Vikings • Season 5B • Recap & Thoughts

Oakbur Quill Co..png

Were a week removed from the latest season of Vikings and I, for one, have a lot of thoughts.

Reader be warned, for here there be spoilers! Scroll on with caution.

First thing’s first, a little disclaimer: I started binge-watching the show in an “it’s okay to watch four episodes in a row if I’m doing it for research” frenzy this past summer. (To be fair, I was then and am now genuinely researching Nordic myths and legends.) I got hooked fast, and managed to catch up to the series just in time for the premiere of the second half of season five. Why disclose this? Because I’ve found that binging a show gives you a different perspective than drinking it in small, seasonal sips. I took in the story all at once. I saw Bjorn and his brothers grow up before my eyes, saw kings rise and fall in days, and watched Lagertha turn from shieldmaiden to queen to nomad in mere weeks.

I got all the backstory at hyper-speed, and in consuming so much so fast, I found myself entering the new season with some very strong opinions.

At the forefront of those opinions was my absolute and utter disdain of Ivar the Boneless.

Is he a cool character? Yes, definitely. You have a Viking born disabled, whose birthright was death and whose mother’s love was his only salvation, defeating all odds to become a feared warrior and all-powerful king. That is a damn great character concept that is only heightened by the skilled performance put on by Alex Høgh Andersen.

The good stuff ends there.

Ivar has long history of heartlessness, cruelty, and bloated hubris, but this season really took that cocktail and ran. We saw him ruthlessly torture, hang, burn, beat, stab, and strangle absolutely anybody who dared cross him. He betrayed brothers, lied to his people, and went as far as to kill his own “divine child”. His rage knew no bounds, and as he slashed his way through Kattegat, he became predictable. We knew that he wouldn’t keep his promises to Hvitserk. We knew he wouldn’t let his deformed son live. We knew he would kill the Seer, who refused to acknowledge Ivar’s presumed divinity, and who warned of dark times to come. His arc grew boring, and as we waited in vain for someone to finally (finally) thwart him, it became frustrating.

There are two positive things that come out of Kattegat, though: Freydis and Hvitserk.

Freydis is the first one to call Ivar a god. She deceives him and, despite his impotence, convinces him that he has fathered her child. She makes him believe her pregnancy is proof of Ivar’s own divinity all to secure her place in his palace. She is the only character who, even for a short while, plays Ivar. She is portrayed as his equal - right up until she gives birth to her son. That’s when the veil comes off and a shred of humanity pokes through.

When Ivar leaves Baldur to die in the woods, and when the infant’s bones are found, we see Freydis break. She stops seeing him as a step ladder and starts seeing the man behind his many masks - of husband, of king, of eager father-to-be. We even see her betray him - and then it all crumbles. She dies.

Her redemption is cut short and she becomes just another death in Ivar’s overflowing stream, which leaves me wondering - did nobody see her potential? Like Astrid, who died by Lagertha’s hand last season, and like Thora and Aud, Freydis was a character with immense potential hardly a fraction of which was actually used. (Or is it just me? It can’t just be me who’s frustrated by this.)

Anyway, let’s move on to Hvitserk, who spends the greater half of the season questioning his fate. Why did he abandon Ubbe? Why did he choose Ivar? What is he still doing in Kattegat? He finds love (rest in peace, Thora), has an encounter with a Buddhist, and eventually finds his purpose and hatches a plan with King Olaf the Stout to overthrow Ivar. Good on you, Hvitserk!

Across the sea, Bjorn Ironside and King Harald concoct a similiar plan.

Bjorn - as well as Lagerha, Ubbe, Torvi, and Bishop Heahmund - fled to Wessex in the first episode of the season. The group, with Heahmund’s help, form an alliance with the recently appointed King Alfred - whose own people remain wary of his leadership, and whose brother wavers between jealousy and loyalty; the king agrees to grant the Norsemen land in East Anglia, previously promised by the late King Ecbert, in exchange for (1) Ubbe and Torvi’s conversion to Christianity and (2) aid against other Viking invaders. Their first attack comes from none other than King Harald himself, who sailed to England after being snubbed by - you guessed it - Ivar the Boneless.

