Rediscovering the Island as Utopian Locus: Michael Crichton's
[(essay date 2000) In the following essay, Gallardo-Torrano contrasts Jurassic Park with the film version of the novel, contending that the original offers a more complex and nuanced critique of the dystopian potentialities of science.]
Islands have always made excellent settings for utopian or dystopian worlds. Together with hidden valleys, they provided the required estrangement which supported the feasibility of new societies. The advent of space travel, however, has had two major consequences. On the one hand, the world as a unit has ceased to be regarded as a believable locus. On the other, the world as a place has ceased to be considered as the only desirable locus. Authors such as Ursula K. Le Guin in The Dispossessed (1974) or Brian Aldiss in Enemies of the System (1978) took a step forward in the 1970s and applied the traditional concept of estrangement to extraterrestrial environments. In Jurassic Park (1990), though, Michael Crichton rediscovers the advantages of a terrestrial setting and creates a big theme park which in fact is nothing but another variety of short-term capitalist utopia.
Some years have passed since Hollywood dinosaurs roamed Steven Spielberg's world and dinosaur-inspired gadgetry invaded the real world. Now, with audiences having turned their attention to other matters, seems a good moment to consider some aspects of both the novel and the film which, from my point of view, may link Jurassic Park to other examples of classic utopias.
As could be expected, the novel and the film differ in many respects. Some characters in the film are conflations of their counterparts in the novel. A great deal of action has disappeared or been modified in the film, and other minor changes are easily recognizable. If there is something which pervades both works, though, it is undoubtedly the popular idea that 'there are certain things man was not meant to know', an idea that automatically echoes not only some of the most conventional science fiction, but other cultural elements, too, that are deeply rooted in Western culture. Among them are Lucifer, Prometheus, and the sorcerer's apprentice.
As it seems to me that the film is a mere exploitation of the commercial potentialities of Crichton's work, in the following comments I will focus mainly on the written text.1 Of all the characters who appear in the novel four of them seem to me of special interest: John Hammond (owner of the island and father of the project), Henry Wu (a geneticist responsible for the recreation of dinosaurs from reconstructed DNA), Ian Malcolm (a mathematician expert in chaos theory), and Alan Grant (a paleontologist, expert in extinct dinosaurs).
Aged over seventy, John Hammond is the soul of the park. A mixture of romantic dreams, business-oriented mind and childish stubbornness, he has been able to raise millions of dollars from shareholders without revealing the eventual nature of the project. He is described by Gennaro, one of the experts commissioned to report on the present situation of the project, as a 'dreamer'2 to whom there is...