On the face of it, now is a golden time to be a fan of Michael Crichton. Westworld, his 1973 sci-fi thriller of a robot theme park gone wrong, has become a high-budget (and high-minded) HBO headliner, while Jurassic Park, his 1990 novel of a dinosaur theme park gone wrong that inspired Steven Spielberg’s 1993 blockbuster, is again a major box office player by way of the Jurassic World franchise. By many metrics, both of these are successes; Westworld has high ratings and Jurassic World: Fallen Kingdom has already passed $700 million. But dig deeper and problems emerge.
Season 2 of Westworld has been decried by many fans for its needlessly twisted plot and confused grand themes, while Jurassic World: Fallen Kingdom has got negative-to-mixed reviews, with a muddled tone and inane story the big points of contention. Both have their merits – especially when it comes to the directing skill on show – but are ultimately lesser than their original to a clear extent. And that may be because they are fundamentally different; they both hinge on the same basic plot of man’s creations let off the chain and fighting back, yet are totally distinct properties.
The Westworld movie deals with the plain concept of man’s automaton creations losing all safeguards, showing the titular theme park in action (as well as Medieval World and Roman World) before putting the characters in deadly situations. It’s a simple cautionary tale. The show is considerably more ambitious, having the uprising not be about bad coding but a road to consciousness, with allegory and metaphors of all inspirations. The center of the movie actually happens mostly offscreen between Seasons 1 & 2: HBO’s show uses the movie as a jumping off point for something bigger (indeed, most of the show’s core ideals – questioning of reality and a nefarious company working on something bigger – originate from sequel, Futureworld).
Jurassic Park does something similar to dinosaurs, but delves deeper into what their return would mean to a modern society: the methodology, the wonder, the ethics, the business and, eventually, the terror. The primary purpose is, as with Westworld, to thrill, but baked into Crichton’s book and Spielberg’s film are questions of why we create and how the real world impacts that. Jurassic World has, admittedly, tried to extend this, with specific focus on corporate meddling and ongoing ethics in the two movies released so far respectively, although it’s very much a secondary concern done to power the action.
While the problems with both reboots extend well beyond their approach or source, with this comparison it’s clear that they’ve flipped. Westworld has gone from fun gimmick to intellectual posturing and Jurassic has thrown away the philosophy for naked cheap thrills. Reinvention is the key to any franchise lasting, but could it be that these two properties have gone about it the wrong way? Should Westworld be an action movie bridging genres that takes potshots at themes, while Jurassic the longer, more drawn out look at how society treats miracles? As Fallen Kingdom has shown, Westworld Season 2’s twist of robot clones can fit in the Jurassic universe just as much.
Expecting something like this, admittedly, would be near impossible. Being a pre-Star Wars 1970s sci-fi, Westworld has become a cult hit praised for its ideas, while Jurassic Park is more modern and more mainstream; the obvious extension is something cerebral and action-packed respectively. But from a finished product stance, there’s an evident misunderstanding of what makes each franchise work, with many of the ideas cross-pollinated to the point their identities have changed. For what it is for series about what it is to exist, that’s as chaotic as any of Crichton’s teachings.
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