I Just Finished Reading Michael Crichton’s CONGO… and Compared to the Movie Version, It’s Nothing to Go Ape Over

 

Let me admit this right off the bat, despite how much it goes against consensus opinion on the matter: Paramount Pictures’ 1995 big screen adaptation of the late, great Michael Crichton’s novel Congo  is one of my favorite horror/adventure films of that decade. To those who have read even a moderate amount of consensus reviews on the quality of this movie, let me assure you that you did indeed read that correctly. Nearly every single review of the film I’ve read over the years, who are often quick to compare it to Crichton’s 1980 novel — and who range from the most famous film reviewer to the lowliest ad hominem-hurling Internet commentator — is generally this: “The movie totally sucked. You really need to read Crichton’s novel, which was brilliant. The movie version left a reeking shit stain on Crichton’s great work.”

What finally inspired me to compose this blog was my state of mind after finally getting the chance to read Crichton’s novel, completed just the other day. I was hoping that my greatly contrary opinion to consensus thought about the quality of the movie wouldn’t extend to that same opinion regarding the oft-stated “brilliance” of its literary inspiration. It wasn’t to be the first time one of my hopes were cruelly dashed, but it was the one relevant to this blog. So if you bother to stick around after this sentence, you are about to read my pontifications as to how the book compares to the movie, specifically why I greatly disagree with the frequently heard commentary from those who have critiqued and compared both.

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This mo’ fo’ will do a lot worse than hurl feces at you.

I. Conventional Wisdom is Not Always Wise

Contrary to what those who read my non-fiction scribing and also do not know me too well personally may assume, I’m not one of those people who knee-jerkedly goes against anything considered to be conventional wisdom merely for the sake of “being different” or “looking for negative attention.”

There are, in fact, many aspects of conventional wisdom I do fully agree with, including within the realm of literary and film criticism. To wit, I think Citizen Kane  is an absolutely brilliant film. However, I have more than my share of disagreements with the vast majority on certain commonly held opinions: e.g., though I concede The Godfather III  most certainly did not match the grandeur of the first two films in the trilogy, I do not  agree that it thoroughly sucked a certain unmentionable anatomical appendage.

I’m simply notorious for being vocal about aspects of conventional wisdom that I may disagree with based upon a combination of personal experience and research, no matter how dear to the heart of mainstream thought such beliefs, opinions, or interpretations may be. Just ask anyone who has ever heard me dare to criticize anything about Alan Moore’s attitude and decisions regarding his infamous falling out with DC Comics (I do not think his motivations were based on principle or that his work has earned him the right to be an arrogant asshole), or publicly mention that the movie version of The Princess Bride  is not  on my list of cherished cinematic memories (I know what you’re thinking about that last one: “inconceivable!”).

Which brings us to my opinion on how Congo the novel compares to Congo  the film.

I insincerely apologize to the vast majority of critics about this, but I most certainly do not think the movie version sucked ass. Was it a blockbuster epic along the lines of Aliens? No, it wasn’t, and no one deciding to watch the film should expect such a thing going in. But it was a slick, relatively well-acted adventure flick with good casting choices, a decent if not stellar script courtesy of John Patrick Shanley, and some impressive physical effects despite a limited budget during the last years before CGI almost completely took over. The species of vicious, gray-furred gorilla which menaced the human expedition to the remote rain forests of Zaire (that’s what they call the Congo now, people!) were genuinely fearsome-looking and deadly… much more so than the versions that appeared in the book, in fact. But I’m getting just a bit ahead of things here.

The cast was genuinely likeable, even if over half of the expedition members were comprised of porters native to Africa who weren’t played by well-known thespians, and were simply there as fang fodder for the gorillas to rip apart. And these simian horrors didn’t skimp on any of that in the movie version! These killer gorillas were said to be the product of an ancient form of eugenics developed by the lost populace of Zinj, who bred and trained them to aggressively guard their precious diamond mines. It turned out that these simian creations of primitive genetic engineering kept up a sizable breeding population up to the present and continued their predatory security purposes long after the human civilization that spawned them vanished from the historical records. That spelled really bad news for the various individuals comprising the expedition that was hired to search for the legendary but unsubstantiated old city and its reported store of diamonds.

It’s a terrible shame that the company’s intel on the fauna bred by the people of Zinji wasn’t as good as that which they acquired for the lost civilization’s mineral resources. But if it was, the crew would have gone far better prepared, resulting in no loss of human life and a consequently huge loss of entertainment value for the viewers.

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You gotta “hand” it to that laser weapon’s efficiency! Bwah-hah-hah!

