Back in my high school days, I read a lot and had a hard time relating to people. The two were not unrelated: I was reading people like Dostoevsky, Proust, Zola, and Kerouac, with light reading consisting mainly of either classic hard-boiled cats like Hammett, Chandler, Jim Thompson, James M. Cain, or bizarre shit like Howard Waldrop and Mark Leyner, or swashbuckling Dumas. There were, however, two writers I could share with my classmates—with the girls it was mainly Anne Rice, who is not relevant for our purposes here because the only good movie made from one of her books was Interview With the Vampire, and I can only properly channel how I feel about that movie on Oscar Wilde's birthday (so that's gonna have to wait til October 16th). With the guys, it was Michael Crichton.
Michael Crichton's most popular books were an entertaining hybrid of SF, thriller, and out-of-the-box politics. Later in life people gave him a hard time for being right-wing, but I think of him less as a rightist than as a smart guy with low tolerance for fuzzy-headed bullshit. A prevailing theme in his work is the struggle against shitheads with an improper ability to deal with money and power. Related is the frequent Frankenstein theme that keeps popping up, of people doing things because they can and then getting their fucking asses kicked by the consequences. Whether it's wiring a mentally ill man with electrodes that boost his intelligence and ruthlessness (The Terminal Man), creating dinosaurs with the intent of having them be theme park/zoo attractions (Jurassic Park, The Lost World), letting Japanese people (Rising Sun) and women (Disclosure) run corporations, or sending 20th century academics to medieval France (Timeline), people who aren't as smart as they think they are do dumb stuff in Michael Crichton books that Only One Man can fix. That one man is usually a smart guy with a doctorate in a narrative-relevant science, fitting Michael Crichton's background as an MD.
Crichton's prose style is to-the-point, and his dialogue—when not lapsing into “as you know” expository laziness or author surrogate soapboxing—is mostly utilitarian and kinda square. But his stories are page-turners, and his facility with Everyman protagonists unmatched, making his books naturals for cinematic adaptation. Not to mention, there's usually cool shit like gorillas and dinosaurs wreaking havoc, providing the opportunity for lots of flashy FX. As a result, most of Crichton's novels have been turned into movies, most of them pretty successfully. Here, then, an overview (only the ones he put out under his own name):
The Andromeda Strain
Movie—1971 (dir. Robert Wise)
Both Crichton's first book and first movie adaptation are kinda cool. Both are paced a little weird for modern audiences, but the antagonist—a deadly bacteria FROM OUTER SPACE—is badass. It kills, baby, and it kills fast and disgusting. The movie is a pretty good example of post-2001, pre-Star Wars SF, though it's a little long and clunky as fuck to people used to modern FX, but still, it's pretty good.
The Terminal Man
Movie—1974 (dir. Mike Hodges)
A much better book, this one about a guy named Harry Benson who has epileptic seizures that cause blackouts, during which he behaves violently and erratically. So, some smartass decides to treat the epilepsy with strategically placed electrodes, controlled by a tiny computer in his chest.
Here, the One Man who can Stop Things is a woman psychiatrist, Janet Ross (Michael Crichton loves the surname Ross and uses it all the goddamn time, including George Clooney on ER). Ross warns the surgeons (typical God complex big swinging dick types) that Harry might be psychotic. He doesn't differentiate between Man and Machine, and Ross thinks if they hook Harry up to a computer that it might exacerbate his psychosis. The surgeons are like, “oh, you're just a woman, what do you know” and go ahead and do it anyway. And whaddaya know, Harry escapes from the hospital, having attained some degree of control over the computer and making it cause seizures more frequently, turning him into a sex-crazed violent—and very happy—psycho. So Harry breaks into the hospital to shut down the mainframe computer (because the computers are going to kill us all; this is the clearest indication of his psychosis, sane people know that it's not computers but evil white guys in suits who are going to kill us all) and Ross, terribly upset, gets a gun and lights Harry up before he can fuck anything up too badly. Great fuckin' book, just the right hybrid of intelligent and retarded.
