Book vs. Movie: Jurassic Park
With Jurassic World coming out, I decided to compare one of my favorite novels with its film adaptation (and also a movie that’s in my top ten).
The Novel: For most of the 1980s, Michael Crichton tried to come up with a tale concerning cloned dinosaurs. Rationalizing that no company would spend billions, if not trillions of dollars, just to clone dinosaurs for science’s sake, he came up with the idea of a theme park, as such a park would draw in enough money to make up for such a large budget. He wrote many drafts, all of which were heavily criticized by those he sent them to. He learned that the main problem was that the title character was a kid, so he rewrote the entire story from an adult perspective. In 1990, Jurassic Park was finally published and became a bestseller. It remains Crichton’s most well-known work, though the release of the film in 1993 certainly helped with that.
The Movie: Spielberg and Crichton actually talked about Jurassic Park a year before the novel was even published. Acclaimed director/producer Steven Spielberg was interested in someday making a movie based off of his work. Universal Studios won a bidding war to obtain he rights, with the understanding that Spielberg would get to direct it. Spielberg was more passionate about doing Schindler’s List and then Jurassic Park, but depressing holocaust films were considered a little risky, so he was told that he first had to make a profitable blockbuster with dinosaurs first before he could move on to his current passion project. The movie, with its cutting-edge CGI effects as well as Spielberg’s great filmmaking in general, was a smash hit, almost hitting the billion dollar mark at the box office.
Tons of people have seen the movie and the book itself is also highly regarded. Which is better? We will look at three things. First there is the main plot and themes. Second is a comparison of all the characters in their book and film incarnations. Third is the dinosaurs themselves.
Both the movie and the film basically have the exact same plot. John Hammond, head of InGen, brings a couple paleontologists, a chaos mathematician, a lawyer representing his investors’ interests, and a couple kids to test out his park, which happens to have real dinosaurs. It is learned that these extinct animals were brought back using DNA extracted from prehistoric mosquitoes, which drank the blood of dinosaurs. Due to several flaws in the system, as well as the carelessness of Hammond and some of his employees, security breaks down and dinosaurs start to roam the island, many of them ferocious carnivores who start picking off the humans.
Where the plot in the book and film separates is how the situation is resolved. In the movie the characters, spread out over the island, work to reunite and then make their escape, abandoning the dinosaurs. It should be noted that for some reason Spielberg decided to have the bulk of the island’s personnel leave on a ship right before things fall apart, leaving a very small cast of characters to fend for themselves. In the novel, however, no one leaves the island. With all of the security, technicians, engineers, doctors, etc. remaining, much of the island is actually brought back under control. They even manage to recapture the T-Rex. Instead of the mad dash for freedom in the movie, the survivors just calmly evacuate the island before the Costa Rican military arrives to bomb it out.
The novel also features another major plotline absent from the film. Right before communications are knocked out, the tour group see a ship leaving the island for the Costa Rican mainland, and notice that several Velociraptors have sneaked aboard. So not only is Dr. Alan Grant trying to get himself and Tim and Lex back to the island’s visitor center, he is trying to warn everyone that the boat needs to be stopped before highly intelligent and dangerous dinosaurs are unleashed on the mainland. This was understandably cut from the film for pacing and a tighter script. Likewise, Spielberg cuts out the opening of the book. The first thirty pages of the novel features Procomsognathusids, tiny scavengers, sneaking around the mainland and arousing the suspicions of local doctors and scientists with their attacks on humans.
Overall, despite many differences, the plotlines of both the novel and the film are basically the same. The T-Rex attack on the tour group and the showdown with the Velociraptors in the novel even occur at roughly the same time in the plot in the movie. The smaller parts of the plot are pretty different, though, but neither really superior to the other. The movie has less in it, but that’s because it needs to fit within a couple hours as well as move much faster.
As with the plot, the themes in the novel and the film are basically the same. In each, John Hammond and InGen are driven by excessive ambition. They think little of the consequences of bringing back dinosaurs in a modern world, as well as the potential effect they could have on ecosystems should they escape. In the words of Ian Malcolm, “Your scientists were so preoccupied with whether or not they could that they didn’t stop to think if they should”. InGen carelessly uses the power of genetic cloning and brings about disastrous results. One such careless oversight is the use of living animal DNA to fill in the gaps. As well as creating dinosaurs that are actually not perfect copies of their true selves, it gives them several biological differences that thwart the wishes of their creators. InGen makes all of their dinosaurs female so as to avoid breeding, a smart control measure. However by using the DNA of amphibians that can change gender in several of their species, they enable some of them to turn male, meaning that some of the dinosaur populations are actually growing, most terrifyingly the velociraptors. This ties into another theme, that man cannot control nature. Despite their best efforts to make a controlled environment, InGen finds their creations running amok and doing things that they were designed not to.