This strange species of aggressive gorilla resembled the two known and gentle conventional species, but had gray fur, somewhat sleeker (and thus faster) bodies, and were much more evil-looking. You wouldn’t want to confront one of these things in an alley, whether dark or fully lit, let alone in a jungle environment far from any human habitation. Having to deal with a horde of such killer simians in a very dangerous and remote area of Africa that these apes knew much better than any human was a true nightmare to experience. I think it’s a complete shame that we never saw more of these creatures in either additional movies or other in other mediums, thanks to the film’s lackluster performance at the box office. So I won’t hold out much hope for seeing Dark Horse Comics acquire the license from whoever now owns the copyright to produce a group of Congo  mini-series, including one titled Predator vs. The Apes of Zinj in the Congo or Tarzan vs. the Zinji Apes, or something like that. And what way cool crossovers those would have been! (Shameless plug: I had the Zinj Apes clash with Felanthus the Tiger-Man and the French vigilante Judex in my short story “Justice and the Beast” in the pulp fiction anthology Tales of the Shadowmen Vol. 12: Carte Blanche from Black Coat Press, so there’s that at least!).

II. Okay, Why Do I Think the Movie Didn’t Suck?

Shanley’s screenplay was faithful to the main story that Crichton took far too long to tell in the book. To paraphrase an apropos expression that someone living on a farm must have invented: Shanley cut most of the wheat from Crichton’s chaff and took one of the slowest stories I ever read and turned it into a reasonably fast-paced movie without losing anything important. The end result focused largely on the main details of the corporate-funded, ill-fated expedition’s trek into the lost city of Zinj and directly into a brutal life and death struggle with the Zinji Apes (did I just coin that term? We gotta call them something, right? And isn’t this easier to type than “Those Killer Gorillas From Congo“?).  Almost all extraneous details not integral to that particular plot, or even having direct bearing on it, were excised. And there were veritable heaps of this extraneous and semi-extraneous material in the novel. This very necessary excision amounted to cutting literally 70% of the text in the book… trust me on this, as I actually checked the counter on my Kindle tablet at the point in the novel where the expedition finally reached the area where they had to deal with the apes.

The gore and onscreen mayhem inflicted upon human victims was surprisingly intense for a PG-13 rated movie, and what survived the cutting room floor for the theatrical version really pushed the limits for that rating. We see the Zinji Apes’ penchant for literally tearing off the heads of human victims and then contemptuously tossing them at the surviving humans in quite graphic detail. This, btw, was in contrast to how the apes preferred to kill people in the book: they smashed their heads on each side with stone paddles specially sculpted by the ancient citizens of Zinj to be used by their ape sentries for that purpose. Yes, you just read that correctly; evidently, Crichton thought the considerable strength of the apes’ bare hands wasn’t sufficient to do the job. I’m thankful that Shanely’s script rectified that matter.

Travicom’s experimental laser beam, powered by the blue diamonds of a certain size that were found in Zinj’s precious mines, was utilized by Travicom’s maverick computer expert Dr. Karen Ross to literally slice through the ranks of the killer apes like a hot knife through wads of butter. And it was seriously sweet to behold! Those scenes hardly skimped on the retaliatory onscreen slaughter wreaked upon Zinj’s simian sentries.

The blue color of those diamonds actually signified a form of impurity that made these gems all but worthless in a financial sense, but extremely valuable in a sheer practical manner as a power source for certain advanced electronics. In turns out natural diamonds can serve as powerful semiconductors (remember learning about those things in high school physics class?) if they are put through a synthetic process called boron-doping, with said impurities leaving the normally clear sparkling gems with an azure hue.

The diamonds in the Zinj mines, however, are subjected to some volcanic process that leaves the lot of them naturally boron-doped, and thus invaluable semiconductors for all manner of technology. In the book, the device intended for this power source was a computer system designed to process command protocols and bolster communication speeds for human-created missile-firing armaments; they served mainly as an opportunity for Crichton to show off his extensive knowledge of late 20th century advanced computer and munitions technology. In the movie, the blue gems were used to power the large sophisticated laser which provided the human expedition members with opportunities to give as good as they got against the apes.

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Karen Ross kicks some serious hairy ass with the way cool weapon that Crichton didn’t include in the book version.

Take a guess as to which of the two diamond-powered devices I found to be more interesting and exciting. This was another change in Shanely’s screenplay from Crichton’s book that was a great improvement IMHO. The automated, laser-guided ground-mounted machine guns used by the humans to guard the perimeter of their camp from the apes appeared in both the book and movie versions, and the book actually used them to somewhat more of an effect. However, the addition of the diamond-charged laser rifle more than made up for that. Crichton’s book also described a more elaborate perimeter defense system, which included small but effective moats of water dug by the expedition members to exploit the fear of water that all great apes have. I don’t recall this shown in the film, but the moats were hardly missed due to the movie’s far faster pace.