The movie, part of Mike Hodges' post-Get Carter, pre-Croupier two-decade fugue (that also included Flash Gordon) is kind of all right. Casting George Segal (the poor man's George Hamilton) as Harry was a stroke of genius, and for once even better than casting George Hamilton because George Segal is just sleazy enough to pull something like this off (and it's not only illegal to kill George Hamilton at the end of the movie, it constitutes division by zero and will cause the universe to turn inside out and cease to exist). Actually, in a weird way, this is one that can benefit from a remake, because the technology actually exists nowadays and we know how to shoot stupid climaxes where the girl shrink (pretty good Charlize Theron comeback part, actually) shoots the bad guy with her mascara running decoratively better now.
The Great Train Robbery
Movie—1979 (dir. Crichton himself)
A change of pace, The Great Train Robbery is a fictionalized take on a real-life ginormous gold heist in Victorian England. It's a little slower than most of his books, and Crichton gets a little too bogged down in trying to write Victorian, but it's a pretty cool read, even if the heist goes blooey and no one gets the gold.
The movie, however, is awesome, primarily because Donald Sutherland and Sean Connery are in it, secondarily because Lesley-Anne Down is decorative, and tertiarily (or whatever the fuck the adverb form is; if you still read this damn blog you don't care either) because Donald Sutherland and Sean Connery get away at the end. I mean, it's not gonna change your life, but it's a fun flick.
Eaters of the Dead
Movie—1999 (re-titled The 13th Warrior, dir. John McTiernan)
Crichton's second historical novel is pretty goddamn fantastic, in a couple different senses, the first being it rules, the second being, it's a metafictional riff on Beowulf where an Arab ambassador sent to establish contact with the Vikings ends up tagging along on a journey to go fuck up Grendel, whose hordes Crichton coyly implies might be a lost tribe of Neanderthals. Can I get a hell yes?
The book is presented as a scientific commentary on a found text, the account of a man named Ahmad ibn Fadlan who is tasked by the Caliph of Baghdad to go to what's now Russia and go talk to those crazy tall white people; ibn Fadlan jumps on the opportunity (he needs to get the hell out of town after tripping on his dick kind of epically) and heads north. After a whole bunch of fairly-well-written culture clash, ibn Fadlan joins up with this stone badass named Buliwyf (hmm . . . something very familiar about that name) and bonds with the one guy in Buliwyf's group who can speak Latin (Arabic being too much to ask for in 10th century). They then go in and do battle with the Monsters of the Mist, the Eaters of the Dead, who are so badass they scare Vikings.
(Take a second, I know that shit's deep)
Narratively, that's pretty much it. They go in and kick ass, and most of them get killed, except our hero and his buddy. Intriguingly, when ibn Fadlan finally says goodbye and goes home to file his report with the Caliph, the manuscript abruptly ends, and Commentary Guy comes back to explain that the manuscript was randomly found somewhere along ibn Fadlan's travels with pages missing or something, implying that he went on to further adventures. The best part about Eaters of the Dead being only about 160 pages is that when that happens, you're like “I wanna know what happens to ibn Fadlan next, now that he's loosened up, gotten fucked in half on mead, and banged white chicks!” Commentary Guy then goes on to advance the Neanderthal theory, which is a tasty idea. Commentary Guy's footnotes throughout the book give a whole lot of flavor and academic context, making this the perfect book for someone like me: the academic paper as thriller.
