Author: Michael Crichton
Type: Fiction, novel
I read it: May 2015 (re-read)
The story goes that Michael Crichton was persuaded to write a sequel to Jurassic Park right on the heels of the first movie’s success. Was this a good idea? Well…
Let’s start with the biggest hurdle: Ian Malcolm as the protagonist. Presumed dead after the events of the first book, he’s mostly healed with a limp to show for his leg wound. I suppose I can get past the revival, which this write-up by The A.V. Club ingeniously summarizes with: “It seems that when millions of dollars are at stake, then truly, life finds a way.” But I wonder why it’s necessary to have Malcolm return at all. Is it just to be able to structure the book based on his “configurations,” exactly like the first book’s “iterations”? This only serves to make the disasters of the story a foregone conclusion. Once again, Malcolm warns against the humans’ abilities to survive, and once again everything goes to hell.
Further similarities make this sequel feel all too much like a retread. There are two kids who stow themselves away and end up on the island (Site B). They are bright but overlooked by the adults, and one of them is good with computers. Where have we seen this before? As for the adults, Sarah Harding is a pretty solid female character and Levine is memorable as the whiny genius intellectual who has to be shaken into reality when things go bad. Other than that, the other male characters all blur and seem to matter little. This is evidenced by at least two deaths occurring that the survivors don’t seem to give proper gravity toward. I find it hard to believe that even the selfish Levine would continue to collect data after someone is torn to pieces in front of him.
The dinosaurs are nifty and Crichton writes some crunchy death scenes. The pachycephalosaurs get some good page space while they demolish one of the vehicles. The focus on the animals taking care of their young is a big plot point, and the mystery is how the small island can support a lot of predation. (Malcolm and others find clever ways to hypothesize, but the poetic waxing by the end is overdone.) The broad plot points hew too closely to the first book here too, because the T-rexes and the raptors fill up a lot of the story. The trailer scene with the baby T-rex is quite good though, and the parent dinosaurs trying to push the trailer over the cliff is exciting.
How does the book compare to the movie? While The Lost World movie falls pretty short of Jurassic Park, it improves on the book in most ways that matter. In the movie, Malcolm has a believable motivation for being forced onto the island: he wants to rescue his girlfriend, Sarah. They are somewhat dating in the book, but Malcolm actually goes to the island to save Levine, even though Levine is a complete ass who voluntarily put himself in harm’s way—it’s hard to buy that Malcolm wants to save him. It’s also cool that in the movie, Kelly is Malcolm’s daughter. The movie handles the baby T-rex and trailer scene really well, but tanks hard with that terrible ending sequence.
But we come back to the issue that the book and movie both share, and that is Ian Malcolm at center stage. It just doesn’t work well. He’s a better secondary character, and he can’t hold together either the book or the movie. In the book, the same thing happens to him as in Jurassic Park. And I mean the same thing: he hurts his leg and lays around while others administer morphine and plot to save the group. Malcolm gets to rant semi-coherently about big ideas that mostly don’t stand up to scrutiny. The stakes are the same as well: a few unimportant characters will probably die, the most evil of them will certainly die, and the important ones definitely won’t die. For some reason, characters are always passing out and then coming to a few chapters later. That’s the limit of the suspense.
Although: there’s that one scene of Sarah and Kelly on a motorcycle chasing a raptor. Sarah’s driving while instructing Kelly how to shoot a paralyzing dart at the fleeing animal while they are doing 70 or so. How’s that for passing the Bechdel test? The visual is excellent, and if all Jurassic World can conjure is Andy Dwyer riding a motorcycle, then someone has wasted an opportunity to use the best moment from this entire book. There aren’t a whole lot of memorable ones.