Perhaps I should also mention that the company whose Evil Capitalist CEO, R.B. Travis (Joe Don Baker) employed Dr. Karen Ross and funded the American expedition to seek out the diamonds was called Earth Resource Technology Services Inc. (ERTS) in the book, but changed to the previously noted Travicom for the film. I’m not sure what the reason for the change was, but let’s face it, the latter title sounds much more satisfactory for the arrogance of a wealthy shark in human clothing like R. B. Travis. Even Tony Stark couldn’t resist naming most of his own businesses after himself!

Dr. Karen Ross was perhaps the main character in both the book and the movie, but in the film (where she was played rather well by a young Laura Linney) this tough-as-nails dame was given more humanity. The book version, while not truly malicious, was more or less totally self-centered, focused on finding the diamonds and making a name for herself in the company at all costs. The movie version was equally driven and determined, but she was greatly humanized by having screenwriter Shanely provide her with a fiancee that her literary counterpart lacked: Charles Travis (the inimitable Bruce Campbell of The Evil Dead  fame!), the doomed son of R. B. Travis, who was pulverized by the Zinji Apes during the first expedition sent by the company to find the diamonds.

The cinematic Ross had a clear conscience that caused her to turn on Travis when she discovered the mutilated and largely decayed body of her fiancee in one of the lost city’s stone temples, and thus realized that her employer and almost-father-in-law cared nothing for his murdered son and everything  for the diamonds and bottom line. In other words, he was a good CEO at the expense of being a bad person, very much in the mold of the Evil Capitalists Obadiah Stane and Darren Cross, whose film versions we saw in Marvel Studios’ Iron Man  and Ant-Man  respectively. The cinematic Ross was ultimately glad to sacrifice her career to make R. B. (“rat bastard”?) pay for his callous attitude towards everyone he ever met, including his son and her fiancee. That was nothing Ross’s page-bound counterpart would have done. The viewers of this movie left the theater with much more respect for the cinematic version of Dr. Ross than the readers of the book did for the literary incarnation, I’d wager.

Taking the place of the self-centered, avaricious, and deceptive version of Karen Ross in the film was the added character of the bogus Romanian philanthropist Herkermer Homolka (try to say that five times fast; he was played by Tim Curry). Perhaps more accurately, Homolka actually acted as the human repository for the base characteristics of Ross’ literary version, rather than a replacement for the character herself. The movie iteration of Ross was similar enough to the book version to be considered the same character, but one might say she was a different variation  of the same character, with the possibility that the version native to the movie reality had her dark side tempered by having a positive love interest in Charlie Travis.

The book incarnation seemed to love nothing beyond her career prospects, and the mission that she hoped would bolster her status within it was always her primary concern. Nothing wrong with a dedicated career woman, of course, but one who loves nothing but herself may leave a bit to be desired as a person. Of course, we all knew that from the moment Homolka was revealed as a fake who was simply after the diamonds that he would be gorilla fodder before the closing credits rolled (does anyone seriously consider this to be a spoiler?).

Dr. Peter Elliot (Dylan Walsh), the scrupulous but in-over-his-head primatologist, and the sign language “speaking” young female gorilla Amy (Misty Rosas; I once had a best friend named Amy! And no, she wasn’t an ape!), whom he raised from infancy and was in charge of, came into the movie with their literary personas mostly intact. The movie made the improvement of including a device worn by Amy that possessed a computerized audio device enabling a crude verbal translation of her signs so that individuals not fluent in American Sign Language could understand her. This was a good replacement for the very frequent and tedious signs between Elliot and Amy that occurred in the book, with only the primatologist being privy to what she had to say until he let the readers know what she said.

The best character improvement in the cinematic version was the book’s Scottish mercenary Charles Munro being modified into the British African-American tour guide Munro Kelly (Ernie Hudson). The book version was an interesting character with heavy knowledge of the continent and the unsavory business that went on within its borders, but Hudson made his cinematic incarnation of Munro a true  character. The tough but witty and agreeable mercenary from the book was given a suave, affable, and quite charming personality courtesy of Hudson’s great acting talent. I’ve always believed that Hudson may be alongside Michael Ironside and Lance Henrikson as one of the most underrated actors in Hollywood. The range of characters he plays well is impressively varied — everything from the sadistically evil criminal Half Dead from Penitentiary 2 to the gentle but heroic intellect-challenged Solomon from The Hand That Rocks the Cradle — and he was clearly having fun in this movie. The end result was therefore much more of a treat to behold than the written version of Munro in Crichton’s book.

Also included from the book was Mahega (Adewale Akinnuoye-Agbaje – try typing that  name five times in a row!), leader of the expedition’s team of African porters. The book version was actually a bit more interesting than his movie counterpart, simply because the former had a “jolly,” good-spirited nature that intermittently offered relief from the grim situation the expedition crew found themselves in. The movie version had much less to say and do, thus making his character, though important to the expedition, largely come off as “just there.” Still, since neither incarnation of the character had any major bearing on the main plot, so I was able to overlook this personality modification.

