Book Review: Jurassic Park

Image via Universal.

“You really do have dinosaurs on the brain.”’

If you don’t know what Jurassic Park is, have you been living under a rock?

The Films

Jurassic Park is a science fiction novel by Michael Crichton. It was adapted into a film by Steven Spielberg, which was released in 1993. It had 2 sequels: The Lost World: Jurassic Park (1997) and Jurassic Park III (2001).

My Photo [Jurassic 1 Poster].jpg
Image via Amazon.com

In 2015, the Jurassic Park franchise expanded when Jurassic World was released in 2015, directed by Colin Trevorrow, starring Chris Pratt and Bryce Dallas Howard. Having seen the original films, I watched Jurassic World for the first time this summer. Jurassic World is basically a soft reboot of Jurassic Park (1993) with some questionable characters and plot elements, which has some fun moments nonetheless and much better CGI dinosaurs.

Its sequel, Jurassic World: Fallen Kingdom was released in the summer of 2018, which I watched too. I thought Jurassic World: Fallen Kingdom was much better than its predecessor in characters, storytelling, and visuals. It was the scariest Jurassic Park film I’ve ever seen and in places was incredibly gruesome and gory.

A third sequel is planned, preemptively titled Jurassic World 3 and is estimated to be released in 2021.

The Novel

Jurassic Park by Michael Crichton, as most already know, is about an amusement park and zoo founded by John Hammond. The park is filled with real dinosaurs, recreated in laboratories using DNA recovered in dinosaur fossils and preserved insects. The paleontologist Alana Grant, the botanist Ellie Sattler, the mathematician Ian Malcolm, and Hammond’s two grandchildren, Timmy and Lex, are invited to view the park before it officially opens. Whilst all seems fun and interesting initially, the park begins to malfunction, and so the dinosaurs escape, wreaking inconceivable havoc.

I loved this book more than I even thought I would.

It was instantly entertaining and instantly scary, as there are dinosaur attacks in the book omitted from the film, so the characters are never far away from a predatory encounter.

The arguably most memorable scenes from Jurassic Park (1993) are when the Tyrannosaurus Rex escapes and when Timmy and Lex are hunted by Velociraptors in the kitchen.

2 - T Rex
Image via YouTube.com

These scenes are expertly written in the book and genuinely frightening – more so than in Spielberg’s film because your imagination can truly go crazy. Every time characters have to run or hide, it’s so exciting and tense.

1 - Raptors in the Kitchen
Image via YouTube.com

In addition to the intense events within Jurassic Park, there was also lots of interesting scientific information about the various dinosaurs. This made them more complex than just ‘scary monsters’, explaining Grant and Sattler’s fascination with them, and highlighting Hammond’s exploitation of them.

Crichton really paints Hammond as the villain of the piece, which doesn’t come across as strongly in Spielberg’s film. Hammond is a man eager to get rich and create popular entertainment quickly by exploiting living creatures for gain, whilst neglecting to fund proper care and research into what individual species require and the dangers they pose. Ian Malcolm criticises Hammond and the industry of modern science, predicting the park will devolve into chaos immediately, due to the park’s focus on commercial gain rather than safety and careful study. No doubt this analogy can be applied to modern zoos today.

Jurassic Park was a highly entertaining book, and I’d happily re-read it. I ordered Crichton’s sequel, The Lost World, the same day I finished Jurassic Park.

I strongly recommend if you love the film franchise but haven’t yet read the book on which it’s based!

– Judith

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Book Review: How To Train Your Dragon

My boyfriend introduced me to How To Train Your Dragon, the animated fantasy film, and I loved it. We then watched the sequel, How To Train Your Dragon 2 (creative) and I loved it more. We’ve re-watched them several times. I didn’t even know there were books. So, at his suggestion, I read How To Train Your Dragon by Cressida Cowell.

Hmm.

Spoiler Warning: There will be some.

How To Train Your Dragon is the first in a series of twelve children’s books about Hiccup, the son of a Viking chief, as he overcomes great obstacles on his journey to become Heroic.

Visually, it’s a nice little book. It has childlike My Image [How To Train Your Dragon Book] handwriting and drawings throughout, so it’s perfect for Cowell’s target audience; the idea is that the book was genuinely  written by Hiccup – hence his illustrations and annotations – and she was just his Old Norse translator. A nice touch.

The descriptions are as vivid and not complicated – as you’d expect in a children’s book, and there are also some witty moments.

The key plot points are clearly identifiable:

  • Hiccup is a below average Viking boy who wants to achieve but struggles under the pressure of being the Chief’s son
  • Snoutlout is Hiccup’s cousin, eager for Hiccup to fail so he can become chief instead
  • Hiccup is concerned about not fulfilling his father’s Viking expectations
  • It is only when Berk is placed in danger, Hiccup’s usefulness and value is recognised

These are (no surprises here) “obvious” for an adult reader, but this the sort of good narrative structure a children’s book should have, so I wanted to point it out.

However, it is very different to the films. An enlightening comment, I know.

The characters are different – without seeing them frequently “onscreen” like you would in a film, I felt forced to rely on a few, infrequent small illustrations and their initial descriptions at the start of the book to remember who they are; it was hard to keep track of the long-winded Viking names.

