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Jurassic Park: Why Jeff Goldblum’s Ian Malcolm is the most important character of the franchise

Analysing Jeff Goldblum’s iconic character originally written by Michael Crichton for the Jurassic Park novels

  • Ryan Gomez

Last Updated: 06.01 PM, Oct 29, 2021

Jurassic Park: Why Jeff Goldblum’s Ian Malcolm is the most important character of the franchise

Michael Crichton’s Jurassic Park is arguably his most well-known work, but it is debatable whether it is his best work when compared to his other bestsellers such as Sphere, Timeline, Rising Sun, Next, and The Great Train Robbery. In fact, some of these titles were adapted into feature films. But none of them has been able to attain the recognition and popularity of the Jurassic Park franchise. Its success can be attributed to Steven Speilberg’s ingenuity in translating it onto the silver screen. However, he has made several changes to Chrichton’s original novel, and one of them being a slightly less prominent role to the many mathematical philosophies by Jeff Goldblum’s character Dr Ian Malcolm.

Spielberg’s decision to do so was ultimately justified because of how the Jurassic Park franchise redefined the genre and filmmaking itself. The film’s cinematography and visual effects were far ahead of its time, with a lot of effort undertaken to recreate the gigantic prehistoric beings. However, if one were familiar with Crichton’s works, they would notice how his science fiction novels mainly focus on the philosophical debates on humanity and civilisation, rather than the ‘sci-fi’ aspect of the film. Of course, this isn’t a suggestion that Crichton did not go into detail about the various species of dinosaurs and the various timelines in the prehistoric era. But the crux of the plot pertains to the dialogue Crichton wants to open about chaos theory, the butterfly effect, evolution, and the moral ethics of conducting genetic experiments - the dinosaur and the ‘monster element’ in the story was to keep his readers hooked till the final page.

It is probably one of the reasons why Crichton took a few liberties in how certain dinos were written. For instance, the Velociraptors which Crichton conceived in his books, and which would be translated into films, are actually no bigger than the modern-day chicken. The raptors in the books and the movies closely resemble the Utahraptor or Deinonychus. There is speculation that Crichton opted for the name, Velociraptor, as it sounded more menacing. This is even briefly referenced in the film Jurassic World when BD Wong’s character Dr Henry Wu mentions how real dinosaurs would look very different from genetically lab-grown ones if they weren’t created for a theme park.

Crichton used Dr Ian Malcolm as a plot device to express his ideas on evolution and the aforementioned philosophical debates. The chaos theory which Malcolm professes is the idea that all irregularities in a dynamic system, despite appearing random, has an underlying pattern. Malcolm explains that all the anomalies in Jurassic Park are by mathematical design which cannot be controlled by humans. He argues that it is nature’s way of re-establishing order in the ecosystem human beings have corrupted by bringing back living organisms who became extinct through natural selection. This is, in fact ,highlighted in the movie when Jeff Goldblum uses the phrase, “Life always finds a way”, when it becomes apparent that the dinosaurs created in a test tube have evolved beyond their genetic programming.

It is also interesting to note that Malcolm is depicted as the antithesis of the founder and creator of Jurassic Park, John Hammond. Hammond’s ideas are to push the boundaries of science with callous disregard to the consequences, whereas Malcolm poses an important question to Hammond, “Yeah, but your scientists were so preoccupied with whether or not they could, they didn't stop to think if they should”. The question has been an ethical debate for decades since the 1950s in the real world. Malcolm and Hammond’s contradiction doesn’t end there, they are even dressed in contrasting colours - Hammond in all white and Malcolm in black. It could be argued that Crichton wrote Malcolm as the collective moral conscience of humankind, which makes arguably the most important character of the novel. It could also be one of the reasons why he replaced Dr Alan Grant as the lead in the sequel novel, The Lost World.

Even though Spielberg may have diminished Goldblum’s screen time to an extent, he does manage to incorporate the basic essence of Malcolm. Speilberg also tweaked Malcolm’s persona to make him more relatable to the audience, the same treatment was given to Richard Attenborough’s Hammond as well. In fact, Hammond was written as a lovable old eccentric billionaire, instead of the conniving and greedy capitalist depicted in the book. This slight alteration may have been one of the reasons why the films have captured the imagination of the masses from across the globe. Jeff Goldblum’s Ian Malcolm is rumoured to have a prominent role in the upcoming Jurassic World: Dominion.