Revisiting Jurassic Park
Tuesday, November 20, 2012
If there were three things we knew, back in the spring of 1993, they were this:
1. There was a movie coming out in June.
2. It was called Jurassic Park.
3. It was about dinosaurs.
And then we learned a fourth thing: it was based on a book.
Naturally I got a copy and read it.
And it blew my mind.Now I can talk about how mind-boggling the film was till the cows come home, but the film was an event because of the special effects. (You must remember how extraordinary it is the moment Sam Niell and Laura Dern gazed up at their first live dinosaur... and then Spielberg cut to the brachiosaurus, lovingly panning up its saurian length from its massive tree-trunk legs to its tiiiiiiiiny head, like a billion feet in the air? My mom still talks about the special effects in Star Wars with awe - how it made her feel to see them on the big-screen, not expecting or even understanding what they'd be like. That's kind of how I feel about the effects in Jurassic Park. Two hours changed forever what I expect from special effects.
But that's not why the novel is important to me. That's not why the novel will always, always hold a special place in my heart.
Nope. Why do I love Jurassic Park, the book?
Because it taught me chaos theory.
Not very well, or with any depth, mind you. But, while reading Jurassic Park, I spent a lot of time puzzling over Malcolm's explanations, and working through the dragon-curves that some (really very helpful) person had inserted at the start of each chapter, and managed to put it together well enough that I walked away from the book having learned something really very new and interesting: math wasn't inherently terrible. And, better, I wasn't inherently terrible at math. You see, I was 13 in the spring of 1993, and had been struggling spectacularly with the subject at school - enough so that one of my math teachers actually called my mother before beginning the section on negative numbers because she thought I wouldn't be able to understand them.
Twenty years on I'm pretty comfortable with the idea that I'm good at theory and bad at application, and no more so than in math. But, at 13, being slow and inconsistent at basic long-division, for example, was Cause for Alarm. (I have no idea what we were doing in 8th grade math, but whatever it was, I was shitty at it, too.) By the spring of 1993 a series of increasingly terrible teachers had spent a lot of time telling me, my mother, and the world at large how incredibly bad at math I was, and how very concerned they were. After all, I was going to have to learn algebra in high school, and I could barely get through a sheet of fractions.
And then I read Jurassic Park.
And it gave me that one thing to hang on to, that single bright spot in all the darkness: I kind of understood what Crichton was writing about. I couldn't have done anything with it, no. But I got it.