Thursday, November 6, 2008

1942 - 2008

It should have been some rare tropical disease, or an unknown germ brought back from space to finally silence Michael Crichton. Instead, the author, director, producer, and doctor passed away on Tuesday at the age of 66 after a battle with cancer – an all too Earth-bound disease. Many folks had gotten pretty sniffy about Crichton in the last decades of his life; more famous as an entertainment commodity than as an actual creative force. And while it’s true that his novels of the last few years had personified many of the worse aspects of beach/airport reading – with the profoundly silly Timeline reads like a discarded outline – many early works hold up astoundingly well. "The Andromeda Strain" and "The Terminal Man" are two of the most intelligent and thought provoking science thrillers ever written, and it takes nothing away from the achievement to note that this particular genre didn’t really exist until Crichton invented it. it will probably take a decade or two before behavior modification via brain implants becomes a reality, but once it’s suggested that it be tested on prisoners – remember who thought of it first.

Equally impressive is his resume as a director. After a TV warm-up with the bio-terror thriller, Pursuit, in 1972, he directed his own original screenplay about two businessmen whose high priced holiday at a android-infused amusement park turns lethal. In spite of the always quickly-dated technology on display, Westworld is still an incredibly lean and exciting thriller where Crichton shows an amazingly assured hand behind the camera. The stylish medical thriller Coma (1978) came next, though it’s often mistaken for an original work, it was actually based on a book by another doctor-turned-author, Robin Cook. His best work, however, proved to be next year’s The Great Train Robbery, a loose, humorous take on the traditional heist film. It gave Sean Connery a chance to show off his comic timing and Crichton a chance to tackle material in a decidedly non-techno territory.

Oh yeah, and the guy was a doctor. The real kind, with medical school and everything.