Let’s backtrack a little: in the last season, Heahmund was captured by Ivar, who was intrigued by the warrior-bishop’s skill in, and in planning, battle. Ivar enlisted Heahmund as a war strategist. Although Ivar won Kattegat, Heahmund was wounded and re-captured by Lagertha. In the gap between seasons, Heahmund and Lagertha began a romantic relationship - a relationship which is severely tested in the first half of 5B.

After refusing an offer of protection from Rollo, who is now an established French nobleman, Lagertha agrees with Heahmund’s suggestion to escape. Upon his return to Wessex, Heahmund takes back his place in the Church (albeit by killing his replacement - not exactly godly, but has anyone on this show been godly since Athelstan? I digress.) and subsequently finds himself tortured by visions of Hell. Believing these to be prophecy, he ends his romance with Lagertha, denouncing her in an attempt to save his place in Heaven.

This lasts approximately one episode, for when Heahmund falls in battle his last desire is Lagertha. He calls out for her, and she watches him die and then vanishes from the battlefield.

With Lagertha disappeared and Ubbe and Torvi committed to settling land in East Anglia, Bjorn feels that there is nothing left for him in England. He frees and begins a relationship with Gunnhild, who becomes his third (fourth? I’m losing count) wife, and, with her and his eager brother Magnus - whom both Lagertha and Ubbe denounced as a son of Ragnar, but with whose rage Bjorn feels fiercely connected to - allies with King Harald and sails home, intent to take back Kattegat.

Oh, and did I mention that Harald still wishes to be king of all Norway and that he covets Bjorn’s new wife? Because that’s a thing. He wouldn’t be Harald Finehair if that wasn’t a thing.

But wait, there’s more!

Floki. Remember him? Out there in Iceland with his colony. Well, the season begins with the settlers debating his execution. Helgi’s tie-breaking vote saves him, but can’t save the colony. Tensions between families build. Revenge killings run amok. Floki questions the gods and, while seeking their aid, finds a Christian cross erected inside a mountain. While laughing at his find, he is injured by the erupting volcano.

Honestly, the Iceland plot gets lost in the drama. At least, for me it did (and perhaps this is because I'm just not a huge fan of Floki, despite Gustaf Skarsgård's continued brilliance).

Splitting the story between so many characters, and planting those characters in so many places, made it difficult to keep up with everything. On top of that, Iceland is an extremely isolated plot. Wessex and Kattegat remain in flux with one another, with characters moving to and from both places, and the primary tension of the show hovering between them. Iceland sits outside of this action. Without any ties to the other stories, it's easy to lose Floki's settlement under all those other moving parts.

Oh, and in this medieval soap opera, the political drama continues, particularly heating up in Wessex.

Alfred is king by his mother’s insistence and with his brother’s public approval, but Aethelred remains somewhat shady over the course of the season. So shady, in fact, that his own mother distrusts him enough to, in one of the most shocking and heart wrenching historical deviances of the show, poison him while Aflred is struck ill. (Judith later states, “I killed one son to save the other.”, but I guess we’ll never really know if her extremism was necessary. We do, however, know who her favorite son is. Not that there were doubts, but now it’s #confirmed.)

And in case you were worried, Judith suffers more than the guilt of murdering her own son.

Because nobody on this show can catch a break, Judith develops breast cancer. While secretly seeking treatment from a local witch, she finds Lagertha, who had been missing for two to three episodes, and takes her back to the royal villa. The two women discuss their lives and their fates while Judith succumbs to her cancer and Lagertha reflects on her life with Ragnar, and on what is next for her. By the final episode, Judith dies, and Lagertha sails back to Kattegat with Ubbe.

Ubbe, of course, has his own arc. He struggles with his faith after publicly denouncing the gods and becoming a Christian to prove his loyalty to King Alfred. He teaches Alfred to fight, and meets with the incoming Danes on Alfred’s behalf. He is baited into single combat by a Danish king; if the king wins the Danes attack Wessex, if Ubbe wins the Danes join the Viking settlement in East Anglia. Ubbe wins, though he is severely injured in the process. During combat, Ubbe calls to Odin for strength, and while he is recovering at the royal villa he tells Torvi that the Christian cross means nothing to him. He believes in the Norse gods, and the Norse gods alone. This revelation prompts Ubbe and Torvi to sail back to Kattegat together.

