Humans Versus Raptors: Round 2 of Crichton's Saga


By Michael Crichton

Alfred A. Knopf

393 pp., $25.95

'The Lost World" is mostly a shameless reprise of "Jurassic Park." The latter, a tale of bioengineered dinosaurs running amok on a tropical island, became the most profitable movie in history. So it is understandable that "The Lost World" retains the formula.

The question is why didn't author Michael Crichton retain the characters. In both books there is a tropical island off Costa Rica, as well as a crotchety man scientist, a pretty woman scientist, and two cute kids who know computers. But the island is different and so are the doctors and the kids. Why? Did the studio fear the former cast would demand too much money?

Only Malcolm the mathematician and his "chaos theory" carry over. The author thereby extends his notion that life is uncontrollable. The new island is Site B, the messy back room where the dinosaurs were made. Jurassic Park had been the showplace, too neat to be the foundry. Site B shouldered the fits, starts, and mistakes of production. When the project was abandoned, Site B became a ruin. Its "irregular" dinosaurs were free to roam.

However, there is nothing irregular about the plot. Both T. Rex and the velociraptors are back, as bad as ever, chasing everyone and consuming all expendable characters. There is jungle, rain, lightning, and actual cliff hanging. There are bad guys bent on profiteering from dino technology. They become dino feed. Virtually all the equipment fails. The raptors close in. The kids save the day with some fast clicking on the old computer. Sound familiar?

One is tempted to yell: "Rewrite!"

Crichton should spruce up his story for the screenplay.

He has the material. As usual, the author lectures during pauses in the action. We now see dinosaur domesticity. The T. Rexes are remarkable, well-adjusted spouses and doting parents. They build nests the size of extinct volcanoes, track their offspring with sonar, and teach them to hunt people.

The raptors are as stressed out as street gangs. Apparently, being concocted in a lab denied them parental instruction on dealing with aggressive propensities.

Crichton describes herd life for the herbivores with special attention to protecting the young and symbiosis. "... the aptosaurs are very strong but weak-sighted, whereas the parasaurs are smaller, but have very sharp vision. So the two species stay together because they provide a mutual defense."

Crichton speculates on extinction. Dinosaurs did not die out because they were static creatures faced with a meteorite. They died because they constantly developed, chancing dysfunction with every step. The odds are against a changing animal. So, cockroaches survive while the dinosaurs did themselves in. For Crichton, the dangers for humans are plain.

Throughout, there is tacit identification between dinosaurs and humans, or more precisely human dreams. I wish the author had developed this theme.

Mankind has known of dinosaurs for only 200 years, but has dreamt of them for millennia.

Crichton should have done more with carnotaurus sastrei, a 7-foot chameleon carnivore. This dinosaur disappears into any background, and is the monster under our beds.

When the fences failed in "Jurassic Park," the people were virtually naked against the dinosaurs. In "The Lost World," the people come armed with gadgets which, after all, are our natural defense. Alas, these whirligigs fail almost immediately - which is unfair. This time people and dinosaurs should have been better matched.

The chapters are short and vertiginous. One hops from person to person and place to place. It isn't easy keeping matters straight even with the simple plot.

The writing is pedestrian. But the pace is relentless. You never know just what will happen or what exotic observation will be made. In the end, this formula is riveting, despite the book's flaws. I read "The Lost World" straight through, which is something I never do.

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