Monday, August 17, 2015

Welcome to Cretaceous Park

Note: the text in this entry is the same as the foreword in the document linked at the end of the entry.

On June 11, 1993, the movie Jurassic Park hit theaters and revolutionized blockbuster motion pictures to perhaps a greater extent than any other movie besides the original Star Wars and Steven Spielberg's own Jaws. Nine days after the movie's release, I turned ten years old. Not unusually for a child of that age, I loved dinosaurs. I was totally caught up in the (much deserved) hype around the movie. My parents were a little on the overprotective side, and at first they weren't sure whether they would let me see the movie. As I recall, it was around six months after the release date when I finally got to have that experience (yes, it was in a movie theater; movies had much longer theatrical runs in those days). That wait didn't stop me from being JP-crazy. Amusingly, that summer when I was at a bookstore thinking about buying the junior novelization of the movie, my dad suggested I could get the real book, Michael Crichton's novel on which Spielberg's film was based, instead. I did so, and thus I read (and re-read) the far more violent and gory book before I ever saw the comparatively tame movie.

My best friend at the time, Jay, was also crazy about dinosaurs. That fall we started the fifth grade together. We decided that we would like to create our own sequel to Jurassic Park, and we proceeded to do just that. Through much of that school year, we visited each other's houses, taking back and forth a 3.5” floppy disk containing an ever-growing document and working on it together on each of our two family's computers. That document was a story called Cretaceous Park. Clever children that we were, we picked the name Cretaceous Park because the Cretaceous Period was the period that followed the Jurassic Period in the Mesozoic Era during which dinosaurs lived. Thus it was only logical as a name for the sequel.

We strived to create our own original story that followed on where Jurassic Park left off. Perhaps not surprisingly, we did not really manage to do this, the “original story” part, that is. The premise of our story was that John Hammond, the creator of Jurassic Park, decided to make another dinosaur park despite the spectacular failure of his first, and that he once more invited Drs. Alan Grant and Ellie Sattler and his grandchildren Tim and Lex Murphy to tour his new park. From there, things go in a strikingly similar way to the original story. The overall plot and most of the big moments in the story are a nearly note-for-note copy of Jurassic Park. Hey, we were only in fifth grade.

Revisiting the story as an adult is, for me at least, a very entertaining experience. And I know that I'm not the only person to find it entertaining – in August 2006 I shared the story with my, at the time, new best friend Cara, and she thought it was absolutely hilarious. I actually read the whole book aloud to her during our trip to Washington, D.C. (she had to do all the driving because I had just broken my arm). Looking back, it was  a great bonding experience for the two of us. But anyway, despite the unoriginal nature of most of the plot elements, I believe there is a great deal of entertainment value in this story, for several reasons. More than anything, it's just funny. That's because a lot of the things that happen and lines that people speak are really silly-sounding when viewed from an adult perspective. It's also an interesting insight into how children's minds work. Children's minds are similar to adults' in many ways but are also very different in many ways, and this story provides something of a demonstration of that concept. What's more, despite all the silliness, this story was quite an accomplishment for a pair of fifth graders. It's over 14,000 words in length, 33 pages of single-spaced 12 point Arial font, and the quality of the writing? Well, for fifth graders, I think it's pretty good. (One thing that's striking to me is that the writing toward the end of the story, although still certainly far from “good” by adult standards, is noticeably better than the writing toward the beginning of the story.) Plus, there are a few ideas we came up with that were genuinely clever and not just copies of the original story.

Inspired by the release of the latest blockbuster movie in the series, this summer I re-read my old, tattered copy of Crichton's novel for the first time in many years, and then proceeded to re-read the sequel that Jay and I wrote so many years ago. And then a thought came to me – it would be fun to go through the story and make detailed annotations (in the form of footnotes) of all the reactions that I, as an adult, have to this story that my friend and I wrote when we were kids. Many of the annotations are things that Cara and I talked and laughed about back in 2006, and I also go into a lot of detail about what went into the making of this story and how it relates to the Jurassic Park film and novel.

Jay and I were very proud of Cretaceous Park. Reading the story as an adult, it's silly, it's hokey, its a blatant ripoff of its predecessor – but despite all that, I think our feeling of pride was well-earned. So now, I'd be honored if you'd join me on a journey to the past – a journey back to 1993.

Download The Annotated Cretaceous Park (pdf)