The movie is pretty special, even if it has a slightly different feel than the book. I have a lot of affection for the movie for its value in helping me talk movies with civilians, because civilians fucking love this movie. The 13th Warrior is to civilians what Nicholas Ray pictures are to French semio-Marxists, they fucking freak out. And it's easy to see why, I mean, cammmmmaaannnnnn, Antonio Banderas rides a fucking horse and fucking has a fucking sword, man. And fucking Omar Sharif is in it (another nerd/civilian bond, nerds are like, “Well, it's Omar Sharif for crissakes,” and civilians are like, “OMG LAWRENCE OF ARABIA” and nerds are like “Lawrence of Arabia fucking rules!” and much hugging and coming-together ensues and eventually Doctor Zhivago gets brought up and there's more hugging). Sure, there aren't any footnotes or Neanderthal theories, but who needs that when you've got a movie that fucking kicks ass.
Sadly, it wasn't much of a hit, because for some goddamn reason John McTiernan thought it'd be a good idea to go so far over budget (the check at the end of the night was $80 mil) that the studio would have to fire him and bring in Crichton to finish shooting, and Crichton hadn't even directed a movie since he torpedoed Tom Selleck's career in the 80s (in fairness, Michael Crichton did direct one balls-out classic in his untercareer as film director, Westworld, where Yul Brynner was deployed masterfully). But the fact that it lost $20 million in theaters is of concern only to Disney, and they'll make that $20 mil back by the tears of dying children, like they always do.
This is the first book where the style and a lot of the tropes normally associated with Michael Crichton today are on display. There's a sinister corporation, looking to corner the market on a particular kind of boron-infused diamond that will in turn allow them to control the nascent Information Age. Cuz ya know, if you're going to be a grown-ass-man sinister corporation, world domination is the entry level position. There's an Everyman scientist, in this case a gorilla researcher who accompanies his “talking” gorilla Amy to the titular jungle because the sinister corporation has apparently had an expedition wiped out in spectacularly bloody fashion by gorillas (even though Everyman scientist guy is like, they look and act weird, there's More To This). There's rampant fucking political incorrectness, in many highly entertaining personifications—a white hunter type who on the page oozes with Sean Connery and is a little less than reverent about Africa and Africans, a good-natured, superstitious bunch of Kikuyu who actually come off kind of all right if you're not feeling too cynical (“good-natured” and “superstitious” are kinda code words), in which case they vibe a little meh, but last but not least . . . a malicious tribe of cannibals! Hell yeah, baby, Crichton's not fuckin around, he is very old school here, he even has the balls to throw in an aside about how cannibalism actually exists and so fuck you if you find it racist. So there. Take that, sensitive people. (Seriously, he totally could have cut all the cannibalism stuff and the book would have been juuuuuuust fine, though I guess when you're paying homage to H. Rider Haggard you're paying homage to H. Rider Haggard . . .)
It transpires that there's this lost city in the middle of the jungle that was always assumed to be mythical, but the talking gorilla dreams and finger-paints a dead-on match for an artist's rendition of the lost city (that was in a book the gorilla had not read). So the sinister corporation has her tag along on their follow-up expedition, and they get on a gigantic, peril-fraught adventure (economically written, well-paced, kick-ass) on their way there. When they get there they figure out that the dudes who built the city were fuckin stupid rich off the diamonds they had there—they barely even had to dig mines, the fuckin things were just laying around, practically—until the volcano that was the reason there were so many diamonds there farted, and the super-gorillas they had bred to be security guards went apeshit (zing!) and killed everyone and had been pretty much hanging around that section of jungle killing everything in sight ever since. AND THEY'RE RIGHT OUTSIDE . . .
The people go “Damn, we're in a tight spot!” but get distracted by the blue diamonds (the sinister corporation's avatar, one Dr. Ross, an emotionally remote blonde the feminists probably had a word with Crichton about) and the new species of gorilla (the Everyman scientist guy, who's kind of a whiny dipshit) and the super-gorillas kill a bunch of the Kikuyu before Dr. Ross accidentally makes the volcano erupt, which makes the super-gorillas (who are more competent and have a better sense of focus and purpose than the people) fuck off and gives our flawed heroes a chance to escape. So they do, no diamonds for the sinister corporation, no proof of the new species of gorilla for the Everyman scientist . . . sigh. The only one who has a semi-happy ending is Sean Connery Guy, who managed to pocket some diamonds on the sly.
