This weekend, HBO and Universal Pictures will bid you welcome back into their science fiction theme parks (which as a setting, appears to have had better days in the past). Yep after ending Westworld Season 2, they are airing Jurassic World: Fallen Kingdom, the second movie in the Jurassic World series, but really fifth Jurassic Park movie. While in 2016, we were greated by a high-tech resort that crossed an R-rated Fantasy Island with the first half of the original Westworld movie from 1973, this upcoming season finale promises murder, mayhem, and, well, the second half of Michael Crichton’s 1973 movie, Westworld. Or pretty much what the Jurassic World films are these days.
Still, while the series is keying into the very blatant subtexts and lusts that were lightly buried in the ‘73 movie, there is plenty of room to explore this material beyond just the lurid component. Indeed, for as much as Westworld’s vision of relentless killer-cyborgs influenced James Cameron’s The Terminator, the entire movie unto itself is something of a dry-run for what would become Michael Crichton’s most beloved novel, Jurassic Park. Sure, one is about robot sex slaves and the other is of majestic dinosaurs reborn, but both are obsessed with exotic resorts that crudely use technology as vapid entertainment for the idle rich, both are zeroed in on the complete failure of science as a religion, and both are entirely devoid of sentiment or wonderment.
For those who have only seen Steven Spielberg’s Jurassic Park film, you might recall this as a story about beloved creatures from a bygone age being beautifully returned in all their glory to our world thanks to an old man with a dream in his heart—but that’s not Jurassic Park. Or, at least, that is not Michael Crichton’s Jurassic Park. Like Westworld, Jurassic Park is a hopelessly cynical and pessimistic view of life in the 20th century, and how it’s all going to fade into darkness like Victor Frankenstein’s corpse on an artic snowdrift. Also akin to the movie he wrote and directed in ’73, there is no comforting John Williams music to be found anywhere.
The Scientific Method of Corruption
Prior to Westworld marking Crichton’s first directorial effort for movie theaters (it was his second screenplay), the author swam deep in the waters of academia, and the most highly educated of elite professionals. He graduated summa cum laude from Harvard with a B.A. in biological anthropology in 1964, and come 1969 he had acquired an M.D. from Harvard Medical School. Yet by the time of his later degree, he had already grown disenchanted with the medical community at large due to his experiences working with career-obsessed doctors in clinical rotations at the Boston City Hospital. He had also begun writing under pseudonym at this point, so he soon embraced his literary pursuits, full-stop.
Crichton’s simultaneous fascination and skepticism for the proverbial “smartest people in the room” would come to define most of his films and novels, helping him contribute to the newly burgeoning techno-thriller genre—a kind of hybrid between wonky, expertise details in highly specialized fields with what amounts to the fiction that’s embedded into “hard science fiction.” But to be perfectly honest, Westworld is not nearly as clever as Crichton’s later work. More of a narrative straight-line than one of rising action, this is a cautionary tale where, to paraphrase the Jurassic Park movie, “the Pirates of the Caribbean breaks down, and the pirates eat the tourists.”
In Westworld, the most exotic theme park in the world attempts to recreate an authentic experience from three different eras of human history: Caligula-styled debauchery in “Romanworld;” chivalrous adventure in “Medievalworld;” and finally the frontier justice that comes with “Westworld” shootouts. It is a lascivious distraction for the wealthy, as the opening scene of the movie displays happy stockbrokers exclaiming how wonderful it is to be a knight and getting to marry a princess. They’re part of a kind of infomercial where a flushed, middle-aged woman explains to a pseudo-news reporter that the best thing about Romanworld is “the men!” When the reporter asks them all if the Westworld theme park is worth $1,000 a day, the happy customers shout with euphoria, “yes!” (for the record, $1,000 in 1973 is closer to $6,000 today).
Essentially, we are viewing the corrosive and corrupting nature of capitalism in science and the corporatization of research. The idea is fairly vague in Westworld, but it is nevertheless implicit, such as when the nameless lab coated powers that be at the resort ignore any inexplicable malfunctions, confident that they can control their robots that are starting to display free will while customers wander around the park. Safety is important, of course, but could you imagine writing a refund check?!?
These concepts are fairly broad, but when viewed as a first draft, these nascent ideas obviously inform the writing of Jurassic Park. The 1990 novel opens its prologue as a scathing indictment of how the global scientific community has become beholden to the almighty dollar. Reads the first paragraph:
“The late twentieth century has witnessed a scientific gold rush of astonishing proportions: the headlong and furious haste to commercialize genetic engineering. The enterprise has proceeded so rapidly—with so little outside commentary—that its dimensions and implications are hardly understood at all. Biotechnology promises the greatest revolution in human history. By the end of this decade, it will have outdistanced atomic power and computers in its effect on our everyday lives.”
