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In Jurassic Park, Spielberg made a family favorite from an adult book

Page To ScreenIn Page To Screen, we compare a movie to the book that spawned it. The analysis goes into deep detail about specific plot points—in other words, you’ve been warned.

Michael Crichton’s Jurassic Park (1990) and Steven Spielberg’s Jurassic Park (1993)

The first version of Michael Crichton’s Jurassic Park was about a young boy who is stuck in a dinosaur theme park when the creatures break loose. When it was finished as a draft, Crichton sent it out to his usual gang of early readers, all of whom hated it. The next two versions? Same result.


“Finally,” Crichton wrote, “one of the readers said that they were irritated with the story because they wanted it to be from an adult point of view, not a kid point of view. They said, ‘I want this to be a story for me.’ Meaning for an adult.

“So I rewrote it as an adult story.

“And then everybody liked it.”

Setting aside that Dick-and-Jane prose—this guy sold 200 million books?—let’s pause to roll our eyes at the eggheads who read about a dino Disneyland and decided it needed to be for adults. Steven Spielberg, when he adapted the book into his 1993 blockbuster, smartly made the exact opposite judgment, turning the story from a cautionary tale about scientific hubris into an adventure yarn that wasn’t just appropriate for kids, but meant expressly for them. While there were some scenes he couldn’t include—the technology not yet advanced enough for the effects—the biggest changes were done by choice rather than necessity, dropped because they would’ve flown in the face of his family-friendliness. Where the book solely views the dinosaurs as a threat, and the scientists who made them as fools, the film celebrates the majesty of the creatures and sympathizes with the impulse to create them. While the film follows a great deal of the novel’s plot, it approaches the material from a different angle. Certainly the book has adventure elements, and the movie a don’t-play-God message, but the ratio flips going from one to the other.

Both begin with InGen, a biotech company that uses blood found in fossilized mosquitoes to clone dinosaurs, putting the creatures in an advanced zoo. Before the park opens, CEO John Hammond brings in a group of scientists (and his grandchildren) to tour the park and sign off on its security and awesomeness to appease wary investors. The scientists’ initial skepticism about cloning becomes full-blown panic as corporate sabotage—along with an ill-timed storm—wreck the security measures and free the animals to stalk the premises.

The changes between the book and film also start with InGen. In the film, Hammond is a lovable old billionaire, played by Richard Attenborough in a performance not far removed from his Santa Claus in the Miracle On 34th Street remake. Spielberg no doubt saw himself in the character, a man who uses his vast genius to delight children. The film’s Hammond loves his grandkids and dinosaurs, and is absolutely devastated when things go wrong. In the book, the unsentimental Crichton models him as “the dark side of Walt Disney,” using biotechnology for entertainment rather than drug development because it comes with fewer government regulations. “Personally, I would never help mankind,” he says at one point, grumbling that one can’t even sell a life-saving drug at prohibitive prices without people complaining. (My God, imagine the super PAC he would fund.)


In one of the direct contradictions between the book and film, movie-Hammond insists the park was “not built to cater only for the super-rich,” while book-Hammond chuckles, “Nothing is going to stop me from opening Jurassic Park to all the children of the world. Or, at least, to the rich ones.” When his grandkids go missing, book-Hammond is so indifferent that he doesn’t even look up from his bowl of ice cream. “Let’s not get carried away,” he says in response to an employee’s panic.

For much of his career, Crichton was less a novelist than an op-ed writer who smuggled his views about new technologies—specifically, the inability of people to understand or control them—under the guise of airport-friendly potboilers. His treatment of moral considerations have all the subtlety of a T. rex, and Jurassic Park ends with Hammond’s death, the billionaire brought down by a pack of compys. (A fate that befalls Peter Stormare in the sequel The Lost World.)


A lot of characters get fundamental tweaks like Hammond did. The lawyer Donald Gennaro (played by Martin Ferrero) meets the most ignominious end imaginable in the film (see photo), but he’s fairly heroic in the book, which he survives. He volunteers for rescue missions, fights off a velociraptor, and is the only InGen person who admits to the folly of what the company was doing.


Another contradiction: Paleontologist Alan Grant (Sam Neill) starts the film by hating children, but affection grows as he navigates Hammond’s grandkids through the park. As they doze against him in the final scene, he exchanges significant glances with Laura Dern’s paleobotanist Ellie Sattler, implying that once they make it back to the mainland, they’re going to start breeding themselves, no frog DNA required. In the book, though, we’re told simply: “Grant liked kids.” Also, book-Sattler has a fiancé; there’s no romance between her and Grant.

These are small changes, amounting to very minor subplots, but it’s no coincidence that they appear in Spielberg’s version, where they contribute a warmth that isn’t in the book at all. Even the grandkids are portrayed coldly in the book, to the point where if movie-Grant met those versions, he would not have undergone his emotional evolution and would have been justified in feeding them to the raptors.


In the movie, the kids are likable and mature for their ages; Timmy is 7-ish and Lex is about 11. That’s flipped from the book, where Timmy is an older brother to the most annoying character ever written. She has only a few lines of dialogue throughout the whole book that aren’t whiny complaints. While the movie makes a point of giving them both strengths—Timmy uses his dinosaur knowledge to keep them safe while computer geek Lex fixes the park’s security systems (“It’s a UNIX system! I know this!”); when the two are stalked by a pair of raptors in the park’s kitchen, they each foil one—Timmy does everything in the book. He fixes the computer, defeats both kitchen raptors and even escapes from a crashed car (stuck in a treetop) without any help. Lex’s contributions include complaining about being bored (on a dinosaur tour!), complaining about being hungry, complaining when Timmy finds her food she doesn’t want to eat, demanding to be carried all the time, and sneezing so loudly that she attracts the attention of a T. rex. No wonder Hammond was glad to be rid of them.