My Image [How To Train Your Dragon 1]

Another striking difference between the book and the film is that in the film, Berk is an island scared of, and enraged by, dragons because they believe they are violent creatures that need to be destroyed. The community is only persuaded to think otherwise following Hiccup’s discovery of, and his blossoming friendship with, Toothless the Night Fury, one of the most legendary and fearful dragons in existence. However, in the book, Berk is an island that already believes that dragons can be, and should be, domesticated pets. It is only once the Viking boys in training are given the useless handbook How To Train Your Dragon, Hiccup must create his own, personalised, methods to tame his dragon Toothless.

 A second significant difference is that in the book, the dragons can talk. This creates a new layer of characterisation because they can communicate thoughts and feelings with each other, and their owners. This means that, instead of the smiling but silent Toothless from the film, he is whiny and always back-chatting. It’s very difficult to see him as the loveable, heart-warming, protective but powerful and incredibly rare Night Fury from the film – the Toothless I love.

I’m so clearly biased – sorry – and I preferred the films to the book. I can see exactly why kids would love this sort of book though: it’s funny, it’s adventurous, it’s easy to read and it’s imaginative.

I won’t read the rest of the series, but at least I now have a flavour of the writing which inspired two films I greatly enjoy.

How To Train Your Dragon 3 is in production and is due to be released in 2019.

– Judith

Film Review: XX – ‘Her Only Living Son’

This is the fourth review in a series, talking about the anthology horror film XX.

What is XX?

XX contains four horror shorts, each directed by four female directors. Each short presents four different stories about four different female characters.

I wrote about the third of these – Don’t Fall –  yesterday. You can read this review here:

Her Only Living Son

Her Only Living Son is the final short in the series, written and directed by Karyn Kusama.

Cora (Christina Kirk) is a single mother, and her rebellious son Andy (Kyle Allen) is about to turn 18. However, the day before his birthday, she is called into school to discuss an incident in which Andy tore off a classmate’s fingernails. Andy becomes increasingly violent and Cora becomes increasingly afraid of him. The tension builds, as it is strongly hinted that Andy is not entirely human, but may in fact be the son of Satan.

What I Liked

Zacharek writes, it ‘deftly on the subterranean fears that often come with motherhood’, introducing the theme of motherhood (just as in The Box) but approaching it differently. (Time Magazine) This may remind horror-film fans of other works like Rosemary’s Baby or The Omen, in which a child Antichrist is the central antagonist.

My Photo [XX - 5B - Her Only Living Son]
Image via Netflix

In a similar manner to Don’t Fall, the story felt more like a horror than The Box or The Birthday Party. The score and occasional gore (nice rhyme) added to this.

However, whilst the premise of Her Only Living Son is suitably “horror” in nature, by introducing concepts like Satan and the Antichrist,  the execution of this was poor.

What I Disliked

Characterisation

Cora was a weak character, snivelling and sad – even before her son transforms into something abhuman.

In a similar manner to The Box, Cora’s behaviour as a mother does not empower women, but displays women as once again under the influence of the men in their lives; even the mailman seems to have more agency than Cora. Normally, gender roles in film wouldn’t bother me a great deal, but given that Her Only Living Son is directed by a woman, to create more presence of female film directors and better female representation in film, I thought the female characters would reflect this. Representation was an issue in other ways too.

My Photo [XX - 5C - Her Only Living Son]
Image via Netflix
Representation

When Andy’s “fingernail incident” was discussed at school, the parent of the victim, a black woman, is present. She is talked down to by both the headmistress (a white woman) as well as the other school staff (white men) and told she is the problem for speaking out against Andy’s behaviour.

Whilst this scene makes no sense anyway, I also realised that this mother (Lisa Renee Pitts) in Her Only Living Son was the only prominent person of colour since Lucy (Sanai Victoria) in The Birthday Party.  I’m not going to start accusations of “racism”, but I found it incredibly interesting that a project specifically designed to improve representation in film seemed to favour casting white men and white women – women who then became subservient to those men within the film.

Structure

The flashbacks at the beginning felt disjointed from the rest of the narrative – they didn’t provide enough information for what was happening to be understandable. Furthermore, the entire use of the flashback is undercut when Cora relays what happens via dialogue later in the film. I also found the ending dissatisfying because it wasn’t particularly clear as to what happened, and why it happened.

Was Andy exorcised? Was he punished by Satan? Why did Cora suffer too?

These are the sorts of questions it raised, but not in an enjoyable “cliffhanger” way, but in an “unfinished story” way.

Conclusion

Overall, despite its links to the supernatural and paranormal genres of horror, Her Only Living Son is the short I enjoyed the least.

Concluding Remarks

Having watched and reviewed all four shorts in XX, here are my final comments:

  • Was each film incredibly well-made?

No; there were some flaws in production and things that could have been bettered.

  • Was each film explicitly “horror” in nature?

No; sometimes the genre wasn’t clear cut, and was a mix of different elements.

  • Was the story of each film entirely perfect?

No; character development and storytelling technique were the two things I found most lacking across all four shorts.

My favourite film was probably The Box because I liked its story premise best, and I liked being able to interpret it.

  • Was the message of each short explicitly clear?

No; not always.

  • Were the films particularly feminist in either style or content?

No; I didn’t think so and at times representation was an issue.

  • However:

I have never spent such length discussing films before – albeit whether that’s an indication of XX being so good and thought-provoking or so bad it needs condemning I don’t know.

XX has been described as a ‘mixed bag’, which I feel is an apt description.

If you’re looking for some relatively light horror this Halloween, you could always give XX a go. If however, you prefer well-made horror films with … actual horror, I recommend you steer clear of XX.

XX is available to watch on Netflix.

***

Thank you for reading this series on XX; I had great enjoyment in both watching each short, and writing each review.

– Judith