If you know the difference between a dilophosaur and a hadrosaur; if you can pronounce "pachycephalosaurus"; if you know who would win in a fight between a tyrannosaurus rex and a spinosaurus; and if you still shudder ever time you hear the word "velociraptor", you probably grew up in the '90s watching the Jurassic Park trilogy over and over and over again. (Go you!)
If you did, then chances are good that you also read Michael Crichton's two Jurassic Park novels at some point. And if so, then you know that, as awesome as the movies are (particularly the first one), they could never really be considered "faithful" adaptations of the source material. Hopefully this summer's Jurassic World can fix that.
While 1993's inaugural Jurassic Park film follows the bare-bones outline Crichton's 1990 novel, director Steven Spielberg took a decidedly more family-friendly approach to the plot, sanding over some of the book's rougher edges, eliding many self-righteous monologues about the dangers of science, and crafting a film that would amaze (and, yes, terrify) kids. 1997's The Lost World: Jurassic Park resembles the Crichton's sequel in name only. And 2001's Jurassic Park III has no literary basis whatsoever.
While the upcoming World obviously isn't based on a book, either, it has the opportunity to patch some of the holes in the franchise's adaptation. The third film's director, Joe Johnston, already attempted some of this, featuring two fan-favorite scenes from Crichton's Park that had never made it to the big screen: an attack by airborne pteranodons and a watery boat vs. carnivore confrontation. But there are still several un-adapted scenes from Crichton's two novels that are begging to be featured in Jurassic World, like...
A Compy Ate My Baby!
No, Meryl Streep does not have a cameo in Jurassic World, as awesome as that would be. But Crichton's Park does open under conditions similar to Streep's 1988 film A Cry In The Dark (which coincidentally also starred Jurassic Park's Sam Neill as her husband) — only instead of a wild dingo, it's a procompsognathus (aka "compy") doing the cradle robbing. The opening section of Park is arguably its best; constructed as a tantalizing mystery, it details an outbreak of animal attacks in Costa Rica, the culprit being an unknown species of lizard.
This all climaxes in a scene where a nurse walks into a nursery to find a trio of compys snacking on an infant:
In the light of her flashlight Elena saw the blood dripping from their snouts. Softly chirping, one lizard bent down and, with a quick shake of its head, tore a ragged chunk of flesh from the baby.
Of course, this image didn't make the transition into Spielberg's family-friendly film. (Sure, we saw a young Camilla Belle get nipped by some compys in The Lost World, but it happens mostly offscreen and we're told later that she survived. Lame.) Now that franchise's target audience — the ones who were kids when the first film came out — are grown adults, World shouldn't shy away from delivering the goods.
Keep Your Hands and Arms Inside the Vehicle at All Times
The reason the concept of World is so exciting — besides being the first entry in the franchise in 14 years — is because it promises to show us what was only hinted at in the first film: a fully-functioning amusement part. We get glimpses of that idea in the trailers, with a Shamu-like show featuring a mosasaurus and the movie's resident child stars traveling around in a rolling transparent sphere. But I hope World goes full-out and shows us the diversity of rides possible at a dinosaur-themed park. In Crichton's first book, John Hammond teased the idea of a "Jungle River Ride, where the boats follow tracks underwater," as well as an "Aviary Lodge Ride," which would presumably allow guests to soar right alongside the pteranodons.
Can't Be Tamed
The action of Crichton's Park is frequently interspersed with heavy-handed debates surrounding the ethics of science and bio-engineering, usually with Ian Malcolm spouting nonsense about chaos theory. But on a reread, I found a conversation between Hammond and Dr. Wu to be quite interesting, given what we know so far of World:
"The dinosaurs we have now are real," Wu said, pointing to the screens around the room, "but in certain ways they are unsatisfactory. Unconvincing. I could make them better. [...] We could easily breed slower, more domesticated dinosaurs."
"Domesticated dinosaurs?" Hammond snorted. "Nobody wants domesticated dinosaurs, Henry. They want the real thing."
"But that's my point," Wu said. "I don't think they do. They want to see their expectation, which is quite different."
Hammond was frowning.
"You said yourself, John, this park is entertainment," Wu said. "And entertainment has nothing to do with reality. Entertainment is antithetical to reality."
We know from the trailers that this is exactly how Indominus Rex was created: the park's owners attempting to breed a new dinosaur to meet their audience's rising expectations. I would love to see some version of this conversation make it into the film, especially since B.D. Wong is reprising his Park role of Dr. Wu, the only character from the original trilogy to make an appearance in World. (His character survived the first film despite the fact that Wu is disemboweled by a velociraptor in the novel.)
