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Tag Archive: Michael Crichton


Review by C.J. Bunce

After reading Michael Crichton’s groundbreaking science fiction novel Jurassic Park, I was hooked, and set out to read everything else he had written before and awaited each subsequent work with excitement.  I quickly learned that you can identify his work through his character choices and his storytelling, and not only were his ideas fresh and new (Crichton passed away in 2008), he knew how to spin a good yarn.  Yet, except for the Jurassic Park sequel The Lost World, each of his books is completely different from one another.  In common the books follow intelligent people who set about accomplishing something unprecedented.  Crichton’s latest (and perhaps final?) posthumous novel is Dragon Teeth, and in true form it is both a brilliant Crichton work, and also unlike anything he’d written before.  It arrives at bookstores later this week.

Shelf Dragon Teeth alongside Jurassic Park as the very best of Crichton.

Here at borg.com I’ve so far reviewed three of Crichton’s eight “lost” novels penned under pseudonyms.  In the early days of borg.com I reviewed Crichton’s Micro, a posthumously published novel Crichton hadn’t quite finished when he died, which included the technology that could shrink humans to half-an-inch tall beings.  With Dragon Teeth, there is no suspension of disbelief required as with many of his works.  This story is historical fiction, and a Western–easily one of the best Westerns I’ve read.  We meet a college student in 1876 named William Johnson.  He is an arrogant, self-absorbed son of a shipping magnate who takes on a dare and ends up accompanying a professor on a journey across the Old West in an early search for dinosaur bones–then newly-discovered proof that the planet is much older than previously thought.  The professor, one of the early paleontologists, is in a lifelong battle with another, competing paleontologist and their squabble becomes deadly as Johnson finds himself a pawn in repeated attempts at oneupsmanship.  Based on the feud of real-life 19th century professors, Dragon Teeth sucks the reader into every black and white Western movie where the heroes weren’t all that heroic, the dust was thick, the path was treacherous, and each new day could very well be your last.

Crichton stitched together all the Western spots you didn’t want to find yourself in as an outsider in 1876–Cheyenne, across the Badlands, into Montana and Wyoming territory, and the end of the line in murky Deadwood.  Dragon Teeth has all the atmosphere of Silverado, and reads with both the folklore of a Louis L’Amour novel and the peril and adventure of a Jon Krakauer true-life account.  You’ll find deceit and friendship as they existed beyond the frontier, Native American friends and enemies, and a look inside political and religious clashes that exist to this day.

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Review by C.J. Bunce

A diehard science fiction moviegoer will probably find nothing new in last year’s nominee for eight Academy Awards, including Best Picture, Arrival.  Nearly every minute of the film can be seen in countless episodes of science fiction television.  But it is the next drama cloaked in science fiction dress, trying to one-up Interstellar, Gravity, and Contact.  Following the Michael Crichton stylebook, Arrival gives us a problem (terrifying, giant squid-like, alien monsters referred to as heptapods we cannot yet understand) and brings in a team of experts to work to solve that problem.  The experts are linguist Dr. Louise Banks, played by Amy Adams, and physicist Dr. Ian Donnelly, played by Jeremy Renner.  And that’s all–no other brilliant scientists play any role.  From a storytelling angle this allows more of a focus on the two characters, primarily Banks, but it also defies belief that one of twelve Earth-visiting space monolith ships is in the U.S. and only a M*A*S*H unit full of people are there to find the solution.  Those that are present are canned, stupid government wonks, including an intermediary military officer played by Forest Whitaker and others who shout a lot and want to bomb the aliens.  It all makes you want to cheer for the aliens.

To its credit Arrival deals head on with what is surprisingly one of the least pursued tropes in science fiction: communication with the aliens.

Every major sci-fi franchise tells us these aliens will be humanoid, but what if they aren’t?  Actually communicating with other beings once we have that first alien encounter has been seen from time to time, the best in the Star Trek: The Next Generation episode Darmok.  And who can forget those musical notes of Close Encounters of the Third Kind?  Most of Star Trek, and other sci-fi, circumvents the communication issue with the story device of a universal translator or the equivalent, so the conflict of Arrival is refreshing.  Unfortunately the pursuit of the problem in Arrival could have been more interesting and compelling.  Instead the filmmakers made the choice to break away frequently, delving back and forth into an emotional character study.

