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Jurassic Park | Study Guide

Michael Crichton

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Jurassic Park | Context


Genetic Engineering

Genetic engineering is the modification of organisms by gene manipulation; genes are the parts of a cell that carry hereditary traits. This manipulation may involve adding new genetic material to an organism or removing existing material. As Crichton notes in his Introduction, genetic engineering was made possible after 1953, when scientists James Watson and Francis Crick identified deoxyribonucleic acid, or DNA. DNA is a complex pattern of four amino acids that encodes an organism's essential genetic information. Each organism's code determines its inherited characteristics. Change the code of an organism's DNA, and its characteristics can be altered.

Once scientists identified the structure of DNA, they began working with the code, identifying common elements and mapping genomes (an organism's genetic material). They eventually figured out how to manipulate the genetic code to create new organisms. This scientific breakthrough carried both practical and philosophical implications, both of which Crichton addresses in Jurassic Park.

The scientists in the novel need dinosaur DNA to be able to produce dinosaurs in the lab. They find that they can retrieve largely intact dinosaur DNA from blood found in the bellies of insects preserved in amber. Encouraged by this breakthrough, the scientists begin treating the manufacture of living things as a technology, illustrated by Dr. Henry Wu's practice of labeling versions of dinosaurs according to software releases (4.3, 4.4, 4.5, and so on). In their attempts to push the boundaries of genetic engineering by modifying the dinosaurs' genetic makeup, the scientists create new breeds, and the consequences are disastrous.

Chaos Theory

Chaos theory is a branch of mathematics that focuses on the relationship between order and chaos. Using a system of equations, it seeks to provide an explanation for random occurrences. Weather is a good example of a complex system, and chaos theory is used to explain how weather systems function. Meteorologist Edward Lorenz was trying to use computers to predict the weather in 1961. He found that changing even the smallest details in his model produced markedly different results, a process he described with the image of a butterfly flapping its wings and creating a hurricane on the other side of the world. In Jurassic Park Ian Malcolm uses chaos theory to correctly predict the small changes that take place in complex systems. For example, dinosaur DNA coding will yield unpredictable results in Jurassic Park.

Real Scientists Who Inspired Jurassic Park Characters

Crichton based some of the characters in Jurassic Park on contemporary figures in the fields of science and technology. The character of Dr. Alan Grant was based on renowned American paleontologist Jack Horner. Horner studied at the University of Montana and worked at the Museum of the Rockies, located in Bozeman, Montana. Fittingly, Dr. Alan Grant makes his first appearance in the book while digging up dinosaurs outside Snakewater, Montana. Horner also served as scientific adviser on the movie Jurassic Park, working closely with director Steven Spielberg to make sure the dinosaurs in the movie were portrayed accurately.

Heinz Pagels served as the inspiration for the character of Ian Malcolm. Pagels was an esteemed American physicist, chaos-theorist, and science writer who served as Executive Director of the New York Academy of Sciences. He penned a number of books for the general public that simplified many of the complex concepts of cosmology and modern physics. Pagels died in a tragic mountain climbing accident in 1988, two years before Jurassic Park was published.

The Jurassic Park Franchise

Jurassic Park quickly became a best seller, selling more than nine million copies in the first three years. The story caught the attention of Universal Studios, who hired Crichton to write the screenplay for a movie based on the book.

Stephen Spielberg directed the 1993 film version of Jurassic Park, which grossed more than a billion dollars globally. The movie also won several Academy Awards for technical achievements such as visual effects. Crichton followed Jurassic Park with The Lost World in 1995, which was immediately adapted to the silver screen as The Lost World: Jurassic Park (1997). In 2001 a third film in the series followed (Jurassic Park III), though it was not based on a Crichton novel. The fourth film, titled Jurassic World and released in 2015, was based on a story by Spielberg, not Crichton.

In addition to Crichton's books and the films set in the world of Jurassic Park, two comic book series have been released, along with a series of books aimed at younger readers but not written by Crichton. Video games have been developed based on the concept, and Universal Studios theme parks feature attractions based on the movies, such as Jurassic Park: The Ride.

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