That brings us to the finale: a long battle, an impassioned speech by Bjorn reminding the people of Kattegat that he is their friend and neighbor, and imploring them to see Ivar as their enemy, and a betrayal of Ivar by Freydis.

The season ends with Ivar fleeing Kattegat. In his absence, Lagertha returns and bestows Bjorn with the Sword of Kings. Bjorn then has a ominous vision in which he hears Ragnar’s voice and has a conversation with the late Seer, who warns him that the war is not yet over.  Before fading to black, we see Ivar being carted away by his followers, a straw hat on his head suggesting that he is eastbound.

It’s…unnerving, to say the least.

After a season full of ever-increasing tension, it’s almost unsatisfying to see Ivar kind-of, sort-of win and Bjorn, Hvitserk, Ubbe, and Lagertha kind-of, sort-of lose. Again. I mean, yeah, Bjorn is king, but even he is doubting himself and his future.

And let's not forget that Harald still maintains his ambitions. He wants to rule as king of Norway, a position which his historical counterpart held between the 9th and 10th centuries. Will the show allow for such historical accuracy? He's been thwarted time and time again, and though he's struck deals with both Ivar and Bjorn to succeed them in Kattegat, I doubt that the two (arguably three, if you choose to count Magnus) remaining sons of Ragnar will forfeit the throne willingly - let alone Lagertha, who still calls Kattegat her home.

Speaking of Lagertha, I find myself a concerned over her fate. Her visions of Ragnar hovered around his death, and though she considers herself reborn, what does her knew life really have in store for her? Will she continue to have visions of her former husband? In one of her final visions, she saw Ragnar’s death with herself as the executioner. I can’t get that imagery out of my head, and can’t help but wonder if it has some greater meaning to it. The Seer continues to prophesy destruction and darkness, even from beyond the grave, and I can’t imagine such forces not touching her.

And what’s up with Floki? Is he going to make it out of the volcano and, if so, will he tell anyone about the cross buried there? He has hated Christians since season one, going as far as to kill Athelstan under the guise of the gods’ divine will. The cross, therefore, has deep personal significance to him - that is, it signifies everything he hates. So, will it strengthen his resolve and restore his faith in the gods, or are we going in a different direction this time?

I kind of hope it’s the latter. At this point, Floki’s arc seems to keep repeating. He believes fiercely in the gods, something tests him, and then the gods come to him. This case already feels different as it is Christian symbolism that shows itself, so perhaps we’ll be seeing something from Floki. Hey, I can dream.

And then, of course, there’s Alfred. He has lost his father, and then his brother, and then his mother. He is left to run a country with little support, and is a father-to-be on top of it all. His closest Viking allies have sailed back to Norway, and the newly settled Danes do not exactly owe their loyalty. Historically, Alfred did become victorious against Viking invasions, and even instated Danelaw. So will we be seeing these political developments in season six? The history nerd in me really hopes so.

There are also questions surrounding Magnus, who, in times of tremendous fear, still utters Christian prayers despite his instance that he does not believe in Christianity. In the battle against Ivar, he seemed intent to abandon his Saxon beliefs entirely, but will he stick to that? Will he prove himself in Viking society? I’m curious to see.

Overall, I enjoyed this season - despite being overwhelmingly annoyed by Ivar’s...well, being Ivar. And while the finale left me and many other viewers with a lot of questions, I’m eagerly awaiting the answers in the next season. 

Until next time...Skol.

Book to Box Office: The Lost World

lexivranick.com-2.png

Originally posted June 27, 2018.

Following the huge success of his 1993 film Jurassic Park, Steven Spielberg was ready for a sequel. Despite this, and despite fans' urges for a follow-up to the 1990 novel of the same name, author Michael Crichton remained wary.

To Crichton, sequels present "a very difficult structural problem because it has to be the same but different; if it's really the same, then it's the same—and if it's really different, then it's not a sequel. So it's in some funny intermediate territory." He had never written one before, and remained on the edge. But with Spielberg's interest piqued, and the fans' continuous nudging, he eventually gave in. In 1995, The Lost World hit shelves. Two years later, Spielberg's version crashed into theaters.

As with Jurassic Park (and most other page-to-screen adaptations), questions about which version better pop up. And what better way to answer that question than with a little side-by-side comparison.

