In my review of the Jurassic Park movie, I swore I wouldn’t compare it to the book. That’s because I’m going to do exactly that here, in this article. If you have a problem with that for some reason, then… I was gonna say I was sorry, but to be honest, I’m really not.
Making changes when adapting a novel to a film is a necessity. You can’t fit an entire book into a two-hour screenplay. You’ve got to trim some of the fat, change some of the building blocks, and find a way to fit the entire story into one, maybe two if you’re Harry Potter, movies. Personally, I don’t mind this at all. I enjoy seeing how a screenwriter creatively solves the various problems adapting a material to the screen can present.
When I watched the Jurassic Park movie, I was struck by just how many changes were made. There are so many that it’s virtually unrecognizable as the same story! That’s the major reason why I chose to avoid drawing comparisons; if I did, I’d be there all day!
Today, I’m going to focus on one of the biggest changes: the main character. How did the two properties uniquely handle protagonist Alan Grant?
Similarities: How Do Computer Do?
Now, Spielberg and the writers didn’t throw the baby out with the bathwater. They did take some elements from the original book and retool them for the film. So, what do both versions of the character have in common?
Well, there are the obvious ones that you can’t change. He’s a paleontologist, a dinosaur expert, who can’t work a computer to save his life. He’s an old-fashioned type of man, preferring to do everything by hand. He’s published several books and is generally pretty well respected by his peers. Overall, he’s the ideal paleontologist.
And… yeah, that’s it. Now, let’s look at what else the book did for him.
Book: The Dinosaur Survival Guide
Honestly, the book version of Alan Grant isn’t all that compelling a character. On top of being an expert on dinosaurs, he’s also an expert at surviving catastrophe. That, and he’s really good with kids. After all, how could he hate someone with a pure, unadulterated love of dinosaurs?
Notice anything? In case you didn’t, here’s the problem with that: he doesn’t have any real flaws. Sure, he can’t work with computers! But at what point in the story does Grant have to overcome that flaw to get something done? The answer is never. He doesn’t need to grow or change in any way to survive. If the character doesn’t need to change, then where’s the character arc?
Now, let’s see how the movie handled it.
Movie: I Hate Kids
Me too, Dr. Grant. Me too.
In the film version, Grant is a much more vulnerable, human character. He isn’t some unkillable superhero. Rather, he’s just a regular guy who has to find ways to apply his knowledge of dinosaurs to survive. He’s not Rambo. Just a guy using his head to solve his problems.
And his opinion on kids did a total 180 in this version. When we first meet him, it’s almost immediately established that he can’t stand kids. But when the T-Rex attacks and he finds himself trapped in the park with Tim and Lex, he suddenly finds himself thrust into the position of a parent. If he wants to get out alive with the two of them, he’ll need to overcome his dislike of children and get them to trust him.
In this one little change, Spielberg and the writers transform Grant’s character. They give him a decently compelling character arc with a satisfying and clear resolution. He isn’t some badass who survives Jurassic Park and goes out to live another day. He’s a dude who learned how to be a parent.
This is a prime example of how to properly adapt a character to a screenplay. Are they interesting and well-defined already? Keep ’em! If not, fix it!
The cinematic version definitely did Alan Grant’s character some good. He became a much more interesting and compelling character. Now, don’t get me wrong; an unstoppable badass can be a fun character. But for a story like this, a more vulnerable protagonist is very important.
Unfortunately, they may have done too well. Because they keep bringing him back. They brought him back for Jurassic Park 3. And they’re doing it again for Jurassic World 3 apparently. Speaking of which, there’s gonna be a Jurassic World 3.
God is dead and we have killed him.