III. Why I Think the Book Doesn’t Live Up to the Hype

For one thing, I should note that Crichton, despite being rightfully renowned as a great novelist with a lot of talent, frequently breaks what writing instructors frequently tell their students to be one of the cardinal rules of writing: show, don’t tell. He never hesitates to include long paragraphs of explanatory prose to describe every bit of scientific information and/or historical background behind anything of even moderate relevance that his cast of characters come across.

This includes a long historical perspective of Zaire, and the chaotic political situation going on there since time immemorial to throughout the 1970s decade; the scientific process of boron-doping; the history and technical workings of computer, munitions, and satellite technology, and precisely how such tech was all interwoven by 1980; the history of American Sign Language (ASL) being taught to simians and the details of various famous great apes in captivity who learned and used it; the full scientific skinny on the rain forest; the nature of mountain gorillas and the full range of their intelligence in captivity; the historical background of prevalent cannibalism practiced among so many African tribes right into the 20th century; the history and status of the various tribes living there; the nature of vulcanism, complete with an overview of many of the world’s most active volcanoes; etc., et al.

He is also fond of using this info to make largely incorrect future predictions. Then again, he didn’t suggest there would be a skyline full of flying cars, numerous kids enjoying the use of hovering skateboards, and giant holograms on movie-advertising billboards engaging in simulated attacks on people who walked past the theater by 2015, so I’ll give him a break on that.

Large swaths of the above were not presented to the reader via the dialogue and actions of the characters, but through countless paragraphs of textbook style documentation. Don’t get me wrong, I consider few rules presented by writing instructors to be the equivalent of holy writ, but rather much more a combination of the instructor’s personal tastes and popular convention among the writing community at any given time (for example, look at how many college and graduate school instructors frequently pontificate about how they loathe genre writing and consider it the nadir of the literary realm). Every reader’s preferences differ outside of a basic united desire to see coherent grammar, spelling, and formatting. For those who, like myself, enjoy absorbing knowledge off the page like Superman’s arch-enemy Parasite sponges the life energy from others, you may find Crichton’s work –including this novel– an excellent source of historical, cultural, and scientific info. I was highlighting passages of such dry information-laden text left and right for this reason as I read the book.

Amy the Gorilla01

Behold the glorious days before Andy Serkis came along.

But for those who prefer storytelling over big helpings of raw information, they would likely find Crichton’s writing style to be ponderous, not to mention an unwelcome diversion from the main plot and characters of the story. This is a problem you will not have with the movie. I suspect that this is why so many critics and reviewers applaud Crichton’s novel as being brilliant in comparison to the film. The thing is, it can well be argued that his genuine brilliance may be better served writing textbooks than prose fiction, or at least leaving the heavy helpings of scientific and historical information out of a tome devoted to telling a fictional narrative rather than simply providing paragraphs of factual information. This happens so often that the novel often reads like an educational book for grad school students rather than literary fiction.

The pacing of the book is also incredibly slow. I made no exaggeration when I said that you don’t even get to see the expedition encounter the Zinji Apes and volcanic bedlam until 70% of the way into the book. We barely see the killer gorillas prior to that, save for an early prologue sequence at the beginning of the book where their handiwork is shown being inflicted upon the first expedition, and a brief image of one of the apes is caught on one of their cameras. Dr. Elliot also takes long stretches of time to  analyze and theorize on what type of animal is shown in that hazy image.

The day-to-day travails of an inexperienced group trekking through the unforgiving rain forests of Africa take up a huge bulk of the story, but it never really becomes interesting enough to build a compelling narrative. No real tragedy occurs among the expedition during this time, and their encounter with the Ghost People tribe is pretty much a diversion to get them to meet the traumatized and soon to die sole survivor of the first expedition so they can learn something horrible happened. The only hint as to what that horrible thing may have been was the man’s horrified bellow upon seeing Amy the ape just before he collapsed dead. And that’s another thing: a further huge portion of the book is taken up with Elliot’s cute relationship with Amy. Charming interactions to be sure, but hardly necessary in their entirety. In contrast, the close and affectionate relationship between Elliot and Amy was made pretty clear in the movie without it taking up huge portions of the allotted time.

Then there were the many changes in the cast of characters I noted in the previous section. With the exception of Mahega, all of the character alterations in the movie improved over the versions seen in the book. Some of the humor in the film was strained and forced, but it was usually quite welcome, particularly those moments provided by Hudson. The subplot of the consortium composed of foreign corporate agents mounting a rival expedition to Zinj, and the Phileas Fogg-ish race between the two to be the first party to reach the ancient city, was left out of the movie. No great loss there, since despite the suspense it may have added to the book, it was hardly necessary to the plot and simply served to pad the length of the text further. If anything, it took up further space in the book simply to keep the page count up.

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Nothing “great” about this ape.

[In sign language]: “You fuck off you, Nigro. Amy know you can’t sing ‘Star Spangled Banner’ in sign like Amy. Amy good gorilla.”

