Jurassic Park is one of the most famous films ever made. Steven Spielberg’s blockbuster was a groundbreaking film when it was released. But, what is lesser-known is that the film was based on a novel by Michael Crichton.
For anyone that has been living under a rock for the past twenty years, Jurassic Park is a science fiction novel. A breakthrough in genetic engineering allows scientists to bring dinosaurs back to life. The story looks at how this all plays out as dinosaur and man are brought together.
In some ways, the novel is more exciting than the film. I realise this is some statement, as the film is one of the best ever made. However, the book is a thriller and dives into themes that are explored in the film but not with depth.
One such theme is chaos theory, which the film does cover, but the book goes into far more depth. Crichton brilliantly sets out, through the character of Ian Malcolm, who was played by Jeff Goldblum in the film, how the park will ultimately fail.
The recreated dinosaurs are housed in an amusement park, which is due to open. It will serve as a sort of dinosaur zoo, where visitors can enter the park and marvel at the long-lost creatures that have been brought back from the dead.
What follows is a real-world look at the implications of chaos theory and what happens when humans play God.
Jurassic Park summary
Takeaway 1 The world is chaos
One of the key themes in Jurassic Park revolves around chaos theory. It is a mathematical theory that looks at the inherent unpredictability in the behaviour of complex systems.
The novel deals with this by way of looking at the relationship of the dinosaurs residing within an amusement park. The animals have been brought back from the dead and bred as puppets in a theme park.
This is forgetting that they are actually animals, many of which have predatory instincts and will not act the way the scientists who revived them think they will.
The dinosaurs have been all have been bred with a lysine deficiency, which is population control in the event of an emergency, as well as all, being sterilised females. Despite this, the dinosaurs still find a way to breed.
When the dinosaurs were cloned, amphibian DNA was used to fill any gaps in the genetic code. Certain strands of frog DNA enable a measure of dichogamy. This is where some of the females spontaneously switch sex to males when they are in a same-sex environment.
The scientists may have known this, or they may have been blissfully aware, but it has dire consequences for the park. Tracking technology purports that it can accurately track all the dinosaurs in the park at any given time and that the figures are stable.
But when this is tested, it becomes clear it’s not the case. Even controls which we think are responsible can be exploited by forces beyond our control.
The world is a chaotic place. Crichton shows the folly in human thinking that we can exert control over it and bend it to our will. We are actors in this world, we are not the puppetmasters.
Takeaway 2 Should humans play God?
The main premise of the novel is that advances in genetic engineering have allowed scientists to bring dinosaurs back from the dead. While this sounds fantastic on the surface, I mean who wouldn’t want to see dinosaurs? There are several ethical questions to be considered.
First of all, should we bring back extinct creatures? Especially ones that have been extinct for 65 million years? In reality, this is unlikely to happen, as we do not have a complete genetic code of a dinosaur. Using amphibian DNA, as is done in the novel, is unlikely to work in practice.
However, for an animal such as the woolly mammoth, there is the potential to bring it back from the dead. But should we? Just because we can, doesn’t mean we should.
The character of Ian Malcolm explains this perfectly in the film. He states: ‘Your scientists were so preoccupied with whether they could, they didn’t stop to think if they should.’
The dilemma is similar to the one presented in Mary Shelley’s Frankenstein. Victor Frankenstein creates an entity in the novel, but he has no idea what to call his creation. The same is true of the chief geneticist in the novel, Henry Wu. Despite cloning the animals, he is unable to name some of the dinosaurs.
The ethical implications of this are huge and play out poorly in the novel. The cloning of T-Rex’s and velociraptors causes havoc on the island. Did the scientists consider this before they cloned them? Or were they too busy trying to bring them back to life without considering what might happen when they did?
The novel was written in the 90s when genetic engineering was beginning to grow. Now, we are entering an age where genetic engineering has the potential to change the planet. We need to be careful how we wield this power.
In the wrong hands, it could lead down a path we might not want to go down and once we have, we might not be able to turn back.
Takeaway 3 Technology holds many dangers
In many ways, Jurassic Park was ahead of its time. A lot of the issues that crop up in the book are more relevant today than ever before.
One of these is the amount of trust we place in technology. It has invaded almost every aspect of ou life that we can barely live without it. Despite this, it is not without its flaws. Whether it be mobile phones that track where you are all the time, or Alexa listening to your conversations, technology is not always the answer.
This is exquisitely shown in Jurassic Park. In the novel, the creator of the park, John Hammond, is not the cuddly Grandpa figure that is portrayed in the film. He is a ruthless deluded individual who is concerned with profit and success above all else.
In order to save money, he decided that the park should run with the minimum amount of staff possible. Thus, the park is run by computer software, which automates almost all of the park’s functions and operations.
While this may sound like a good idea in principle, it soon turns out to be a colossal failure. The computer system is designed to predict all eventualities, but in a complex system such as Jurassic Prak, those eventualities can only be predicted for so long.
Eventually, something will appear which the computer hasn’t accounted for and will cause chaos. This is what happens when the chief programmer Dennis Nedry commits corporate espionage for a rival company.
He shits down part of the park’s security systems, allowing him to steal DNA and escape scot-free. However, his plan backfires and has severe repercussions for the park.
With minimal staff to help in a crisis situation and the chief programmer missing, it becomes a struggle to restore the park to working order.
A few initial errors have snowballed into a huge catastrophe. This echoes the example of chaos theory earlier. All of these problems, while minor on their own, accumulate together to create one big problem.
Technology solves a lot of our problems, but it also creates a lot too. Look at the recent scandals with Facebook and democracy.
Placing our trust in systems that are open to manipulation and that have minimal safeguards is foolish and can lead to disaster if we don’t recognise this before too late.
Jurassic Park review
It’s worth repeating that this Jurassic Park summary is in regards to the novel and not the film. Although similar, the plots differ.
While I won’t go into detail about the plot, it’s important to note the distinction. The novel is much more of a philosophical take on matters than the film.
Throughout the book, Crichton pulls us back to discussions around whtether cloning is ethical, the implications of what it could mean, and the results of ignoing complex systems.
In some ways, the novel is a sort of primer on chaos theory and the ethics of bringing back animals from extinction.
I read the book after I had watched the film, and I imagine I won’t be alone in that due to how well-known the film is.
It was differnt to what I was expecting and I was amazed by the detail that Crichton went into and how he develops the plot.
It’s a rip-roaring novel and it will keep you on tenterhooks. It’s not up to the standard of The Andromeda Strain, which I consider to be his best, but it’s very good nonetheless.
If you’ve watched the film, reading the book is a good idea. It will fill in some gaps and help make sense of what happened during the blockbuster movie!
Who should read Jurassic Park?
As I said above, anyone that has watched the movie should read the book. I beleve the book is better than the film, but you need to read it to appreciate why.
If someone is looking for a basic introduction to chaos theory and its implications in real life, then Jurassic Park is a useful book to read.
You’ll learn the basics about the theory and if you read The Black Swan by Nassim Taleb, you’ll gain a greater understanding of how unforeseen events can cause devastation.
Anyone that loves a good thriller and to be educated at the same time will love this book!