Holding Out for a Hero
When you ask people to list the most memorable death from the Jurassic Park franchise, they're bound to name one of two moments: Nedry and the dilophosaur or Gennaro and the T-Rex. Inept lawyer Gennaro meets his end while literally peeing his pants, crouching ignobly on a toilet before finding himself between the Rex's jaws. But this was something of a disappointment for the fans of Crichton's book, since in that iteration, Gennaro is actually something of a hero. After the Rex attack, he ventures into the park to find Grant and the kids, even going mano-a-mano with a velociraptor at one point — and surviving!
In the film, Gennaro is conflated with another book character who didn't make the cut: the park's slimy publicist, Ed Regis. Making the lawyer character a contemptible sap whose death we cheer was a disappointingly predictable choice. I think the franchise owes us a mea culpa by making the next protagonist a lawyer who is brave, badass, and kicks major raptor butt.
It's the Final Countdown
Crichton's Park features a "ticking time bomb" subplot that amps up the suspense and accelerates events to a faster pace. Basically, a slew of raptors have stowed away on a ship bound for the mainland, only Grant and the kids know about it, and they have to make it back to the control room, restore power, and signal the boat before it docks and the raptors kill everyone and presumably take over the world. The final sequence of The Lost World alludes to this, when a ship containing a T-Rex docks in San Diego and the dinosaur proceeds to go on a rampage. But this is a tacked-on ending rather than a continuous subplot throughout the film; it would be fun to see World implement some sort of a ticking clock device... you know, just to make things even harder for our erstwhile heroes.
Boom Goes the Dinosaur
One thing Spielberg definitely toned down when adapting Crichton's novels was man-on-dinosaur violence. While we see many dinos fall victim to other dinos (run faster next time, Gallimimus), only once do we see a human kill a dinosaur: in The Lost World, when Ian Malcolm's daughter Kelly gymnastic-kicks a raptor through a window and it winds up impaled on a sharp piece of wood. What a way to go. The characters in the books, on the other hand, definitely carry more of a cavalier "kill or be killed" attitude. Robert Muldoon, the "expert" hunter who in the movie goes down 10 seconds into his first confrontation with a raptor, actually survives the book — mostly because he doesn't hesitate to blow up the raptors with a freaking bazooka.
The animal on the left simply exploded, the upper part of the torso flying into the air, blood spattering like a burst tomato on the walls of the building. The lower torso collapsed to the ground, the legs kicking in the air, the tail flopping.
Even Dr. Grant himself, legendary dinosaur lover that he is, doesn't think twice before ending the lives of a few raptors by feeding them eggs he's pumped full of a powerful neurotoxin. With what looks in the trailers like a full-blown SWAT team out to regain control of Isla Nublar, it will be unrealistic if we don't see them bring down at least one dinosaur.
Death of a Salesman
The first novel ends with the satisfying, well-deserved death of owner John Hammond. Not the movie's happy-Santa-Claus Hammond who was just a wealthy man with a big heart and an unrealistic dream. No, no — the book's villainous Hammond who was nothing more than a greedy businessman who didn't even care that his own grandchildren were stranded in a park full of hungry carnivores.
This park was not built to cater only for the super-rich. Everyone in the world has the right to enjoy these animals.
If I charge five thousand dollars a day for my park, who's going to stop me? After all, nobody needs to come here. And, far from being highway robbery, a costly price tag actually increases the appeal of the park. A visit becomes a status symbol, and all Americans love that. So do the Japanese, and of course they have far more money.
So when Hammond gets poisoned, paralyzed, and eaten alive by compys at the end of the book... approximately zero people are sad. (This is a fate that would befall Peter Stormare's Dieter in The Lost World.) It would be great to see the film franchise actually embrace a human character's villainy in a non-cartoonish way, giving us someone we love to hate and then crafting them a satisfyingly grim exit.
I Love The Smell of Napalm In the Morning
Given that Spielberg put the kibosh on all that human-on-dino violence, there was no way he could adapt Crichton's original ending, which saw the entirety of Isla Nublar carpet-bombed with napalm by the Costa Rican air force, completely obliterating every last trace of life on the island. It was a bleak, apocalyptic ending that definitely wouldn't have jived with the family-friendly nature of the film Spielberg had crafted — but could still serve as a shock-and-awe finale for World if things get far enough out of control.
