Monday, March 31, 2008

Spotlight: Michael Crichton

Michael Crichton has been one of those writers that I always kind of forget about. But that dude has pumped out a lot of books in his day, and I've seen most of the film adaptations that have followed. Let's take a closer look at just how good Crichton's track record actually is. [Note: I will only cover the films that I've actually seen. There are a few that I haven't seen yet, so this isn't an exhaustive analysis of his entire works.]

Westworld (1973)
Written and Directed
Starring: Yul Brynner

When compared to modern-day science fiction, Westworld almost falls into the ridiculous category of Sci-Fi Channel Original movies. The concept, while interesting enough, fails to translate into anything suspenseful and falls flat with the robotic acting of Brynner (granted, he was supposed to be playing a robot). This was Crichton's directorial debut, and understandably, it suffered because of it. Stick to writing, genius. No need to get greedy.

Jurassic Park (1993)
Written By
Starring: You Should Know By Now

Jump ahead 20 years, and Crichton is back in full swing. This time, the adaptation of one of his best books makes history as one of the best movies of the 90's. Everyone and their mother saw this movie, and it became an instant classic partly to Spielberg's directing and the technological advances but mostly to Crichton's writing. He actually wrote the screenplay for this one as well as the novel it was based on.

Rising Sun (1993)
Co-Written By
Starring: Sean Connery, Wesley Snipes

I never read this book, but the movie was a little lackluster. The pairing of Connery and Snipes didn't mesh as well as the buddy cop movies of the 80's (Lethal Weapon, Beverly Hills Cop, 48 Hours, etc), and there wasn't a lot of real action or drama to compel us through the story. It was kind of...stale. Nothing too memorable about it. Crichton and director Philip Kaufman wrote the screenplay together, and from the looks of it, Kaufman should have just let MC do the writing alone.

Disclosure (1994)
Starring: Michael Douglas, Demi Moore

This wasn't TERRIBLE, but it certainly wasn't the best Michael Douglas movie I've ever seen. Sadly, I'd say this didn't even crack the "Top 10 Best Michael Douglas Movies I've Ever Seen." Could this be because Crichton himself didn't write the screenplay for the film, and (according to Boze and Kara, who read the book) they removed multiple characters and storylines completely? Probably. Better luck next time.

Congo (1995)
Starring: Laura Linney, Ernie Hudson

Even with sign-language-speaking monkeys, killer silverback gorillas, and Laura Linney as the starring character, Congo was pretty good. The special effects don't quite hold up watching it now (the laser blasters were unbelievably cheesy), but that doesn't mean it wasn't decent for the time period. Once again - not near as good as the book because Crichton didn't write the screenplay. Are you sensing a pattern here? Scenes like this probably weren't in the book:

Twister (1996)
Written By
Starring: Bill Paxton, Helen Hunt

I didn't have any idea he wrote this until I started writing this article. Not based on a novel, this movie took 1996 by storm (hahah...I'm so funny). Crichton took a break from writing books to hit the big screen once again - he was probably pissed watching the last few adaptations of his work in theaters. It can't be fun to watch a film based on your book butchered on screen like that. I'd say Twister worked out pretty well for him. If only that success continued...

The Lost World: Jurassic Park (1997)
Starring: Jeff Goldblum, Vince Vaughn

This was my favorite of Crichton's books at the time. But since they didn't get him to write the screenplay, (hadn't they noticed what happens by now?) the movie, like Disclosure, completely removed key characters and plot points and added an inter-racial child into the mix. As Branz is fond of saying, "Kids in movies suck." The Lost World was no exception. And Goldblum wasn't nearly as OCD-Awesome as he was in the original film. Read the book if you're a fan of the first film. It's really good. The whole "T-Rex coming back to the city" thing was kind of ridiculous, too. But I didn't mind this movie.

Sphere (1998)
Starring: Dustin Hoffman, Samuel L. Jackson

Crichton wakes up every morning and gives himself a swift kick to his own balls for allowing filmmakers the rights to this one. Good sci-fi always plays with themes of isolation, containment, exploration, freedom, and (sometimes) religious beliefs. Sphere wallows through some of those themes, but never fully gets involved with any of them. Event Horizon was better than this, and that's sayin' somethin'. I can only assume the novel was much better. And Barry Levinson has no business directing a science fiction film. He directed Disclosure, so I guess he felt he had the ability to smear some more of MC's work across the screen. I wish he hadn't.

The 13th Warrior (1999)
Novel: Eaters of the Dead
Starring: Antonio Banderas

Straight up, one of the worst movies I've ever seen. Billed as action with none to be found, horrendous dialogue, NO character recognition (let alone character development!). I guess the lighting was ok, if I remember correctly. The 13th Warrior was so bad it gets the dreaded "half star" Facebook-rating from me, which is reserved for the likes of The Brothers Grimm, Mortal Kombat: Annihilation, National Lampoon's Gold Diggers, and...

Timeline (2003)
Starring: Paul Walker

Well, that's all you really need to know, isn't it? Paul Walker as the lead role in a Crichton-based film? The book is still my favorite Michael Crichton book and I highly recommend it for anyone who isn't scared of reading something semi-long. If you like medieval times and technology, you'll love it. The movie absolutely ruined the entire thing. I was so pumped when I heard they were making it, but it was one of the biggest on-screen let-downs I've ever experienced (going hand in hand with The Transporter not delivering on that platter-deflecting-missile-maneuver promised in the trailer). Take a wild guess who wasn't involved with the production of the film? What's that? Michael Crichton? How'd you know?

After many failures, MC has decided to go back and do a remake of Westworld. Hopefully he can improve on his original. At least this means that he won't be putting his works in someone else's hands. But there's always the possibility of Jurassic Park IV, which is festering in pre-production. Will he return to his former glory and write a good sequel to one of the best movies of the 90's? Only time will tell. Until next time...


Boze said...

Excellent job Ben... I am a huge fan of Crichton obviously because i have read all of those books minus Thirteenth Warrior(which sucked so bad in movie form i couldnt get pumped to read the book), Wetworld (no book), and Twister (no book) and i agree with your analysis. He needs to either see his projects all the way through or dont do them at all.

tee breezy said...

Thanks for quoting my "kids in movies suck". The word really needs to get out. But westworld in the 70s wasn't THAT bad, I mean he had this really furutristic view of things, but the tech at the time couldn't allow it. You have to respect the man for making the movie at all.

Chrissy said...

If you love Michael Crichton, you'll love Dan Ronco's new book Unholy Domain.
When I read this, I thought this was written by Michael Crichton. It's crazy. Not in a rip off sort of way, but I just had to get this out and say how great this book I found is!!