Now. Having hopefully established that the book—some queasiness over Crichton's blend of modern and retro Africa aside—kicks ass, it would appear as though making a movie should be no problem. Well, provided that you have a good gorilla wrangler or some good FX nerds to fake one. And also provided that you're not a fucking dumbass and don't make changes for no apparent reason. And provided that you realize that in order to do it right you gotta spend a little money because a cheap, half-ass jungle movie is going to look like shit.
Well. Looks like someone at Paramount took their stupid pills, because the movie version of Congo was a larger, stinkier piece of shit, in a more spectacular shade of brown, than cinema has often seen. It's not the director's fault; Frank Marshall is a buddy of Steven Spielberg's, and he made Arachnophobia and Alive before this, but I guess he can only direct movies that start with the letter A, because wow. The cast is like either the casting director lost a bet and did pin the tail on the headshot, or checked into rehab the day after casting this movie, or some such other explanation. Deliberate sabotage? I don't know. Laura Linney's great, but she's miscast here (and she's too short, which isn't her fault, it's the goddamn casting people). Dylan Walsh is one of those generic guys who does fine on TV but doesn't have the charisma to be in a movie. Casting Ernie Hudson in the Sean Connery role gets credit for sense of humor, but Ernie Hudson's so awesome he's actually okay in spite of his not being Sean Connery. And Mr. Eko/Adebisi (Adewale Akinnuoye-Agbaje) is in it in a very early role but they even fucked THAT up because he's too tall to be the head Kikuyu guy, and he's also from the fuckin wrong part of Africa, dude, Yoruba and Kikuyu ain't the same ballpark, ain't the same league, ain't even the same fuckin' sport (speaking of a good movie people in 1995 were watching).
The next thing is more the writer's fault—and I hate saying this, since I met the guy once and he was really nice—but John Patrick Shanley fuuuuuuuuuuuuucked up, and one of the worst ways he fucked up is writing in the Tim Curry part. Tim Curry's cool, but he's not known for underplaying, and he's one of those cats who gets in a shitty movie and starts overacting like hell. Now, when people are making a shitty movie they don't usually realize they're making a shitty movie, and so they don't think stuff like, “okay, let's get actors who won't make our shitty movie shittier by overacting” and end up casting Tim Curry. (Ed. Note: see what I did there, with that meta reference to the bit in the book where the gorilla calling the scientist “shitty” over and over again in sign language? People, I know what I'm doing).
So yeah, not gonna dwell, but fucking goddamn it the movie of Congo sucks.
Movie—1998 (dir. Barry Levinson)
In a world . . . where Michael Crichton has not yet whipped it out and written straight up SF . . .
One man . . . named Michael Crichton . . .
IS ABOUT TO BREAK EM OFF SOME!
So yeah. I first read Sphere in one sitting—which considering that it's like 400 pages long and contains several seismic mindfucks, probably explains a lot of my severe mental and emotional problems—back in like 1993 or 4 or something. It was one of those things where you pick up the book, read the book jacket, the book jacket says it's about a spaceship that crashed in the ocean 300 years ago, you go, “Tell me more,” and next thing you know it's 7 am, ya gotta be at school in an hour, you haven't slept and spend the whole day babbling about voluntary psychological lacunae and everyone gets mad at you for spoiling the ending. Oh wait, that's just me? DAMN IT.
Sphere is really kind of half-ass SF. Actual SF writers could have pulled it off better, but Michael Crichton's still Michael Crichton so it's A Michael Crichton SF Novel, which is better than nothing by damn sight. The plot starts off with The Everyman Scientist, in this case a shrink—an interesting wrinkle—being flown in by chopper to this random Navy flotilla in the middle of the South Pacific, where there's been a plane crash (not, sadly, Oceanic Flight 815). The shrink counsels plane crash survivors as part of what he does, so he's like, okay, this'll be fun.
