Sunday, December 12, 2004

Michael Crichton's Forgotten World

Michael Crichton has just released his latest techno-thriller, State of Fear, in which he reportedly skewers the conventional wisdom on global warming. As a semi-fan of Crichton's, I look forward to tearing through this new effort, particularly if it helps to bring some sanity to this debate, and it has to be better than his previous book Prey.

But the best of Michael Crichton's work isn't a novel.

Crichton's Andromeda Strain, Jurassic Park, Terminal Man, Disclosure, Rising Sun, Travels, and Five Patients are, in that order, his best. And I've never been one of those literary-types who turn their noses up on a popular science thriller writer. Crichton is bright, clever, and at times fun to read, if you can overlook his dialogue. And he has a knack for identifying cutting edge technological issues and using them to spin a populist yarn. Some of his scenes are brilliant, like the closing scene in Jurassic Park where we see, through the eyes of the survivors, the Velociraptors engaging in intelligent social behavior and caring for their own.

But the Crichton work that stands out as his best is his forgotten 1973 TV movie Westworld.

Yul Brynner plays a futuristic theme park robot whose programming goes haywire and relentlessly stalks, like a Terminator, Richard Benjamin and James Brolin. These two middle-age stiffs think they're in for a carefree weekend of fantasy land wild-west gunplay and guilt-free cavorting with robot bar girls, but the Brynner android has other plans. Watching these two guys on vacation go from kid-in-the-candy-store ecstasy to sheer terror is great fun, especially with the camp humor and low-end budget.

It's out on DVD, and it still holds up today despite today's CGI, which just goes to show that it's always about the story, plot, and characters. As Yul Brynner ominously says, "DRAW. . . "