Book Review: Jurassic Park

My copy from 1991

9/10 A great dinosaur adventure with smart details.

A new, mysterious animal is roaming around Costa Rica, attacking locals. The incidents are soon traced to an island belonging to John Hammond and his company, InGen. Hammond quickly invites several consultants to visit his island, a secret park full of live dinosaurs, hoping to win their approval and prevent investors from backing out.

Story

The book is split into 7 parts, called “Iterations” (relating to chaos theory as presented by the character Ian Malcolm), each with multiple named chapters. I appreciate slow burns, and surprisingly, the novel is a bit of a slow start (not to confuse this with bad pacing). The First Iteration serves as a long prologue, building towards what feels like the real start. But there’s no lack of momentum. Crichton is a thriller writer, and he knows how to keep the pace going. We move from place to place until the characters all gather on the island. The tour even offers Crichton an easy way to exposit information to the reader by taking time to explain things to the characters. And there’s a lot to cover. Crichton clearly puts in time researching every aspect of his novels. And Jurassic Park has a mix of biology, paleontology, and even medical and computer sciences. All explained in detail.

But Crichton spaces the exposition out, making sure that we get to the main attraction without too much delay. It was interesting to see that up through the tour, the film adaptation kept fairly close to the novel. But as things go on, the movie departs a lot more. For one thing, after the park loses power and people are running for safety, there are a lot more scenes with Alan Grant and the kids fleeing the T-Rex which chases them throughout the book. Some of these segments were recycled in the sequel films, including a waterfall that the Rex sticks its head into and a scene on the river with a raft. But things differ even more in the last act after the park is brought back under control (something that doesn’t happen in the film).

There is maybe a bloat of subplots and dramatic plot points where things are starting to compete for drama. Which thing are we supposed to be worried about the most? There’s also a plot point about raptors stowed aboard a ship heading to shore, and the characters need to restore power and contact the boat before they land, adding a ticking clock element. However, I question why the raptors, shown to be extremely dangerous and hostile, didn’t attack and kill everyone on board, preventing it from even arriving. This plot point just seemed unnecessary and felt too removed from the action on the island and the characters we’re invested in. But overall, the rise and fall of action and the false sense of security in the third act before the raptors enter the fray was fun and well-paced.

Characters

There’s a lot of difference between the film and novel in regards to characters, and not just who lives and who dies. Henry Wu, Robert Muldoon, and Donald Gennaro are all more prominent characters in the book than they are in the film. No one evacuates because of the storm, and there’s a full staff of workers that help repair fencing and round up dinosaurs after power is restored. There’s also Ed Regis, who is really the same character as Gennaro in the film. The book-Gennaro is a completely different character. I especially enjoyed the misadventures of Muldoon and Gennaro in the book; it’s a shame this was written out of the film.

It’s a large cast, but Crichton balances them all really well, and we learn details about each one. However, the book versions of Hammond and Malcolm are far less likable than their film counterparts. Hammond is a selfish, stubborn man that seems to view everyone as expendable. Malcolm spends nearly every one of his scenes ranting. He becomes more of a mouthpiece than a character, and he just keeps going on and on about chaos, nature, science, and systems. Over and over. Lex, who is only seven or eight in the book, also has little to do but complain and make bad situations worse.

Writing

Crichton is a thriller writer at heart which works perfectly for a story about a dinosaur park that goes all wrong. The pacing is quick and the action is intense. There are views that the film is really a horror movie in disguise, and the book definitely shares these elements, especially some of the deaths. Though there were some continuity issues. As mentioned above, some raptors stow away on a boat, but while they’re very aggressive everywhere else in the book, for some reason they just know not to attack anyone on the boat so it can make its way to the mainland. Along with the fences surrounding the paddocks, there are large moats to keep dinosaurs in their habitats, but when the park fails and dinosaurs get loose, it’s never mentioned how they got past the moats. Timmy, the young boy, is described wearing glasses when he’s introduced, but his glasses are never brought up ever again, even during all of the action of rolling around in a car being attacked by a T-Rex. He’s never even described as having difficulty seeing (other than in darkness). The visitors are also given park pith helmets. These, too, are never mentioned again.

There was also maybe one “run from dinosaurs” sequence that felt unnecessary and arguably one too many subplots. And there is an odd thing Crichton does to give backstory to characters, both major and very minor characters. We’ll have a scene, then he pauses to give us a paragraph or so of backstory (that may have some relation to the scene), then the scene continues. After a while, it becomes very noticeable as a simple, maybe clunky, way of feeding us backstory. However, none of these issues are that bad. But if I had one major complaint, it’s Malcolm. His endless rantings really wear thin after a while, and then he keeps going. Even when you think you’re past them and he has no more to say, we get another lengthy speech. He’s basically there to preach to us as well as explain what the book is really about in the most ham-fisted way possible.

Conclusion

I grew up on the film and was obsessed with it. Toys, trading cards, clothes, bedsheets; everything. I even tried reading the novel as a kid, which is why I have a 1991 copy (though it was bought after seeing the movie). But I couldn’t follow all of the science and gave up after maybe 1/4 the way through. I instead read a children’s novelization of the film. Having now read the novel (and some of it still goes over my head), I can say I love both the film and novel. They differ quite a bit but both do what they do really well. But if it weren’t for the endless, long-winded rantings of Ian Malcolm, it would probably be a 10/10. When I read the book next time, I’m probably going to end up skimming through his speeches.

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