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4LN Book Review: Dragon Teeth, by Michael Crichton

Michael Crichton is a colossus in the entertainment industry.  He is the creative mind behind Jurassic Park, ER, Andromeda Strain, Congo, and Westworld.  During his life, Crichton dominated the box office, the literary world, and television.  Dragon Teeth is the latest in a series of posthumous novels discovered by his family to hit the shelves.

Summary from HarperCollins:

About the Book

Michael Crichton, the #1 New York Times bestselling author of Jurassic Park, returns to the world of paleontology in this recently discovered novela thrilling adventure set in the Wild West during the golden age of fossil hunting.

The year is 1876. Warring Indian tribes still populate Americas western territories even as lawless gold-rush towns begin to mark the landscape. In much of the country it is still illegal to espouse evolution. Against this backdrop two monomaniacal paleontologists pillage the Wild West, hunting for dinosaur fossils, while surveilling, deceiving and sabotaging each other in a rivalry that will come to be known as the Bone Wars.

Into this treacherous territory plunges the arrogant and entitled William Johnson, a Yale student with more privilege than sense. Determined to survive a summer in the west to win a bet against his arch-rival, William has joined world-renowned paleontologist Othniel Charles Marsh on his latest expedition. But when the paranoid and secretive Marsh becomes convinced that William is spying for his nemesis, Edwin Drinker Cope, he abandons him in Cheyenne, Wyoming, a locus of crime and vice. William is forced to join forces with Cope and soon stumbles upon a discovery of historic proportions. With this extraordinary treasure, however, comes exceptional danger, and Williams newfound resilience will be tested in his struggle to protect his cache, which pits him against some of the Wests most notorious characters.

A page-turner that draws on both meticulously researched history and an exuberant imagination, Dragon Teeth is based on the rivalry between real-life paleontologists Cope and Marsh; in William Johnson readers will find an inspiring hero only Michael Crichton could have imagined. Perfectly paced and brilliantly plotted, this enormously winning adventure is destined to become another Crichton classic.

There is a particular formula a majority of Michael Crichton’s most popular books follow.  Take a team of scientists from diverse fields of study, insert a preternatural problem that serves as an antagonist – such as an alien spacecraft (Sphere), super-virus (Andromeda Strain), or genetically reconstructed dinosaurs (Jurassic Park) – and have the team of scientists work together to solve said problem.  Dragon Teeth smashes that mold.

While most of Crichton’s literary work would fall under the action/adventure genre, Dragon Teeth falls more in the realm of western/historical fiction.  The story takes place during the Bone Wars, which found two leading paleontologists – Cope and Marsh – in a bitter race to discover dinosaur bones.  Cope and Marsh, as well as Cope’s compatriot Charles Stern, all play significant roles in the story and actually existed (they have their own Wikipedia pages and everything). The Earp brothers also make their presence known in and around the town of Deadwood (bonus points if you read their parts with Kurt Russell and Bill Paxton’s voices).

While the historical characters are exciting, the true protagonist of Dragon Teeth is William Johnson; a fictional character that serves as a foil for the reader to learn more about the historical events unfolding. Born into affluence, Johnson has led a life of ease and excess. It’s not until he makes a spur of the moment bet and joins a paleontology exhibition headed west that he faces any real adversity, and boy does he face it. During the Wild West adventure, Johnson finds himself in the middle of both the Bone Wars and the Sioux Wars. Add to that the general cast of ruffians typical of western lore, and you got yourself a story more reminiscent of Louis L’Amour than Andromeda Strain.

It is important to note that this book isn’t technically a finished product. It was found in manuscript form, and a note from his wife indicates that he started planning it as far back from 1974. Some of the dialogue is stiff and the pacing is a bit jumpy, but I think this is a book fans of both Crichton and westerns will enjoy as long as they don’t expect something akin to his blockbuster titles.

For more like this, check out our Top Four Michael Crichton Novels

4LN Top 4 – Michael Crichton Novels

You may or may not know who Michael Crichton is, but you are without a doubt familiar with his work.  Crichton dominated the early 90’s box office with films like Jurassic Park, Twister, and The Andromeda Strain, but he is also the man behind the original Westworld and ER.  In 1994, Crichton became the only person to land at the top spot on charts for television, film, and book sales.  Think about that for a second, the three most popular forms of entertainment all topped by the same guy at the same time.

Sidenote: I’m a pretty big fan of the Crichton novels I’ve read, but my wife is OBSESSED with the show ER. She is currently on her fifth or sixth viewing of the series, and there are fifteen seasons. Also, Twister is one of those movies that if it happens to be on TV, things get ignored – chores, kids, you name it.

Below you will find my Top 4 Michael Crichton novels along with a spoiler-free, mini synopsis.  Enjoy!

4. Timeline

timeline-crichton-book-cover

A tech firm led by a volatile, Bill Gatesian billionaire creates a time machine.  A professor in the employ of the firm is studying a 14th century French village with his team of grad students.  When he gets lost in 1357, it is up to his students to go back in time to rescue the beloved professor.  Oh, did I mention that 14th century France is violent?  This novel became a movie starring Paul Walker and Gerard Butler.

