It's frightening in the dark...

It’s frightening in the dark…

“The tropical rain fell in drenching sheets, hammering the corrugated roof of the clinic building, roaring down the metal gutters, splashing on the ground in a torrent.”

I’m not big on films. I’ve probably covered that a few times before. But one film I do unequivocally love is Jurassic Park. Twenty-two years after the film came out, it still stands up as one of the greats, and the long-awaited fourth installment Jurassic World was just as satisfying to see earlier this year.

It was, therefore, with some trepidation that I approached the novel. I’m one of those people who sits firmly in the camp that declares the book is always better than the film, but on this occasion I was nervous. Was this an example where the book couldn’t hope to live up to the amazing visuals? It couldn’t possibly be that I would enjoy a film more than a book … could it?

For those who have been living under a rock for the last few decades, Jurassic Park is the story of what happens when scientists start playing with genetics. Paleontologist Alan Grant and paleobotanist Ellie Sattler are invited by wealthy eccentric John Hammond to his private island off Costa Rica, told that they will see something that they never could have believed. It turns out that Hammond has been cloning dinosaurs and plans to open up the island as a tourist attraction, Jurassic Park, to the rest of the world. Using DNA found in the blood of insects trapped in amber (the science is, if anything, shaky), Hammond’s scientists have found a way to bring them back to life. He now has to prove to the lawyers and unconventional mathematician Ian Malcolm that the island is completely safe and his Stegosaurs, Tyrannosaurs, Velociraptors and Compsognathus are completely safe. And that nothing can go wrong.

Predictably, it does.

A number of events including a storm, a rouge agent within Hammond’s team, a power shortage, and the unexpected intelligence of the raptors culminate within hours of the visiting team arriving on the island to bring about a disaster unlike any seen before. The humans now just have to survive long enough to get off the island again, all the while dealing with creatures that haven’t been around for over sixty-five million years.

In short, I’m happy to say, the book is better. As always there is a lot more time to expand on things, so there are more characters here, including a vet and a public relations man, who get subsumed into other characters in the film. Most of the key plot points are here, but there are so many more. The book opens with a little girl getting attacked by a Compsognathus on another island, which became part of the second film, and the pterodactyls of the third film, and the river journey of the fourth are here too. The characters that we do recognise are also very different. Ellie Sattler is only twenty-four in the book, Grant is a fan of children from the off, and both Tim and Lex are considerably younger (and unbelievably even more annoying) in the book than the film.

Jp_rexThe biggest stumbling block with the novel though is the fact that you really have to suspend all disbelief. I know that’s necessary for the film, but you still sort of accept it. In here, more emphasis is placed on the science that led them to their current place. While I’m not a biologist by any means, I know that many of the things shown or discussed simply aren’t true, the biggest one being that you can’t extract DNA from amber-trapped mosquitoes! DNA has a half life for a start, so would be long useless by modern day, and besides, getting the DNA would require that insect to have only feasted on one species in its lifetime. Nonetheless, I’m prepared to accept these things because it’s such a tense, interesting book.

Although people’s fascination for dinosaurs will probably never diminish, meaning in that sense the book will never date, the technology in the book does already seem outdated. This is particularly notable when Tim uses a touch screen computer, noting that he’s never seen one before. Then again, this can be refreshingly accurate too, as the book doesn’t claim to take place in the future – it takes place in the 20th century.

Like when I read Forrest Gump, another classic movie of the nineties, the book is really a different beast to the film, although in this case the two share more of the same DNA. It’s compelling and hard to put down, and I found myself fully caught up in it. Ian Malcolm remains an interesting character but even when lying on his death bed, he’s still going on and on about his theories for pages at a time. That’s possibly more unbelievable than the dinosaurs. The most jarring alteration between mediums though is probably John Hammond. In the films, he’s more of a kindly grandfather figure, although one with a clear obsession for what he’s trying to achieve, but in the book he’s blinded to the island’s faults and somewhat nastier, even seeming to turn against his grandchildren by the end.

If you loved the film, you’ll love the book too and despite the danger inherent in the idea, it does make me a little sad that we’ll never see dinosaurs. Mind, that’s probably not a bad thing. Let’s leave them in the imagination where they can take on a life of their own and not chew our faces off.