You're probably more familiar with the works of author Michael Crichton, who died on Tuesday, than you think you are. In addition to earning a reputation as one of his generation's most successful science fiction thriller novelists, he also left behind a legacy of sharp action screenplays and at least one blockbuster TV show. Let's take a look of the highlights:
He predicted the age of bioterrorism.
In The Andromeda Strain (1969), a satellite crashes in the Arizona desert, releasing a virus of unknown origin, instantly killing everyone in the vicinity. Crichton's first blockbuster neatly paraphrases many of the subjects he'd explore in later works: extraterrestrials, the military-industrial complex, science and medicine. The 1971 film adaptation, directed by Oscar winner Robert Wise (The Sound of Music, Star Trek: The Movie), featured claustrophobic set design to convey the scientists' paranoia. A 2008 miniseries adaptation starring Benjamin Bratt modernized the novel's themes for the bioterrorism age.
He wrote about robot cowboys.
What more do you need to know about Westworld (1973), which was written and directed by Crichton? Think TV's Fantasy Island meets The Stepford Wives meets Terminator. At a theme park that offers its wealthy visitors tailor-made fantasy scenarios acted out by robots, a cyborg gunslinger goes rogue during a guest's Wild West-themed vacation. A 2009 remake, to be adapted by Billy Ray (Shattered Glass, Flightplan), is in the works.
He made dinosaurs cool.
Steven Spielberg adapted Jurassic Park, Crichton's 1990 novel about an amusement park featuring cloned dinosaurs into possibly the only family-friendly romp ever that is also about chaos theory, Charles Darwin and genetically assisted reanimation. The novel spawned one sequel, 1995's The Lost World (1995); the movie spawned two, and a fourth Jurassic Park film is currently in development for a 2010 release date.
He challenged feminism.
Crichton upended the typical story about sexual politics in the workplace by reversing gender roles in Disclosure (1994), making the aggressor female. Michael Douglas and Demi Moore starred in director Barry Levinson's film adaptation the same year, which had the unfortunate - and we assume unintentional - effect of making sexual harassment look really, really hot.
He made Clooney Clooney.
Before he wrote blockbuster novels, Crichton was actually a Harvard Med School-educated doctor. Those skills came in handy when he developed ER (1994-present), a one-hour drama for NBC about a busy Chicago emergency room. The show launched the careers of, among other actors, George Clooney, Julianna Margulies, Anthony Edwards, Sherry Stringfield and Noah Wyle. The Emmy Award-winning show will complete its 15-year run in May 2009.
He populated the megaplex for much of the late '90s.
In the late '90s, Crichton was all over the big-budget action flick. Twister (an original Crichton screenplay) chronicled the story of "storm chasers" Helen Hunt and Bill Paxton. In Congo (based on his novel), Laura Linney leads a team who investigates rumors of diamond mines and lost ancient cities guarded by a race of human-gorilla hybrids. In Sphere, also adapted from a Crichton novel, a team of scientists discover a mysterious, underwater orb that simultaneously appears to be from the future... and 300 years old.
Watch clips and trailers from the film adaptations of Michael Crichton's novels in our Online Video Guide