The very first post on this blog was about Don Bluth, a director whose name might not be as famous but had a large influence on animation history as well as the childhood of some of us. Bluth is just but another name in a gallery of people who were behind a whole array of entertainment. Think about Stephen King, how many of his books have been adapted into a movie? Though to be honest, there’s very few of his works that I really enjoyed, “Shawshank Redemption” and “The Green Mile”. I didn’t even like “The Shining”. But there’s another author out there whose writing hits much closer to home for me, someone behind a few names I’ll undoubtedly know too. Ladies and gentlemen, Michael Crichton.
Crichton loved writing from an early age, but there’s a story from when he was studying English at Harvard College that made him switch for a few years. A professor gave him low marks and continuously criticized his literary style and Crichton felt targeted. He spoke to another professor about it, which led to the plan of Crichton submitting an essay by George Orwell instead of one of his own works, just to see what would happen. The result was a B- (somewhere around 80-82%). Not a bad grade, but considering the man wrote “1984” and “Animal Farm”, you’d think Orwell would score a little higher. Then again, maybe it wasn’t such a good essay after all. In any case, Crichton got disillusioned by the English department and he obtained a bachelor in biological anthropology instead, ultimately becoming a full-fledged doctor of medicine. However, he never gave up writing and instead of getting his license to practice medicine, he focused on his novels.
This medical background as well as general science is something very notable in his books which are almost always science fiction, medical fiction as well as some thrillers. His first big hit was “The Andromeda Strain”, published in 1969, where a scientific team investigates the invasion of microorganisms from outer space. This has been adapted into a movie (back in 1971) though it got mixed reviews. Not that every Stephen King adaptation has been well received either. A few years later, Crichton published “Eaters of the Dead” in 1976 which got its own adaptation named “The 13th Warrior”, starring Antonio Banderas. It was another rather rubbish movie but one I actually enjoyed quite a bit (I was young and had yet to develop a good taste, give me a break). A third book-to-movie that made me appreciate Crichton was “Timeline”, the earliest movie I’ve seen Paul Walker, Gerard Butler and Billy Connolly in. It’s another movie that got lukewarm reception, but yet another that I absolutely liked, and still do.
Do note that the movies kind of sucked, but that the corresponding books were usually critically acclaimed (apart from “Eaters of the Dead”). And there’s a few other examples, his most famous works, that I haven’t told you about. Keep the best for last, after all. I told you about his history in medicine. So what’s one of the most famous medical drama series? “Grey’s Anatomy”? No, guess again. “Scrubs”? Not that one either. “Doogie Howser”, noooo. How about “ER”? Guess who created it? Michael Crichton. I’ve never watched the show, so I won’t spend any more time on that, because there’s a much more important piece of work out there. It was a science fiction novel and had to do with chaos theory and genetic engineering, specifically that of dinosaurs. Yup, Crichton was responsible for “Jurassic Park”. It was 1990 when Crichton wrote the book, and in 1993 Crichton himself adapted it into a screenplay, which was to be directed by Steven Spielberg. Crichton was also the author of the sequel “The Lost World”. How’s that for being part of your childhood!
Crichton also has a few directorial credits, one of which I want to discuss a little more. It wasn’t based on a book he wrote but was a completely new idea he came up with for the movie. A tagline of that movie was “Boy, have we got a vacation for you”, but there’s another sentence that might mean a little more to HBO-watchers (which didn’t appear in the original movie). “These violent delights have violent ends.” In 1973, the movie “Westworld”, starring Yule Brenner, came out to excellent reviews, but it was only 33 years later when HBO’s “Westworld” series came out that Crichton would really get another major accomplishment linked to his name. Better late than never and what better way than with one of the best series ever.
Now, these are the titles that I personally knew and enjoyed, but it’s just a fraction of what Crichton produced. Maybe you know “The Great Train Robbery” better or “Rising Sun” or “Disclosure”. Not all of his books involve sci-fi, but if they do, it’s usually a cautionary tale about the usage of biotechnology, cybernetics and the like: there’s usually a catastrophe in there when the technology goes haywire. It does provide great entertainment, of course. I mean, have you seen that “Westworld” finale? Holy fucking shit, dude.
I think by now I don’t need to encourage you much to put your hands together for Michael Crichton, writer, physician, visionary and a bit of a pessimist, to be honest. Unfortunately, Crichton is no longer among us. In 2008, he, like too many others, fell to that dragon, cancer.
Side note: “Jurassic Park” is one of my all-time favourite novels, because hey, dinosaurs, but also because of the notion of chaos theory. I’m not good at math, but there’s a lot of neat stuff in there that I love reading about, like chaos theory and topology. Chaos theory deals with complex systems where a small change can lead to enormously different results. If you know the “butterfly effect”, that’s chaos theory. Forecasting the weather can be seen as involving chaos theory. Chaos theory also leads to one of my favourite mathematical ‘drawings’: the Dragon curve. If you want to know more, just watch the Numberphile video on it, it’s way better than what I would be able to do in explaining it.
This blog was brought to you by: John Williams – Theme from Jurassic Park