But the Navy guy running things is like, nope, this ain't no plane crash. What this is . . . is a spaceship crash. And it crashed at least 300 years ago (maybe even 1000). Duh duh duhhhhhh. One of the other things the shrink did was write a report on the psychological effects of first contact with aliens, and the Navy guy assembled the first contact team the shrink recommended. The shrink has this “oh shit, I wrote that report to pay for a house moment” (familiar to Michael Crichton from all those pieces of shit he wrote to pay rent under the name John Lange) and goes to meet the team.
There's a bubbly astrophysicist who I mentally cast as Ron Howard (you can trust me on this shit, I'm good at casting), a moody mathematician I mentally cast as Samuel L. (and this is before Pulp Fiction, mind you), a workout-mad, tense biologist (Sharon Stone, no other options possible), and one random seasick dude they end up not bringing with them. To round out the Bowes cast, I had James Caan as the shrink and Scott Glenn as the Navy guy. In case you care.
So they go down to the bottom of the ocean to this “exotic-gas” habitat and get acclimated. They check out the spaceship, and there's a lot of bubbling from the astrophysicist about first contact . . . then they get a better look at the instrument panel by the door . . . and it's in English. Fuck! Man, that knocked me on my ass first time through.
The astrophysicist and the mathematician, who've been bitching at each other because the mathematician is grouchy and kind of playing this “I know everything three steps ahead” game, end up accidentally figuring out that the spaceship must have traveled in time, mid-bitchfest. They scribble equations and figure stuff out. Then everyone goes to explore the ship.
Most of what they find is kind of what they expected—future stuff—but they find this weird sphere. There are markings on it, and the mathematician figures out they're hiding a door. There's something inside. FUCK oh man oh man *flips pages*
After much trying to figure out how to open it up, the mathematician just does it without warning anyone. And then Weird Shit Starts Happening. People get killed (including the poor astrophysicist). Mucho drama. The “alien” from inside the sphere starts talking to them through the computer, and after a while they figure out that the mathematician is causing all the Weird Shit, so the shrink and the biologist overpower him and knock him into dreamless sleep so all the Weird Shit will stop.
But then the biologist goes into the sphere and Different, Weirder Weird Shit starts happening. The shrink soon finds himself facing mortal peril, and runs away to the spaceship and himself tries to enter the sphere. But he can't. Until he surrenders and just mentally pictures it open. Voila. Into the sphere.
Some of the worst writing of Michael Crichton's career ensues, like someone who's never done drugs trying to describe tripping and totally getting it wrong. But eventually, the shrink Figures It Out. The sphere causes one's wildest dreams to be manifested, and because the shrink is psychologically well-adjusted, no Weird Shit will happen when he comes out of the sphere. EXCEPT . . . he starts to make a run for it, abandoning the mathematician and the biologist. Whoops. He realizes his mistake, goes back to rescue them, and yay they all escape!
They get rescued by the Navy, and put their heads together to figure out what to do next. They all agree, even the “well-adjusted” shrink, that none of them handled the power granted to them by the sphere well. They don't even know what the sphere is, since as the mathematician points out, it could have some purpose that has nothing to do with granting human beings the capacity to manifest their subconscious. So they decide, as one, to forget the sphere, thus paradoxically erasing it from existence. OR DOES IT????? Shit, now you see what the fuck I had to deal with that day at school?
When the movie adaptation of Sphere was announced, I was very excited, because of all the Michael Crichton I'd yet read—and I'd read it all—Sphere always was the most cinematic of his novels to me. With a little second-act tightening, I thought it would kick ass left and right and leave bodies in its wake. When I heard who was going to be in it, I got real stoked, because I'd called Samuel L. and Sharon Stone like five years before. Dustin Hoffman? Hey, sure, not exactly what I'd pictured. Liev Schreiber? Wow, not Ron Howard. Okay, I guess. Okay, who's directing . . . Barry Levinson? For real? What the fuck are they gonna do, talk to the aliens about the fucking Baltimore Colts? Man . . . okay, okay, I'll give him a shot. But if Roy Hobbs comes out of the sphere I'm gonna be pissed.
