There’s a feeling that Doug Liman is constantly pursing the truth. On this film, everything outside of the teleportation had to feel completely real to him. In doing so, he demanded the most of everyone working with him.
Given all the worn out genre retreads Hollywood turns out these days, it’s nice to report that Jumper is a real breath of fresh air. Not only is it an expert thriller, taking us across the globe—from a director who obviously knows this area extremely well, given his experience on The Bourne Identity—it also is a key science-fiction topic and one that quite amazingly has never really been explored so fully before this. That is somewhat astonishing to consider, when you realize how key this concept is in science-fiction literature. It’s certainly right up there with space travel and time travel in the human imagination. And quite curiously, 20th Century Fox seems to have led the groundwork in this area when they released The Fly almost 50 years ago, in 1958. But it’s only been in the last decade or so that advances in special effects technology have reached a point where a movie like Jumper could be made so effectively. And like any science-fiction story, there will inevitably be critics who will point out several conundrums and plot holes large enough to drive a bus through (which literally happens in the movie).
To those critics, many who probably praised one of the Matt Damon-Bourne movies, I’d ask this question: Do you really believe any human being could possibly do all the things Jason Bourne does in his supposedly “realistic” spy thrillers? The point being, any critic who enjoyed the Bourne movies, has no real cause for complaint about whatever small lapses of logic may occur in Jumper. In fact, if you accept the basic premise of teleportation to begin with, there are actually far less unbelievable moments in Jumper than what Jason Bourne goes through in his three movie adventures.
Of course, Jumper director Doug Liman was the man behind The Bourne Identity and I’d say he actually comes up with a more memorable picture here, simply because it’s a fresher concept. And like the Bourne pictures, it gives us something movies can do extremely well: go around the world in only 80 minutes.
Actually, the movie is a brisk 93 minutes, so there is very little time for the scads of exposition that was needed for a bloated story like The Da Vinci Code. Here we get a simple prologue, where David Rice, as a young teenager, discovers his amazing mutant powers during a schoolyard fight with a rival bully over his future girlfriend. Soon afterwards, David finds he has the power to teleport himself to anywhere on the planet in an instant.
I think one important thing that can help people enjoy the film more, is knowing in advance some of the background for the rules of jumping. Since none of this is brought out in the film itself, here are some of the rules the filmmakers developed, as revealed in the press notes:
First, a jumper can teleport anywhere he’s seen before, even in a photograph, so long as there is a strong visual memory of it. Second, a jumper can jump to anywhere he can currently see, even if it’s just a few feet away.
In addition, special effects supervisor Joel Hynek came up with some rules for how a teleporting jump effect would occur, since as Hynek points out, “We didn’t want to see the same thing over and over throughout the movie. So there are four things that effect how a teleporting Jump occurs:
1) The Jumper’s skill level.
2) His intention — whether he’s trying to be stealthy or destructive or just having fun.
3) His emotions at the time.
4) The overall difficulty of that particular teleportation. A Jumper who is panicked is going to create a different effect than a Jumper who is feeling calm. The more upset the Jumper is, the more big effects you’ll see.”
Director Doug Liman noted he was first attracted to the story because, “it was about somebody who gets superpowers and the first thing he does with them is go out and rob a bank. I really liked the honesty of that. It was something I hadn’t seen before and as a character-driven director it really interested me. I was also drawn to how imaginative and outrageous this canvas would allow me to be. Having done two action films in a row, I was attracted to the challenge of working with these profoundly human, complex characters.”
Indeed, because the first thing David Rice (Hayden Christiensen) does with his new power is so morally dubious, the filmmakers were led to create a truly evil nemesis in the form of the elite agency known as the Paladins. It’s a CIA-like organization that is led by the true bad guy, Samuel L. Jackson, whose mission is to terminate all Jumpers—with extreme prejudice. In fact, in a nice bit of sub-text, David Rice is from that liberal American bastion of Ann Arbor, Michigan, while the government-approved Paladin organization is modeled on far-right religious zealots, whose actions would clearly be approved by Mr. Bush. And Samuel L. Jackson revels in torturing his prey, right up to the point of killing them, reminding us of the true horrors that current American policies have wrought, especially in light of the Abu Ghraib prison scandal. To bring the point home, Jackson gleefully exults “nobody but God should have your kind of power,” right before he plunges his bowie knife deep into the heart of his victims.
Well, at least right-wing critics can’t claim this is a movie (like The Golden Compass) that teaches young audiences we are living in a God-less world. Actually, Jackson’s relentlessly sadistic portrait, is the kind of over the top villain that is always a lot of fun. As is the kinetic action of the climatic battle sequence, which sees the hero and villain jump-cutting from the Sahara desert to the streets of Tokyo, to the depths of an underwater lake, to the battle-torn countryside of Chechnya. It’s the kind of dazzling cinematic display that would no doubt have delighted Surrealist artists like Luis Bunuel and Andre Breton, especially when one throws in the obsessional L’ amour fou longing David has for his high-school sweetheart. It’s an obsession that ultimately leads him to be found and captured by the Paladins.
Helping to create all the fun is some great cinema craft work contributed by a trio of film editors, Saar Klein and Don and Dean Zimmerman. Cinematographer Barry Petersen beautifully photographs such far-flung exotic spots as the Sphinx in Egypt, the Roman Colosseum and the Empire State building. Equally important is the incredibly detailed work of production designer Oliver Scholl, who had to duplicate many of the real locations, like the Colosseum on a soundstage in Toronto. His work matches the location footage flawlessly and apparently producer Lucas Foster somehow convinced the Roman authorities to allow the production to be the first film to shoot inside the Colosseum in many decades—possibly for the first time since Ray Harryhausen’s Ymir met his untimely death there at the end of 20 Million Miles to Earth!
JUMPER (2008). Directed by Doug Liman. Screenplay by David S. Goyer and Jim Uhls and Simon Kinberg, from the novel by Steven Gould. Cast: Hayden Christensen, Samuel L. Jackson, Diane Lane, Jamie Bell, Rachel Bilson, Michael Rooker, Anna Sophia Robb, Max Thieriot, Jesse James, Tom Hulce, Kristen Stewart.