“It is not easy to cut through a head with a hacksaw.”
Writer/producer/director and former medical student
“Just because we can, doesn’t mean we should.”
Novel & Screenplay by Michael Crichton
Michael Crichton died last week and he always seemed to me someone interested in what it meant to live.
The first movie I ever saw of his was Westworld when it first came out in the theaters when I was a youngster. Yul Brynner was stunning as a robot-gunslinger who malfunctions. I haven’t seen that film since it was first released, but after Jurassic Park came out I did recognize similar themes before I even connected them both to the mind of writer Michael Crichton.
On one level both deal with amusement parks gone wild when the technology man has created back fires and lives become endangered.
Crichton was a different kind of writer. Taller than average standing 6′ 7″ as well as being smarter and more talented than most of us. He graduated from Harvard Medical School and was still a student there when he wrote his first best selling novel, The Andromeda Strain. According to his website he also “taught courses in anthropology at Cambridge University and writing at MIT.”
Anthropology is is the study of humanity. That is a deep field of study and one that is naturally connected to screenwriting. Movies allow us to explore ourselves and our surroundings, as well as other people in other cultures. They allow us to see how others react in a given circumstance and in turn we ask what we would do.
One reason why The Shawshank Redemption is so highly revered is because while most people won’t spend time in prison they can relate to the situation–their own personal prisons. (Perhaps at home or work.) They can identify with a character or two–the good and the bad. Over and over again people write and talk about that movie giving them hope or helping them get through a difficult situation.
Knowing how humans interact is why President-elect Barack Obama says that The Godfather I & II are his favorite films even though Italian is not a part of his multi-cultural background. He said it’s for the theme of family respect and honor. I bet somewhere there is a class somewhere called Anthropology 101; The Godfather.
Crichton’s medical background explains why he knows “It is not easy to cut through a head with a hacksaw” as he wrote in his opening line in his book Travels. Of all of his writings that is the one I return to most. He traveled for the experience not for something to write about. But years later felt drawn to convey his thoughts:
If you’re a writer, the assimilation of important experiences almost obliges you to write about them. Writing is how you make the experiences your own, how you explore what it means to you, how you came to possess it, and ultimately release it.
Thirteen of his books became movies and as the creator of the long running TV show ER he won an Emmy, a Peabody, and a Writer’s Guild of America Award. Of course, Crichton had a Midwest connection being born in Chicago and co-writing the screenplay for Twister filmed partly here in Iowa.
Crichton was an insightful writer and long before it he was diagnosed with cancer he wrote an article for Redbook Magazine in 1991 called Happiness that’s worth a few minutes of your time.
Jurassic Park director Steven Spielberg had this to say about Crichton is friend of 40 years:
“He was the greatest at blending science with big theatrical concepts, which is what gave credibility to dinosaurs again walking the Earth. Michael was a gentle soul who reserved his flamboyant side for his novels. There is no one in the wings that will ever take his place.”
Michael, thanks for the thoughts, words and provocations.
copyright 2008 Scott W. Smith