Crichton goes on to bemoan that while the nuclear age was ushered in by the building of the bomb in one U.S. government controlled laboratory in Los Alamos, and that personal computing was welcomed by the highly publicized work of a few dozen companies, now five hundred corporations with thousands of labs in America alone are pumping billions of dollars each year into secret research, with nary a shred of government regulation or oversight.
Essentially, the author is indicting the scientific community for abandoning its centuries-old ethos of being disinterested thinkers working toward the betterment of all mankind in favor of working toward patents, and all the wealth that comes with them.
This is later made explicit in the novel when Dr. Henry Wu—a major character in the book who, along with his ethical debates, is almost entirely excised from the Jurassic Park movie—is seduced by John Hammond to ignore the call of academic research for the exciting world of genetic experiments in the private sector… a space where he has no oversight other than Hammond’s constant business requirements.
Hammond acutely points out that most of the major developments in the back-half of the 20th century, including the CAT scan, the laser, and personal computers, were made in private labs. He calls universities the “backwater” and promises InGen will be where Wu can make his mark. Of course, when Wu actually succeeds at genetically engineering extinct animals from hundreds of millions of years ago, his concerns about the safety and controllability of the animals comes far too late for either practical purposes or Hammond’s ears.
For, also unlike the movie, Hammond is no eccentric Santa Claus. Sure, he is still the gregarious and urbane billionaire that imagines himself as a visionary, and who is repeatedly compared by outsiders to Walt Disney. But whereas this is a virtue for Spielberg—a man whose career is defined by envisioning impossible worlds and who in the ‘80s was also considered the Second Coming of dear old Walt—to Crichton, it is the greatest of sins.
Eventually, Hammond even explains to Wu, in one of their several heated arguments that occur as the park disintegrates, why he’d even make such a fantastical resort in the first place. Initially, he waxes poetic about the smiling faces of children who’ll be delighted to see dinosaurs in the flesh. But then he drops pretense. The billionaire laments:
“If you were going to start a bioengineering company, Henry, what would you do? Would you make products to help mankind, to fight illness and disease? Dear me, no… drugs face all kinds of barriers. FDA testing alone takes five to eight years—if you’re lucky. Even worse, there are forces at work in the marketplace. Suppose you make a miracle drug for cancer or heart disease. Suppose you now want to charge a thousand dollars or two thousand dollars a dose. You might imagine that is your privilege. After all, you invented the drug, you paid to develop and test it; you should be able to charge whatever you wish. But do you really think the government will let you do that? No, Henry, they will not. Sick people aren’t going to pay a thousand dollars a dose for needed medication—they won’t be grateful, they’ll be outraged. Blue Cross isn’t going to pay it. They’ll scream highway robbery. So something will happen.”
Written like a prophecy for the grotesque Martin Shkrelis of the world, Hammond’s entire motive for a park that uses advanced genetic technology for entertainment (much like Westworld’s use of robots) is to create a business that is entirely unaccountable to government regulation. This even feeds into the very concept of buying a private island far from a foreign nation’s coast.
As Hammond eventually concludes his diatribe, he snaps, “Face the damn facts, Henry, this isn’t America; this isn’t even Costa Rica. This is my island. I own it. And nothing is going to stop me from opening Jurassic Park to the children of the world.” He stops to chuckle. “Or, at least to the rich ones. And I tell you, they’ll love it.”
Controlling the Uncontrollable
Late in his life, Crichton shockingly became the type of highly educated man who made woefully uneducated sounding accusations—like climate change isn’t real, or at least is irrelevant to human existence. However, this likely came less from the perspective of so many right-leaning politicians determined to protect American business and energy interests, and more from a deep skepticism of mankind trying to control anything in nature or otherwise through “the miracle of science.”
Ian Malcolm acts mostly as Crichton’s voice throughout the novel Jurassic Park, sneering from his deathbed at Hammond, Wu, and any other personnel who put faith in their systems and models. This is mostly reduced to simply a basic understanding of chaos theory in Spielberg’s movie, which is present in all but name within Westerworld as well.
In the 1973 movie, the robots begin malfunctioning in unpredictable ways that the eggheads cannot explain. First, there is a snake that actually manages to bite one of the film’s two protagonists as he’s exploring the wilderness. While the snake isn’t actually poison, it does cause bodily harm to a rather wooden James Brolin. Later, a serving wench, who is a “pleasure model” in Medievalworld, rejects an older and overweight guest from her bed, despite being built for the express purpose of being ravished against her will. Finally, Yul Brynner’s Gunslinger goes T-800 on all the Westworld guests 11 years before Arnold Schwarzenegger ever uttered, “I’ll be back.”
