Crichton, Michael

Tagged: Film | Author

(1942-2008) US physician, writer and film director; he graduated with an MD from Harvard Medical School. A Case of Need (1968) as by Jeffery Hudson won an Edgar Award for Best Mystery Novel of the year; it is a medical thriller close to (but not quite) sf. As John Lange, Crichton published one novel that is clearly sf, Drug of Choice (1970); though most of the other Lange novels are basically thrillers, Zero Cool (1969) and Binary (1972) make perfunctory use of sf devices in a way typical of the modern post-James Bond thriller. Binary was filmed for television in Crichton's directorial debut as Pursuit (1972). Of greater interest are the novels he wrote under his own name, many of which are sf or fantasy, beginning with The Andromeda Strain (1969), an immediate bestseller soon filmed as The Andromeda Strain (1971), in which microscopic spores from space attack the US West (see Disaster). Crichton's medical background was evident in much of his work (see Medicine). The Terminal Man (1972) speculates fascinatingly on the morality and effects of electronic brain implants as a control device, and was the basis of the film The Terminal Man (1974), directed by Mike Hodges. Eaters of the Dead: The Manuscripts of Ibn Fadlan, Relating to his Experiences with the Northmen in AD 922 (1976; vt The 13th Warrior 1999) recounts a savage conflict between Vikings and strange Neolithic people, and was filmed as The 13th Warrior (1999); it is a retelling of the Beowulf legend. Congo (1980) is a Lost-World story set in Africa, and reads like H Rider Haggard "updated" with heavy traces of Edgar Rice Burroughs (see Apes as Human); it was filmed as Congo (1995). Sphere (1987) is an Under-the-Sea thriller about the discovery of a long-sunken spacecraft, anticipating The Abyss (1989); it was filmed as Sphere (1998).

Jurassic Park (1990) is a return to the theme of Westworld (discussed below): it effectively argues the risks inherent in uncontrolled Genetic Engineering, "done in secret, and in haste, and for profit", though the plot itself – Dinosaurs reconstituted from genetic scraps cause havoc in the theme park they have been created to stock – is little more than a McGuffin; it was filmed as Jurassic Park (1993) directed by Steven Spielberg; an inferior sequel, The Lost World (1995) was filmed as The Lost World: Jurassic Park (1997) also directed by Steven Spielberg. The two Jurassic Park novels were later assembled as Michael Crichton's Jurassic World (omni 1997). Crichton's connection with further sequels – including Jurassic Park III (2001) and the projected 2009 «Jurassic Park IV», still in limbo in 2011 – was remote. Later novels include Timeline (1999), filmed as Timeline (2003) directed by Richard {DONNER}, which carries a group of historians via a Time Travel device to fourteenth-century France, where havoc ensues; Prey (2002), in which Nanotechnology goes out of control, causing havoc; State of Fear (2004) which – by treating the threat of global warming (see Climate Change) as having been hugely exaggerated by guerrilla ecologists – has been widely attacked for its voodoo-science citations of bad science (and mis-citation of good); Next (2006) returns to uncontrolled Genetic Engineering. For sf readers, most of whom appreciate the story-telling skills Crichton displayed, the problem with Technothrillers as he wrote them is a sense that the deck is stacked against any rational solution to the issues, and to the global crises they constantly evoke. In the end, he was a horror writer, though one who tended to outsource the horrors described onto external targets.

After Pursuit, Crichton determined to exercise artistic control over screen adaptations of his work and though he did not do so in the case of The Terminal Man, he both scripted and directed Westworld (1973), an intelligent and cleverly commercial film about a Robot-manned reconstruction of the Old West (see also Leisure) that falls apart at the seams when a robot gunslinger runs amuck; the screenplay was published as Westworld (1974). His biggest commercial hit as a director was Coma (1978), based on Robin Cook's marginally sf novel, a further exploration of Crichton's technophobic, Paranoid vision which drew on his medical background for a conspiracy thriller about a high-tech organ-transplant business that draws its raw material from hospital beds (see Organlegging). After a meticulous and underrated period re-creation, The First Great Train Robbery (1979; vt The Great Train Robbery 1979 US), adapted from his own non-sf novel The Great Train Robbery (1975), Crichton rather lost ground as a director, with Looker (1981) and Runaway (1984) both failing at the box-office. However, these films, for all their plot failings, are interesting explorations of his fascination with and distrust of an increasingly mechanized society. Looker deals with image-generation technology, while Runaway casts Tom Selleck as a future policeman whose speciality is tackling dangerously malfunctional household robots. Physical Evidence (1989), a non-sf thriller, was his least interesting or personal film; nor was the borderline Twister (1996) a film of much import. The latter's screenplay, by Crichton and his then wife Anne-Marie Martin (1957-    ), was published as Twister: The Original Screenplay (1996) with Anne-Marie Martin. Since around this time, Crichton had little direct involvement in films of his books, beyond the uncredited reshooting of some scenes for The 13th Warrior (see above).

Posthumously published novels are the seventeenth-century nautical adventure Pirate Latitudes (2009), which Crichton had finished before his death, and the part-written sf thriller Micro (2011), which was completed by Richard Preston and centres on a Miniaturization process that reduces humans to the height of half an inch. [JC/PN/KN/DRL]

see also: Cinema; Horror in SF; Mythology; Panspermia; Seiun Award; Villains.

John Michael Crichton

born Chicago, Illinois: 23 October 1942

died Los Angeles, California: 4 November 2008

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Jurassic Park

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