Life Finds A Way: Celebrating the Jurassic Park Franchise #3: Dr. Ian Malcolm

One key character for any science fiction or horror cautionary tale is the voice of reason. The character who is not only an expert in his field, but is quick to point out to the others just how wrong they are, even if they don’t want to hear it at the time. In Jaws we see that in both Quint and Hooper. When the rest of the sailors and would-be shark hunters in Amity celebrate the apparent capture of the shark, Hooper is quick to insist upon performing an autopsy to determine if this is the actual shark for which they hunt.

Naturally Hooper, like many other voices of reason in fiction and film is seen as a “wet blanket” at the outset. After all, when the town of Amity is what’s known as a “summer town” and their economic success hinges on summer tourism. The shark attacks lead to a massive decline in visitors which affects their bottom line, leaving them all to eager to get back to some semblance of a normal summer, and they don’t want to hear that they still have some more hunting to do. Same is true for Jurassic Park. No one wants to hear that the park filled with genetically engineered dinosaurs could possibly turn deadly. They want to get pictures of kids standing in front of a roaring T-Rex safely ensconced behind a

Dr. Ian Malcolm

fence, not the dinosaur breaking free and eating said kids.

In Jurassic Park this role is fulfilled by Dr. Ian Malcolm. As Mike Cosper notes in The Stories We Tell: How TV and Movies Long for and Echo Truth,

“Malcolm is constantly reminding the others that the consequences of their actions are unpredictable. They don’t know what will happen as a result of their toying with nature. They’ve greatly overestimated their powers in a complex world. More than that, Malcolm is a voice of reason and humility in the face of such profound confidence in human ingenuity…The story proves him correct.”


In the original novel, Malcolm along with Grant and Sattler was hired as one of the early consultants on the project, Grant even notes how unremarkable the group was. As he says in the book, when someone from the EPA comes to question him regarding what he knows about Hammond and his park,

“He was planning a museum for children, and he wanted to feature baby dinosaurs. He said he was hiring a number of academic consultants, and named them. There were paleontologists like me, and a mathematician from Texas named Ian Malcolm, and a couple of ecologists. A systems analyst. Good group.”

Malcolm was not selected by Hammond but by the lawyer, Donald Generro. It would be the job of a mathematician and part of a new wave of mathematics. As he is described in the novel Jurassic Park,

“Ian Malcolm was one of the most famous of the new generation of mathematicians who were openly interested in ‘how the real world works.’ These scholars broke with the cloistered tradition of mathematics in several important ways. For one thing, they used computers constantly, a practice traditional mathematicians frowned on. For another, they worked almost exclusively with nonlinear equations, in the emerging field called chaos theory. For a third, they appeared to care that their mathematics described something that actually existed in the real world.”

Malcolm describes this theory in these terms, as he explains it to Ellie using her hand and a cup of water during their tour in the movie Jurassic Park,

“It simply deals with unpredictability in complex systems.  It’s only principle is the Butterfly Effect. A butterfly can flap its wings in Peking and in Central Park you get rain instead of sunshine…I made a fly by, I go too fast…Here.  Give me your glass of water. Make like hieroglyphics.  Now watch the way the drop of water falls on your hand…Ready?  Freeze your hand.  Now I’m going to do the same thing from the exact same place.  Which way is the drop going to roll off? Which way will the drop roll?  Over which finger?  Or down your thumb?  Or to the other side?….It changed.  Why?… Because and here is the principle of tiny variations …the orientations of the hairs …on your hand, the amount of blood distending in your vessels, imperfections in the skin …Microscopic… never repeat, and vastly affect the outcome.”

His concern with these real world applications makes him invaluable to the project as he’d be the kind who would try and predict every possible outcome that could happen on the park so the engineers could better prepare for such situations to arise. However, some, especially Hammond are quick to dismiss his views. He comes across as a bit obnoxious and full of himself. Hammond even says that Malcolm possesses a “deplorable excess of personality”, coming across as an eccentric, even likening Malcolm to a “rockstar”.

This excess of personality shows it’s self further during their journey to the island when he very clearly starts hitting on Ellie, using his theory as a pick-up line, saying

“Dr. Sattler…you’ve heard of chaos theory? No? Non-linear equations? Strange attractions? Dr. Sattler, I refuse to believe that you aren’t familiar with the concept of attraction.”