Before things go all to hell, one scientist even espouses to his nameless coworkers, “The day we opened the resort, we had a failure in breakdown that was accurate to computer predictions. [It was] 0.03 percent malfunctions for every 24-hour activation period.” But in recent weeks, the breakdowns have dramatically spiked. Thus the good doctor finally concedes they no longer make the robots, but rather have robots constructing yet more robot models. As a consequence, “We don’t know exactly how they work.”
He compares the malfunctions to a disease spreading amongst the three theme parks, but his corporate bosses still just shrug… until it is too late.
In many ways, this is a rudimentary understanding of chaos theory where unpredictable variations in each system’s iteration will occur until collapse. The novel Jurassic Park deals much more expressly with this by being literally divided into seven sections, each beginning with one of the iteration models Ian Malcolm projected for Jurassic Park’s unavoidable demise. Slowly, readers see the patterns as the park’s problems only multiply, accordingly.
In the movie Jurassic Park, this is largely attributed to Dennis Nedry, the disgruntled employee who participates in corporate sabotage to steal the patentable dinosaur embryos for a competitor. This is also in the novel, but it is just the reason the park fails on the story’s fateful weekend—collapse was still inevitable due to a myriad of other problems that Hammond, Wu, park engineer John Arnold, and the rest failed to grasp.
As the book belabors in its first few chapters, the dinosaurs are already breeding and off the island when the story starts. The first scene is of a worker flown in a thunderstorm to a Costa Rican hospital where he dies from what is later revealed to be a velociraptor wound (Hammond’s PR person tells the doctors it was a construction accident, despite being an obvious mauling).
However, he is actually the third laborer to die on the island, and worse still Procompsognathus (or “compys”) have gotten onto the mainland, eating infant babies in their cribs, whose deaths are in turn covered up by human error when midwives write them off as SIDS (Sudden Infant Death Syndrome), so as not to be accused of negligence. Yet, the island isn’t even under investigation until a wealthy little girl is mauled by a compy on a remote Costa Rican beach.
This problem occurs, because the dinosaurs are in fact not dinosaurs. While Jurassic Park has taken the redundant steps of both trying to sterilize all creations by irradiating them at birth, as well as engineering them to be female, they’re less dinosaurs than genetic freaks, approximations of what a dinosaur might be like with genetic code filled in from modern reptiles and amphibians, including West African frogs who contain the ability to change gender in a single-sex animal environment.
Whereas this information is glossed over in the Spielberg movie, its full, harrowing implications are highlighted in the novel. As Wu tries to explain to Hammond, they have not created dinosaurs, and due to these shortcuts, they might as well reengineer these dinosaurs to be more docile and non-threatening.
“I don’t think we should kid ourselves,” Wu says. “We haven’t recreated the past here. The past is gone; it can never be recreated. What we’ve done here is reconstruct the past—or at least a version of the past. And I’m saying we can make a better version.”
In fact, Wu is morbidly gratified to learn the dinosaurs are breeding. Right before a velociraptor would soon slice open his stomach, beginning to eat his intestines in graphic detail while the young doctor pitifully tried to push the animal’s head back, Wu had just begun taking pride in the chaos of the park: “And though Wu would never admit it, the discovery that the dinosaurs were breeding represented a tremendous validation of his work. A breeding animal was demonstrably effective in a fundamental way; it implied that Wu had put all the pieces together correctly. He had recreated an animal millions of years old with such precision that the creature could even reproduce itself.”
Bully for him then, at least until five minutes later when he’s alive as the raptor begins to feed.
This horror partially occurred due to Dennis Nedry’s nefarious plan (which includes a very grisly end for him too), but the point is the island had countless, fatal errors. In one of the book’s best scenes, Malcolm devastates Arnold and the control room’s sense of power while they’re sitting comfortably with the knowledge that their motion sensors are always picking up the 238 dinosaurs on the island. The smug mathematician snarks over a radio for their computer engineer to search for 239 dinosaurs. Sure enough 239 show up on their screen.
“Now, you see the flaw in your procedures.” Malcolm said. “You only tracked the expected number of dinosaurs. You were worried about losing animals, and your procedures were designed to advise you instantly if you had less than the expected number. But that wasn’t the problem. The problem was you had more than the expected number.” They ultimately learn they have 292 dinosaurs, which includes a whole nest of velociraptors unaccounted for.