Release date comes along. Nervous. Watch the movie. About ten minutes in, I just started going “Man, fuck you.” About halfway through, I was saying “Man, fuck you” like the Vietnamese guy in Robocop. By the time the movie ended, I just just pissed. This movie is the reason why I understand when people want to firebomb the studios, this shit was just fucking lazy. They threw $80 million bucks at it and went to the golf course. It's not even marginally redeemable due to camp value like Congo, which if you catch someone who doesn't really love the book and stick a joint in their mouth, they could have a decent time. It was this movie that made me realize if you could meet Samuel L.'s rate, he would literally do any movie, no matter how bad. And it only got worse . . .
Movie—1993 (dir. Steven Spielberg)
Like a lot of people, I'm sure, this was my introduction to Michael Crichton. My junior-high science teacher was raving about this book one day, and I read it, knowing I was going to be the only kid in class who would, and I figured, hey, maybe he'll think I'm less of a dipshit if I mention, hey, I read Jurassic Park too. Tried that, failed fucking miserably, he thought I was more of a dipshit for my complete lack of ass-kissing dexterity. Win some, lose some. So some junior-high science teacher who's long since forgotten me thought I was a dipshit . . . but I got to read a really fuckin good book about dinosaurs eating people.
Let's pause for a moment, and reflect on the beauty of this premise. You have man. Frail, fallible, fallacious man. Tortured by his own self-awareness, torn between his wants and his ability to obtain them, constantly reminded of his own mortality. Then, you have dinosaur. Dinosaurs kill shit. Dinosaurs kill, and then they eat, and then they kill some more, just to show mahfuckas who's gangsta. Two dominant life forms enter . . . one dominant life form leaves. Welcome to Thunderdome, motherfucker.
Jurassic Park is just fuckin perfect. It's got the poker-faced Michael Crichton fake “this is a true story” prologue, a couple chapters where he teases you with dinosaurs but doesn't call them dinosaurs. Eventually, after the Everyman Dinosaur Scientist is introduced along with his comely young assistant, the genius mathematician who Actually Knows What's Up (who fortunately has more of a sense of humor than the iteration of same in Sphere), and the eccentric billionaire who's Up To Something are all introduced, everybody heads to an island in Costa Rica. Where there are fucking dinosaurs.
Look, fucking dinosaurs fucking eat people in this fucking book. No plot recap. Fuck that. The mathematician tells the eccentric billionaire building a zoo/theme park with dinosaurs in it is a dumb idea. Wow, I hope you didn't sprain your wrist pulling that idea out your ass, doc. Of course it's a dumb idea to genetically engineer dinosaurs. You'd have to be fucking retarded to genetically engineer dinosaurs. They will fucking eat you. That is what they do. If it wasn't for that comet or whatever extinction level event that wiped them all out, dinosaurs would still be killing and eating everything. Which they do plenty of in this book, boy. And at the end, after the Everyman Scientist gets the billionaire's grandkids off the island, some dude comes up to him and basically tells him, “Dude, there are dinosaurs in Costa Rica. I don't mean that politically, like the rest of Central America, we're actually hip here. Actual fucking dinosaurs are fucking running loose. WE ARE FUCKED.” YES!