He then grins at her and makes a bunch of growling noises. He later asks Grant if Ellie is seeing anybody, and openly admits to always being on the look for the “Next Mrs. Ian Malcolm”. We find out in The Lost World that he does have a serious girlfriend, paleontologist, Dr. Sarah Harding. However, their relationship is turbulent due in part to Malcolm’s personality making him unreliable. As she tells him when he comes to bring her back from the expedition to Site B that Hammond sent her one,

“Look. I love that you rode in here on a white horse. I really do. It’s very touching, very dramatic. I just need you to show up in a cab now and then, too. “

We also find that he gets so preoccupied with whatever project he is working on, that despite his claim to like kids, he tends to forget. As is evident when he leaves for Site B, forgetting that he had custody of his daughter, Kelly that week.

Another hint at his eccentricities come in his wardrobe. While Grant and Ellie are dressed appropriately not only for the climate, but a day that could easily include hiking, Malcolm is dressed all in black. The book explained his rational for his choice in clothes as he tells Ellie,

“You’re extremely pretty, Dr. Sattler…I could look at your legs all day. But no, as a matter of fact, black is an excellent color for heat. If you remember your black-body radiation, black is actually best in heat. Efficient radiation. In any case, I wear only two colors, black and gray…These colors are appropriate for any occasion…and they go well together, should I mistakenly put on a pair of gray socks with my black trousers… find it liberating. I believe my life has value, and I don’t want to waste it thinking about clothing…I don’t want to think about what I will wear in the morning. Truly, can you imagine anything more boring than fashion? Professional sports, perhaps. Grown men swatting little balls, while the rest of the world pays money to applaud. But, on the whole, I find fashion even more tedious than sports.”

His view towards clothing is not that far removed from the likes of Einstein, Steve Jobs, or Mark Zuckerberg who wear the same outfit all the time. It helps prevent a condition called “decision fatigue”, as Susie East and Ben Tinker noted in “How to think straight in the age of Information Overload” for CNN. com,

“Information overload also leads to something called “decision fatigue.” It’s why Albert Einstein is nearly always pictured wearing a gray suit, why Steve Jobs usually wore a black turtleneck and why Mark Zuckerberg is almost always sporting his signature gray T-shirt. They didn’t want to waste valuable energy making inconsequential decisions about their clothes. “

Jurassic Park III, upon finding Eric Kirby, Grant forms a quick friendship with the boy as they discuss not only their situation but he learns that Eric read both of his books, favoring the one he wrote before the incident at Jurassic Park. Grant asks if he ever read Ian Malcolm’s book, to which Eric says,

“I-I don’t know. I mean, it was kind of preachy. And too much chaos. Everything’s chaos. It seemed like the guy was kind of high on himself.”

We also learn that Malcolm is a bit of a celebrity in the universe of Jurassic Park. We even see someone reading his latest book God Creates Dinosaur in Jurassic World. Despite these eccentricities, and his fame, in the film, Malcolm is filled with the same childlike wonder as Grant and Ellie at seeing the dinosaurs for the first time. However, while he may by the sight of the dinosaurs is the first to voice his concern over the park.

As he would later say in The Lost World,

“Oh, yeah. Oooh, ahhh, that’s how it always starts. Then later there’s running and um, screaming.”

Much like Quint in Jaws interrupting the city council meeting as all the business owners worry over possibly losing money, Malcolm interrupts the big sales pitch for the park. In the film, Gennero had already seen dollar signs in his eyes upon seeing the brachiosaurs and is already talking about charging 2,000 to 10,000 a day for guests to visit the creatures. Hammond altruistically states that he did not make this park for the super rich but for everyone to enjoy ( never mind failing to take in account the costs of passports to go to an island off of Costa Rica, plane tickets, vaccines for traveling through Central America, air fare, the cost of lodging, food and other expenses).

Gennero glibly states that they can have a coupon day, and the entire discourse turns Malcolm’s stomach as he finds their lack of humility before the awesome natural power before them staggering. This causes him to surmise that things are much worse then they feared. Gennero points out that they haven’t seen the whole park yet, but Hammond is willing to hear him out.

This is where he gives his famous speech,

“Don’t you see the danger, John, inherent in what you’re doing here? Genetic power is the most awesome force the planet’s ever seen, but you wield it like a kid that’s found his dad’s gun…If I may… Um, I’ll tell you the problem with the scientific power that you’re using here, it didn’t require any discipline to attain it. You read what others had done and you took the next step. You didn’t earn the knowledge for yourselves, so you don’t take any responsibility for it. You stood on the shoulders of geniuses to accomplish something as fast as you could, and before you even knew what you had, you patented it, and packaged it, and slapped it on a plastic lunchbox, and’re selling it, you wanna sell it.”

