Jurassic Park is one of, if not, my all-time favorite movie, but I had never read the book which has always hung over me like a dark cloud. So in honor of the big-budget dinosaur flick making its way onto Netflix this month, I picked up the Michael Crichton classic and dug in on some dinosaur action!
I don’t expect the books and the movies to be exactly the same. Obviously, a lot the book is not going to make it to the big screen, often for the better. But it’s fun to compare the books to the movies especially when the movie is better (I’m looking at you Bourne Identity and every James Bond movie).
So if you’ve never read Jurassic Park or it’s been a while since you basked in the glory that is Jeff Goldblum in a mostly-open shirt here are the five biggest ways it differs from the movie.
The basic plot of the book and the movie are the same. A handful of scientists go to check out this rich guy’s island of genetically-recreated dinosaurs. As you can imagine everything goes wrong and soon the scientists are trying to survive the mighty T-Rex and the uber-smart killing machines that are velociraptors. But in the novel, the scientists aren’t’ just running from dinos, they are also racing against the clock.
There’s an entire subplot dedicated to Dr. Alan Grant and crew discovering a boat leaving Isla Nublar is filled with dinosaur stowaways and needing to stop it before it reaches the mainland. Fortunately for our cast of heroes, this is an 18-hour voyage so there’s time to avoid dino death and get the boat to turn back.
Another more minor subplot involves evidence that the dinosaurs had already reached the mainland. The evidence includes, baby’s being snatched, kids being bitten and the body of a strange lizard turning up on a Costa Rican beach. This actually takes up the first 50 pages or so of the book. It’s only a minor subplot so it’s easy to see why it was cut.
Survivors of Jurassic Park
This should probably come with an asterisk. At the end of the movie, you see Dr. Grant, Dr. Ellie Sattler, the kids, John Hammond and Goldblum’s Ian Malcolm fly away in the helicopter to presumably live happily ever after.
There are two major differences here: neither Hammond nor Malcolm* survive the island. Hammond’s death is a bit surprising. He lives through the power outage and then dies after the park is back under control when he falls down a hill and is killed by a pack of Procompsognathus.
You may have noticed the asterisk by Malcolm’s name in the above paragraph, so let me explain. The book leaves you with the impression that he is dead after his gnarly broken leg gets infected and help can’t reach him in time. Before his apparent death, Malcolm talks about going to the other side before drifting away. On the helicopter ride off the island, Dr. Grant says, “What about Malcolm?” His question is answered with a simple head shake. Why? Because he’s dead damn it! So, why the asterisk? Well, Ian Malcolm actually survived according to Crichton’s Jurassic Park sequel “The Lost Word”. Crichton basically falls back on the old Mark Twain line, “the reports of my death are greatly exaggerated.”
This was the strangest change to me. In the movie, Lex is the clever self-described computer hacker and sister to Tim, her dino-obsessed younger brother. This couldn’t be a more different than the book version of Lex who is a bratty, whiny 8-year-old. Maybe this change was made because Lex in the book is mostly annoying and her lack of listening constantly puts Dr. Grant and Tim in danger.
Tim, on the other hand, remains mostly the same dinosaur-obsessed 11-year-old in both the book and the movie. To be fair, if the book didn’t tell you he was 11 you’d think he was much older. He is constantly taking heroic actions to protect his sister. And unlike the movie, it’s Tim’s computer skills that save the park.
While on the subject of kids, one other minor change was Dr. Grant’s attitude about them. In the movie, he makes it clear he does not like kids, even talking about how they smell bad. In the book, he loves kids because of their love for dinosaurs. I’m guessing this change was made specifically for that scene at the end of the movie when the kids falls asleep on Dr. Grantas they flee Isla Nublar in the helicopter.
This is always my favorite change in a movie when two characters from a book are combined into one. In the case of Jurassic Park the movie, it’s whiny attorney Donald Gennaro. Remember when he’s killed by the T-Rex while sitting on an out-house toilet? In the book, not only does that not happen Gennaro survives to the end of the book.
Here’s the thing, these aren’t really the same two Gennaros. Both are lawyers, but the movie character is really a combination of the lawyer and Jurassic Park public relations hack Ed Regis. Most of Gennaro’s character traits in the movie come from Regis including ditching the kids in the car when the T-Rex attacks. The Gennaro in the book is not a “good guy” per say, but he does have some heroic moments, something his movie counterpart would never do.
Hammond is a Bastard
If you’ve only seen the movie you think of John Hammond as the Santa Claus lookalike who delivers dinosaurs instead of presents. Richard Attenborough’s character is a rich guy, who despite creating the world’s deadliest zoo, mostly had good intentions. Even admitting that he no longer endorses Jurassic Park by the end of the movie.
Hammond in the book is a bastard. He believes in his park, no matter what evidence is presented to him showing how dangerous it is. He is ruthless putting his own grandchildren in harm’s way just to prove that kids will love his park. Hammond sees his employees as replaceable parts and blames their lack of “vision” for all the park’s problems. Even after the dino disaster is over, he begins plotting how to make his next park better. His comeuppance was much deserved.