Each version makes sense for what either Crichton or Spielberg was trying to do. Movie-Lex is a surrogate for the target audience, so she’s not insufferable. Book-Hammond is evil because he represents a rush to commercialize scientific advancement without respecting or understanding what’s being created. The book’s unsentimental view toward the dinosaurs stems from that theme, and since Spielberg doesn’t hit it as hard, there’s a lot of material that he dispenses with.


Before we get to that, though, there are a couple of cool sequences in the book that would’ve fit neatly into the movie’s adventure bent had Spielberg had the ability to create them. Remember that while the film was a breakthrough for computer effects, only four of the film’s 14 minutes with dinosaur effects had CGI.

From The Lost World

In one sequence, Grant, Timmy, and Lex come across a river and decide to take a raft to get back to the lodge (the book has a time limit that the movie drops; raptors are on a boat headed toward the mainland and Grant needs to get back in time to warn everyone). They’re stalked by the T. rex, who at one point swims out to attack them and later sticks his snout through a waterfall, behind which the kids are hiding. The river also takes them through the park’s abandoned aviary, where pterodactyls dive bomb them. Later, Sattler uses herself as bait to distract a pack of raptors, a plan that ends with her climbing a tree and jumping into a swimming pool to escape, denying the creatures a true paleo diet. The raptors follow her nearly every step of the way, including up the tree, proving themselves capable climbers. A lot of this would eventually find its way on-screen once the technology caught up; the river and pterodactyls both appear in Jurassic Park III, while the waterfall is in The Lost World, along with the climbing raptors (in the goofy gymnastics sequence).

Other moments haven’t appeared in any of the films, and they might fit in uneasily if they did. Consider this: In all the Jurassic Park films, the heroes almost never kill a dinosaur. (A child, of all characters, inadvertently impales one in The Lost World; that’s pretty much it.) Unlike almost every other monster movie, where the focus is on killing the beast, the Jurassic series has a live-and-let-live attitude; it will be interesting to see whether Jurassic World breaks this informal taboo, as the trailers indicate the main plot is about bringing down a ’roided up T. rex.


The book is all about humans fighting back. At one point—hold on to your butts—security expert Robert Muldoon blows a raptor apart with a bazooka, a demonstration of his skills that goes far beyond his movie equivalent, who lasts two seconds against the clever girl he’s hunting. (Muldoon not only survives the book, he hits a T. rex with a tranquilizer, inadvertently saving Timmy and Lex when it kicks in.) And while movie-Grant fires off a couple of shots at a raptor, it’s hard to imagine him wanting to kill any of them; he loves them too much. In the book, though, there’s an exciting sequence where he injects poison into a batch of dinosaur eggs and bowls them toward raptors, speculating that they, like birds of prey further down the evolutionary line, will eat the unhatched. He kills two that way, and a third by stabbing it with a syringe.


There’s a big Darwinian streak running through the book, as you might expect, which means the animals are never sentimentalized. At one point, Timmy tries to distract grown-up raptors by presenting them with an infant one (his playing with the infant is replaced in the movie with a scene where the scientists watch one hatch). You can imagine Spielberg creating a moment of familial bonding here; in the book, the grown-ups immediately eat it.

Oh yeah, and the whole island is napalmed at the end. After the security systems are restored, Grant leads an expedition to find the raptor nests and determine the extent of their breeding. It’s unclear why they risk this when airstrikes are being called in, though Grant is able to study actual nests as opposed to fossilized ones (raptors want to migrate, just like birds!). Interestingly, while this section doesn’t appear in any of the films, there’s a similar sequence in Roland Emmerich’s Godzilla, which “borrowed” heavily from Jurassic Park (as did Gareth Edwards’ 2014 version).


The destruction of the island would be an unimaginably dark ending for a Jurassic movie, as it argues that audiences don’t deserve the dinosaurs they so crave. But it fits in perfectly with Crichton’s more cynical worldview. The island is gone, and chaos theoretician Ian Malcolm (Jeff Goldblum in the film) dies, just as he had predicted from the start.

Of course, when the book and film became historically popular, Crichton created a new island for the sequel and resurrected Malcolm for another go-round (The Lost World book explains that Malcolm was merely injured, though Jurassic Park’s epilogue mentions funeral preparations for him). It seems that when millions of dollars are at stake, then truly, life finds a way.


Start with: The first section of Crichton’s Jurassic Park is the best, taking the form of a mystery about brutal animal attacks: a doctor treats a man with bizarre wounds, a little girl is hospitalized after an encounter with an unidentifiable lizard (a version of this begins The Lost World movie). This stuff is fun and compelling, and as the book’s dinosaurs are so much more brutal (and the death scenes far more gruesome, with tons of intestines being spilled), the book seems more likely to scare you, if that’s what you’re looking for.

Still, Spielberg is a better director than Crichton is a writer. The sequences that appear in both versions—the T. rex attack on the car, the first appearance of a brontosaurus—are all better in the movie, benefiting hugely from Spielberg’s mastery of pacing and framing (I took a film class that studied the T. rex attack to learn about camera angles and editing). Crichton often seems in need of an editor; he’s fond of filling his pages with lines of computer programming or DNA sequences, and his dialogue is often one monologue about scientific theory interspersed with another one. As the science is often quite interesting, this is fun in a dorky sort of way, though it does the drama no favors.


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