From there like, Matt Hooper the oceanographer in Jaws he acted as the voice of reason. Along with the fact that both of them originally died in the book, but due to being cast with very likable actor’s portraying them Spielberg ended sparing them both, Malcolm and Hopper are always quick to seemingly rain one everyone’s parade. When the people of Amity are ready to celebrate that they think they caught the shark, Hooper is the one to insist on cutting it open to see for himself if it is the Great White. His findings reveal it is only a Tiger Shark that was caught, and it only proves that the Great White Shark is still out there.

Further, Malcolm, like fellow guest Dr. Settler raises some of the key ethical points that InGen hadn’t considered. These are not cute cuddly purple dinosaurs made out of felt that teach positive life lessons about friendship. Real live dinosaurs, herbivore and carnivore alike, brought into a world and environment that is not their own. While Hammond may point out to Malcolm that he would have no objection to bringing back condors from the verge of extinction, even real-world bioethicists raise similar concerns to the return of an extinct species.

As Carl Zimmer surmises in “Bringing Them Back” from National Geographic,

“Even if de-extinction proved a complete logistical success, the questions would not end. Passenger pigeons might find the rebounding forests of the Eastern United States a welcoming home. But wouldn’t that be, in effect, the introduction of a genetically engineered organism into the environment? Could passenger pigeons become a reservoir for a virus that might wipe out another bird species? And how would the residents of Chicago, New York, or Washington, DC, feel about a new pigeon species arriving in their cities, darkening their skies, and covering their streets with snowstorms of dung?”

While there is little concern about the effect the dinosaurs could have on a major city, at least until a T-Rex is brought to San Diego in The Lost World, they haven’t quite taken into account the role that these extinct creatures could have on the island on which the park is placed.  More importantly the discussion that is taken place has nothing to do with safety for the visitors or the creatures but money and merchandise. As Michael D. Stark and A.G. Holder note in “A T-Rex Swallowed my Pride” from the book Jurassic Park and Philosophy: The Truth is Terrifying that looked Malcolm’s role as that conscience in particular in contrast to Hammond and Generro’s talk of park admission and coupon days,

“They are surrounded by gigantic predatory animals that are powerful beyond our imaginations and have been dead for more than sixty-five million years, yet Genarro and Hammond are talking about money!..remember temperance is the virtue that helps someone refrain from excess. The excess here is money, and lots of it!….money in itself, is not bad; the vice is the tunnel-vision approach to gathering large sums of it quickly….With Hammond and Gennaro as models of the vices of imprudence and intemperance, Malcolm remains a virtuous skeptic throughout the story…He asks the questions that must be asked.”

From Malcolm’s perspective the sciences were not just an academic field, but a discipline. Unraveling these deep mysteries of the universe, understanding the world around us, it would take years of skill, patience, diligence and studying to accomplish. More importantly to attain this discipline it would require a huge level of humility and respect for the world. After all, Alexander Pope once noted that only a fool would rush in where angels fear to tread.  If the very wise and powerful would be cautious in unleashing a force, like genetic engineering, then only a fool would do something like build a theme park with such creatures created by such a staggering and rat the time, brand new field of science like genetic engineering.

At the time the book was written and published, the first genetically modified organism had been a simple bacteria back in 1973. A living animal, a GloFish, or a glow in the dark fish wouldn’t even exist in the real world until 2003. To go from a bacteria to a dinosaur without thinking about the ramifications, or any ground work in between was only asking for trouble. It’s not something as simple as making a toy line that can become a cartoon, and a lunch box.

As Malcolm tells Hammond after everything goes wrong in the park in the novel,

“A karate master does not kill people with his bare hands. He does not lose his temper and kill his wife. The person who kills is the person who has no discipline, no restraint, and who has purchased his power in the form of a Saturday night special. And that is why you think that to build a place like this is simple…Then why did it go wrong?”

While Grant through the film goes on a journey towards fatherhood, and Hammond is humbled, Malcolm is one of the only characters to remain true to his character in the book with no changes, and undergoes very little in development or growth. If anything, as the moral conscience of the group, he doesn’t need to.

It’s Malcolm’s whole reason for being. As director Steven Spielberg says of Malcolm in an interview with Empire Magazine,

“There’s no epiphany for Malcolm…He has a line in the movie where he says, ‘I hate being right all the time.’ He’s kind of that useful character in a movie that stands around telling everybody that their best laid plans are going afoul, the 90s equivalent of the soothsayer of doom standing around the streets of New York with a sign saying, ‘Doomsday is near.’ He’s the mathematical equivalent of that.”

