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February 19, 1998 - Image 20

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The Michigan Daily, 1998-02-19

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68 - The Michigan Daily Weeker Magazine- 1Thursday, Februar' 19, 1 99
Constellations fill night skies with myths and legends

El Film Feature
Crichton novels lose quality,
complexity in transition to film

The Michiganily Weekend I

By Gina Rasmussen
Fobr the Daily
Stars have existed for billions of
years, aiding navigation. inspiring sto-
rytellers and even being relied upon to
predict the future. But these "little dia-
monds in the sky" also form constella-
Constellations, in essence, "are pat-
terns of stars in the sky interpreted dif-
ferently from culture to culture," said
Pat Seitzer, an assistant professor of
astronomy at the University. There are
a total of 88 officially recognized and
recorded constellations in the entire
sky. "Forty-eight of them were derived
from the ancient Greeks and the other
40 were more or less made up by mod-
ern astronomers," said Richard Teske,
professor emeritus of astronomy.
Some constellation identities can be
traced to specific cultures and civiliza-
"Many of the identities of the con-
stellations were borrowed from
Babylonian civilization, including the
twelve sign of the zodiac," said John
Given, a doctoral student in the depart-
ment of classical studies. "The first
systematic record of the constellations
and their corresponding myths seem to
have taken place in the third century,
Star gazers already are familiar with
some of these patterns in the sky, such
as the Big Dipper, which actually is a
part of the biggest constellation.
Called the Ursa Major, the entire con-
stellation is known as the Great Bear.
Ursa Major and Ursa Minor are said to
be the bears that cared for the infant
Zeus on the island of Crete.
"UIrsa Major is sometimes identified
with the nymph Callisto who was
seduced by Zeus and became pregnant.
The problem was that Callisto has

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Ursa Major and Ursa Minor are some of the constellations in the Northern winter sky.

promised to the virgin goddess,
Artemis, to remain chaste," Given
explained. Later Artemis discovered
that Callisto was pregnant, and angrily
turned the nymph into a bear.
Eventually the bear bore a son named
Arcas who threatened to kill her. To
prevent such a tragedy, Zeus transport-
ed both of them into the heavens as
Similarly, Orion has a myth of his
own. A great hunter, he often is por-
trayed as boasting that he is a match
for any animal on earth. But after
offending the goddess of hunting,
Artemis. he is killed.
To the right of Orion sparkles the
brightest star in the sky, Sirius, which
is nine light years away. To the left is
Procyn. These are known as Canis

Major and Canis Minor, respectively.
They represent the hunting dogs of
Orion and accompany him across the
Almost all cultures have myths to
explain the constellations. The ancient
Chinese called the Big Dipper the
Emperor's Chariot, while the Berbers
of northern Africa considered our
bears to be a camel and its calf. "There
is no such thing as purity in the sky,"
Teske said.
Astrology grew prevalent because of
a strong belief that everything in the
universe is linked.
"Science cannot fully explain the
world around us and mythology is a
culture's way of adding to its store of
knowledge and understanding of the
world," Given said. "The two - sci-

Courtesy of Guide to the Stars' by Leslie Peltier
ence and myth - existed side by side,
in a way that our modern culture does-
n't allow. And I would say that our cul-
ture is poorer for the lack of willing-
ness to look beyond the purely ratio-
On a clear night, it is possible to see
about 3,000 of the 6,000 known stars
in the sky. But in Ann Arbor, one may
only see about 100 stars. Light pollu-
tion interferes with viewing, Seitzer
said. "It is best to go to the country
side, maybe 30 miles west of here, to
see the brightest stars."
Teske said that some of the brightest
stars can be seen from a desert such as
those in Texas or Arizona. But the best
place to go for stargazing is the
Southern Hemisphere during the win-
ter months.

Seeing constellations in the moon-
light can provoke wonder.
"Most people get their socks
knocked off when they see stars,"
Teske said. Seitzer expressed his own
opinion: "It is interesting to see pat-
terns change as seasons change, and
the paths of the moon and planets
cross from week to week."
If constellations still aren't your
forte, what about eclipses? The next
total solar eclipse of the sun will take
place on Feb. 26. The best place to
view it in its entirety will be the
Caribbean island of Aruba, which is
where Pat Teske plans to be. It will
begin at 12:30 p.m. and end at 1:57
p.m., and the maximum length of the
event will be four minutes and nine
seconds long.
For those of you who won't be in
Aruba next week, you can catch a
glimpse of the eclipse anywhere in the
Detroit vicinity. A partial eclipse will
take place at 1:04 p.m. and less than 10
percent of the sun will be visible. Both
Teske and Seitzer said that people
should not attempt to view the eclipse
directly with the naked eye. Proper fil-
ters or a projection system are neces-
sary to prevent blindness.
The next total eclipse of the sun will
take place on Aug. I1, 1999 and will
be visible from Central Europe, Seitzer
said. Cities like Plymouth, England:
Le Havre, France; Stuttgart and
Munich, Germany will all be in the
path of the eclipse.
Science has swayed many beliefs,.
myths and legends; science has
changed our entire way of thinking
about the world in general. But the sky
in plain view holds many mysteries. So
sit back, relax and open your eyes
(with protection of course) to the many
possibilities above and beyond.
Sky at a Glance
To learn about
different aspects
of space sci-
ence, set your
web browsers to
The Website,
called "Windows
to the Universe,"
is funded by
NASA and based
here at the

