Each week we pay homage to a select “Original Creator,” an iconic artist from days gone by whose work influences and informs today’s creators. These are artists who were innovative and revolutionary in their fields—bold visionaries and radicals, groundbreaking frontiersmen and women who inspired and informed culture as we know it today. This week: Michael Crichton.
“If you don’t know history, then you don’t know anything. You are a leaf that doesn’t know it is part of a tree.” ―Michael Crichton
A couple of weeks ago, tragic news saddened thousands of paleontology nerds and Jurassic Park fans when a fossil study in New-Zealand revelead that DNA has a 521-year half-life, consequently breaking the scientific dream of bringing dinosaurs back to life. This scientific fantasy was originally provoked by entomologist George Poinar Jr.’s discoveries and the best-selling novel that resulted from it, Jurassic Park, written by Michael Crichton. Being a man of science himself, Crichton was mostly known for his prolific career as a novelist, screenwriter, and television producer before his death from cancer in November 2008.
Establishing a Foundation in Science
Crichton was one of those annoyingly-talented school prodigies who developped a keen interest in writing at a very early age. By his 14th birthday, he had already started his career as an author with a travel-related column published in The New York Times. Fully convinced of his own writing skills, Crichton led an experiment during his literature studies in Harvard to expose a teacher whom he believed to be giving him undeserved low marks. After purposely plagiarizing an essay by George Orwell that was marked B-, Crichton switched to anthropology studies as an undergraduate. A few years later, he started publishing his work during his studies at Harvard Medical School, under the pen names “John Lange” and “Jeffrey Hudson,” subtly referencing his exceptional height—6 feet 9 inches.
From Odds On To Micro
As a result of his prestigious academic background, many of his novels feature medical or scientific underpinnings. Most of his books, such as his first novel Odds On (1966), feature technology and its failures. From 1966 to his death, he published more than 20 books, among which many remember Congo (1980), a science fiction novel centering around “an expedition searching for diamonds and investigating mysterious deaths in the dense rain forest of Congo.”
"The purpose of life is to stay alive. Watch any animal in nature—all it tries to do is stay alive. It doesn’t care about beliefs or philosophy. Whenever any animal’s behavior puts it out of touch with the realities of its existence, it becomes exinct.” —Michael Crichton, Congo, 1980
But his most successful story and signature novel was of course Jurassic Park (1990), where chaos theory is used to explain the collapse of an amusement park in a “biological preserve” on a remote island in Western Costa Rica. The novel depicts the story of paleontologists Alan Grant and Ellie Sattler, who are brought in by a rich sponsor, John Hammond, to investigate the park that contained genetically-recreated dinosaur species. This book led to a blockbuster directed by Steven Spielberg, whose scenario was co-written by Crichton.
Despite its biological inacurracies, the movie is still considered to be one of the most realistic depiction of dinosaurs in popular culture. Later on, Crichton continued his novelist career with other great works like, Airframe (1997) and State of Fear (2004). Even after his death, posthumous publications continue to confirm his success, with novels like Pirate Latitudes (2009) and Micro (2011).
“Living systems are never in equilibrium. They are inherently unstable. They may seem stable, but they’re not. Everything is moving and changing. In a sense, everything is on the edge of collapse” —Michael Crichton, Jurassic Park, 1990
An Underestimated Cineast
Although Crichton is mostly renowned for his work as a novelist, he also wrote and directed several motion pictures. Among his most notable works, his first feature film Westworld (1973), was the first feature to utilize digital image processing. Crichton also created and produced the famous TV series ER, highlighting once again his penchant for medical fiction. As of today, Crichton is the only artist who’s achieved the unique distinction of having a No. 1 movie, TV show, and book concurrently (Jurassic Park, ER, and Disclosure). Remembered as a prolific writer, screenwriter, and film director, his works continue to inspire many artists around the world. Although our hopes for dinosaur resurrection have recently died, Crichton’s legacy never will.