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Westworld second trailer

Westworld was writer/director Michael Crichton’s original high-tech vacation theme park-turned disaster blockbuster film, from 1973.  Twenty years before Jurassic Park’s dinosaurs went on a murderous rampage, it was a sideshow automaton from the Old West pavilion that turned on the tourists.  We showed you the first teaser trailer for the new series Westworld (discussed here at borg.com) and now we have a fuller look at the newest incarnation of borgs Hollywood has created for us in HBO’s latest trailer for the series.

Jonathan Nolan, brother of The Dark Knight series’ Christopher Nolan, is directing the return of the sci-fi classic, also the latest J.J. Abrams production.  The original Westworld starred Yul Brynner as the cool and unflinching Gunslinger, with Richard Benjamin running for his life, along with appearances by James Brolin and Majel Barrett.  The new series stars a great, comparable actor to Brynner as the Gunslinger–Ed Harris, as well as Anthony Hopkins in a role like Richard Attenborough’s mastermind in Jurassic Park, plus a host of genre actors:  X-Men’s James Marsden, Jimmi Simpson (Psych, House of Cards, Zodiac), Thandie Newton (Mission: Impossible II, The Chronicles of Riddick), Ingrid Bolsø Berdal (Hercules, Hansel & Gretel: Witch Hunters), Star Trek’s Clifton Collins, Jr., Veronica Mars’ Tessa Thompson, Prince Caspian’s Ben Barnes, and James Bond’s Jeffrey Wright.

Westworld cyborg hand

But it’s Evan Rachel Wood’s character Delores who takes center stage in this trailer–and hopefully the entire series, which looks to hone in on what it takes to be human.  It’s a theme we love to see in the best borg shows, from the mind of Philip K. Dick in Blade Runner to Star Trek: The Next Generation’s Data to Terminator Genisys, and the BBC series Humans last year.  We ask the question all the time here.  Are the creations in the new Westworld just updated automatons?  Merely androids?  Or will the biological meet high-tech to give us something else?

Check out the latest trailer for the series Westworld:

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New Pompeii cover

Review by C.J. Bunce

In a thick 459 pages, British author Daniel Godfrey begins a new time travel series full of twists and turns in New Pompeii, his first novel from a major publisher (Titan Books).  Billed as a novel in the tradition of Michael Crichton, New Pompeii is evocative of Crichton’s early novels, but more closely follows the plotting and style of the time travel science fiction novels of Connie Willis (Lincoln’s Dreams, To Say Nothing of the Dog) and the pacing of a Tom Clancy thriller.  Fans of Crichton’s Timeline and Westworld, Philip K. Dick’s short stories and his novels Time Out of Joint and Man in the High Castle, Doctor Who’s “timey wimey” stories and films like TimeCop will appreciate this new entry in the time travel and parallel universe sub-genres.

Despite a daunting 75 chapters, New Pompeii is a quick read.  Godfrey follows Nick Houghton, a history scholar who has yet to earn his doctorate as he is inexplicably courted into joining a venture with a corporation that promises the impossible–Novus Particles plucks people from just before the point of death and brings them into the present, cheating the timeline manipulation restrictions like the field trips in Ray Bradbury’s “A Sound of Thunder.”  Think Philip K. Dick’s Paycheck meets Final Destination.  The company is not a secret–it is well documented that it saved a flight of passengers from a plane crash.  But why are all the survivors now committing suicide?  Who is the ghost student that has been emerging from a bathtub at a college campus over the course of thirty years?  And how do you hide an ancient civilization in the modern world?

Told in short, alternating chapters from the perspective of Nick as he walks among ancient Romans in a secluded Eastern European town in the present day, and college student Kirsten Chapman as she appears unstuck in time across a span of time periods like Jennifer Jones in Portrait of Jennie or Billy Pilgrim in Kurt Vonnegut, Jr.’s Slaughterhouse Five, the truth behind the corporation’s purpose is slowly revealed.  You won’t find a lot of complexity in the time travel elements here, which makes this appealing for the most casual sci-fi reader.  Fans of any Star Trek or Doctor Who time travel story will be familiar with the rules here.

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Gunslinger Westworld

Do androids dream of a surreal town in the Old West?

Known for one of the most bizarre characters ever played by actor Yul Brynner, 1973’s Westworld was writer/director Michael Crichton’s original theme park-turned disaster.  Twenty years before Jurassic Park’s dinosaurs went on a murderous rampage, it was sideshow automatons from a high-tech vacation spot that turned on the tourists.  Now we have a fuller look at the revival series with a preview released this week by HBO for its new Westworld series.