The other major theme is the radical shift in paleontological views on dinosaurs. This shift started in the 1960s. Prior to the 1960s, dinosaurs were for the most part envisioned as slow-witted lumbering creatures, often depicted as living in swamps. Then several paleontologists began to theorize that dinosaurs were actually warm-blooded and could act much more quickly, more akin to mammals and birds in their movement and lifestyle. However, it took Michael Crichton’s novel, as well as Spielberg’s film adaptation, to popularize the idea that dinosaurs were not sluggish lizards, but highly active animals. The T-Rex is hunched over, rather than squatting back on its feet and dragging its tail. The Velociraptors are intelligent and graceful pack hunters who can leap onto rooftops and sometimes even outwit the humans. Instead of residing in swamps as depicted in past pop culture, the Brachiosaurs travel in herds across fields and tall forests, using their height advantage to grab high up veggies.
These themes are heavily present in both the book and the movie, though more so in the novel as Crichton doesn’t have a two hour running time to limit. If you read the novel for the first time, expect pages of dialogue from Ian Malcolm touching on ideas of corporate and scientific irresponsibility.
Warning! Spoilers abound here as to who survives or dies in the different versions. Skip to the last paragraph if you want to avoid them and see which has better characters.
Most of the characters in the novel make it to the movie, but to those who saw the movie first, they will be surprised by how different many of them come off in the novel. The question here is, which has characters we’re more invested in, the book or the movie? While they share most of the characters, many of them are very different. In fact, the most startling differences in the film adaptation come from how characters are changed. Here’s a rundown of each character in both book and film form, as well as a couple that didn’t make if off the pages of the novel.
What should be noted is that Crichton has a limited type of character he uses. Each character is basically defined by his or her job. They might say some jokes, but otherwise they are full of exposition related to their expertise. Ellie Sattler is a paleontologist with a specific interest in paleobotany, so she provides the reader information about extinct plants. John Raymond Arnold is an engineer, so he just talks about how the park was made and how it’s maintained. In Spielberg’s films these characters are given more personality and quirks.
Alan Grant (Sam Neil)
Book: Alan Grant is a paleontologist and can be considered the primary protagonist in both the novel and the film, as he and kids Tim and Lex are the ones who are stuck in the wilds of the park. In the novel he has to protect the kids from not just one, but several T-Rex attacks. While on a raft he also has to keep them safe from several other species, including Pteranodons. Crichton has him travel through much of the island because he’s a paleontologist. This way he can provide readers the names and details of all the dinosaurs he comes across. It’s worth noting that Grant loves kids in the novel, since they tend to share his enthusiasm for dinosaurs.
Movie: The Alan Grant of the film, however, hates kids, finding them obnoxious. This gives him a character arc. Initially doing his best to avoid Hammond’s grandchildren, he ends up having to bring them back to the visitor center, and ends up doing a really good job interacting with them. By the end of the film it is implied that he now loves kids and may even end up having some with Dr. Ellie Satler
Winner: Movie. Alan Grant is likeable enough in the book, but the way her warms up to Tim and Lex in the movie makes him endearing.
Ellie Satler (Laura Dern)
Book: In the novel Sattler is actually still a graduate student in her low twenties. One of two major female characters, she doesn’t really do all that much, spending most of the time in the main compound listening to Malcolm’s philosophizing against Hammond. It’s not until the raptors attack that she starts getting involved.
Movie: Sattler is much closer to Alan Grant in age, making her more of an equal in her knowledge of prehistoric life and also adding some romantic tension. She also actually has a personality. The Sattler of the novel doesn’t add much, but here she has a very sweet personality and does a lot more, going out with Robert Muldoon on missions.
Winner: Movie. As with Alan Grant, Ellie Sattler is much more endearing in the film, and plays a much bigger role, doing things done by other characters in the book.
Ian Malcolm (Jeff Goldblum)
Book: Ian Malcolm is the most fascinating character in the novel. However, this is more due to the fact that as a chaos mathematician and the vessel for Crichton’s views, his dialogue naturally comes off as more engaging and intriguing. He is the voice of reason and morality, and after getting injured he spends the bulk of the novel mocking John Hammond and modern science in general. He actually dies before the book ends, like a prophet having fulfilled his task (He actually turns out to be alive in the sequel Lost World and goes to a secondary InGen site where he somehow becomes an expert in evolutionary theory as well).
