This Day In Writing History
On October 23rd, 1942, the legendary novelist, screenwriter, and film director Michael Crichton was born. He was born John Michael Crichton in Chicago, Illinois, but grew up on Long Island, New York. His father was a journalist. He had a brother and two sisters.
Michael Crichton had an interest in writing from an early age. By the time he was 14, he had a travel-related column published in the New York Times. Crichton had always planned to become a writer, so in 1960, he entered Harvard College as an undergraduate student in literature. When he came to believe that one of his professors was unfairly giving him low grades and harsh criticisms of his writing, Crichton conducted an experiment to prove it.
After telling another professor of his plan, Crichton deliberately plagiarized a story by George Orwell and submitted it as his own to the suspect professor. It was returned with a B- grade. Despite this, Crichton was unable to resolve his issues with the English Department, so he switched his major to biological anthropology. He graduated summa cum laude in 1964.
Michael Crichton then enrolled in Harvard Medical School. While studying medicine, he continued to write and published several early novels under the pseudonyms John Lange, Jeffery Hudson, and Michael Douglas. The first of these, Odds On (1966), introduced his trademark style of techno thriller. It told the story of an attempted robbery of an isolated hotel on Costa Brava. Unlike most robberies, this one has been planned scientifically through the use of critical path analysis computer software.
Crichton graduated from Harvard Medical School and obtained his M.D. in 1969. That same year he published his first novel under his own name - a novel that would establish him as a bestselling writer. It was called The Andromeda Strain. In it, a military satellite returns to Earth with a stowaway on board - a deadly alien microbe that infects humans and either kills them quickly or causes them to go insane and commit violent acts of suicide and / or murder. A team of scientists races to stop the microbe before all mankind is wiped out. The novel would be adapted as an acclaimed feature film in 1971, directed by Robert Wise. It would also be adapted as a TV miniseries in 2008.
Crichton's next novel published under his own name was The Terminal Man (1972). It told the story of Harry Benson, a man in his 30s who suffers from a rare form of epilepsy. During his seizures, he blacks out and wakes up hours later with no memory of what he has done - even though during some of the seizure blackouts, he has attacked people and beaten them savagely. Benson volunteers to undergo an unprecedented surgical procedure where forty electrodes and a minicomputer will be implanted in his brain to control his seizures. The surgeons are warned that Benson is psychotic, but they decide to go ahead with the procedure anyway. As man and machine become one, Benson grows more psychotic. He escapes from the hospital and goes on a murderous rampage.
The Terminal Man was adapted as a feature film in 1974, starring George Segal as Harry Benson. It was critically and commercially unsuccessful, but has since become a cult classic and was finally released on DVD this year.
In addition to his own works being adapted to the screen, in the 1970s and 80s, Michael Crichton wrote and directed original techno thriller films. Westworld (1973), rightfully considered one of the great classic science fiction films of all time, is set in the near future where tourists pay big money to visit an Old West theme park called Westworld. The park's feature attraction is a large cast of incredibly lifelike robots that the guests can interact with. They can shoot it out with gunslinger robots in a ghost town or engage in sexual encounters with the robot ladies at an Old Western brothel.
All the robots are monitored by a staff of scientists and engineers in an elaborate underground control room. The staff begins to notice that the robots are experiencing malfunctions. They want to close the park, but the company executives won't let them. Soon, the robots go completely out of control and start hunting and killing the guests. Yul Brynner gives a chilling performance as a relentless, murderous gunslinger robot. Westworld became a huge hit. It was followed by a sequel, Futureworld (1976), that proved to be a critical and commercial flop, and a short lived TV series, Beyond Westworld, than ran for five episodes in 1980.
In 1981, Michael Crichton wrote and directed Looker, a techno thriller that satirized the media, advertising, and their unreasonable standards of beauty. Albert Finney stars as Dr. Larry Roberts, a plastic surgeon who is baffled when four women, all of them models who work in TV commercials, request cosmetic procedures so minor that they would be unseen by the naked eye. When the models later start dying mysteriously, Roberts investigates and discovers that they were involved with Digital Matrix, a company that has developed the technology to scan models' bodies and create lifelike 3D computer animations of them for use in TV commercials. As Roberts digs deeper into the mystery, he learns that Digital Matrix has also developed the technology to hypnotize people into buying the products that they see advertised in TV commercials.
