By Doug Cummings
Arizona Daily Wildcat
Amidst the worldwide popularity of "Jurassic Park," the movie that grossed nearly $1 billion even before its video release, there were the usual dissenters who complained that "the book was better than the movie." If his new sequel offers any clue, Michael Crichton, the author of the original novel, disagrees.
The Lost World, Crichton's eagerly-anticipated follow-up to Jurassic Park, reads like a predictable compilation of narrative scraps leftover from the movie. The Lost World is set six years after the events in Jurassic Park and it's confusing that the central character in the book is Ian Malcolm, the eccentric mathematician who died in Crichton's earlier novel. Crichton oversteps the problem by adding a few sentences. " . As it turned out I was only slightly dead. The surgeons have done wonders .," Malcolm explains. While it's not exactly consistent literature to do this, Malcolm wasn't killed in the movie, so hey, why not bring him back for the novel sequel, too?
One must also wonder how long it took Crichton to come up with the narrative twist that justifies his sequel. Jurassic Park ended with the explosive destruction of the failed genetically-engineered dinosaur park, but the film left the island unscathed. So Crichton offers a "new" island secretly developed. It was simply abandoned, like the island in the "Jurassic Park" movie, and its dinosaurs now run wild over the land. Universal Pictures better be appreciative.
The most disappointing part of The Lost World, however, isn't the fact that it's so obviously written in favor of its movie spin-off Ÿ it's a pop novel after all Ÿ but it fails to offer anything new in its oeuvre.
The story begins with an aggressive young scientist named Richard Levine who researches rumors drifting up from Costa Rica about large, lizard-like animals that the nationals keep discovering. He becomes convinced they're dinosaurs living in the jungle and assembles a team to investigate, including the pessimistic Malcolm, a tough scientist named Sarah Harding, and Doc Thorne, an adventurous engineer. Along the way, two bright 6th graders, Arby and Kelly, sneak their way into the plot with their amazing computer and zoological expertise, filling the roles of the vulnerable children in the first novel.
Part of Jurassic Park's charm was watching the impressively designed theme park slowly break down as the dinosaurs unpredictable behavior wreaked havoc with the setting. The scene shifted from idealistic novelty to horrific danger and the reader wondered how far the threat would escalate. The Lost World begins with dinosaurs running wild over an island and 300 pages later, things have not changed. There is no sense of discovery, no mystery to unveil, and little narrative suspense apart from the individual scenes of dinosaur carnage.
Crichton again uses Malcolm as his theoretical mouthpiece and employs his running commentary on Chaos Theory, which describes the increasingly unpredictable behavior of complex systems, as he did in the first novel, but the idea fails to generate a sense of danger like it did previously. Without a failing park to drive the theory home, the breakdown of organization merely predicts the novel's narrative buildup and climax.
Crichton writes in a direct style, high in sensory description, easy in grammar, and composed of brief scenes. "Suddenly," Crichton writes, "the forest erupted in frightening animal roars all around him. He glimpsed a large animal charging him. (He) turned and fled, feeling the adrenaline surge of panic..." He's not a challenging stylist, but his prose makes good escapist reading between events in a reader's busy day.
The Lost World is not without moments of excitement, particularly revolving around two climactic set pieces that would do justice to Spielberg's swooping camera and a robust John Williams score, but the novel preceding them is too static and predictably reminiscent of the characters and antics of Jurassic Park. Crichton's a competent storyteller, but his latest effort is unfortunately lacking in ideas, floundering in old material. The result is an uninspired foray into Hollywood-style reproduction.
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