Let me also make it clear that the enormous length of novels prior to the previous decade was often insisted upon by publishing houses of the era, since a bloated page count allowed them to justify charging more for the books and the establishment of monopoly price control. As a writer who worked during the era prior to the new possibilities offered by digital publishing, Crichton may well have inured himself to filling a book with 600 pages as part of standard editorial demand. It’s simply how it was done back then. The self-publishing revolution which began in the previous decade has alleviated that requirement, but in prior days there was little way around it if you were serious about being published, at least by a major label. Nevertheless, it doesn’t make the reading experience any less exhausting or tedious, and it embedded the belief in mainstream readers that a novel must be extremely lengthy to be of any value.

More action was featured in the book regarding a short span of pages following the expedition’s departure from Zinj (leaving the vicious gray gorillas behind for good) where the surviving members had to contend with repelling a savage attack by a group of deadly primitive tribesmen from the  remains of their airplane (those bastards even shit on the seats of the plane; I kid you not!). Moderate suspense was to be had here, but considering how much more exciting the confrontations with the gorillas were in the movie than the book, the removal of this sequence in the film version was no biggie.

In fact, the earlier scene of the expedition members dodging hostile government missile fire while traveling over Zaire airspace was even more exciting in the movie version, with Dr. Ross finding a most clever way of diverting the government’s heat-seeking anti-aircraft missiles. The very suspenseful volcano erupting sequence from the book was retained in the movie, with the latter going much further in showing way cool scenes of the killer gorillas getting filleted by the raging rivers of red hot liquid rock.

I have since found a few others voices of agreement with me in regards to the quality of the movie, despite the legions of “the book is brilliant but the movie sucked” advocates out there. This includes both my friend and colleague Derrick Ferguson, who describes the film version of Congo  as a cool modern pulp adventure on the Blood & Ink blog here; and the detailed analysis of the movie provided by PhilipJames1980 for the IMBd entry on this movie (just scroll down the page to the top of the ‘User Reviews’ section). I was also recently informed by a valued member of one of my writing groups that Amazon has several reviewers who likewise enjoyed the movie and were not so keen on the book.

Even though the absence of these other praises wouldn’t have affected my opinion, it’s always a bit refreshing to find out that you aren’t the proverbial lone voice in the wilderness when it comes to a certain strong minority view. Conventional wisdom isn’t always wrong, but it’s certainly important to question it on matters where we happen to feel that it is. As such, I fully recommend that everyone who enjoys good, fun pulp-style adventure to give the movie a chance, and to only take the time required to read the book if you happen to be enamored of Crichton’s specific style of writing and are an avid connoisseur of information. To each their own, bro.

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“Okay, I may be from that other  movie about apes who war against humans, but since I’m sure lots of humans can’t tell the difference between a chimp and a gorilla anyway, who cares, right?”

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Author: godofthunder85

I'm a published author and freelance editor who has a strong opinion on just about anything I have an opinion on... which is just about everything! I'm very non-PC, heavily into progressive politics, and stand up for what I believe in no matter what the cost or level of popularity. My published work is in the genres of horror, sci-fi, and pulp adventure. I'm a life-long comic book fan and a researcher of the paranormal.

11 thoughts on “I Just Finished Reading Michael Crichton’s CONGO… and Compared to the Movie Version, It’s Nothing to Go Ape Over”

  1. I read an early mystery Crichton wrote under the pseudonym, Jeffrey Hudson. Case of Need was lean and well written if not particularly groundbreaking. Then I read Jurassic Park. Yikes.

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    1. Thank you for the comment 🙂 Jurassic Park is yet another creation from Crichton’s pen in which I ended up enjoying the movie version more than the book. There were some good things in the book left out of the movie, and the book was more of a horror movie than an action adventure yarn like the film, but IMO there was no comparison between the rather anti-climactic ending of the book and the way cool conclusion we got in the film with the T. Rex inadvertently rescuing the protagonists from the last two raptors!

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      1. I just saw your posted response to Jurrasic park mentioned by the other individual and I find it incredible that you enjoyed the T-rex taking out the last two raptors but found the paleontologist tracking down the raptor nest underground, finding the baby male raptor, killing them with poison gas the Costa Rican military firebombing the entire island to be anti-climactic. I find it silly that the problem is resolved for them when a T-rex accidentally kills two raptors. They were breading in the wild (which goes back to the book’s point of Chaos Theory) it would have made no difference if the t-rex had eaten 10 raptors…they would still have been screwed.

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      2. I personally thought the ending of the movie was cool due to its unexpected nature. It’s true that the T. Rex would not have entirely eliminated the now breeding hordes of raptors from the island, but it did nail the two that were immediately threatening the protagonists, thus allowing them the reprieve they needed to escape the island before running into any more of the raptors, and distracted the T. Rex just long enough so they could get away from her as well (it was a “her,” correct?).