Now. I love Steven Spielberg. I don't “Armond White love” Steven Spielberg, because Charles Nelson Reilly and Liberace giving lapdances to Rock Hudson and Cary Grant with the DJ playing Judy Garland isn't that fucking gay. But I'm a big Steven Spielberg fan. Make no mistake. And I thought he was the perfect guy to make a movie of Jurassic Park, because he's just about the only guy who was around at the time who could make the dinosaurs look cool enough. But part of me always wondered . . . is Steven Spielberg really going to show as many shots of dinosaurs eating people as I require? Keep in mind, I'm the worst fucking candidate in the universe to have directed this movie: I would have made Tampopo with the dinosaurs as the truck drivers and the people as the noodles. I would have made Big Night, with Stanley Tucci and Tony Shalhoub showing the dinosaurs into the restaurant and give them plates and plates of people to nosh on. (The ultimate fate of Messrs. Tucci and Shalhoub would have been a plot hole: wouldn't the dinosaurs eat them too . . .?)
Anyway, yeah, my problems with this movie are entirely due to my own monomaniacally misanthropic bliss at the notion of human beings being noisily and bloodily reduced to their basic elements in the large, powerful jaws of dinosaurs. Spielberg made a hell of a movie. Sure, Sam Neill was a dork, but fuck, if a scientist isn't allowed to be a dork, who is? Samuel L. was cool (and gets eaten by a dinosaur . . . SCORE ONE FOR THE OLD SCHOOL!) and Jeff Goldlbum was fun, and the only thing really wrong with this movie is that the ending is a little abrupt and convenient—suddenly there are no dinosaurs between the main building and the helipad? Meh, whatever. The rest of the movie fucking rules, even if the whole PG-13 thing meant all the people getting eaten by dinosaurs happens off-screen. But that makes it like a sex scene in a Code movie, you have to imagine it, which makes it better. And, no, I refuse to be self-conscious about the fact that I just compared dinosaurs eating people to sex.
Movie—1993 (dir. Philip Kaufman)
Aaaaaaand we have Michael Crichton's political phase. Oh boy. The basic premise of this novel is that Japanese people are sociopathic, racist maniacs who are going to buy America and then kill us all. (Fundamental flaw, Mike, how many fucking times do I have to tell you it's evil white guys in suits who are going to kill us all . . .) Everybody in the fucking book bellyaches about “the Japanese” for pages apiece. There's kind of a cool who-done-it hidden underneath all that shit that becomes a how-done-it but Crichton pisses all that away by having the guy who actually killed the blonde white chick be a fucking Japanese guy, in full inscrutable glory.
It'd be one thing if, like he one-loved H. Rider Haggard in Congo, he was giving Sax Rohmer a scratch behind the ears here, but this isn't a self-conscious Yellow Peril homage, it's just a fucking rant about Japan buying up America. Now, in the aftermath of the skullfucking we got from Reagan, the American economy was in shitty enough shape that foreign investors came in and bought a lot of stuff for cheap, and a lot of those foreign investors were Japanese. They had money, we had shit to sell. That's global capitalism. But back in the early 90s, people were fucking losing it over this. Michael Crichton tapped into it, wrote Rising Sun, got a shitload of press, sold a lot of books, got rich(er).
Rising Sun sold enough books they decided to make a movie ASAP, giving Rising Sun Crichton's quickest turnover from book to film yet. Fortunately, Philip Kaufman is a reasonable man. He got the gig, he decided, all right, all the racist shit, bloop, gone. He cast Wesley Snipes as the protagonist, who wasn't really much of a character in the book, but as played by Wesley Snipes he was suddenly interesting (it also meant, thankfully, that the cringe-inducing line in the book where the Sean Connery character tells him, of living in Japan, “I felt like a nigger,” was cut). Sean Connery was a layup—Michael Crichton decided to make it so fucking obvious in this book, calling him John Connor, that to cast anyone else would just be tarded—and he rules, as redundant as that is to say. The killer's identity is changed; in the movie it's a white guy, proving that Philip Kaufman is a wise man indeed (need I even mention he wears a suit? Didn't think so).