THE BOOK

Michael Crichton's sequel begins six years after the Isla Nublar incident of Jurassic Park.

Its first order of business is to resurrect mathematician (chaotician) Dr. Ian Malcolm, who was presumed dead at the end of the first novel. This decision, Crichton said, was because Malcolm was needed. Malcolm served as the "ironic commentator" of the first novel, and Crichton felt his realist insights remained necessary. Without Malcolm, the story is just about an island of dinosaurs. With him, it's a social, academic, and scientific commentary.    

The Lost World follows the same basic format as Jurassic Park, but with less security. The group is smaller and their isolation is more apparent and infinitely more threatening.

The book finds Ian Malcolm reluctantly teamed up with Dr. Richard Levine, a young and eager paleontologist who is determined to find a "lost world" of dinosaurs. The InGen incident of the first book has been largely covered up by the Costa Rican government, leaving Malcolm secretive and elusive about his experience. Hints of his potential post-traumatic stress are littered throughout the book: he is mentioned to have listed dinosaur names while recovering from his injuries in a Costa Rican hospital; he freezes the first time he sees a Tyrannosaur again, and the others have trouble shaking him from his shock; he expresses a wish to give up and die when he is injured again in a T-rex tag-team assault on the group's trailer.

Levine's determination leads to the discovery of Site B, located on Isla Sorna. Here, dinosaurs roam freely. No cages. No electric fences. No security measures. Just endless tropical terrain and prehistoric beasts.

After Levine visits the island on his own, a frantic radio call brings Ian Malcolm, engineer Jack "Doc" Thorne, and Thorne's assistant and mechanics expert Eddie Carr to his rescue. When they arrive, they discover that two of Levine's middle school students, thirteen year old Kelly Curtis and eleven year old R.B. "Arby" Benton, have stowed away in their cargo. The group is later joined by Sarah Harding, a famed animal behaviorist (and Malcolm's former girlfriend) whose interest was piqued by Levine's lost world.

The deaths of John Hammond and Henry Wu in the first book seal the fate of InGen, leaving Site B as the last remnant of the company and its bold ambitions. It is discovered that the island was used to house the dinosaurs as they were developed, tested, and raised before eventually being moved to Isla Nublar to become attractions at the disastrous theme park. With InGen out of the picture, BioSyn has become increasingly determined to capture and exploit the company's technology. Lewis Dodgson is quick to discover Site B, and arrives with geneticist Howard King and biologist George Baselton in tow, adding an extra layer of tension for our heroes.

Each group face increasing obstacles as dinosaurs attack, people are injured and sometimes eaten, and the groups come head-to-head all while racing against the clock to meet their rides off the island. As with Jurassic Park, The Lost World is a heart-stopping action thriller with a brilliantly paced plot, larger-than-life danger, and characters so vividly real they practically leap off the page.

It feels that Crichton found that intermediate territory he had been searching for in this first crack at a sequel. It follows the formula of the first book: group of professionals and two smart kids get trapped on an island full of dinosaurs while another group of people plots to steal the dinosaur's genetic codes for their own use. But it ups the ante in a lot of ways, isolating the characters by eliminating their contact with the outside world and shrinking the group to increase personal conflicts among its members. This keeps this anxiety level up for readers, as well as ensures the book's ability to stand on its own.

THE MOVIE

Spielberg's 1997 Jurassic Park: The Lost World is a bit different from its literary counterpart.

The film finds Ian Malcolm summoned to John Hammond's estate to discuss Site B on Isla Sorna, no resurrections required. With Hammond and Wu both alive at the close of the first movie, InGen is still kicking, but has been taken over by Hammond's nephew, Peter Ludlow. Unlike in the book, the incident on Isla Nublar is common knowledge. Through various conversions, we learn that Malcolm has spoken publicly about the incident, and that Ludlow has tried to shut him up, discredit him, and cover up the tragedy.

The central conflict of the movie lies in family drama inside InGen and the fate of the dinosaurs on Isla Sorna. Hammond wants Malcolm to head a research team with the intention of using their findings to discourage human interference on the island, allowing the dinosaurs to live in comfortable isolation. Ludlow, on the other hand, wants to collect the dinosaurs to use in a new theme park on San Diego (you know, because it worked out so well on an isolated island).

