The dark side of Michael Crichton
I remember seeing the commercials and posters for the movie Coma back in the 70’s, and frankly, they were quite scary to my impressionable young mind.
It was a pretty big movie for the time, based on Robin Cook’s best-seller, starring Michael Douglas, who was an up and coming movie star at the time, and Michael Crichton, who directed Coma, was already a known author, but still some years away from the "mega-author" status that came with Jurassic Park.
And now Coma is back being remade for TV, with Ridley and Tony Scott producing. The duo also co-produced the TV remake of The Andromeda Strain, Crichton’s first breakthrough as an author. The original 1978 version of Coma is also now out on Blu-Ray, with Entertainment Weekly giving it a positive review, noting that it’s pretty scary after all these years.
Remember, Crichton’s work, like a lot of sci-fi back in the day, was much darker. By its very nature, science fiction as a genre was much darker and cynical before Star Wars and Close Encounters made it somewhat more uplifting.
For example, Crichton’s breakthrough, The Andromeda Strain, is indeed a pretty dark premise for a film. A virus wipes out everyone in a small town except for a baby and a crazy old man, and an underground lab is trying to prevent the virus from going global.
Westworld was Crichton’s breakthrough as a director, and it wasn’t anywhere near as dark, but two other films that Crichton wrote had much darker edges. With The Cary Treatment, which Crichton penned under the name Jeffery Hudson, a woman dies after an illegal abortion, and Dr. Peter Carey’s friend is accused of performing the abortion. (This came out in 1972, when abortion was indeed still illegal). Trying to unravel who’s responsible for the girl’s death, Carey discovers a deadly trail of corruption.
1974’s The Terminal Man also had a concept similar to A Clockwork Orange where someone is trying to be "cured" of being violent, but the cure makes him enjoy violence even more.
One of Crichton’s most obscure films, Extreme Close-Up, also deals with voyeurism, where a TV reporter becomes obsessed with spying on people, a subject that could fit in well today with everybody filming everybody on their iPhones, the Hollywood and British phone tapping scandals, etc.
In order for sci-fi to really be effective, it should be prophetic, or at least make the audiences feel that even if it never happens in the future, it could. Even if it’s impossible, it should at least be probable.
So it’s definitely interesting to see several of Crichton’s darker stories being rebooted, which came from an age where the future seemed a lot darker and uncertain. Come to think of it, with a darker, more uncertain future today, no wonder these stories are being brought back.