Michael Crichton (23.10.1942 – 04.11.2008)
Michael Crichton, the best-selling author behind a number of science fiction novels and thrillers, and the long-running television series ER, has passed away. In a statement released by the Crichton family, Michael passed away after a “courageous and private battle against cancer”.
Although he trained as a doctor, Michael’s writing to help fund his medical school fees soon took over his life and he went on to write a number of highly acclaimed novels, many of which such as Westworld, the Andromeda Strain and Jurassic Park went on to be made into very successful films.
He wrote the novel Jurassic Park, a story about dinosaurs being brought back to life using genetic engineering and created the screenplay for the film. Jurassic Park is one of the most successful films of all time, grossing something like $900 million dollars, spawning two sequels (rumours of a fourth film) and it was awarded three Oscars. Jurassic Park was directed by Steven Spielberg and showcased the new generation of CGI techniques that enabled long extinct animals to be brought to life. The film relied on the advice of top palaeontologists to assist with the lifelike creations of dinosaurs such as Brachiosaurus, Tyrannosaurus rex and Triceratops.
Larger than Life Velociraptors
Controversially, the film depicted larger than life Velociraptors with a strong social hierarchy and venomous dilophosaurs. It is very difficult to find fossil evidence to substantiate these traits depicted in the film but they are a testament to Michael’s imagination and the film’s ability to blend science with a creative interpretation of scientific evidence.
“Michael’s talent out-scaled even his own dinosaurs of Jurassic Park,” the film director Steven Spielberg said yesterday. “He was the greatest at blending science with big theatrical concepts, which is what gave credibility to dinosaurs again walking the Earth… Michael was a gentle soul who reserved his flamboyant side for his novels. There is no one in the wings that will ever take his place.”
Whilst discussing the novel Jurassic Park with colleagues at Everything Dinosaur, I recall the excitement I felt when reading the part in the book when the scientists discover that something is wrong. A count of the dinosaurs on the island is enacted expecting to find 300 animals and when more are recorded, the team get their first inkling that something must be going out of control.
Crichton’s books combined the latest scientific theories with fast-paced narratives, and his background of training to be a doctor meant that he was able to make unbelievable plots seem credible and realistic. By the time of his death, his books had sold more than 150 million copies worldwide.
A Long-running Hospital Drama
Michael Crichton used his medical knowledge and experiences to help create the long running hospital drama ER. This television series has been very successful and the programme has been sold around the world. Crichton won an Emmy for ER in 1996.
The author campaigned passionately about the threat of global warming, being sceptical about the scientific evidence behind the concept of climate change. He wrote a book called State of Fear, which echoed some of his own concerns – a scientist discovers that there is a conspiracy behind the concept of climate change.
During a speech he gave in Washington in 2005, the author said: “In my view, our approach to global warming exemplifies everything that is wrong with our approach to the environment. We are basing our decisions on speculation, not evidence.”
Entertained and Enthralled a Generation
Michael Crichton’s books entertained and enthralled a generation. His imaginative writing combined with credible scientific plots made him famous and helped bring important scientific issues to the attention of a huge audience.
In a statement released by Michael’s family, his contribution is summed up succinctly.
“Through his books, Michael Crichton served as an inspiration to students of all ages, challenged scientists in many fields and illuminated the mysteries of the world in a way we could all understand” – Crichton family statement.