In fact, if anything, the one thing Malcolm can’t seem to grasp is the fact that no one takes him seriously as a scientist or a voice of reason.  Hammond even dismisses him as being a Luddite in his concerns over the park. Much of this dismissal is due in part to his erratic personality, and other times, as is the case of Hammond, simple hubris. In the Greek tragedies the proud very rarely, if ever, listened to the voice or reason urging them to tread lightly on the dangerous path.

As Hammond asks in the films sequel The Lost World: Jurassic Park, when everything goes wrong on Isla Sorna, or as the heads at InGen call it, Site B, and he had even earlier said things will go wrong on that island too,

“Why don’t people listen to me? I use plain and simple English, I don’t have any accent that I’m aware of… ”

At  the end of the original novel, after succumbing to his severe injuries,Malcolm died. However, thanks to the film and Jeff Goldblum’s memorable performance as the character, the eccentric rock star professor found a big following. Thus, when it came time for a sequal both to the book and the film, Malcolm needed to be a part of the proceedings. As Michael Crichton noted in an interview, archived on his homepage,

“Malcolm came back because I needed him. I could do without the others, but not him because he is the “ironic commentator” on the action. He keeps telling us why it will go bad. And I had to have him back again. […] As Mark Twain once said, “Reports of my death are greatly exaggerated.” But it’s also true that Conan Doyle (the original author of a book called The Lost World) pushed Sherlock Holmes of the Reichenbach Falls with Moriarity. And they were unquestionably dead. And after a few years, Holmes turned out to have made a miraculous recovery. So these things happen in fiction.”

Ultimately, Crichton hadn’t anticipated Jurassic Park being such a huge hit or needing  sequel.  This is certainly the case when some characters from the book who survived, like Muldoon and Generro, died in the movie, but others, like Hammond who died in the film, died in the movie. Thus in a brief side conversation we find out that Generro died of dysentery in between events in the books, while Hammond in The Lost World movie is dying of an illness that he succumbs to before InGen is bought by Massarani.

Crichton said further on his FAQ page, when asked if his stories are character driven,

“No, my stories are not character driven. Usually I have the story first, and make the characters follow the story I have prepared for them. Sometimes the characters refuse. They can be troublesome. For example, in Jurassic Park Ian Malcolm wouldn’t shut up. I wanted him to say a paragraph or two, but instead he rambled on for 4 or 5 pages! And I would look at this stuff and think, it’s pretty good, but I don’t really need all this. Anyway, it’s always interesting to be writing.”

Thus, when he returned for the novel, Malcolm actually lampshaded his apparent demise. In the universe of the novel, the incident at the Park was naturally huge news, and his death was heavily reported. Thus, during one of his lectures, he announced,

“I was sorry to cut short the celebrations in mathematics departments around the country…but it turned out I was only slightly dead. The surgeons have done wonders, as they will be the first to tell you. So now I am back-in my next iteration, you might say.”

This is not to say that Malcolm’s life after surviving the Park went back to normal. In the film adaptation we see that Malcolm has been shunned by the academic community. The current heads at InGen who had taken over for John Hammond paid hush money to Grant, Sattler, and Malcolm to not say a word in public about what happened at Jurassic Park. Considering the financial situation of Dr. Grant and his inability to get funding in Jurassic Park III, neither man could keep silent for long about what InGen did, and thus, went out of there way to discredit them.

However, despite this, Malcolm, was still glad to see Tim and Lex, and even gets to hear from a dying John Hammond the words he wanted to hear during the whole ordeal: “I was wrong, you were right.”

That is when Hammond reveals his ulterior motive for inviting Malcolm, informing him of Site B. There mission is simple: they have found that as Malcolm told them back on Jurassic Park, life finds a way. The dinosaurs on Site B are thriving and existing not as park attractions but more like how they would have had they not gone extinct.

Hammond wants Malcolm and a team to find out why.  While Hammond assures him they aren’t making the same mistakes again, Malcolm just sees it as them making all new ones, as Malcolm is recruited to be part of the team, that includes Malcolm’s girlfriend, paleontologist Dr. Sarah Harding. Now, we begin to see some growth in Malcolm as he is actually concerned for the well being of another person and seems more serious about her then other lovers.