3. The Andromeda Strain

andromeda strain book cover

The government launches satellites to collect organisms and dust for study.  One of the satellites crashes in a remote town, which leads to an outbreak of a deadly virus.  A team of scientists enter a secure, high tech bunker in order to contain the (1950’s announcer voice) VIRUS FROM OUTER SPACE.

This novel became a TV miniseries starring Benjamin Bratt.

2. Sphere

Sphere Michael Crichton

A alien spaceship shaped like a (you guessed it) sphere appears at the bottom of the Pacific Ocean.  A team of scientists is dispatched to a secret, deep-sea research facility to study, and attempt to make contact with the spaceship.  Deadly shenanigans ensue.

This novel became the 1998 film starring Dustin Hoffman, Sharon Stone, and Samuel F. L. Jackson.

1. Jurassic Park

Jurassic Park 25th Anniversary Cover

Not only are dinosaurs no longer extinct, they are going to be on display in a brand new theme park named Jurassic Park.   A team of scientists  is invited to tour the park in order to make sure everything is on the up and up.  Chaos theory prevails.

This novel became the smash-hit blockbuster starring Sam Neill, Laura Dern, Jeff erm Goldblum.

Honorable Mentions

Eaters of the Dead

eaters-of-the-dead-cover_8346

I am adding this to the list, not because I think it is in the upper echelon of Crichton’s novels, but because it’s fascinating.  Eaters of the Dead is a fictional retelling of actual journal entries written by an Arab traveling through Northern Europe in the tenth century.  During his journey, he meets a band of Viking warriors, and joins them as they suddenly return to Scandinavia and attempt to save the Viking clan from monsters in the mist.

This novel became the film The 13th Warrior starring Antonio Banderas.

There you have it, folks.  Have you read any of Crichton’s work?  What’s your favorite Crichtation (Crichton creation)? Let us know in the comments.

 

4LN Movie Review – Jurassic World (NON-SPOILER)

Well, it’s been 2 decades since we first got the s*** scared out of us by the lawyer-eating, Newman-eating, Sam Jackson-eating, pretty much everyone but like 6 people-eating dinosaurs of Jurassic Park. it just feels like its been longer for some reason. I remember the summer it was released. Hell, I remember the DAY. I was sitting in the auditorium of our church at vacation bible school and I’d been eagerly awaiting a friend of mine who was late. When he finally got there he told me he was late because he’d just seen Jurassic Park. I was so excited. I made him tell me everything about the movie.

Once I finally saw it myself, I just sat in awe of the magnificence of it. How could a 10 year old kid NOT be paralyzed by the wonder of seeing dinosaurs roam the earth in a real world setting? It was the recollection of that feeling that made me very excited to take my own son to see Jurassic World. I really wanted him to have the same feelings, and be just as amazed as I was the first time I saw Jurassic Park. I have to say, I was not disappointed.

First up, here’s a synopsis from IMDB:

 Twenty-two years after the events of Jurassic Park, Isla Nublar now features a fully functioning dinosaur theme park, Jurassic World, as originally envisioned by John Hammond. After 10 years of operation and visitor rates declining, in order to fulfill a corporate mandate, a new attraction is created to re-spark visitor’s interest, which backfires horribly.

So basically, they’re like, “Hey, it’s been a while, and technology is so much more advanced now, I bet we could totally rebuild this place and let people hang out with this large, meat-eating beasts without any real problems.” WRONG. I know that since dinosaurs aren’t alive anymore (and they’ll likely never be? Science you guys, it’s doing crazier things…) it’s tough for us to fully comprehend how deeply irresponsible of a bad idea this is. Like, we sort of think we know, but really, building a theme park around making a spectacle of creatures that we’ve never had a chance to observe in the natural world, and therefore know very little about, is insane. But I think that’s part of the philosophy of these movies. The hubris of humanity makes us do crazy things and we have to remember that not everything we WANT to do is something we SHOULD do. (Didn’t know there was a moral did ya? Thought it was just about watching dinosaurs eat people who couldn’t run fast or hide well… #schooled.)

“Oooh! Cool gun! Can I try it? Oops. I ate you.”

The aforementioned hubris is something that Chris Pratt’s character, Owen, is greatly opposed to. He’s a raptor trainer who mostly only sees futility in what they’re trying to do but he’s there because if he doesn’t do it then someone else will and they’ll probably do it wrong. I really like Chris Pratt, and it’s no secret that Guardians of the Galaxy was my favorite movie of last year, but this role is different for him. Not different in a bad way necessarily. He does a great job. He’s still pompous, sarcastic, and funny, but he’s kind of macho here too, and it makes the character feel a little stiff. Not unlikable by any means, but just kind of… flat. Like he doesn’t have much depth. I did like that he feels like a blend of Malcolm and Grant from the first movie, with a dash of Indiana Jones for fun.