Jonathan Nolan, brother of The Dark Knight series’ Christopher Nolan, is directing the return of the sci-fi classic.  The original starred Brynner as the cool and unflinching Gunslinger, with Richard Benjamin running for his life, along with appearances by James Brolin and Majel Barrett.  The new series stars a great, comparable actor to Brynner–Ed Harris, as well as Anthony Hopkins, James Marsden, Jimmi Simpson, Ingrid Bolsø Berdal, Star Trek’s Clifton Collins, Jr., and James Bond’s Jeffrey Wright.

Westworld has seen better days

The new trailer creates a world that feels very much like the trapped, askew community in Wayward Pines, and unlike the original film the series delves into what it’s like to be an android or borg as was so nicely handled in the series Humans. 

Check out the first teaser for the series Westworld:

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Ex Machina trailer

Jurassic Park was not only Michael Crichton’s most popular novel, it finally allowed him to synthesize all the elements he had worked out over the course of his career into a perfect story.  Crichton could easily have been the writer behind the examination of man vs. machine that is this year’s big screen release Ex Machina, now in Digital HD and Blu-ray.  Writer-director Alex Garland (28 Days Later) could have taken us on another bland adventure about man’s fascination with technology and mortality, but instead he creates a morality play that is eerily simple yet surprisingly profound.  Behind Ex Machina is a modern Victor Frankenstein complete with a reclusive laboratory and spectacular creations.  Oscar Isaac (Sucker Punch, Star Wars: The Force Awakens) is Nathan, the uber-wealthy CEO inventor atop a Google-inspired enterprise, who secretly is using his company’s collective search data to create artificial intelligence–and more.  Is he the classic mad scientist?

In the spirit of Willy Wonka’s golden ticket, Nathan launches a contest for employees with the prize being a weeklong visit to his own Skywalker Ranch.  The winner is the smart and amiable Caleb, played by Domnhall Gleeson (Harry Potter and the Deathly Hallows, Star Wars: The Force Awakens).  All is not what it seems.  Someone here is being played and it’s for the audience to figure it all out.  Nathan has really brought Caleb to his lair to test out his new humanoid robot, Ava, played by Alicia Vikander (The Man from U.N.C.L.E., Seventh Son), and give her a battery of ad hoc tests to see if she passes the Turing test–to confirm whether Nathan has really created the ultimate intelligent machine.  Loosely inspired by more than one classic fairy tale, the seemingly simple story and strange circumstances quickly grow dark.  Who is manipulating who?

Isaac and Gleeson

Garland doesn’t need to rely on his fascinating, humanoid, robotic creations–arguably cybernetic or borg, and eminently believable–to carry the picture.  Its backbone is a well-paced story with a satisfying payoff.  Fans of Neill Blomkamp will love Garland’s study of class and society in the post-modern future: relations between employee and boss, scientist and subject, and master and servant.  In a world of secrets and locked doors, who can you trust?

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HBO Westworld

Known for one of the most bizarre characters ever played by actor Yul Brynner, 1973’s Westworld was writer/director Michael Crichton’s original theme park-turned disaster.  Twenty years before Jurassic Park’s dinosaurs went on a murderous rampage, it was sideshow automatons from a high-tech vacation spot that turned on the tourists.  Will HBO’s new series Westworld also add in the other theme parks (like RomanWorld) as in the original?  We’ll know soon.

Jonathan Nolan, brother of The Dark Knight series’ Christopher Nolan, is directing the return of the sci-fi classic.  The original starred Brynner as the cool and unflinching Gunslinger, with Richard Benjamin running for his life, along with appearances by James Brolin and Majel Barrett.  The new series stars a great, comparable actor to Brynner–Ed Harris, as well as Anthony Hopkins, James Marsden, Jimmi Simpson, and James Bond’s Jeffrey Wright.

Check out the first teaser for the series Westworld:

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Thieves Fall Out

Review by C.J. Bunce

Gore Vidal’s Thieves Fall Out is being re-released by Titan Books after more than 60 years out-of-print, as part of its Hard Case Crimes imprint.  During his lifetime Vidal refused to re-publish Thieves Fall Out, his “lost pulp novel,” thinking it not up to the quality of his later, more serious works.  The both complex and complicated American author of fiction and non-fiction died in 2012.  His estate authorized the release of this novel, which hits bookstores tomorrow, giving readers an opportunity to see a phase in the development of the celebrated writer before he received his fame.