Dennis Nedry or no Dennis Nedry, Jurassic Park was always doomed like Westworld. The key difference is the robots couldn’t leave Westworld, whereas compys and raptors were already smuggling themselves away on boats to migrate to Costa Rica.
The Terror of Being Hunted from the Bushes Straight Ahead
Still, at the end of the day, Westworld and both the literary and cinematic versions of Jurassic Park boil down to roughly the same concept: the scientists have lost control and now we’re all going to die!
There is a certain rhythmic similarity to the way Alan Grant and his two child wards cannot escape the Tyrannosaurus Rex (who is far more relentless at hunting them in the book) and the way that Yul Brynner’s Gunslinger won’t leave Richard Benjamin’s Peter Martin alone. He even follows Martin to Medievalworld when Martin goes beneath the parks via tunnels—which is just one more way Jurassic Park loses control in the book since it turns out that is how feral raptors have been avoiding electrical fences and motion sensors from before Nedry’s meddling.
There is even a third act confrontation when Martin is cornered by the Gunslinger in the laboratory where robots are made and repaired, much like the sequence where Alan Grant is stuck in the dinosaur nursery and hatchery with three raptors (the adults eat a baby raptor since it’s not from their nest!).
However, one curious difference from the Jurassic Park movie is that Peter Martin, the sole survivor of Westworld, is a lawyer who has come on a lark to the theme park. In many ways, he mirrors Jurassic Park’s Donald Gennaro, aka “the bloodsucking lawyer!”
Curiously, Gennaro is more or less the fourth protagonist to Crichton, the adult who is trying to put the park right by destroying it with the help of Alan Grant, Ellie Sattler, and Ian Malcolm. Also, unlike Malcolm, he lives to tell the tale by the end of the book. Meanwhile in the movie, he is conflated with the cowardly publicist into being the first victim of the main narrative: the hapless swine who leaves two children alone and gets devoured by a T-Rex as a result.
While Crichton still shows distrust for Gennaro for enabling a dangerous dreamer (i.e. liar) like John Hammond, Gennaro also makes amends, albeit reluctantly, by helping turn on the power and scoping out a raptor nest. He even is the voice of reason barking horror at Hammond for inviting his two grandchildren to the island (Hammond only invited them to lull Gennaro into not viewing the park as dangerous).
It could almost be a case study in how the same material can be drastically interpreted by different sensibilities. In the book, Gennaro views Hammond with disgust as the latter eats ice cream while his grandchildren are lost (and possibly dead) somewhere in the park. “He watched the old man deliberately eating, and he felt a chill.” But to Spielberg, it is the bittersweet sadness of an old dreamer realizing this one just wasn’t coming quite together like he had hoped.
But movie Gennaro is like all other lawyers in Spielberg movies: sharks or pirates in need of removal.
The Rape of the Natural World
Ian Malcolm in all mediums surmises that scientific discovery is “the rape of the natural world.” And so too does both Westworld and its spiritual sequel, Jurassic Park, end in abject pessimism. In Westworld, Martin eventually manages to destroy the Gunslinger, but in the film’s closing moments, he tries to save a seeming damsel in distress in Medievalworld. Instead, he discovers she too is a robot and he is alone.
It is a strange, enigmatic note as the story concludes on complete bafflement about what any of this means. And honestly, the answer might be very little. Comparatively, Jurassic Park ends with Isla Nublar being firebombed and all the dinosaurs within incinerated. Yet, it’s already too late. Alan Grant, Ellie Sattler, Donald Gennaro, and Robert Muldoon, the main survivors besides the two children, are kept indefinitely in Costa Rican custody, because the local government is outraged and horrified to know dinosaurs are running amok on their shores.
There are footprints that indicate dinosaurs, possibly compys or raptors, have been eating crops and chickens for the lysine protein that Wu genetically denied them, once again proving our systems of control always fail. And they are moving like migrating birds toward the jungles of the rainforest where they can be lost for years to multiply and destroy a natural habitat.
The story, again, ends on uninterrupted cynicism, which validates Malcolm’s, and thus Crichton’s, multiple diatribes about the failures of the modern world. The points are so meticulous and overexcitedly written, they need no context. Thus, I’ll let Malcolm have the last word with this excerpt from his best and longest rant:
“… Genetic power is far more potent than atomic power. And it will be in everyone’s hands. It will be in kits for backyard gardeners. Experiments for schoolchildren. Cheap labs for terrorists and dictators. And that will force everyone to ask the same question—what should I do with my power?—which is the very question science says it cannot answer.”