Playing the female lead, Claire, is Bryce Dallas Howard, and she does a really great job as well. Her character evolves quickly over the course of the film. She starts out as a very focused, very responsibility-committed woman who doesn’t get her hands dirty, but the course of actions and reactions that take place force her to have to change herself in order to survive and save people. Howard is a fantastic actress. She’s one of those actresses that is always on point and with very little change makes you see her character and not just her in a role (that makes sense right?).

The supporting cast all does a great job as well. There’s Ty Simpkins (Iron Man 3) and Nick Robinson (Melissa & Joey) who play brothers, and they are also Claire’s nephews. Their dynamic was perfect. They totally make you believe they’re brothers. Vincent D’Onofrio plays the head of security and while you can’t *technically* define him as a “villain”, he’s definitely not on the level either. There’s also Irrfan Khan who plays Simon Masrani, President of the Masrani Corporation and Jurassic World’s owner. I really like the way this character comes across because he’s insightful, but still flawed, and never let’s his mistakes define him. He’s honestly the most complex character in the entire film (if you don’t count the new dinosaur, the Indominus rex).

One of the best parts of the movie for me was Jake Johnson (The New Girl, Let’s Be Cops) as Lowery, a technical/computer specialist who works on the parks main operations floor. He brings most of the comedy relief and it’s GOOD comedy relief. I probably laughed out loud every time he was on-screen.

Maybe it’s the mustache… or the fact that those are very similar glasses to the ones Dennis Nedry wore in Jurassic Park.

But how about those dinosaurs?! They were amazing! The special effects team did a fantastic job making them feel real and terrifying. I suppose a lot of credit should go to the production crew (writers, producers, director) for layering the dino’s personalities and characteristics more this time than in the previous films.

The new dinosaur I mentioned, the Indominus rex, is fascinating, and they succeed at making her intimidating and scary. I won’t say anymore than that about her cause I don’t want to spoil anything.

The raptors are handled very interestingly in this film. Chris Pratt’s character is their “trainer” (you know, as much as you can train a large reptile with razor sharp claw and teeth and the emotional stability of serial killer) and it’s really wild to see them relinquish as much control as they do.

My favorite dinosaur in the whole movie was probably the one with the least screen time, the Mosasaur. The Mosasaur was a very large water-dwelling dinosaur and the one in Jurassic World is ****ing TERRIFYING. Perhaps it’s just the water element? Like, how Jaws is so scary in large part because of how helpless you are in the water.

This is my absolute favorite of all the film’s posters.

While a lot of the movie feels exactly like Jurassic Park, there are certain elements that give it some interesting layers. The CGI is absolutely fantastic and gives the movie that “blockbuster spectacle” feel. Then there’s the performances from Pratt and Howard, and they way their characters banter and interact, that make it feel like “Romancing the Stone” and “Jewel of the Nile”. I got the feeling that director Colin Trevorrow (Safety Not Guaranteed) has a vast array of film influences and he brought all of them with him to the table when he signed on. A large amount of credit should got to the co-writers Rick Jaffa and Amanda Silver. They are the team responsible for the new Planet of the Apes films and they’ve clearly proven that they know exactly what they’re doing when it comes to writing animals with intelligence and emotional depth.

“And then when I was 8, I walked in on my dad eating a Compsognathus and I just didn’t know how to handle that.”

I loved Jurassic World. It hasn’t become my favorite movie of the year or anything, but it was really fun and I would totally watch it again. The ending alone… oh my god… it was AMAZING. For me, even with some slow areas and weak-ish characters, Jurassic World was still definitely better than The Lost World and Jurassic Park 3. Although, to get slightly off-topic for a minute, I maintain that Jurassic Park 3 is the most unique of the entire series. All the other’s are basically just about things not going according to plan and people end up getting eaten. Jurassic Park 3 is more of a survivalist film. Grant is tricked into going back to the island (well, the OTHER island) to help these people find their son. It’s not just about something going haywire and dinosaurs running amok in a theme park, or in a suburb (*cough* Jurassic Park 2 *cough*), or a theme park…again. Ok, I’m off the soap box now.

I don’t need to tell you that Jurassic World is worth seeing. If you saw the other movies, and you like them, then you’re gonna go see it just like everyone else. You can expect excitement and laughs and awesome dinosaurs, and nightmarish dinosaurs. Oh, and before I forget… there is no end credits scene so you don’t have to stay until the very end, and there is an appearance by a character from the first Jurassic Park but I promise it’s not someone you’ll expect… and it’s more than a “cameo”. More on that though when my good friend Paige brings us her SPOILER-FILLED review on Monday! Get out and see Jurassic World this weekend! If you have kids, take them! My son and my nephew LOVED the whole movie! It’s a thrill-ride and you’ll be glad you went!

 

(If you’ve already seen the movie and would like to freely discuss it, check out our SPOILER REVIEW here.)