        The ending of the novel that I found anti-climactic was specifically where the protagonists, just before escaping, viewed the intelligent communication gestures displayed by the raptors at the beach. It was a very interesting scientific development and some keen speculation on Crichton’s part, but IMO it lacked the way cool unpredictability of the movie’s ending. I probably should have made that more clear in my blog entry, though I figured I had already made it long enough already :p

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  2. I found your blog entry interesting, however, based on the aspects you choose to mention that made the movie better than the book I have t disagree. From what I see on this Blog it appears to me that the movie simply appeals to you more based on what you were looking for. Just about everything that you mention that is great about the movie has to do with action scenes. As a long-time Crichton reader and scientist myself I find that many readers of Crichton’s work enjoy the readable presentation of cutting edge science in a real world environment to be the most fascinating aspect of his work. We can all read about cutting edge science whenever we want with the modern-day internet, however, Crichton does such a good job at keeping you awake as he often applies very complex and tedious technologies to events that most people are able to comprehend.

    No offense intended, but based on your many comic book references in this post your interest in a gorilla dicing laser guns and other aspects of immediate satisfaction action scenes is not a big surprise. While a laser gun may be fun for movies I personally am unable to even compare the two different “laser devices” on equal terms. One is a futurized version of a gun, a weapon that is far from cutting edge or even that interesting. However, the true nature of the blue diamonds as incredible semi-conductors is world changing and a huge leap forward in computing power that at the time was running into predictable physical barriers that would cripple the ever-expanding technical world we are now surrounded by i.e. This Blog.

    Many of the things you mention strike the same note with me and overall I think that most of the text left out of the movie would have gone way over most viewer’s heads. When someone picks up a book it is a much more involved dedication that sitting down for a 2-hour movie and while I love movies they remain in the area of easy entertainment for the masses, while reading on the other hand has always provided those more in depth factual details that individuals with large appetites for knowledge crave. Like the other individual touched on, I loved Jurassic Park the movie, it finally gave the little boy in me the chance to see a life size T-Rex. As entertaining as that was it had nowhere near the effect on me that Chaos Theory has. After reading and watching Jurassic Park I didn’t run out and start learning about dinosaurs again or wondering if I could somehow clone a dino of my own. On the contrary after reading Jurassic Park at a young age I was extremely excited about Chaos theory and the possibilities it offered. Chaos Theory was really the main point of Jurassic Park, the park and dinosaurs were simply a back drop on which Crichton could apply chaos theory in an entertaining manner. While I enjoyed the movie of Jurassic Park the very point that Crichton was trying to make was almost total removed from the movie a relegated to a trendy scientist that really only had one line of significance, “Life finds a way”. It’s to bad but I have noticed that the root point of many of Crichton’s books have been complete glossed over or removed entirely from the movies that followed them. Unfortunately, this seems to be required to keep people coming to the movies however, on the flip side avid readers continue consuming books of great length and detail the movies just don’t have.

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    1. Thank you for taking the time to cogently state your reasons for disagreeing, Brian. I gleaned many insights from the disagreements, of course 😛

      Your disagreement makes an interesting point that I have likewise often mentioned: when it comes to fiction, and what is considered good and satisfying as opposed to what isn’t, individual mileage will vary.

      I too am a connoisseur of knowledge, which includes the real-life sciences that Crichton so well provides information on in his fiction. My gripe was that he may have gone overboard with this in his novel Congo, as it was supposed to tell a story but instead spent too many plotless but information-heavy pages that read like a dry textbook rather than, well, a story featuring detailed interactions between characters and the obstacles they faced, both within and outside the expeditionary group. That was not what many were looking for, as they wanted a story; not necessarily one that was predominantly action-packed but at least one which provided some rich character detail and conflicts and at least a decent amount of action-oriented conflict. The theme of the book actually promised that, and I think Crichton didn’t deliver on that as much as he could have. This is why I said the book would likely most appeal to those who enjoy absorbing scientific knowledge, and who may prefer that over any other element, which is why it appealed to you and why it wasn’t my proverbial cup of java.

      As for the length of the book, individual preferences vary there as well. When Crichton published his book, it was policy for the big publishers who dominated the industry to insist that all novels be of monstrous length, and this often compelled authors to stretch stories with a good degree of “filler” to make the demanded page length. Some readers certainly prefer this, as you do; and in fact many who grew up reading during that era became accustomed to it. Others of different preferences, however, not so much. This is one thing I prefer about the current digital age of publishing (yes, it’s a mixed bag, and I’ll get to that in a future blog): more variance in terms of the length of books you can publish, which has now brought back novellas and short stories for sale as a consumer choice, and which provides a better chance of satisfying a greater variety of reader preferences rather than primarily one specific type of reader preference. This also allows a degree of versatility along these lines: one thing I like doing as a writer is to begin with providing a series of short stories or shorter publications for those who prefer reading in small bits and pieces, and later putting them together into a collected, much larger version for those who prefer reading works of length. I have several planned projects of that sort planned, so stay tuned 🙂

      As for providing a lot of action onscreen, with the majority of viewers expecting a lot of “eye candy” and spectacle but no real substance, I sympathize with that criticism and have agreed with that in other blogs of mine. Nevertheless, a movie that bills itself as an action adventure should provide some degree of spectacle, and the fact that it too often provides a surfeit of that at the expense of things like character development and good intellectual insights is definitely a problem, and has IMO wrongly stained the genre itself.

