Things that put moviegoers almost constantly on edge create rapt attention. Science is impoverished with “What next?s,” and Michael Crichton explains how science filmmakers solve the problem:
The New York Times article quotes my friend David Milch, a creator of NYPD Blue. His answer is blunt: “the scientific method is antithetical to storytelling.” And he's right, at least for movies. Movies are a special kind of storytelling, with their own requirements and rules. Here are four important ones: (i) Movie characters must be compelled to act. (ii) Movies need villains. (iii) Movie searches are dull. (iv) Movies must move.
Unfortunately, the scientific method runs up against all four rules. In real life, scientists may compete, they may be driven—but they aren't forced to work. Yet movies work best when characters have no choice. That's why there is the long narrative tradition of contrived compulsion for scientists. In Flash Gordon, Dr. Zharkov must work or else Dale Arden will be fondled by Ming the Merciless. In countless other stories, the scientist was given a daughter, so she could be captured by the bad guys, to force the scientist to work. Another time-honored method to compel is to build in a clock, as I did in The Andromeda Strain. You must accomplish a task before something awful happens. Or you can murder the character's family, thus forcing him to track down the bad guys. But however you do it, the end result is always the same: The movie character is compelled to act.
(Quoted from “Ritual Abuse, Hot Air, and Missed Opportunities,” by Michael Crichton. Science, March 5, 1999, 283(5402): pp. 1461-1463.)
For a brief biography of Michael Crichton, click here. For images of or relating Michael Crichton, click here.