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Crichton, Michael

Entry updated 12 September 2022. Tagged: Author, Film.

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(1942-2008) US physician, film director and author, who also wrote as by Jeffery Hudson and John Lange. His first novel, Odds On (1966) as by Lange, a caper thriller which narrowly avoids the fantastic, was published before his graduation from Harvard Medical School; his medical background was evident here and throughout his career (see Medicine). Odds On was followed by several more pseudonymous titles, some of these having some sf interest. A Case of Need (1968) as by Jeffery Hudson is a not-quite-sf medical thriller very similar to the Lange tales; it won an Edgar Award for Best Mystery Novel, and was filmed as The Carey Treatment (1972) directed by Blake Edwards. Zero Cool (1969) as by John Lange makes perfunctory use of sf devices in a way typical of the modern post-James Bond thriller. Drug of Choice (1970) is set in a secluded resort on a mysterious Island where a conspiracy involving Genetic Engineering threatens affluent vacationers [see Westworld below]. And Binary (1972) is a Technothriller involving an attempted assassination of the American president through a not-quite-yet-invented Technology; it was filmed for Television in Crichton's directorial debut as Pursuit (1972); the final cut was heavily edited.

Of greater interest are the novels and films Crichton wrote and/or directed under his own name, most 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 American West (see Disaster; Pandemic; Panspermia). The Terminal Man (1972) speculates fascinatingly on the morality and effects of electronic brain implants as a control device; it was filmed as The Terminal Man (1974) directed by Mike Hodges. After Pursuit, Crichton began to exercise more artistic control over screen adaptations of his work, though his input was often indirect; he both scripted and directed Westworld (1973), his first theatrical Cinema release, a smart, cleverly commercial if misanthropic film set in a Robot-manned reconstruction of the Old West (see also Leisure) that falls apart at the seams when a robot gunslinger runs amuck; his novelization was published as Westworld (1974). Various spin-offs followed the original film (see parts 1 and 2 of Westworld, as well as Beyond Westworld and Futureworld); Crichton was not directly involved in any of them.

A film version of The Great Train Robbery (1975), an associational tale, was directed by Crichton as The First Great Train Robbery (1979; vt The Great Train Robbery 1979); a meticulous period re-creation, it was underrated on its release. A retelling at some remove of the Beowulf legend, 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 (see Prehistoric SF) and was filmed as The 13th Warrior (1999) directed by John McTiernan and Crichton (uncredited). 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) directed by Frank Marshall. Sphere (1987) is an Under-the-Sea thriller about the discovery of a long-sunken Spaceship, anticipating The Abyss (1989); it was filmed as Sphere (1998) directed by Barry Levinson.

Like Westworld and Robert Wells's rather earlier The Parasaurians (1969), Jurassic Park (1990), first of the Jurassic Park sequence, is set in a theme-park for rich tourists: 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 vast enclosure 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), Jurassic World (2015) directed by Colin Trevorrow and Jurassic World: Fallen Kingdom (2018) directed by J A Bayona – was nominal.

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 (Crichton later repudiated this film version, which had suffered mutilation-by-Paramount); and Prey (2002), in which Nanotechnology goes out of control, causing havoc. State of Fear (2004), which treats the threat of global warming (see Climate Change) as being hugely exaggerated by guerrilla ecologists who create fake Disasters to terrorize honest governments, was widely attacked for its voodoo-science citations of denialist screeds (and misquotations of genuine research). On the other hand, Next (2006), which returns to the now-classic topos in which Genetic Engineering threatens civilization, is a surprisingly sharp-tongued and occasionally hilarious Satire on the litigiousness and avarice characteristic of modern America, as giant biotech firms vie for legal control over human genes; inter alia, a transgenic chimpanzee (see Apes as Human) is treated movingly, and a similarly engineered truth-telling parrot [for Beast Fable see The Encyclopedia of Fantasy under links below] is comically transgressive.

Posthumously published novels include a seventeenth-century nautical adventure Pirate Latitudes (2009), which Crichton had finished before his death; 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; and Dragon Teeth (written circa 1974; 2017), an associational tale involving nineteenth century palaeontologists; the cover art for the first edition evokes the cover art for the Jurassic Park sequence, but the tale is otherwise unconnected.

His biggest commercial hit as a director of films not taken from his own work was Coma (1978), based on Robin Cook's marginally sf novel, a further exploration of Crichton's technophobic, Paranoid vision which utilizes 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 this point, 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) 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.

For sf readers, most of whom appreciate the story-telling skills Crichton displayed, the problem with Technothrillers as he wrote them may be 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, even with the less luridly technophobic vision of a late tale like Next, he was an author of Horror in SF. Even in the case of Next, there is no next: the world at the end of his tales, though shaken, tends to be the same world as before. [JC/PN/KN/DRL]

see also: Mythology; Seiun Award; Villains.

John Michael Crichton

born Chicago, Illinois: 23 October 1942

died Los Angeles, California: 4 November 2008

works (selected)


Jurassic Park

individual titles


previous versions of this entry

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