By Joshua Pederson
Daily Film Editor
The movie "Sphere" opened last
week, and fans of the original Michael
Crichton novel are probably lining up
at theaters right now to buy tickets for
the film. Or are they? The sharp
decline in quality that occurs when
Crichton's novels become moviesmay.
lead some readers to stay away.
Let's face the facts: Crichton is no
Dostoevsky. He's pretty far from Mark
Twain. He's not up there with Milton.
On the other hand, he is quite a story-
teller. He can write one heckuva page-
turner. But with the release of
"Jurassic Park," the movie, he found
out that if you can write a popular
page-turner, you can make a movie.
And if you can make a movie, you can
make money. And if you can make
money, you can make a name for your-
self. And after this stage, your name is
priceless, and you don't need to write
"good material" anymore.
In the past five years, Michael
Crichton has cashed in on his golden

name. And while he's made bushels of
green, nothing of real quality has come
from the writer's desk -- none of his
writing, none of his movies, none of
his television.
Now, don't get me wrong. I'm not
saying they haven't been popular.
They've been a diamond mine of pop
culture. But this instant popularity has-
n't been due to any real originality, or
any impressive ingenuity. It has
occurred as a direct result of
Crichton's golden name.
First, let's look back to the time
when the Crichton name didn't neces-
sarily mean immediate financial suc-
cess. He began his career as a writer in
medical school, and he wrote about a
half dozen novels during this portion
of his life.
Most were both critically and popu-
larly mediocre, but one, "A Case of
Need," won the Hudson Award for the
best mystery of the year. It was a mod-
est popular success, but nothing com-
pared to the deluge which would come
in years to follow.

Surprisingly, Crichton made the
jump to film early in his career. Many
think that "Jurassic Park" was the first
of Crichton's books to make the move
to film. But his 1970 novel, "The
Andromeda Strain," was made into a
delightfully tacky piece of '70s
schtick. Most important, though, it
retained a large number of Crichton's
original plot elements, a feat that
would not be repeated in his later
Throughout the '70s and '80s,
Michael Crichton wrote a number of
moderately successful science fic-
tion pieces, among them "Congo,"
"The Terminal Man" and the afore-
mentioned "Sphere," published in
In 1990, he wrote "Jurassic Park,"
the book that would launch his popu-
lar career. The novel moved up the
best seller list, quickly reaching the
"Jurassic Park"'s popularity made
Crichton's fans eager to see the dra-
matic, action-packed story told on film
... at least until the movie was.
In the summer of 1993, the film ver-
sion of the smash novel reached the
screens. Directed by Steven Spielberg,
"Jurassic Park" was an enormously
profitable success. It revolutionized
the special effects industry and truly
was a visual spectacle. But lost in the
whirlwind of computer-generated
velociraptors was the sad fact that
much of the novelty and imagination
of the original story had been lost.
Attending medical school has given
Michael Crichton an intensely scientif-
ic background. While much of his tal-
ent as a creator can be attributed to his
ability to tell a good story, it must not
be forgotten that he also contrives
plots that are mingled with a good
amount of analytical complexity.
In the film version of "Jurassic
Park," much of this concise intricacy is
lost. Crichton allowed his story to be
convoluted and simplified, catering to
a popular audience that has become
accustomed to spoon-feeding at the
The other major problem with the

Dustin Hoffman dives to exp
film version was the finale
had to be changed. But
alterations were made to a
almighty dollar. In the bool
were blasted to kingdom
producers know a moneynr
they see it, and a nuclear
isn't exactly conducive to
Crichton wrote "The L(
despite its predecessor's a
ing. It laid the foundations
effects-laden blockbuster rr
ly as lucrative, and with eve
ematic value. Crichton
novel solely for its monetar
and it showed. The result 1
that was barely readable at
But "The Lost World" v
only stunted offspring of
version of "Jurassic Park.'
stage for the movie mas:
number of other Crichton m
"Congo" was originally
ing, semi-anthropological ko
tional race of gorilla-like
Hollywood turned it into a h
gory revival of "Gorillas in
And, to satisfy the public's r
guns, the final scene featur
School and w
In nee,
Then join us for a
by a visiting te
Saturd 2
Learn more about th

Courtesy of Twentieth Century Fox
Sean Connery and Wesley Snipes star in "Rising Sun," another substandard adap-
tation of a Michael Crichton novel.

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