Movie: Malcolm is my favorite character in the movie, mainly because of Goldblum’s performance. He is said to have a “rock star personality” in both the novel and film, and he embodies it much more in the latter. He has the same blunt personality of the novel version, but also a sense of humor, making him both the voice of reason and the comic relief. As in the novel, he gets injured in the Tyrannosaur attack and spends the rest of the time sitting in the main compound. Unlike the novel he for the most part abandons attacking Hammond with his criticisms and just makes humorous remarks until finally getting off the island alive.
Winner: Movie. Ian Malcolm is the best character in the novel, but he’s still better in the film because he is so well-written and well-acted. There’s a reason he was brought back as the central protagonist in both the novel and film The Lost World.
John Hammond (Richard Attenborough)
Book: Crichton has one other character type which he unfortunately keeps resorting to, the evil high-ranking member of the corporation, in this case CEO of InGen John Hammond. Hammond is completely unlikeable, motivated purely by profit, as well as fame for helping bring back dinosaurs. He tries to save money in “small” areas like a raise for his chief computer scientist and military-grade weapons for Muldoon in case any large dinosaurs break loose (these cutbacks prove disastrous for everybody). He cares little for the safety of the other characters as the park descends into deeper and deeper chaos, and spends the entirety of the situation inside the visitor center. By the time everyone is safe, he blames everything on his chief employees and plans to rebuild the park, not having learned his lesson at all. He then receives a rather humiliating death when he trips and falls into a ditch where a herd of Procomsognathusids eat him alive.
Movie: Hammond’s character does a complete 180 for the film. This time he’s a whimsical, well-meaning old man who dreams of letting everyone experience the wonder of live dinosaurs. He even shuts down lawyer Genarro’s idea of charging massive ticket prices, because he wants as much people as possible to enjoy his park. When things get out of control his top priority is trying to rescue everyone on the island, while in the novel he delusionally believes that things will work out. This time around he survives, saddened and having learned his lesson. It should be noted that while Ian Malcolm wears all black, something taken from the novel, Spielberg has Hammond wear all white to create a further contrast between the characters.
Winner: Movie. The Hammond of the novel is stock corporate villain you can find in a kids’ cartoon. The one in the movie is flawed and makes great mistakes, but he’s just so earnest and loveable.
Donald Gennaro (Martin Ferrero)
Book: Gennaro gets some blame for his involvement with the park since he helped give John Hammond further investors. Otherwise, he’s actually a pretty cool character. He’s an attorney sent to investigate the safety of the island, as several small incidents have occurred. Instead of being eaten off of a toiler by a T-Rex, he actually spends the rest of the novel helping park security. He helps recapture the T-Rex and plays a major part in restoring power, something that Ellie Sattler does in the film. He even wrestles a Velociraptor and wins!
Movie: Gennaro, like Hammond, does a 180 for the film. Here he is actually combined with Ed Regis, the head of InGen’s public relations. Like Regis, he is greedy. Also like him he abandons the children and gets killed by a T-Rex.
Winner: Book. While having a jerkass getting his comeuppance is nice, Gennaro in the novel is just too likeable, someone who represents InGen, but prioritizes helping others survive when things go wrong.
Robert Muldoon (Bob Peck)
Book: Muldoon’s book and movie forms are very similar. In each he notes the dangerous intelligence of the Velociraptors and wants them destroyed, and takes a large part in trying to restore some semblance of order to the park. Characteristics unique to the novel include a mustache and his willingness to get drunk.
Movie: Muldoon is pretty much the same, just not as badass since he never takes down the T-Rex and gets killed by the Velociraptors.
Winner: Book. Muldoon’s character is pretty much the same in each version. His awesome feats in the novel make his book version the winner.
John Arnold (Samuel Jackson)
Book: Arnold is a chain-smoking engineer who used to work in amusement parks. With so much money offered by InGen, he sets up the system for Jurassic Park and shares Hammond’s optimism that things will soon be back under control. Also like Hammond, he finds himself a constant target of Malcolm’s monologues and criticisms. His efforts to restore all power continually fail or cause more problems. As in the film he is killed by a Velociraptor while trying to restore power in the generator room.
Movie: Arnold has a somewhat smaller role in the film, though being played by Samuel Jackson makes him more entertaining.
Winner: Movie. I mainly chose the film version because of Samuel Jackson, plus all of his major talking points and characteristics from the book make it to the movie so it’s not like we missed out on anything.
Dennis Nedry (Wayne Knight)
Book: Nedry is an obese computer scientist who plays a major role in keeping Jurassic Park’s systems running. However, because the park requires so much extra work on his part, he wants a raise. Hammond refuses, since he wants to cut costs. He therefore takes a bribe from a rival company and shuts off large chunks of the park’s security systems so he can sneak dinosaur embryos to a waiting boat before returning to work and attributing the power failures to a glitch. He is brutally killed by a Dilophosaurus, but not before his actions enable several dinosaurs to break free.