The main thing the movie Rising Sun has is Eddie Sakamura. Cary-Hiroyuki Tagawa, to me, became Eddie Sakamura after this movie, to the point where all I ever call him is Eddie Sakamura. He figures centrally in one of the funniest opening scenes ever; he's singing “Don't Fence Me In” in a karaoke bar with four Yakuza dudes with shades on and cigarettes hangin out the side as his backup singers. Eddie Sakamura is cool enough in this scene, but fuckin' hell his backup singers are awesome. They've got the perfect balance between bored cool and “hey, he's the boss, when the boss sings Don't Fence Me In, we fucking sing backup, BECAUSE THIS IS HOW MEN DO THINGS.”
Actually, if you don't have a whole lot of time, just watch the first scene. That scene alone is worth the price of admission; and the serviceable murder mystery plot that follows is okay, I mean, I have seen the movie like five times, but without all the racism there isn't a whole lot left.
Movie—1994 (dir. Barry Levinson)
Oh, so that's how Barry Levinson ended up directing Sphere. Reinforces my point about laziness, huh? Anyway, Disclosure. Disclosure is a nifty bait-and-switch; you think it's going to do for feminism what Rising Sun did for Japanese-American relations with the central premise that a guy gets sexually harassed by his female boss who then accuses him of sexually harassing her, and the boss character is enough of a raging, one-note bitch that it sure looks like Crichton wants us to think “yeah, once you start letting women out of the kitchen and into the vice-president's chair you're bound to have problems, unless she's in the chair cuz she's fuckin im! Amirite? Eh?” until you realize a ways into the book that the Everyman protagonist is being framed so his intel about his company fucking something up in Malaysia will be discredited. Problem is, the bad guys are so stupid, Everyman doesn't even realize what the damaging information is until he does some digging, so they basically went to all the trouble to have his boss sexually harass him and then sue him for sexual harassment for nothing. And, in the end, the female boss is the one who has to fall on the grenade. So, in a weird, awkward way, it's almost a statement about how women get shafted. Except she's too one-dimensional a character for you to really give a shit.
Anyway, the movie's better than the book, just because all the political horseshit everyone monologues about in the book is basically cut out, leaving a not-half-bad corporate espionage thriller, marred only by Demi Moore being, as always, godawful. Swap her out for someone who can actually act and you've got a rock-solid picture.
The Lost World
Movie—1997 (dir. Steven Spielberg . . . hey, shit happens)
Sequel to Jurassic Park. Piece of shit. Boring. If the sequel had picked up where the first one left off, that would have been great. Instead, there's a second island? For real? Fuck you, man.
The movie, naturally, sucks too, and is notable only for giving Vince Vaughn a (presumably) nice paycheck post-Swingers.
Movie—2003 (dir. Richard Donner)
Good premise (quantum-physics based time travel), nice atmosphere (they travel to a well-researched and vividly realized medieval France), stupid fucking characters. The only memorable ones are Marek, who's there to dispense facts about the High Middle Ages and while impressively knowledgeable and adept at coping with the culture shock when they end up back in France, is kind of a dork, and Doniger, the bad guy, who's mainly memorable because he's so pointlessly assoholic to everybody. Well, there's the medieval chick Marek ends up wooing chivalrously, she's cool, she plays both sides against the middle in this really subtle way that's archaic in our day and age. And the lines in Middle English are cool. I mean, it's a good read if you've got a plane/train ride. But nothing earthshattering, and definitely not up to Crichton's previous standard.
The movie's fucking worthless. If you absolutely must see Gerry Butler in something because you just fapped that hard to 300, sure, check him out as a much-more-retarded-than-in-the-book Marek. Paul Walker shows up with his dazzling thespian skills as one of the most annoying characters in the history of literature, who in Paul Walker's hands actually becomes much less annoying, so good job, Paul. Guess those blue eyes and that modest charisma you got works in something other than a Fast and the Furious movie. If you could film a fart, you'd get Timeline.
As for Airframe, Prey, State of Fear, Next, Pirate Latitudes, and the untitled posthumous one, go to a book review site. If someone didn't film 'em, I don't give a fuck.