Sunday, 30 May 2010

Travels With Michael Crichton

One of the perks of working where I do is that you can find gems like this. When I say, one of the perks, I mean, the only perk of working where I do, and it's a two-fold perk. You can not only discover some interesting books, but can purchase a great number of selected ones for peanuts.

Travels by Michael Crichton is one such book.

One brief look at the back cover told me I was in for a great journey. But what got my attention was that this wasn't a fictional book and one of his many. It was based on his early life at medical school and early travels, and most importantly before Jurassic Park, ER, and becoming a household name and subsequent legend. I knew practically nothing about him, and the chance for a self-reflective account of himself and travels before he became who he was to become was too good to pass on. At the time, I was looking for something real and inspirational, and was certain that I had found it. A new idol beckoned...

Initially published in 1988 by Pan Books/Macmillan London Limited, the 1994 edition's back cover is re-printed here for your viewing and interest only:

A personal odyssey to the limits of the earth and the frontiers of the self.

At the age of thirty, Michael Crichton appeared to have everything; a Harvard medical degree, a wife, lots of money and a Hollywood reputation as a film director and writer. But it wasn't enough.

Spiritually dissatisfied with money and fame, and fuelled by a powerful need to see, hear and feel for himself, Michael Crichton embarked on a series of epic travels to some of the remotest places on earth.

Off Tahiti, he dived through a cloud of sharks. In the remote highlands of New Guinea, he moved among the painted tribesmen who live in a state of perpetual warfare. On the border of Zaire, he saw a threatened silverback gorilla cradling its infant in the palm of one huge hand. At midnight in Africa, he came eye to eye with an elephant. In the American desert, he crossed into new realms of psychic experience.

Michael Crichton's Travels carried him into diverse and compelling new worlds. As he circled the globe, seeking out different ways of living, the master of psychological thrillers illuminated his own journey towards his inner self.

I knew it was fate and couldn't suppress that deep electric feeling that I was holding something pretty special. I'm sure you know that feeling. So I did the *secret business* of checking the book through the computer system and luckily for me it wasn't accepted for public sale, which meant that I practically owned the book and could purchase it when I clocked off. Bonus. It was either that or throwing it away to be recycled. The latter was clearly not an option.

One of the things that struck me most about the book and Michael's life was that what I lightly assumed about him from his success and work, was the complete opposite of its reality. We all have our preconceptions of what we think it must be like to be successful, talented and rich, and how these people make it to those places and make their fortune and fame. So I was pleasantly surprised when I was corrected on my initial thoughts and a valuable lesson was reinforced in the process. But also, I learnt a lot from one of the most talented and successful novelists of our time; and a complete down-to-earth guy who experienced the same problems and issues as us, had the same questions, and strived for answers through journeys of the body and mind, to ultimately be the best person that he could be.

"Often I feel I go to some distant region of the world to be reminded of who I really am."

- Michael Crichton

*unfortunately - minor spoilers ahead*

I'm not a fan of spoilers as you may have realised from the next-to-zero spoiler nature of this blog, but one or two minors are necessary here to illustrate my point and insight, and hopefully entice new readers to the book.

Some highlights and fascinations of reading include; although Michael has a Harvard medical degree, he in fact didn't like studying medicine and didn't attempt to quit just once... another thing that didn't occur just once in his quest for new experience and knowledge, led to more than one near death experience... he paid for his medical education by writing thriller novels under alias names... in 1979, he wrote and directed a film based on one of his novels and starred Sean Connery... one of the aspects of being a doctor that he disliked at the time, was the separation between patient and person, the fact that people weren't treated like people, which naturally inspired and became the basis for the creation of television series ER.

I honestly didn't want the book to end and couldn't picture my life without Michael's honest and down-to-earth voice running through my mind, illuminating my own journey and offering inspiration to reach my ambitions and to be the best person that I can be. A re-read is definitely on the cards for the future.

Now onto Michael's back catalogue... where to start?

We all live every day in virtual environments, defined by our ideas.”

- Michael Crichton

Sunday, 16 May 2010

Up In The Air

By Jason Reitman.

Based on the novel by Walter Kirn.

This one has been on my 'to-read' list for some time and at last, it has been read, or rather, experienced. I wanted to see the film after seeing its captivating teaser trailer some months back, but I knew I would read it before seeing it. So I wasn't going in with a clean and fresh perspective on this. But despite the baggage left over from the trailer, did it deliver to its expected and hopeful, high? The verdict is: Bing! or rather, yes, it did.

The story centres on Ryan Bingham, a middle aged man, and retrenchment consultant, who lives out of a suitcase as he travels the U.S. to consult, or rather, to fire people on behalf of the companies themselves. His life is spiced up when he meets a woman, Alex, and constant high flyer like himself, and life seems that much brighter when grounded. But then, his boss hires Natalie, a young, ambitious woman, who wants to change the nature of the consulting they do and therefore the nature of Ryan's job. As a result of Ryan's protest, she accompanies him on his work travels in order to understand the job first-hand.

The screenplay was an enjoyable, thoughtful, amusing, and moving experience. The writer also directed the film, so there is a shooting script style adopted here with an awareness and direction to the camera. (This is a Hollywood writer/director and the exception). The main character of Ryan was compelling from the start, and his portrayal; effective, consistent and believable throughout. The secondary characters of Alex, Natalie, Ryan's sisters and boss, offered a nice mix of flair, conflict, humour and drama to the uneventful and dull routine of Ryan's job and life. They were effectively written and illuminated his own character in crucial ways and some in steps to self-development. The script flows nicely and much like Ryan's suitcase, is minimalist and sparse, but make for a pacey and direct read. It's a layered read and true to life, and unlike most Hollywood films doesn't offer any absolutes or sugar-coat its content and subsequently, the nature of life, and is all the better for it.

The story is about life and being an individual. It's about pursuing an ambition, whatever that may be, reaching a goal, making a connection with someone, or yourself, settling down or being constantly on the move. There is no right way to live. Just whichever way you are comfortable with. But there are no guarantees. Life is always up in the air.

I cannot wait to see this film and I'm hopeful that it will hold up to my expectations. Although, I will wait a few months as I don't want to go in too soon and have an average and unsurprising experience. Amnesia has to kick in first, which won't take long, then I can jump right in!

Sunday, 2 May 2010

The Watch Post #2.

Life of Pi is an incredible and highly unique novel. Its challenging film adaptation will hopefully come to fruition in 2012... [-]

Excitement and intrigue rises as Norwich's own, Alan Partridge gets his own film... [-]

Another bittersweet re-watch of Firefly has proved once again it's one of the most well crafted and enjoyable tv series... [-]

The Dark Knight returns for a third and goes up against the Spider-Man reboot, amongst others... [-]

How To Train Your Dragon 3D is a very enjoyable and loveable film, and very profitable as its sequel is given the go-ahead... [-]

J.J. Abrams hands back Stephen King's The Dark Tower rights and may end up in the hands of Ron Howard... [-]