How Jurassic Park Fixed A Problematic Character In The Original Novel

Tuesday, January 5, 2021

The Jurassic Park movie changed a lot about many of the book's original characters, and one character in particular was made a lot better on screen.

The first Jurassic Park film made some significant changes to a number of the characters from Michael Crichton, and some needed improvements to one character in particular – Ellie Sattler. While the book and the movie are both classics, each succeeds in ways the other falls short, yielding two classic and distinct versions of the story. A few characters suffer from the changes in Spielberg’s film, but Ellie only gets better on screen.

While the core story stays the same across both versions – a remote island turned dinosaur theme park going haywire and showing the folly of man – many of Jurassic Park's details and characters change in major ways. The characters who live and die in each version, for instance, are very different. John Hammond, a sympathetic and pitiable figure in the movie, is an unfettered megalomaniac and generally detestably capitalist in Crichton’s book – even dying for his arrogance at the end. Other characters shifted personas, ages and roles, all in the interest of turning the book into the best movie it could be.

When it comes to Ellie Sattler, the changes made in Spielberg’s film are all positive. Ellie is only a graduate student in the book, notably younger than Alan Grant and Ian Malcom. She plays a significantly smaller role in the story’s events, and while there’s no suggested romantic relationship between her and Grant, Ellie is questionably sexualized for much of her on-page time. The movie fixes many of these problems, giving Ellie a doctorate just like Grant and Malcom and aging her up to truly be a peer. Some of the film’s best moments come from the three of them interacting as a unit, largely due to Ellie being made a more fully-formed, equally-stationed character.

Ellie isn’t the only instance of female characters being given better material in Jurassic Park. In the book, Tim and Lex’s ages are swapped, and Tim is the elder computer prodigy. As a result, Lex doesn’t get to make her iconic hacking spree to save the day, and she certainly isn’t any kind of icon for women in STEM as she became after the movie was released. Like Ellie, Lex is given a more equal and significant role in the movie, and it serves the story well while also providing stronger role models for audiences everywhere.

Though she briefly cameos in Jurassic Park 3, Ellie is little more than a background figure after the first film. Hopefully, with Laura Dern returning to play Dr. Sattler alongside Sam Neill’s Grant and Jeff Goldblum’s Malcom in Jurassic World: Dominion, she’ll finally get some significant screen time once again. Either way, Ellie Sattler remains a central part of the Jurassic Park franchise.