Initially, Malcolm is reluctant to go, but upon learning that his girlfriend, paleontologist Sarah Harding, had accepted Hammond's invitation and had gone to the island already, he relents. He quickly meets his team, which consists of engineer Eddie Carr and documentarian Nick Van Owen, and sets off for Costa Rica. Similarly to the book, a stowaway is discovered once the group lands on Isla Sorna, but this time it's only Kelly Curtis, and this time Kelly Curtis is Ian Malcolm's teenage daughter.

The action amps up when Ludlow's team arrives, creating conflict that boils into grudging solidarity as the dinosaurs begin to pick off members of each group. However, the height of tension isn't reached on the island. As Malcolm and co. (minus Eddie, who met his unfortunate fate while trying to save the rest of the group) board a helicopter home, they see the survivors of Ludlow's crew towing a Tyrannosaur onto the boat.Upon arriving back in San Diego, it is discovered that Ludlow's team was able to procure a baby Tyrannosaur and its mother for Jurassic Park 2.0. It is up to Malcolm and Sarah to reunite the little family and lure them back onto a boat to shipped safely back to Isla Sonar - but not before they eat Ludlow and wreak some havoc on the city.

In the end, Malcolm, Harding, and Kelly cozy up at home to watch a public broadcast of the dinosaurs' return to Site B and a statement from John Hammond, who pleads with the public to simply let the dinosaurs be.

The movie is packed with action and lots of teeth. The cast swells in comparison to the first film. While the close-knit feeling of the group in the first movie attempts to be echoed through Malcolm's team in the second - solidified especially by his familial tie to Kelly and romantic tie to Sarah Harding - the addition of dozens of others and the subsequent consolidation of the groups limits the time spent on interpersonal relationships. Instead, audiences are gripped by tension as dinosaurs lurk around each turn and each person's fate hangs uncertainly in the balance. As far as sequels go, it's not bad. It just could have done more.

THE DIFFERENCES

There are...a lot.

Some are due to initial changes made when Jurassic Park made its big screen debut. The first film's choice to change Hammond into a warm grandfatherly figure and to keep him and Henry Wu alive changed the course for round two. In Jurassic Park: The Lost World, Peter Ludlow takes on many of the traits John Hammond had in the book - namely, corporate greed and careless exploitation of de-extinct animals.

The second film also draws some material from Crichton's Jurassic Park by using scenes omitted from the first film adaptation. The young girl being attacked my compies (procomsognathuses) on the beach, for instance, was an early scene in Crichton's book.

But these are just a sampling of the changes made. Others include:

  • The omission and replacement of characters.

    • The film replaces Doc Thorne with Nick Van Owen. It boils Arby and Kelly down to one character. It also replaces the BioSyn team of Dodgson, King, and Baselton with Ludlow's InGen crew.

  • The time gap between original and sequel.

    • In the book, it has been six years since the Isla Nublar incident. In the movie, only four years have passed.

  • Ian Malcolm's post-Isla Nublar injuries.

    • In the original novel, Malcolm's injuries were so dire he was pronounced dead at the end of the action. In The Lost World, it is revealed that he survived, but that he had lasting effects from his injuries. He walks with a cane and refers to himself as crippled. He begins physical therapy when he realizes he may come face-to-face with dinosaurs again, but acknowledges his body's limitations. In the movie, his injuries were less severe, leaving him unaffected by them in the sequel.

  • Kelly Curtis's personality and role in the story

    • In the book, Kelly and Arby are two hyper-intelligent kids from a middle school class taught by Dr. Richard Levine. Kelly is a thirteen year old aspiring mathematician who worships the ground Sarah Harding walks on, and Arby is a gifted eleven year old who is often bullied both for being a "brainer" and for being black. Levine tasks them with being his research assistants, though they don't understand that they're researching Site B until they meet Doc Thorne and Ian Malcolm. Upon discovering that Levine may be in trouble, and after being told repeatedly by both Thorne and Malcolm that they're absolutely not going to Isla Sorna, they stow away in the group's cargo. They're discovered when they pop out of the trailer to warn the others of an incoming dinosaur, and continue to be vital aids to the team. They help with everything from keeping watch to shooting raptors to hacking into the island's leftover computer system. In the book, however, Arby is dropped and Kelly becomes Ian Malcolm's daughter - a remnant from a failed relationship. As in the book, Kelly stows away after being forbidden to join the team. Unlike the book, Kelly doesn't understand what she's in for until she gets there. Her reveal on the island comes from her setting the trailer on fire while trying to cook, and she doesn't have any major role in the action until the climax of the escape, when she uses a gymnastics move to kick a velociraptor away from Malcolm.

