Jurassic Park | Critical Review by Gary Jennings

This literature criticism consists of approximately 4 pages of analysis & critique of Jurassic Park.
This section contains 949 words
(approx. 4 pages at 300 words per page)
Buy the Critical Review by Gary Jennings

Critical Review by Gary Jennings

SOURCE: "Pterrified by Pterodactyls," in The New York Times Book Review, November 11, 1990, pp. 4, 15.

Jennings is an American novelist, nonfiction writer, author of children's literature, and critic; his novels include Aztec (1980) and Spangle (1987). In the following review of Jurassic Park, he applauds Crichton's ability to make scientific information understandable and interesting but laments the predictability of the plot and characters.

With his 1969 novel, The Andromeda Strain, Michael Crichton invented the "techno-thriller" fully two decades before that term became the fad description for every book by Tom Clancy, Dean R. Koontz and W. E. B. Griffin. However, whereas those writers deal mainly with arcane military hardware, Dr. Crichton dares to contrive even more craftily credible plots by writing about the basic, infinitesimal building blocks of life and the universe.

Since the title of this new novel pretty well indicates what is inside it, I am not giving anything away by saying that Jurassic Park tells of a modern-day scientist bringing to life a horde of prehistoric animals. The notion is hardly original; check any video rental store. But here it transcends armchair escapism or B-movie camp. Without the usual mad scientists or mutations caused by radiation accidents, Dr. Crichton's tale is grounded in the very latest advances in human knowledge. It may sound daunting to say that a reader will encounter recombinant DNA technology, chaos theory, fractal geometry, nonlinear dynamics and even sonic tomography, but Dr. Crichton is adept at making every one of those ingredients comprehensible, often beguiling, frequently exciting.

The introduction alone is worth the price of the book. What it recounts is true, and frightening: how science has of late become almost wholly the handmaiden of big business. The decipherment of the DNA molecule, Dr. Crichton tells us, promises "the greatest revolution in human history." Nonetheless, he says, biotechnology (that is, genetic tinkering) is being taken over by commercial companies, and the researchers have become those companies' employees, working to develop every sort of thing from marketable new drugs to cubical tomatoes that are easier for McDonald's to slice. Nowadays, many epochal discoveries in the field are shrouded by protective patents. Nowhere is there a governing body competent to control the experimentation. Hence, says Dr. Crichton ominously, "it is done in secret, and in haste, and for profit." His novel makes his point.

The first 80 pages of Jurassic Park are full of suspense: Why is an eccentric tycoon buying up all the amber in the world? Why are children getting gnawed by what appear to be innocuous little lizards? Why are so many powerful supercomputers being shipped to a remote Costa Rican island? But less than a quarter of the way into the book we are told why. As it happens, the tycoon heads a scientific research company that has found a way (and this is the most ingenious touch in the whole story) to recover the DNA of dinosaurs that have been extinct for eons, and thereby to clone them in quantity. The company comes up with a host of tyrannosaurs, pterodactyls, stegosaurs and the like.

Since this is a company not of mad scientists but of merely money-mad scientists, their intention is to construct and ballyhoo a vast island park containing their creations. There, the expected throngs of tourists will pay for admission, pay for guided tours and thrill rides, pay for voluptuous accommodations, even pay for miniaturized (but real) pet dinosaurs their kids can take home. In sum, the plan is for a sort of Dino-Disneyland. If this seems a trifle silly—such a mountain of effort, genius and investment bringing forth such a Micheyish mouse—well, as a wise man recently observed, "All the great themes have been turned into theme parks." And, come right down to it, what else would you do with a herd of assorted dinosaurs?

Anyhow, from the page when the scientists' plot is revealed, the author's puppet strings begin to dangle in plain view. The best-laid plans go predictably awry, the power plants fail, the computers go haywire, the dinosaurs get loose and wreak havoc, and coincidences abound. The attempts at suspense are all contrived and strained. Most of the rest of the book is just a working script for the special-effects boys in Hollywood.

Still, there are some good bits. As paleontology has shown in recent years, dinosaurs were not all lumbering, feebleminded, overgrown lizards. Actually, many were more akin to birds, and birds of a fairly high order of intelligence. Jurassic Park does a splendid job of giving us this revised and improved rendition of them. Indeed, some of the critters—even the most savage—are likable, and in one lovely scene (which I won't give away), some evoke genuine pity.

They all are certainly more interesting than the human characters. As in every techno-thriller, the humans exist only to push buttons, to explain to one another why they're pushing the buttons they're pushing and then to suffer the consequences of having pushed those buttons. The cast here is about standard. Besides the money-hungry tycoon, there is a paleontologist hero, a botanist heroine, a dedicated mathematician, a sleazy industrial spy, a cowardly lawyer, the (almost inevitable) 11-year-old computer whiz kid who eventually tidies up everything the adults have screwed up. And lots of other folks. They don't matter. When they're not expatiating on their various specialties, they're scuttling frantically and futilely about, exactly as they used to scurry to avoid the trampling feet of King Kong and Dr. Cyclops and Godzilla. As one after another gets mauled by the dinosaurs, the reader is inclined to root for the maulers.

All in all, Jurassic Park is a great place to visit, but 400 pages is rather too long a trip.

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This section contains 949 words
(approx. 4 pages at 300 words per page)
Buy the Critical Review by Gary Jennings
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