I have a tendency to consume media in pairings. After reading a novel I get a strong urge to watch its adaptation. The past few months, I’ve read/watched A Clockwork Orange and several Stephen King adaptations like The Mist, for instance. I’ll watch any adaptation at least once, though I don’t re-watch the execrably bad ones like The Langoliers.

One exception to this is Jurassic Park. I love the Crichton novel, probably his best. Crichton wasn’t a prose genius or anything, but being a science junkie, his well-researched science fiction (though, for some reason, it was rarely called that) always scratched an itch for me. I re-read it a couple days ago, so I had to re-watch the film too, even though I hate it.

I suppose that the parts of the film that are well-done – and which made it such a success – are still pretty great-looking, and that’s why I insist on seeing it again. The rex attack, the kitchen scene with the raptors, the first time you see the dinosaurs in the film – these are moments of true Spielbergian eye candy and kinetic action that are still beautiful to look at. But so much of the film is so intolerably bad, and much is because of mindless changes to a good novel.

Okay, I get that you don’t want as much detail about complexity theory and DNA sequencing in the film as you get in the novel. But the decision to squeeze about all of it into a cutesy cartoon and one or two brief dialogues out of Jeff Goldblum was taking it too far. People like to have some explanation of science in their sci-fi.

What they did with the characters and casting is almost butchery. Goldblum’s Ian Malcolm is the exception – he’s the one bright point. Some of it was bad casting, like Laura Dern, whose irritating overacting is distracting. Samuel L. Jackson has a similar problem here; though I usually enjoy his performances, this is one of the few I hated. Sam Neil wasn’t great for Grant, either, but more egregious is the non-sensical switch from child-lover to child-hater. I guess it was for the dramatic arc of having him come to like the kids, but it didn’t bring enough to the party to justify how it changed our perception of him.

The kids’ characters were actually improved a little; swapping the ages of the boy and girl was fine, and splitting the computer talents/dinosaur enthusiasm up instead of them being both Tim as in the novel was smart, as Lex did little in the novel but whine about being hungry. Their acting was the problem; while they were fine with the action sequences, they seriously needed to rein in on the dialogue. The best example is how the perfectly reasonable line, “This is a Unix system. I know this.” switches from sensible if rendered matter-of-factly to one of laugh-out-loud cheesiness.

Hammond was even worse; while Attenborough is a brilliant actor and he could have played the character from the novel well, they switched him to this goofy grandfatherly type. While Hammond initially appeared that way in the novel, he was a dark and unlikable character, and the best in the novel. A typical example is his attitude towards park admission fees; in the film, he wants every child in the world able to see dinosaurs, while in the book, he cynically says to Gennaro that he can’t wait to see the children’s faces – the rich children, anyway. The Hammond of the novel doesn’t even particularly like his grandchildren, but only invited them to use as emotional blackmail against Gennaro.

Finally are the changes to plot, which were massive almost to the point of completely different (as the sequel, The Lost World, would eventually do, bearing almost no resemblance to the novel). Yes, in the novel, the ride breaks down, the rex attacks, and Grant and the kids cross the park to get back to the visitor’s centre. But none of the details are the same. Maybe it was for financial reasons, but their journey was the best part of the book, a day-long journey full of encounters with different dinosaurs, a river raft chase with a plunge over a waterfall towards a waiting T-rex, and a near-death encounter with pterodactyls (which finally appeared in a much different form in Jurassic Park III). We get a rushed trip with a cliché and hokey electric fence scene. The battle with the raptors at the lodge/visitor’s centre was epic and much, much more interesting. And let’s not even talk about the exciting, climactic exploration of the velociraptor nest that was absent entirely.

Look, I get that movies can’t be slaves to their books. That’s how you end up with a snoozer like the first couple Harry Potter movies. Many of the changes made to Jurassic Park were perfectly understandable – eliminating Henry Wu’s presence from the control room, combining the characters of Ed Regis and Donald Gennaro, as well as Harding/Muldoon, that kind of thing, just to improve the narrative flow and cut down on superfluous characters. But to completely change most of the plot and most of the characters makes me wonder why you bought the rights to the novel in the first place.

I’m aware that not everything can be Lord of the Rings, which did these things carefully and well – expanding Helm’s Deep, having Arwen replace Glorfindel for the race to the Ford of Bruinen, eliminating Tom Bombadil, etc. Sure, you can’t please everyone, but I understand these changes completely – even the loss of the Scouring of the Shire, one of my favourite parts of the books. But shouldn’t I expect to at least recognize the story I read on-screen?

Crichton novels seem to get this treatment worse than most, and rarely with good or successful results. Congo wasn’t bad, but marred by the animatronic gorilla. Rising Sun was watchable and pretty faithful, but it wasn’t great to begin with. Timeline was awful. Sphere was awful. Disclosure seriously messed with events & characters but was okay. And so on.

Stephen King movies are often bad (and not surprisingly, when they’re not – Shawshank, Green Mile, Misery – they’re very faithful), but at least you can say that they usually follow the story – even The Shining, or the more-or-less intact but different-ending Cujo and The Mist…well, unless you count The Lawnmower Man, which takes the prize on not resembling the original source.

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