Westworld Was the First Draft of Jurassic Park

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Prior to Westworld marking Crichton’s first directorial effort for movie theaters (it was his second screenplay), the author swam deep in the waters of academia, and the most highly educated of elite professionals. He graduated summa cum laude from Harvard with a B.A. in biological anthropology in 1964, and come 1969 he had acquired an M.D. from Harvard Medical School. Yet by the time of his later degree, he had already grown disenchanted with the medical community at large due to his experiences working with career-obsessed doctors in clinical rotations at the Boston City Hospital. He had also begun writing under pseudonym at this point, so he soon embraced his literary pursuits, full-stop.

Crichton’s simultaneous fascination and skepticism for the proverbial “smartest people in the room” would come to define most of his films and novels, helping him contribute to the newly burgeoning techno-thriller genre—a kind of hybrid between wonky, expertise details in highly specialized fields with what amounts to the fiction that’s embedded into “hard science fiction.” But to be perfectly honest, Westworld is not nearly as clever as Crichton’s later work. More of a narrative straight-line than one of rising action, this is a cautionary tale where, to paraphrase the Jurassic Park movie, “the Pirates of the Caribbean breaks down, and the pirates eat the tourists.”

In Westworld, the most exotic theme park in the world attempts to recreate an authentic experience from three different eras of human history: Caligula-styled debauchery in “Romanworld;” chivalrous adventure in “Medievalworld;” and finally the frontier justice that comes with “Westworld” shootouts. It is a lascivious distraction for the wealthy, as the opening scene of the movie displays happy stockbrokers exclaiming how wonderful it is to be a knight and getting to marry a princess. They’re part of a kind of infomercial where a flushed, middle-aged woman explains to a pseudo-news reporter that the best thing about Romanworld is “the men!” When the reporter asks them all if the Westworld theme park is worth $1,000 a day, the happy customers shout with euphoria, “yes!” (for the record, $1,000 in 1973 is closer to $6,000 today).

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Essentially, we are viewing the corrosive and corrupting nature of capitalism in science and the corporatization of research. The idea is fairly vague in Westworld, but it is nevertheless implicit, such as when the nameless lab coated powers that be at the resort ignore any inexplicable malfunctions, confident that they can control their robots that are starting to display free will while customers wander around the park. Safety is important, of course, but could you imagine writing a refund check?!?

These concepts are fairly broad, but when viewed as a first draft, these nascent ideas obviously inform the writing of Jurassic Park. The 1990 novel opens its prologue as a scathing indictment of how the global scientific community has become beholden to the almighty dollar. Reads the first paragraph:

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