”.
Short of having actually seen Jurassic World yet (I’d be so biased if I had!), the premise is already more akin to the original tale than to the rehashed visits of the second and third films. We won’t speculate too hard about World, and it will certainly need more than a cool premise to survive sequelitis; still, it’s already obvious that the storytelling mentality is focused on a particular point in time that falls between creation and destruction, and the importance of that theme in the Jurassic franchise shouldn’t be brushed aside. In fact, it’s an significant storytelling element of many of Spielberg’s films, and many of Michael Crichton’s works as well.
If the worth of a film can be measured in the height of the protagonist’s hat, then The Great Train Robbery is one of the finest cinematic endeavors in history. Look at that thing! More than once I thought of this:
Even if we strike that particular criteria, Michael Crichton’s The Great Train Robbery is still one of the most unique and enjoyable entries in his long and storied career. We’ve discussed Crichton’s popular status as a “sci-fi writer” before, positing that although The Andromeda Strain and Coma and Jurassic Park certainly number among his finest works, Crichton also defied the genre to which he’d been assigned by the popular media on more than one occasion. In no single script is this more apparent than in The Great Train Robbery, adapted from his own 1975 novel, and the reason why isn’t simply because there’s no science fiction involved.
Michael Douglas famously referred to Coma as the first time he was a part of something with a good story, a good cast, and a good director. The latter of those compliments, while true, was at that point based only on Crichton’s debut feature Westworld and his earlier made-for-TV flick Pursuit. The middle statement, about the cast, seems oddly self-serving considering Douglas is in the cast. The actor’s career was likewise young, and oddly enough Mike Crichton and his brother Douglas once published a story under a pseudonym that combined their first names: Michael Douglas.
Whatever conspiracy the Michaels and the Douglases have cooked up here, it probably isn’t as sinister as the conspiracy afoot in Coma. Based on the highly popular novel of the same name by Robin Cook (a friend and contemporary of Crichton’s), the story of Coma is as well thought-out as Douglas claimed. The pairing of Cook and Crichton is a match made in medical thriller heaven, and Crichton’s script treatment of the novel is accurate and respectful of the source material. Slight changes were made, but the overall sense of paranoia that pervades the book is very much intact in Crichton’s screen treatment.
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.
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.
“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.