The 1990s would be Michael Crichton's greatest decade of success. In 1990, he published his most popular novel, Jurassic Park. Expanding on themes first addressed in Westworld, Jurassic Park was about an island where scientists have created a theme park populated by real live dinosaurs cloned from DNA found in fossils. When the technology employed to control the dinosaurs fails due to an attempt at industrial espionage that backfires, the mighty reptiles escape confinement and go on a rampage. In 1993, an acclaimed movie adaptation, directed by film legend Steven Spielberg and co-written by Crichton, was released. With its landmark use of computer-generated animation special effects to create lifelike dinosaurs, the movie became a monster hit (no pun intended) that grossed nearly a billion dollars. It would be followed by two sequels, The Lost World: Jurassic Park (1997, based on Crichton's 1995 novel, The Lost World) and Jurassic Park III (2001).
In 1992, Crichton published Rising Sun, a departure from his usual techno thriller novels. Rising Sun is a murder mystery suspense thriller with a unique angle. It addresses the anti-Japanese prejudice of Americans that resulted from Japanese companies buying up American businesses - a prejudice that was common at the time. The novel opens with the murder of a high priced escort, which occurs at the Los Angeles headquarters of a fictional Japanese company, the Nakamoto corporation. The girl appears to have been killed following a violent sexual encounter. Police detective Peter J. Smith is assigned to the case. Assisting him as a consultant is retired former police captain John Connor, who has lived in Japan and is an expert on Japanese culture. Rising Sun would be adapted as acclaimed feature film in 1993.
Crichton followed Rising Sun with another suspense thriller that looks at corporate culture. Disclosure (1994) tells the story of Tom Sanders, an executive for high-tech company DigiCom, whose ex-girlfriend, fellow DigiCom executive Meredith Johnson, receives a promotion that Tom thought would be his. When Meredith tries to win him back, Tom spurns her sexual advances. She takes revenge by transferring him to another department and preventing him from getting stock options which would have made him rich. She also files false sexual harassment charges against him. Tom decides to countersue Meredith for sexual harassment, putting the company's pending merger and his own job in jeopardy. Tom builds his case against Meredith using virtual reality technology and the assistance of a mysterious ally known only as "A. Friend." Tom learns an unforgettable lesson about sexual politics in the workplace and discovers that he has become a pawn in a much larger game of corporate intrigue. Disclosure was adapted as a feature film in the same year that it was published.
Also in 1994, Michael Crichton returned to television. His first attempt at creating a TV series (Beyond Westworld) was a flop. This time, however, he created one of the most acclaimed and popular TV series of all time - a medical drama called ER. Taking place primarily in the emergency room of a fictional hospital - County General Hospital in Chicago - the series ran for 15 years, and Crichton served as creator, producer, and head writer.
Crichton continued to write techno thriller novels, including Airframe (1996), Timeline (1999), Prey (2002), State Of Fear (2004), and Next (2006), which would be his last. In the spring of 2008, Crichton was diagnosed with lymphoma. While undergoing chemotherapy, he died unexpectedly of throat cancer on November 4th, 2008, at the age of 66. After his death, his assistant discovered a complete and unpublished manuscript on one of his computers. Pirate Latitudes was a detail-rich adventure story about pirates in 17th century Jamaica who plan to commandeer a Spanish galleon and make off with a fortune in Spanish gold. The novel will be released on November 24th, 2009. An unfinished techno thriller is due for release in 2010.
Quote Of The Day
"The notion that the natural world obeys its own rules and doesn't give a damn about your expectations comes as a massive shock... it will demand that you adapt to it - and if you don't, you die. It is a harsh, powerful, unforgiving world that most Westerners have never experienced." - Michael Crichton
Today's video is an episode of the Charlie Rose show featuring an interview with Michael Crichton. Whether you agree or disagree with his views on scientific issues, he's always interesting to listen to. Enjoy!