We also see him take an even more proactive role when his daughter, Kelly, sneaks along, trying his best to protect her, and keep the rest of the team safe. Things get worse when Hammond nephew, Peter Ludlow arrives with a team to take a full grown T-Rex  and it’s baby back to the mainland for a Jurassic Park located in San Diego. It befalls on Ian and Sarah to get the dinosaurs, back to the island. Again, Malcolm is the one to tell Ludlow what a bad idea this plan is form the outset, saying,

“When you try to sound like Hammond, it comes off as a hustle. I mean, it’s not your fault. They say talent skips a generation. So, I’m sure your kids will be sharp as tacks… Taking dinosaurs off this island is the worst idea in the long, sad history of bad ideas. And I’m gonna be there when you learn that. ”

In the end, Ian will always approach the situation at hand and look at the ethical conundrum. He knows based on science and history, that life, and nature will always find a way to correct the mistakes humans make. However, those mistakes can and will always cost human lives, unless humanity is careful. As he ominously warns a senate sub-committee regarding if the dinosaurs on the island need to be protected like any other endangered species in the trailers for  Jurassic World: Fallen Kingdom,

“These creatures were here before us, and if we are not careful, they will be here after us. Life cannot be contained. Life breaks free. Life finds a way.”



Cosper, Mike The Stories We Tell: How TV and Movies Long for and Echo Truth pgs. 71-72. 2014 Crossway. Wheaton, IL.

Crichton, Michael “In His Own Words” Archived. “The Lost World”. Last Accessed August 9, 2016.

Crichton, Michael. Jurassic Park.Knopf, New York,NY: 1990. Pgs. 39,73,74, 306. Print.

Crichton, Michael. The Lost World. Knopf, New York, NY: 1995. Pg.3. Print.

East, Susie and Ben Tinker.  “How to think straight in the age of Information Overload”  CNN. Com. October 9,2015. Last Accessed August 8, 2016.

Jaws. Dir. Steven Spielberg. By Peter Benchley and Carl Gottlieb. Perf. Roy Scheider, Robert Shaw, Richard Dreyfuss, Lorraine Gary, and Murray Hamilton. Zanuck/Brown Productions/Universal Studios. 1975. DVD.

Jurassic Park. Dir. Steven Spielberg. By Michael Crichton and David Koepp. Perf. Sam Neill, Laura Dern, Jeff Goldblum, Sir Richard Attenborough, Bob Peck, Martin Ferrero, Wayne Knight, B.D. Wong, Samuel L. Jackson, Joseph Mazzello, and Ariana Richards.Amblin Entertainment/Universal Studios. 1993. DVD.

Jurassic Park III. Dir. Joe Johnston. By Peter Buchman, Alexander Pane, and Jim Taylor. Perf. Sam Neill, William H. Macy, Tea Leoni, Alessandro Nivola, Trevor Morgan, Michael Jeter, and Laura Dern. Amblin Entertainment/Universal Studios. 2001. DVD.

Sears, Rufus “The Making of Jurassic Park” Empire Magazine issue 50. August 1993. Archvied October 24, 2014 “How Jurassic Park became The Biggest Movie of All Time” Last Accessed June 5, 2016

Stark, Michael D. and A.G. Holder “A T-Rex Swallowed my Pride” Jurassic Park: And Philosophy: The Truth is Terrifying. Pg. 253. Nicolas Michaud and Jessica Watkins .eds.

Zimmer, Carl “Bringing them Back to Life”. National Geographic. Pg. 41 Volume. 223. Issue 4. April, 2013. National Geographic Society. Washington, DC.



1993 Universal Studios/Amblin Entertainment.



This blog is not authorized, endorsed, approved or affiliated with Universal Studios, Amblin Entertainment or any other parties involved in the creation, development, and ownership of the Jurassic Park franchise. The views and opinions in this blog are strictly those of its author, and do not reflect the views or ownership of the respected owners of Jurassic Park.


About jonathondsvendsen

Hi! Thanks for stopping by my blog! Somehow you stumbled upon it. Whatever brought you around, I'm glad you're here. I am a free-lance writer and independent scholar of pop-cultural mythology, living and working in Minnesota. An aspiring mythmaker, I dream of voyages through space, fantastic worlds, and even my own superhero or two. I am also an established public speaker and have guest-lectured for college classes on the topic of comic book superheroes. I graduated from Bethel University in 2007 with a degree in Literature and Creative writing. I also write for the website Head on over and you can check out my book reviews , a few fun interviews and even my April Fools Day jokes.
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