A Tale of Two Corporations
In his second book, Crichton introduces viewers to InGen's competition: another genetic corporation by the name of Biosyn. The conflict between our beloved group of scientists, who just want to study the dinosaurs, and the evil businessmen of Biosyn, who just want to steal intellectual property, makes up the heart of The Lost World. (Biosyn is name-dropped in the first book as the company behind Nedry's theft of the dinosaur embryos.)
The second film changes the InGen vs. Biosyn rivalry to simply InGen vs. InGen, as Hammond's nephew attempts to wrest control of the company away from his uncle, capture the dinosaurs on Isla Sorna, and transfer them to a zoo in San Diego. (Suffice it to say, this plan does not go well.) But the shady corporate dealings of Crichton's novels could lend a larger scope to the franchise if adapted properly. Knowing that World is already mirroring the original Park in a lot of ways (being the first film since then to take place on Isla Nublar, featuring a fully-operational park), it would be ironic if a fumbled bit of corporate espionage on the part of Biosyn is what led to Jurassic World's meltdown... again.
Throw the Animal Behaviorist Out With the Bathwater
Sure, the Jurassic Park movies have their fair share of despicable characters (Gennaro the lawyer, Ludlow the nephew) — but when the sh*t hits the fan and the dinos start munching, most enmity is forgotten as all the human characters simply try to survive. The scaly carnivores are the real "villains" of the franchise... but seeing as how the T-Rex and the velociraptors are simply doing what they're programmed to do, it's hard to blame them. World could benefit from a real human villain audiences can latch onto and hate — like Dodgson, the head of Biosyn in Crichton's Lost World.
When animal behaviorist (and Ian Malcolm's ex-girlfriend) Sarah Harding hitches a ride to Isla Sorna on Dodgson's boat, the evil executive wastes no time in literally throwing her overboard and leaving her for dead. Of course Sarah survives — and she doesn't soon forget about Dodgson's attempt on her life, either. When the two end up hiding under the same car while evading a T-Rex, she shoves him out, straight into the jaws of the waiting meat-eater.
(Vincent D'Onofrio, Daredevil's excellent villain Wilson Fisk, appears in the new film as the park's head of security. Maybe he can fill World's "bad guy" quota?)
Poor Pretty Eddie
So we've already established that humans don't kill dinosaurs in the Jurassic Park movies. You know what else doesn't happen in this franchise? Characters we like dying. Think about it. The only characters who wind up getting served on the dino buffet are ones we hate — or are at least ambivalent about: Nedry, Gennaro, Dieter, Ludlow, Cooper. Pretty much the only "sad" death in all three movies is The West Wing's Richard Schiff, who gets torn apart by two T-Rexes while attempting to save Jeff Goldblum, Julianne Moore, and Vince Vaughn. (Yes, Vince Vaughn was in The Lost World. Really.) Vince Vaughn's character runs into velociraptor territory alone and unarmed, and emerges unscathed. Alessandro Nivola's character in Jurassic Park III is carried off by pteranodons and presumed dead... until he turns up alive on a helicopter at the end.
In Crichton's novels, the animals aren't so discriminatory. People get torn limb from limb, generally regardless of their moral code, the one group that's off-limits to dinos being children. In Crichton's Lost World, plucky professor's assistant Eddie is devoured by velociraptors. (And yes, Schiff's character in the film is named Eddie, but he bears more in common with the book's Doc Thorne. Vaughn's Nick Van Owen is really the film's Eddie analogue, and he gets off scot-free.) Watching a sympathetic character get disemboweled by a dino in World would certainly raise the stakes to a point none of the other films in the franchise have ever really managed to reach.
Night of the Living Raptors
Crichton's Lost World ends with a showdown between our protagonists, holed up in an abandoned convenience store, and the velociraptors circling outside, trying desperately to get in. It's an intense siege straight out of a horror movie; you could easily substitute the raptors for zombies and we'd all be watching an episode of The Walking Dead. This entire climax was cut from the film adaptation (replaced by the silly T-Rex in San Diego sequence), which makes sense in a way — the films have always gone for more of a rip-roaring adventure tone than the more horror-oriented novels.
But which single scene from the entire Jurassic franchise is considered the most iconic? There are a lot of good ones to choose from: the very first glimpse of dinos to John Williams' soaring soundtrack; the initial Rex attack on the jeeps; the Rex saving the day at the end. But I'm pretty sure most of the franchise's younger fans would point to the "raptors in the kitchen" scene as the most indelible. Certainly the most traumatizing, at least. And that's basically a prehistoric riff on the "crazed killer stalking the final girl" trope from every horror movie ever. Hopefully World will incorporate more edge-of-your-seat thrills like this into its run-time.
Images: Universal Pictures (13)