THE UNITED STATES OF GEEKDOM
A podcast by geeks of all trades, for geeks of all trades. We will talk about comic books, movies, TV shows, and all things that make us geeks go tick. Power to the different!

JediCole's Recommended Reading #4

And now a dino-sized installment of Recommended Reading 400,000,000 years in the making! This outing I will be concentrating on two books that have a lot to do with dinosaurs (a JediCole personal passion) and one that has a connection to at least the first book, and to a lesser degree to dinosaurs in general. So without further ado let's tear into this T-Rex of highly recommended reading fare!

Jurassic Park (Michael Crichton; Ballentine Books; 1990)

I still recall seeing the poster for this book at Taylor's Bookstore (a little blast from the past for any readers in the Dallas/Fort Worth area) and thinking, "You truly cannot judge a book by its cover...so it probably has not a damn thing to do with dinosaurs!" Naturally I was dead wrong so it was quite some time before I owned a copy and cracked open the pages. In fact I am not entirely certain what inspired me to finally read the book or how I discovered that it in fact did center around the beloved prehistoric animals of my youth. I suspect there was some mention made about the movie going into production that tipped me off to the true nature of the plot.

While there are undoubtedly those who might say, "But I've seen the movie, why should I read the book?" If you seriously think that is a good reason not to read this, or indeed any book that has been adapted to film, then you have never read a book then seen the moive based on the book before. Because if you have then you know only too well the editing of the plot, the reordering of the characters, the drastic changes, and wide-latitude liberties that are taken when a book makes the jump to the silver screen. How often the movie bears little to no resemblence to the source material. While Jurassic Park does not suffer too terribly from this syndrom, it does go off in its own directions in many respects. Not the least of which is the characterization of venture capitalist John Hammond. While Richard Attenborough's portrayal of the character lent him remarkable grandfatherly charm, in the novel Hammond sees only the vast fortunes his park represents. He is less concerned with his "target audience" than in the bottom line.

Another interesting difference is in the characters of Hammond's grandchildren. On screen the older sister/younger brother dynamic is ideal. But in the book it is Lex who is the younger sibling while Tim is the older. And in the context of the plot of the book it works far better than it would have were the roles reversed. And these are just a few of the distinct differencese between the two versions of the story. When you read Jurassic Park you will discover just how much different (and in some respects better) it really is from its cinematic counterpart. And how it influenced later incarnations of the film franchise (think the pteranadon enclosure in Jurassic Park III). Overall the characters are far better defined (something literature will always do better than film) and the plotlines are much more developed. As are the moments of tension that occur throughout the book as the characters deal with living dinosaurs running rampant in a world that is not their own. Michael Chrichton has a special brand of literary tension building that is uniquely his.

The only really difficult character in the book is Ian Malcolm. In fact in the movie the character is far more approachable and a bit easier to understand due to having much of his involvement in the novel largely glossed over. Chaos theory is the real culprit in this. There are times when Chrichton becomes a bit too technical for his readers as he embraces various aspects of scientific disciplines. This is true in many of his works (Next, Timeline, Prey, and espeically State of Fear) and is as much a signature of his as the trademark sense of tension.

The Dinosaurs (William Stout (a), William Service (w); Mallard Press; 1981)
The New Dinosaurs (iBooks, Inc.)

William Stout is a brilliant illustrator. He has worked as a graphic artist for decades in cinematic design, illustration, and other capacities for decades. I first discovered his work when I found a copy of The Dinosaurs at my local comic book shop. It was a beautiful book filled with fascinating illustrations of dinosaurs that were presented in ways I had never seen before. Not the droll, acedemic renditions I had grown up seeing in many a dino book. No, these were vibrant depictions of dinosaurs behaving like animals, not cardboard cut-outs! Every aspect of the struggle to survive is covered in both lavish illustrations and remarkable text by William Service. The Dinosaurs reads like a documentary on species that no longer roam the earth.
I was fortunate enough to meet Mr. Stout at one of the Dallas Fantasy Fair conventions many years later and "trade up" my old, dog-eared, and over-read paperback copy (I did buy the one from the comic shop on the occassion of their annual half-price sale, by the way) when I bought a pristine hardcover copy at his table. It now resides on one of the bookshelves in my studio, signed by Stout with an illustration of a chasmosaurus he made right there on the spot! While I have found that the title was changed in recent years to The New Dinosaurs (perhaps in keeping with the fact that Stout's vision is certainly in what became known as the "new think" in palentology), it is still the same book rich with prehistoric life. A personal favorite of the entire series of images is a mother hadrosaur and her young feeding in a stream surrounded by fish, reptiles, and birds. It puts me in the mind of a natural history museum display.
If you are like me (silly for dinosaurs, an armchair naturalist) then you will love this book! Be warned though, like a good nature doctumentary it does take an unflenching look at the life of dinosaurs as animals. From hatching to survival to reproduction. From the day to day minutia like foraging for food, bravint the elements, and even the inevitable need to pass waste. Yes, there is a dino-pooping illustration, but please don't let that detract from how incredible a book this truly is when compared to just about any of its kind.

The Winston Effect: The Art and History of Stan Winston Studio (Jody Duncan, Titan Books; 2006)

If you have seen a science-fiction movie that had a big budget in the last twenty years or longer then you have probably seen Stan Winston’s work at least once. From Terminator to Jurassic Park and beyond, Stan Winston Studios. This massive book contains the full story of Winston’s career from his early work making masks for the movie Gargoyles and his first full-scale professional make-up job (Heartbeeps) straight through the many technological triumphs that brought dinosaurs, killer androids, and dangerous aliens to life.

More than a “making of” book, though from the practical effects angle for many films it is that as well, this is a comprehensive history of one of the most dynamic players in the field of cinematic visual effects and make-up. Sadly Stan Winston lost his battle with cancer in 200.. but his legacy lives on through his studio. And indeed through this book. Many of the stories contained within give remarkable insight into the process of taking a director’s vision and bringing it to life. From the trials of the effects technicians in the studio, often doing what was considered at the outset to be impossible, to delightful anecdotes about pranks on the set or location (find out why all those frogs got into Arnold S…. hotel room) there is truly something for everyone.

If you loved the practical visual effects and special effects make-up in Terminator, Terminator 2, Jurassic Park and The Lost World, Predator, Aliens, The Island of Dr. Moreau, Congo, Small Soldiers, or Edward Scissorhands then you need to read…no, own and read…this book!








1 comments:

I agree with what you say about the characters in Jurassic Park, book vs. movie. I never liked the changes the movie made, and I don't like Jeff Goldblum as Malcolm -- mostly because I can't stand Jeff Goldblum.


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