Looking Out To Sea

Jurassic Park: airport fiction when dinosaurs ruled the bestsellers

As a little chap I distinctly remember enjoying Jurassic Park on the big screen. I think it was one of those defining blockbuster movies of my youth, like everybody remembers seeing Star Wars for the first time. And in some sense it was just as revolutionary for the use of computer graphics. Those dinos looked real!

The book is a proper disappointment, falling squarely into the category of stories that get much better when translated to film. Michael Crichton was a prolific writer of works that would eventually get adapted to the screen — maybe they all needed someone else to clean up his terrible dialogue?

Whenever I read a book now I come back to Christopher Brookmyre’s BDQ:

I’ll swallow any scenario, as long as the film sticks to its own bullet-deadliness quotient.

An action film establishes its own rules of gunplay. In some, every bullet is potentially lethal — even the old shot to the shoulder can look worryingly near to the upper-chest area. But in others, machine guns can seem the least deadly weapon known to man. To illustrate, at one end of the spectrum there’s your Tarantino movies: reputations aside, there’s not that much gunplay, so when somebody lets off a shot, it’s for real, and it’s usually fatal. High bullet-deadliness quotient. At the other end, there’s your John Woo movies: zillions of rounds goin’ off an’ the only thing they ever hit is glass. Low bullet-deadliness quotient. In a high BDQ film, if the baddie draws a bead on somebody, get ready for ketchup. In a low BDQ film, that’s just a bad day for the janitor. And both types are fine by me, as long as the rules are followed consistently.

The issue of consistency in suspension of disbelief is paramount. It is the downfall of many a bad movie. Prometheus, for example, repeatedly set up characters as leaders in their field who made basic mistakes. in a high technology world which was simultaneously less capable than our own.

Jurassic Park has these failings and more besides. There are a number of “experts” in paleontology, genetics, mathematics and zoo management who have manage to come out with some real howlers. Geneticists who can’t remember where they got their DNA from. Park management who can’t remember how to reboot the park management system after it fails.

What really gets my goat is the inconsistency in character. From one scene to the next characters will change personality drastically so that the stupid thing they do to move the plot along seems reasonable. The nine year-old girl who was rocking back and forth in terror is now complaining about lack of ice cream or wanting to play with the walkie-talkie. In case it had escaped your attention there’s a velociraptor in the hallway. But the plot dictates the raptor find the kids so rather than stay quiet and frightened they have to squabble over who gets to play with this new toy.

This inconsistency appears again and again, and each time it does the urge to fling the book across the room rises. Frankly, they should all have been eaten.