      This, for instance, showed in your mentioning you weren’t surprised to learn that I’m a fan of the comic book medium. Many do not realize, however, that tales of super-heroes — both on the big screen and on the four-color pages of the comics — can and often do provide good character development, a lot of insights, and good archetypal representations of themes that our broader culture often grapples with in addition to cool fight scenes and action sequences replete with questionable (at best!) science. This is why I believe, as I said in another blog entry, that Captain America: Civil War is such a good film that satisfied so many different levels of expectation. Like its immediate predecessor, Captain America: Winter Soldier, it provides more than its share of incredibly well orchestrated action and spectacle to satisfy those who want a lot of “eye candy,” but also provided a lot of political relevance and keen insights into the real world, while using super-heroes and other fantasy elements as metaphorical representations of our collective fears, concerns, and collective experience as a culture to convey such messages and themes to its audience. Super-heroes are a sub-category of sci-fi, which has often been a subversive genre that tells many interesting and insightful things about the world we live in via these archetypes and the mental exercises that are represented by the sometimes crude and outrageous fantasy elements such as laser weapons and spaceships, etc.

      In fact, in Netflix’s recent interconnected set of Marvel super-hero series, specifically the first two seasons of Daredevil, I enjoyed the lengthy scenes of Matt Murdock’s philosophical and intellectual discussions with his priest regarding the nature of evil from a philosophical and spiritual standpoint, such as what differentiates “good” from “evil,” what the expectations for good people should be, etc. The comic book versions have likewise often provided such compelling stories and food for the intellectual side of the brain! Of course, some people (including my mother), couldn’t stand those scenes, and kept saying things like, “I wish someone would kill that priest! When are we going to get to the action?” I’ve also defended episodes of Star Trek: The Next Generation such as “The Drumhead,” which was low on action but very high on political and ethical insights, and displayed what sci-fi can often provide at its best. Of course, many complained that particular episode lacked “enough action”, and while I understand the need for balance in such a show, I think there is definitely a place for intellect-heavy segments or episodes in addition to others that may provide more action. There can be different parts of the human psyche that crave different types of “food”, and sometimes we may be in the mood for more of one than the other to satiate these multiple cravings.

      The main reason I didn’t enjoy Crichton’s book as much as the movie is because I had the expectation of an adventure story that provided a good amount of action and character development, which was not what I got. I greatly enjoyed the scientific knowledge he shared, but to get as much of that as we got in the book, I personally would have preferred acquiring such lengthy passages of that information from in one of the many non-fiction scientific journals, books, or websites I regularly peruse, not a novel where an actual story was being told. That said, it’s clear not everyone agrees, and that’s fine, as it’s very difficult for writers to satisfy absolutely everyone. As a published author myself, even if nowhere near Crichton’s caliber, I’m well aware of this conundrum faced by writers, and I’m glad that Crichton was able to please so many people, on so many different levels, even if his work couldn’t be everything to everyone. However, I personally think the movie kept true to Crichton’s main premise while providing a more visceral experience on aspects that were shorted in the book, and the movie/TV mediums do demand much more of a visual experience than prose, where readers can sit back at their leisure and provide the imagery described in the words in accordance with their own aesthetic sensibilities.

      Yes, the laser weapons featured in the movie version of Congo weren’t exactly true to life, but I liked how they evened things up for the human protagonists against the apes in a visceral manner that was not reflected in the book. I enjoy a combination of good action, good storytelling, compelling characters, emotional involvement, and any scientific, philosophical, and political insights such a film can offer — which the sci-fi, horror, and action adventure genres can provide, even if all too often they do not as a result of focusing on spectacle overly much. It was my opinion, however, that Crichton’s novel shorted readers in the opposite direction, in this case not enough adventure and character development while going too heavy on providing textbook style “raw” information on computer technology, vulcanism, biology, etc.