His tenth book and the only novel written under the pseudonym Cameron Kay (after his great uncle), Vidal wrote the crime novel in 1953 while he was in essence blacklisted by a New York Times critic for the then controversial themes in his novel The City and the Pillar.  To make a living he was also writing crime novels as Edgar Box and this novel was written while those mysteries were moderately successful.  Forget about any controversy surrounding this book’s release–if you like pulp crime novels and you’re someone who shies away from the works mainstream audiences gravitate toward–like Vidal’s numerous celebrated works–then Thieves Fall Out just may be the kind of novel you’re after.

Original cover of Thieves Fall Out Gore Vidal as Cameron Kay

Thieves Fall Out is the post-World War II story of an American who finds himself looking for work in Egypt while young German expatriates were reeling from the wartime acts of their elders and the fall of Nazism.  The American becomes a puppet for local Cairo gangster types and has a few romantic encounters as he stumbles into a group of jewel thieves.  Like Michael Crichton’s crime novels (that were also written under a pseudonym and reviewed previously here at borg.com) and even like Ian Fleming’s James Bond novels (especially with the womanizing leading male), Thieves Fall Out is, on the one hand, another spy-genre novel that you can imagine was just one of hundreds of gobbled up by readers in the 1950s–a quick, easy read.  Its plot and style are familiar–a cocky American attempts to make the world his own despite local cultures and politics and in turn finds himself in over his head through his own missteps.

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Jurassic Park 3D dimension

Review by C.J. Bunce

It’s difficult to ascertain what Steve Spielberg could have done differently had he actually planned a Jurassic Park 3D movie or filmed it originally with 3D technologies.  Jurassic Park 3D is so well done, devoid of gimmicky 3D imagery, but filled with crystal clear depth and eye-popping dimension scene after scene that you’ll think it isn’t merely a post-production conversion.

Unlike the few months technicians had to create the transfer used for a movie like the admittedly superb Predator 3D release, reviewed earlier at borg.com hereJurassic Park 3D underwent a full year of a painstaking, detailed transfer process, thanks to the post-production conversion studio Stereo D.  It’s also a testament to having those creators who made the original production oversee the conversion from original 2D film to 3D.  In this case, the oversight was by director Steven Spielberg himself.

Jurassic Park 3D cover

When considering what makes good or bad 3D movie subjects, we learned from Predator 3D, The Creature from the Black Lagoon, and Friday the 13th III in 3D that nothing beats Mother Nature when you’re watching 3D.  The context of setting a film in the natural world, highlighting the detail of trees and grass and, in the case of Jurassic Park a forest nestled among waterfalls in real-life Hawaii, is the best environment to judge 3D on your home 3D system.

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creature from black lagoon poster

Who is my favorite Universal Studios classic movie monster?  I have always answered The Creature from the Black Lagoon.  I first watched the web-footed and web-handed fellow with gills in 3D on local network television on one Friday night many years ago.  I am not sure cable TV was yet making its headway across the country, but the “creature feature” was something marketed for a few weeks over the summer.  The local CBS affiliate, if I recall correctly, teamed up with the local Hy-Vee grocery store to hand out those cardboard and vellum 3D glasses.  I knew early on that The Creature was the first and only one of the classic monsters filmed and shown in theaters in 3D back in 1954.  My trusty World Almanac told me it wasn’t the first 3D film released–that went to the African lion film Bwana Devil in 1952.

As part of my current quest to sample the best of 3D movies on Blu-ray, finding The Creature from the Black Lagoon on the very short list of released 3D films was a big win.  Back in 1997 in Seattle where basic DVDs were first released in a major U.S. market, I remember digging through a short box at the big Suncoast store but feeling similarly dismayed, until I noticed A Boy and His Dog among the early conversions to digital video.  The Creature is a great starting point for modern 3D, giving the current technology some historical context.

Creature in 3D

Thanks in large part to make-up guru Bud Westport’s incredible creature suit and mask, the film holds up as well as any modern classic.  In fact, viewing The Creature back to back with Predator 3D (reviewed here earlier this month), it’s surprising how similar the films are.  Take away the sci-fi intro to Predator and you have a jungle adventure with another otherworldly creature.  As with Predator 3D, the multi-layered jungle comes alive in The Creature, and the careful placement of actors onscreen gives a crystal clear dimensional image that doesn’t waver.  Better yet, you have to look hard to see The Creature’s air bubbles–mostly he swims for seemingly long stints underwater with no apparent breathing going on.  And let’s not forget both of these films are part of the horror genre–each character gets picked off one by one by the monster until only a few are left for a final life-or-death showdown.

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