  • Sarah Harding's job, her relationship with Ian Malcolm, and her role in the story.

    • In the book, Sarah Harding is an animal behaviorist with a speciality in large predators. She started a romantic relationship with Malcolm while he was recovering from the Isla Nublar incident. They ultimately ended their relationship, but remained good friends. She is the story's token badass, surviving being thrown off the side of a boat in open water, riding a motorcycle through a pack of velociraptors, saving Malcolm's life during a Tyrannosaur attack, and sacrificing an antagonist to a T-rex.

    • In the movie, Sarah is a paleontologist, and she and Malcolm are in an established relationship. She's still pretty badass, but a lot of her scenes are sacrificed due to the larger cast and split screen time given so many characters.

  • Ian Malcolm's injuries.

    • As discussed, Malcolm suffers lasting affects of injuries sustained in Jurassic Park. He is also severely injured in The Lost World, once again spending a great deal of time on morphine. In the movie, his body is shaken by the Tyrannosaur attack on the trailer and the attack on the camp, but after spending a few minutes sitting, he's back to running from raptors and helping the others.

  • The San Diego Incident.

    • The book has the action contained to Isla Sorna, with the story ending as the characters finally find a safe way off the island. The movie decides to take the action away from Site B and plants some enormous dinosaurs on the streets of San Diego for some extra scares.

THE ANALYSIS

These two works are so different from each other it's almost hard to tell they were born from the same story.

It should be taken into account that changes made from the original adaptation altered the film greatly. John Hammond being alive, and being a compassionate and likable figure, is a huge deal. Public awareness of living dinosaurs being public means that the characters are not alone in their knowledge of the animals. The increase cast size offers up more non-emotional death-fodder for the writers. One of the Ludlow's InGen team, for instance, is eaten by compies in a similar way to how John Hammond died in the first book. The audience didn't know him well, so the death was just a good use of visual effects and an easy way to unnerve viewers.

However, in growing its cast, the movie loses the intimacy created by the book. With a limited amount of characters, the book is able to explore each person and their relationships with one another on a deeper level. The smaller group also raises the stakes. As a reader, you don't want any of these people to die. You become afraid when they're in danger because you don't want to lose them. It would be heartbreaking to lose them. In the movie, there are so many people to keep track of. It can be hard to tell who was killed in any particular scene, and it gives you the security that the core cast (Malcolm's team) will get away with minimal casualties.

The movie's decision to take the action to a metropolis also seemed an odd choice. Part of the appeal of the books is the secrecy surrounding the dinosaurs. They pop up on the mainland only to be destroyed. The Isla Nublar incident has been entirely hushed up. This leaves the characters isolated on a few different planes. Physically, of course, they're on an island of dinosaurs. But mentally and emotionally, after this incident, they will be the only ones who know.

In the film, that's shot to hell within the first five minutes. A man on the train says he's seen one of Malcolm's talks and that he believes him. Dinosaurs are more central to the public sphere. Maybe you've got some skeptics, but ultimately, the public knows. And if they didn't know before San Diego, they sure learned. But it was very monster movie-ish, and doesn't quite fit the scientific commentary established in the first film and in the books.

THE VERDICT: THE BOOK WINS

The movie isn't bad. It's really not. It's action-packed and outlandish. It can be fun. It isn't bad.

But the book is the clear winner here. It understands its characters and its world better, and through keeping things small, it studies them both on a deeper level. There are more layers to it. The intimacy of it makes it interesting. It creates an emotional connection that seems absent from the movie.

The movie seemed to try to drum up some kind of feeling by giving Malcolm a steady girlfriend and a daughter, but even those relationship didn't have time to be adequately explored given just how much was going on. While the performances were good - the actors were working with what they had, and they worked with it well - the writing just wasn't there. It wasn't strong enough to carry these relationships in the way Crichton succeeded with his isolationist sequel.

