Into Jurassic’s darkness
As heavy as Spielberg’s Jurassic Park seems, it hardly equals the conspiratorial tone the book conveys.
In some ways, Spielberg continued in the first of the series to recreate another version of Pinocchio, while Crichton set about to recreate Frankenstein.
This is not true in Spielberg’s Lost World, which in some ways becomes in many ways darker and more terrifying than Crichton’s second book, perhaps because of the personal conflicts Spielberg had encountered when stalked.
The differences between the two films might make good fodder for the theory that Spielberg sought to recreate the sense more intense vulnerability he felt in the second film, by conveying the fact the monsters could not be contained on the island of creation and that human kind contributed to this inability for people to feel safe even at home.
While Spielberg opened the first film with an incredibly vicious attack by a raptor on one of the island workers, he seems to have reserved some of the more fearful scenes from Crichton’s first book for the second film – such as the attack by the tiny dinosaurs upon the girl in a beach scene.
While human folly is central to both of the Spielberg-directed films (as well as the third film which on which he was only the executive producer), the first film retains some of the hopeful glow of prior Spielberg films.
The second film grows darker and stays dark, more in keeping with the tone Crichton seemed to intend – although in some ways, even Spielberg’s second film feels like a nightmare in which the monsters are never completely killed off.
Crichton creates several barriers that keep the monsters from truly taking over human kind, such as the lysine contingent in the first book and later even more debilitating to the monsters, the sheep infection that will eventually cause dinosaurs to go extinct again.
Part of the reason why Jurassic Park the film is so much better than its two sequels has to do with the fact that the first book is far better than the second, and Spielberg does a masterful job in condensing the first books central points into a dramatic sequence of events that builds up the drama leading to the stunning conclusion. While many of the same elements exist in the book, Crichton has less interest in dramatic effect than in making his intellectual arguments. The second book is even more scattered than the first, which explains why Spielberg had to seek out other sources to supplement the drama such as the original The Lost World by Sir Arthur Conan Doyle (more on this in a later essay).
Crichton does set the stage better with several scenes than in the movie, suggesting early on that the dinosaurs had already escaped their original park setting and made their way to the mainland. But even in the second volume he never really fully develops this idea.
Spielberg appears to be even more reluctant in the first film to have such savagery escape the confines of Jurassic Park – and only later in his version of The Lost World, does he dare complete this investigation, taking the concept from Doyle’s volume. Crichton’s motives differ from Spielberg’s on several levels.
Crichton’s Hammond – as I will point out in a later essay – is essentially evil, someone who needs to be punished for playing God, and pays the ultimate price by being devoured by his own creations. Spielberg’s Hammond – which in truth may represent Spielberg himself – is misguided; a well-meaning old man that tampers with powers beyond his reckoning, and because of his love for his grandchildren is spared in order that he might reappear in the second volume, still misguided by in a fundamentally different way.
The real evil in Spielberg is centered on the corporate misuse of this technology and the threat capitalistic ventures pose when it comes to creations like this – a clear metaphor for the misuse of art industries like the movie business indulges in.
Hammond tells Ellie in the first film that creation is a sheer act of will, and that his goal was to give something to his audience that was real, something they could touch. Ellie tells Hammond control over creative process – suggesting a parent’s ability to control its off spring – is an illusion, and that the only thing that really matters are the people they love.
Spielberg advances this idea in The Lost World, where as Crichton simply continues some of the themes he started in the first book.
Jurassic Park – filmed in 1992 and released in 1993 – shows us the beginning of a change in Spielberg’s film making, mirroring perhaps disillusionment with the creative process. Yet there is enough of the old themes for us to see Spielberg’ Peter Pan showing through the dark clouds, and a sense that NeverNever land is being corrupted by outside forces, and that if there is evil, it is not the Dinosaurs (not even the raptors) but those who try to manipulate them or make a profit out of them. This idea is even more advanced in the later films where Spielberg attempts to make dinosaurs even more human than human beings are, endowing them with parenting qualities that even Crichton for the most part avoided.
Crichton in the end suggested that some things were beyond genetic manipulation, and that human kind might be able to recreate the dinosaurs and even the environment in which the dinosaur’s lived, but not in many cases the social structure that helped shape the more intelligent members of that species. While some of the less intelligent dinosaurs were guided by instinct, the more intelligent creatures such as the raptors became mean and greedy because mankind had failed to duplicate the social structure that limited these aspects in the individual. This, of course, reflected Crichton’s negative view of human greed, which he seems to see as a social failing: the concept of everyman for himself is a social disease.
But this is an opinion the less skewed Spielberg clearly does not share, and though some humans become evil, they are shaped that way by social forces, and in Spielberg’s Jurassic world nature left to itself with thrive.
The flaw is in the human element, not the creatures themselves, and by the end of The Lost World Spielberg as Hammond says at much.
In Spielberg’s films, the humans are the real monsters while the dinosaurs are simply doing what is natural. It is human interference with natures that causes the problems.
Crichton’s who is pontificating on scientific ideas tends to be in his books the way Malcom is his books, going on too long. In many ways, Spielberg simplifies the scientific concepts espoused by Crichton and makes them remarkably more understandable.
Spielberg also gives his characters stronger motivations than their comparable characters in the books. Crichton’s interest lay in the science, while Spielberg focused on the people, and in this is all the difference between sympathetic audiences and the somewhat remote feeling the books gives us.
Most of the characters in the books tend to be distant. Dr. Grant is not nearly as interesting or vulnerable as the Dr. Grant we find in the Spielberg film. While Nedtry, the computer nerd, is similar in the book as in the film, Spielberg gives him added touches to make him even more unlikable. We get less satisfaction from the demise of similar evil characters in Spielberg’s The Lost World, but we’ll go into that in another essay.
Spielberg’s ability to create “cute” dinosaurs adds a bit to the scene in the hatchery where Hammond and Dr. Wu drools over the birth of a raptor, a stark difference from the more terrible hatchery scenes we get late in the original book.
But Crichton’s objective in both books is to demonstrate just how fragile both the physical and social aspects are of the recreation, very much echoing the concepts in Frankenstein. Crichton’s monsters are equally tragic in that they have no future, something Spielberg’s films clearly oppose.
The balance between cute and ugly, or more accurately, innocent and guilty gives us the intensity of emotion we feel in the Spielberg’s film, and the shadow of good and evil we get in the third film.
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