by Rob DiCristino
In his 2016 Godfather Notebook, Francis Ford Coppola offers a voluminous account of his work adapting Mario Puzo’s 1969 best-selling novel for the screen. Overflowing with behind-the-scenes photos, coffee-stained character notes, and early story treatments, The Godfather Notebook catalogs nearly every aspect of Coppola’s early creative process. The centerpiece is an annotated first draft screenplay interspersed with pages ripped directly from Puzo’s work, which Coppola kept close at hand in order to maintain as much of the book’s essential energy as possible. Things had to be cut, of course — much of Puzo’s story follows characters like Johnny Fontane and Lucy Mancini, who are featured only briefly in the final film — but Coppola and co-screenwriter Puzo understood where and how the sprawling Corleone family saga could be streamlined into a functional cinematic epic. This process of adaptation is always a delicate one; film and literature are vastly different media, and this series will aim to dissect how the great ones came to be.
First up is Michael Crichton’s 1990 techno-thriller Jurassic Park, another in a long line of airport paperbacks in which the author details the catastrophic consequences of scientific ambition. Like The Andromeda Strain, Congo, and Westworld, Jurassic Park outlines the limits of control in complex systems and the moral imperatives that humans ignore in pursuit of discovery. It begins in Costa Rica, where a series of fatal attacks by unidentified, chicken-sized lizards coincides with the EPA’s investigation of eccentric entrepreneur John Hammond, whose aggressive purchases of land, engineering systems, and amber are raising some regulatory eyebrows. These roads converge on paleontologist Alan Grant, who identifies curious anomalies in the lizard remains just as Hammond offers him and graduate student Ellie Sattler a massive grant to consult on a biological preserve he’s building off the coast of Costa Rica. With experts and lawmakers closing in, it’s now or never: The embattled Hammond must finally introduce the world to Jurassic Park.
Though eagle-eyed fans of Steven Spielberg’s Jurassic Park may have noticed only a few minor differences so far, the 1993 film’s (co-written by Crichton and David Koepp) emphasis on finely-crafted set pieces and special effects breakthroughs distinguishes it from its source material in nearly every conceivable way. Crichton’s characters arrive on the island with evidence that dinosaurs have already escaped the park and spend most of the novel dissecting each procedural safeguard that Wu and operations manager John Arnold introduce. The dinosaurs, in fact, are almost entirely incidental, serving mostly to punctuate or disprove a theorem presented in the preceding pages. Book Hammond is more Jordan Belfort than Walt Disney, a greedy and opportunistic huckster who rages against philanthropy and government overreach. He brings his grandchildren to the island not to demonstrate the power of his attractions but to make himself more sympathetic to his accusers. Crichton’s Jurassic Park is not about the wonder; it’s about the warning.
Spielberg’s thematics are also far more attuned to the sensibilities of blockbuster filmmaking. Crichton’s Grant is a widower who loves kids. Sattler is marrying “a very nice doctor sometime next year.” Hammond and Malcolm die on the island. Crichton even resolves the dinosaur danger with time to spare and spends the last few chapters on an investigation of raptor migratory patterns. It’s clinical. Scientific. On the other hand, as designer Mike Hill argues, Spielberg’s Jurassic is an allegory for parenthood: Grant hates children but must prove to Sattler that he is ready to have a family. The couple examine an ultrasound, witness a live birth, and learn about the reproductive process before Grant is forced to lead two children through unimaginable dangers and return them safe and sound. Hammond and Malcolm (dressed in white and black, respectively) symbolize hope and doubt, angels and devils. Whereas Crichton’s ending — velociraptors escaping to the mainland — is dire and foreboding, Spielberg’s ending is awe-inspiring and cathartic.