      As for the scientific inaccuracy of laser weapons and a lot of other things you see in comic books and within the super-hero genre in general, they are meant to evoke an element of fun, as well as providing inspiration to real scientists. Many things that appeared in sci-fi prose, comic strips, cinema, etc., have inspired real-life scientific and technological advancements, despite obviously not being developed or working precisely the same way as seen in the fictional material, particularly the versions available within the limits of early 21st century technology taken into account. For instance, a version of television appeared in the Buck Rogers comic strip years before early models of the actual technology became available in the real world; Jules Verne’s classic sci-fi novel From Earth to the Moon described such a trip long before it was actually accomplished, but doubtless inspired what became the real technological breakthrough a century later; Verne also explored heavily the conquest of the sky that early sci-fi writers so often wrote about in his classic novels Robur the Conqueror and Master of the World, even though it was ultimately airplanes rather than dirigibles that at long last bequeathed the power of sustained flight to humanity; the communicators from the original Star Trek series inspired the cell phones of today, and the replicators from Star Trek: The Next Generation are the clear inspiration for the 3-D printers that were developed over the previous decade, which can easily be seen as prototypes of much greater things to come in the succeeding decades; and of course we now have crude working prototypes of the tricorders likewise introduced to the world in the original Star Trek series, and directly inspired by it. It’s true that lasers aren’t generally used as weapons in real life, but the potentialities of such technology in many different directions can be the result of intellectual seeds planted in the collective psyche by writers of fantastic/speculative fiction, including their extensive potential use in the medical industry.

      There is a lot more examples I could use, such as the burgeoning fields of nanotech, cloning, stem cell research, and laser surgery, but that can wait for another blog entry 🙂

      To sum things up, I totally get and appreciate what you’re saying in your disagreements, Brian, and I thank you again for taking the time to say it. I certainly do not expect all of my readers to agree with me all the time, as each of us are individuals with different sets of preferences, and these include a varying degree of which elements we prefer seeing emphasized in prose, cinema, and other storytelling mediums. This will make us all greatly vary in which stories, and sometimes even which mediums, we consider to be personally satisfying to our aesthetic palate.

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      1. Hi was just reading you response to me and really enjoyed it. Thanks for taking the time for such a detailed and thought out response. I have a few more comments and will post them when I get a chance, but in the meantime, I wanted to let you know I got and appreciate your intelligent response.
        So much to write and so little time…..I really don’t know how some people find the time.

        Cheers,
        Brian

        Liked by 1 person

  3. Hi I read this book years ago and I loved it. Can I recommend it for young readers? I can’t remember how appropriate it was. Thanks

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    1. Hi, George, and thank you for reading! To answer your question, I think that depends on what one would consider “appropriate” or not, as many people seem to have different standards when it comes to what younger people should be permitted to see. Also, in case you weren’t aware, you’re asking a youth liberationist that question, so I’m not a fan of censorship based on age alone, so I do not, of course, encourage such censorship, and will instead opine the following: it depends on what the individual person you recommend it to, regardless of age, is comfortable with reading/seeing. I do understand what you were asking, though, as I’m sure you likely would not want to recommend it to any younger people who are the children of friends and colleagues, only to have their parents get angry at you about it. This is understandable, so to give you an answer based on the standards you follow: the book is clearly intended for what our society would consider “adult” readers, but there isn’t a surfeit of explicit material that that our culture would view as “adult.” There is graphic violence in the book, but that seems to be a common feature of novels geared towards the young teen market anyway. I would say the book is pretty much a hard “PG-13” or “TV-14” type of affair, much like the movie that was based on it. So my recommendation would be to find out what the standards of the individual parents of the kids you may want to recommend the book to happen to be ahead of them, and suggest they read through portions of the book first. If it passes their muster, then you know it’s cool to go ahead with the recommendation. That way you can avoid having friends or colleagues potentially getting angry at you 🙂

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  4. I appreciate your view on this comparison, but I have just finished reading the book myself and have a different perspective on the subject. I personally believe that both the film and the movie stand on different merits and are equally wondrous. On one hand, Crichton was doing a retelling of Robert E. Howard’s story Conan the Barbarian The Jewels of Gwahlur which was in turn influenced by H.P. Lovecraft’s short story Facts Concerning the Late Arthur Jermyn Pym and His Family. I am certainly the type of reader who enjoys absorbing literary factual connections from long rambling prose, which was Lovecraft’s specialty. I can’t help but feel that Congo was Crichton’s form of an homage to Lovecraft’s writing style. The connections he made were brilliant, even if a bit long winded. On the other hand, the film has wonderful pacing and comedic value that the book lacked entirely. The addition of Herkemer Homolka’s character really drives that point home. And Ernie Hudson’s performance also really did make the movie shine. I enjoyed both equally. Congo is one of my favorite movies, and one of my favorite novels hands down. Thanks for writing this article.

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    1. Thanks for writing this article.

      You’re quite welcome, Nathan, and thank you for reading! Thank you also for providing this insightful analysis of Crichton’s novel! I too am a great fan of the work of Robert E. Howard and H.P. Lovecraft, and the periodic interconnections between their work (which was, of course, deliberate, since both men were friends and frequent correspondents).

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