So, ultimately, in this sequel versus sequel battle, the book comes out on top.

Book to Box Office: Jurassic Park

Df6DnsBUYAAZcS9.jpg

Originally posted June 18, 2018.

25 years ago, a guy named Spielberg decided to toss some animatronic dinosaurs on the big screen, animated by then-groundbreaking CGI technology. The resulting film launched audiences into a kind of Cretaceous chaos (alright, yeah - the movie is called  jurassic, but historically, a lot of the animals featured thrived during the Cretaceous Period, so spare me); two sequels quickly followed, and after a fourteen year hiatus the series was revived with a reboot in 2015. Universal Studios has capitalized on the craze with dino-driven log flumes in their theme parks and stuffed Tyrannosaurs in their gift shops. The story has reached far and wide, and while Steven Spielberg can certainly be credited with turning Jurassic Park into a household name, it was author Michael Crichton who first brought prehistory to the twentieth century.

As with most (read: ALL.) page-to-screen adaptations, this jump from book to box office sparks a controversial question: Which version is better? And to answer that, we've got to do a little analyzing. Let's dive in.

THE BOOK

Three years before robotic dinosaurs stomped into theaters, an American girl spotted a Procompsognathus on a Costa Rican beach. She suffered a bite that left doctors and biologists stumped, and so began Michael Crichton's 1990 novel, Jurassic Park.

And here's one of the main differences between page and screen: the book's conflict is more complicated and extensive. Larger issues than prehistoric beasts roaming a self-contained island arise off the bat in Crichton's original work. Within the first ten pages, we already meet dinosaurs on the mainland, a problem that's not addressed in the film universe until 1997.

The novel has four primary conflicts:

  1. Dinosaurs are loose on the mainland, biting kids and babies.

  2. Dinosaurs are loose in the park, making snacks out of...well, everyone.

  3. The dinosaurs, which have all been been genetically engineered as females, are breeding.

  4. Competition between InGen, the company behind the park, and BioSyn, who wants to steal their dinosaur embryos and create some creatures of their own.

Other conflicts piggyback onto these, including  everyone's favorite mathematician (chaotician, Ian Malcolm would correct) spending half the book in dire mortal peril, and constant debates over the implications of creating an island of dinosaurs. Through expert narration and the use of Ian Malcolm as a morphine-doped mouthpiece, this thriller becomes cautionary tale on the dangers of biological and genetic power as well as a commentary on the limitations of science and the lack of control human beings actually have over our own scientific advancements and perceived achievements. Plus, there's a lot of badass action sequences involving vicious predators from the past - you know, just in case the academic commentary doesn't strike your fancy.

The book is expertly paced and balances its many conflicts without a single hiccup. The characters all feel intimately real, from the most deplorable (Dodgson and Nedry), to the amoral (John Hammond), to the desperate to survive (...everyone. literally everyone). Their motives, flaws, fears, and desires come alive through their actions and their interactions with one another. The dangers feel real and the action is near heart-stopping. This really is a gem of a book, and it's no question why anyone would want to bring it to the big screen.

THE MOVIE

In the jump from book to big screen, the story of Jurassic Park got condensed. Fringe conflicts were dropped, including the issue of dinosaurs escaping the island, and the main source of tension becomes the problem of the dinosaurs running rampant through the park. The issues of InGen vs. BioSyn and the unauthorized breeding of the dinosaurs are kept, but are given less prominent roles overall.

The cast is condensed as well. Some characters are erased entirely, others have their personalities altered, and some are slightly tweaked in age and ability to better fit an on-screen narrative. In one case, the book characters of Ed Regis and Donald Gennaro are fused to create one man, who keeps the name Gennaro.

While changes like this can sometimes be risky, in this case they do absolutely nothing to hinder the story. Jurassic Park is an action-adventure with a huge heart. It introduces the same scientific questions as the book and gives us iconic characters so vividly real they could hop off the screen and sit down beside us and we would barely bat an eye. It pulls tension at all the right places, evokes a feeling of uncertainty that makes audiences question their safety at every turn, and delivers a compelling narrative without sacrificing a single second of heart-pounding action. Add to that the groundbreaking fusion of animatronics and CGI used to bring the dinosaurs to life and you've got yourself a Grade-A Blockbuster Hit.