Movie: Nedry actually garners a little sympathy in the novel, since he’s being horrendously underpaid, but in the film he is completely unlikable. Otherwise, everything winds up the same for him.
Winner: Book. Nedry shows a little more intelligence in the novel. While he shuts off some fences, he has the sense to keep the security on the Velociraptors intact. Also, treating a Dilophosaurus like a dog is pretty stupid, however funny the scene is.
Tim and Lex (Joseph Mazzello and Ariana Richards)
Book: Tim and Lex are Hammond’s grandchildren. Tim is a big fan of dinosaurs and also quite proficient with computers, helping restore internal security systems during the Velociraptor sequence. He turns out to be a pretty competent character. Lex, his younger sister, is a different story, talking about how bored she is by the dinosaurs and continually screaming and making noises that attract predators. She’s just awful and if I wasn’t concerned about Tim’s feelings I probably would have rooted for one of the dinosaurs to eat her.
Movie: Tim is the same, except his computer skills are transferred to Lex, who is now his older sister. Fortunately, Lex loses her whiny behavior from the novel and is actually useful towards the end.
Winner: Movie. Tim is pretty much the same in either version, but Lex in the novel is intolerable.
Book: Dr. Wu plays a large role in the novel, helping explain the cloning process and sticking around for the finale, where he is killed by the Velociraptors. He is firmly in InGen’s camp, believing that he has created perfectly manageable dinosaurs. He appears for one scene in the film and leaves the island on a boat. Another character with a larger presence in the novel is Dr. Gerry Harding, a veterinarian. In both versions he tries to heal an animal with Ellie Sattler. He leaves for the boat in the movie, but in the novel sticks around to help fight off the raptors. The final character to appear in both versions is Lewis Dodgson, who bribes Nedry into stealing embryos. He is a scientist working for a rival corporation in the book, but gives off the appearance of a shady stooge in the film.
Overall, the characters are better in the movie. Crichton doesn’t add much personality or quirks and makes most of them mouthpieces for their respective fields of expertise. Spielberg knows how to make entertaining and memorable characters for a fun two hour film.
It’s great seeing dinosaurs on the screen, but movies have budgets. In Spielberg’s Jurassic Park the dinosaurs only appear for about fifteen to twenty minutes. Novels have no budget except paper, so Crichton offers much more species.
The film features one T-Rex. The novel actually has a second one, a juvenile. Likewise, where there’s a trio of Velociraptors in the movie, there is an entire pack in the book, which is also able to breed. By the end there are dozens of baby raptors. The film provides on sick Triceratops, while the novel features a whole herd. Other dinosaurs in the film include herds of Brachiosaurus, Parasaurolophus, and Gallimimus, as well as the frilled, venom-spewing Dilophosaurus. There’s said to be much more, but we never see them.
If you want lots of dino scenes, the novel is actually better. We get to see Apatosaurus, Maiasaura, lots of Procompsognathus, and many others. There are even Pteranodons who swoop in at Grant and the kids. The final Velociraptor attack is much more epic. The movie version is definitely scarier, with kids trying to hide while inches away dinosaurs are sniffing and clawing around, but the book has them jumping onto buildings, going up against shotguns, killing off InGen employees left and right, and slowly but surely gnawing their way through bars to get into the visitor center. The one thing the movie does way better is the climax. In the novel, Grant poisons some eggs and rolls them along the floor, causing the raptors to chase them and bite into them, thus killing themselves. In the movie we get the badass save by the T-Rex, who battles the raptors and lets the survivors make their escape.
The one dinosaur the movie does better is the Dilophosaurus. Crichton used his imagination and gave them venom, which they could actually spit. Spielberg takes it even further by giving them a pop-up frill and some scary sound effects. Like the Velociraptor, Dilophosaurus gained much popularity Jurassic Park, and also made for a pretty cool action figure.
So dinosaurs are better in the novel if you want a lot more of them. But seeing them on screen with Stan Winston and Phil Tippet’s special effects is still amazing today.
So Which is Better?
I’m going to have to chicken out and make this a tie. Without budgetary and time constraints, the novel is able to offer more dinosaurs and a lot more information on how Jurassic Park was built and why it failed. The movie has far better characters, plus the special effects and John Williams’ musical score. I would recommend that you both read the novel and see the movie. Despite sharing the same basic plot and themes, they are actually pretty different from each other. So if you grew up watching the movie, you can still have a fresh experience reading the novel.