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Jurassic Park | Study Guide

Michael Crichton

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Jurassic Park | 10 Things You Didn't Know


Before being adapted into the iconic 1993 film, Jurassic Park was a best-selling novel by Michael Crichton. First published in 1990, Jurassic Park describes a miraculous theme park where scientists have cloned dinosaurs, bringing them back to life for exhibition by using DNA found in bloodsucking insects petrified in amber. The theme park falls into complete disarray, however, when the dinosaurs escape.

While the story of Jurassic Park is full of entertaining terror and suspense, Crichton's novel has a myriad of mathematical and ethical implications. The novel is both an adventure tale about reanimated dinosaurs and a realistic meditation on the consequences of humans meddling with nature. Jurassic Park serves both as an enjoyable thriller and as a carefully constructed thought experiment illustrating the potential of genetic engineering to cause destruction and pandemonium.

1. Crichton incorporated his own scientific background in writing Jurassic Park.

Crichton is well-known for his work as a novelist and director, but he is also heavily grounded in the sciences, although his academic work isn't directly related to paleontology. Crichton earned a degree from Harvard Medical School, lectured on anthropology and biology at the University of Cambridge, and taught writing at MIT. He was named postdoctoral fellow at the Salk Institute for Biological Sciences, and he wrote the 2004 novel entitled State of Fear, which discussed climate change. Crichton has noted that he used the character of Ian Malcolm to express his own views regarding scientific pursuit and genetic engineering.

2. Jurassic Park was written as a cautionary tale.

Crichton wrote Jurassic Park not only to thrill readers with fast-paced action and detailed descriptions of prehistoric creatures but also to illustrate a point about the misuse of scientific resources and thought. This cautionary element of the novel is framed around John Hammond, the billionaire responsible for the park's creation. Hammond states, "Personally, I would never help mankind." Jurassic Park shows the terrible consequences of scientific exploration and innovation motivated by the desire for profit. While discussing the "happier" ending for Hammond shown in the film adaptation, one critic noted:

Given that the novel is a cautionary tale with a moral to tell, and that moral is that there's a price to pay for meddling with nature and for placing profit and knowledge and experimentation on a higher shelf of priorities than humble human well-being, things end badly for Mr. Hammond.

3. Reviewers have often compared Jurassic Park to Mary Shelley's Frankenstein.

Mary Shelley's 1818 novel Frankenstein also features a case of scientific experimentation run amok, with devastating consequences, and reviewers often mentioned the two works in the same breath. Upon the release of Jurassic Park, the New York Times wrote, "In summary, Michael Crichton's exciting new disaster thriller, Jurassic Park, sounds like just another recycling of Mary Shelley's Frankenstein myth." Both novels also raise the same philosophical question: Is the "creature" the true monster or are the humans responsible for creating it to blame?

4. Despite the title, most of Jurassic Park's dinosaurs lived in the Cretaceous Period.

Many of the most iconic and well-known dinosaurs from Jurassic Park weren't on Earth until millions of years after the Jurassic Period, which began about 201 million years ago and ended 145 million years ago. Tyrannosaurus rex, Triceratops, and Velociraptors actually existed during the Cretaceous Period, which ran from the end of the Jurassic Period until 66 million years ago when a mass extinction ended the reign of the dinosaurs altogether.

5. Jurassic Park wasn't Crichton's first work about a theme park falling into disarray.

In 1973 Crichton wrote and directed the film Westworld, which shares many similarities with Jurassic Park. The film explores the ethical implications of a theme park populated with humanlike androids. Much like the dinosaurs in Jurassic Park, the park's robots eventually retaliate against the public and begin killing visitors, operating with an autonomy they were not programmed to possess. Westworld, which has since been adapted into an HBO television series, was one of Crichton's first attempts to portray the potential calamity of unchecked and unethical scientific research.

6. The fictional Isla Nublar was inspired by a real island off the coast of Costa Rica.

Jurassic Park's Isla Nublar is located 120 miles off the coast of Costa Rica. While no island by that name actually exists, fans of the franchise have determined that the most likely spot that inspired Isla Nublar is Cocos Island, also located near Costa Rica. Although Crichton himself never confirmed this, the theory is supported by the fact that "Isla Nublar" translates to "cloudy island." Cocos Island is the only spot off the mainland that features cloud forests—tropical forests that experience a seasonal or permanent cloud cover at the canopy level.

7. Scientists have ruled that Jurassic Park's "mosquito hypothesis" wouldn't work for cloning dinosaurs.

After Jurassic Park was released, fans were fascinated by the potential for the actual cloning of dinosaurs from DNA inside insects encased in amber. Scientists from the University of Manchester attempted to find DNA from stingless bees encased in amber for 10,600 years, but this proved to be futile. Therefore, the likelihood of finding DNA from samples millions of years older, from the time of the dinosaurs, is extremely improbable.

Scientists also noted that in the Jurassic Park film, the mosquito they show as the vector for dinosaur DNA is actually Toxorhynchites rutilus, the only species of mosquito that doesn't suck blood.

8. Jurassic Park was originally written as a screenplay before Crichton decided to make it a novel.

Ironically, Crichton originally drafted Jurassic Park as a screenplay before writing the novel. Crichton joked about having an idea for an exciting movie when Steven Spielberg offered him $500,000 to write the script. Crichton began working on the screenplay in the early 1980s, telling the story of a graduate student who attempts to clone a pterodactyl. He reworked the concept over the next decade before Jurassic Park appeared in novel form.

9. Steven Spielberg was forced to direct Jurassic Park so he could release Schindler's List.

Spielberg and Crichton, who would work together on the film adaptation of Jurassic Park, first met professionally in 1989 while developing the television show ER. In early 1989 Spielberg wanted to begin work on his "passion project," Schindler's List, but was told by Universal Studios that they wouldn't greenlight the film unless he also directed Jurassic Park. Spielberg accepted the challenge and, somehow, managed to release both of these hugely successful and enduring films in 1993.

10. The film adaptation of Jurassic Park has been criticized for downplaying the role of chaos theory in the plot.

Critics have noted that the 1993 film adaptation of Jurassic Park omitted a great deal of the ethical implications and cautionary elements of Crichton's novel. The notion of the dinosaurs escaping is centered on chaos theory, the idea that scientifically predictable systems are not immune to uncertainty and can explode into "chaos" even when confirmed with seemingly trustworthy data.

American mathematician Edward Lorenz explained the theory like this: "when the present determines the future, but the approximate present does not approximately determine the future." Although chaos theory is mentioned in the film, Spielberg has been accused of downplaying its role in disproving Hammond's faulty notion that he can keep his prehistoric creations locked in cages without any trouble. Hammond himself is also portrayed as a much more sympathetic character in the film and doesn't meet the same grisly end as he does in the novel.

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