THE DIFFERENCES

We've already discussed the condensation of the plot and characters, but here are some other things that changed between book and box office (warning for anyone who has not yet read the book or seen the movie - HERE THERE BE SPOILERS):

  • The book has more dinosaurs:

    • Namely, it features two T-rexes (one adult and one juvenile) and an entire colony of Velociraptors, while the movie keeps one rex and cuts the raptor flock down to three. The book also has procompsognathus (deemed "compies"), stegosauruses, and pterodactyls - all species that are absent from the film.

  • John Hammond's personality:

    • In the book, he borders on vile, motivated by greed and innovation for innovation's sake. When he discovers his grandchildren are lost in the park, he treats the issue as an annoyance, and he never once yields on his insistence that Jurassic Park is a good idea. In the movie, he's a warm and charming grandfatherly figure filled with hope and a childish eagerness to bring his vision life. He actually cares about other people, and is so affected by the incident on the island that he eventually comes to agree with Malcolm, who had told him the park was a bad idea from the start.

  • Alan Grant and Ellie Sattler's relationship:

    • In the movie, it is heavily implied that Grant and Sattler are romantically involved. In the book, however, Sattler is twenty years younger than Grant and is a graduate student studying under him. She is also engaged to an unnamed physicist.

  • Ian Malcolm's injuries:

    • In the book, Ian is bitten and thrown by a juvenile Tyrannasaur, resulting in severe injuries to his back and lower extremities that leave him bedridden and near-death, slipping in and out of consciousness. At the end of the book, he is presumed dead. In the movie, he is not bitten, but does get shoved into a building and badly breaks his leg, leaving him unable to walk but conscious and alert for the majority of the film.

  • Lex and Tim's ages, and Lex's role in the story:

    • In the book, Tim is the older sibling, and he is both a dinosaur and computer expert, while Lex's main contributions are playing with a baseball glove, declaring that she is hungry, and generally being an accurate portrayal of an eight-year-old child. The movie swaps their ages, making Lex the older sibling, and splits their interests down the middle- Tim keeps his obsession with dinosaurs, while Lex is a computer wiz.

  • Character deaths:

    • In the book, John Hammond and Henry Wu are both killed, while Donald Gennaro and Robert Muldoon survive to the end. In the movie, Hammond and Wu both survive, Gennaro is given the death of Ed Regis (a book character cut by the film), and Muldoon is eaten by a Velociraptor.

There are other mild changes, such as Alan Grant having a beard and a penchant for Hawaiian shirts in the novel, but the aforementioned are the most glaring differences between the two stories. And with of these laid out, one major question springs forth: Do the changes matter?

In short, the answer is no.

ANALYSIS

One important point to consider is that author Michael Crichton had a hand in drumming up the script for the film, alongside screenwriter David Koepp (Mission: Impossible [1996], Carlito's Way [1993]). And while early drafts credited to Crichton bear a greater resemblance to the novel, the final version produced by Koepp is careful to keep the core aspects of the story intact. You have a remote island off of Costa Rica, you have a whole bunch dinosaurs on that island, you have corporate espionage and scientific debate, and - of course - you've got prehistoric beasts hunting down our unsuspecting (or, in Ian Malcolm's case, very much suspecting) cast.

This story, much like the genetically engineered dinosaurs it touts, is adaptable. It moves easily from page to screen without much lost. Both novel and film are each able to stand strongly on their own.

Ultimately, which version of the story is "better" is entirely subject to your personal preference.

Do you want a more in-depth look at science and society and the dangers of genetic manipulation? You'll want the book, chock full of Ian Malcolm's morphine-riddled rants on science, chaos, and the dangers inherent in bringing extinct species back to life. Want your dinosaurs with a little less cynicism? You'll be at home with the movie.

THE VERDICT: IT'S A TIE


Life finds a way.

In the case of Jurassic Park, both book and big screen adaptations are exceptional triumphs of their respective mediums. While there are some things that one might handle a bit better (the portrayal of female characters in the film, or the social and scientific commentary of the book), these two versions tell their own stories, and tell those stories incredibly well.

When all is said and done, this debate between page and screen ends in a draw.