Jumping over shortcomings

Rachel Bilson in “Jumper”
written by David S. Goyer, Jim Uhis, Simon Knberg,
Steven Gould (novel). Directed by Doug Liman

A superhero popcorn flick formula is a great one: it allows for major mishaps and still more often than not is a lot of fun and brings in the dough. In short if you want to jump over shortcomings of a narrative, you better be a superhero. Or at least write about one.

“Jumper” is such a case: a lame film which nevertheless made 3 times its budget in the box office. The franchise (planned from the beginning) is almost certain. What’s the reason for the success? A calculated casting? A fresh premise? Special effects? Effective marketing? Probably all of the above and perhaps something to do with a superhero himself.

What is a superhero? It is an extreme exercise in transcending human limits. A break with our limitations, it is the strongest role playing game available for the weak, limited, confined, ineffective, cowardly and tired. In short, for us all.

“Jumper” punches up a basic superhero trait: being able to quickly move from place to place. This skill is taken to the limit: the space collapses at will and the hero acquires the ability to appear and disappear as well as to switch locations in an instant. In its popcorn movie style, this concept somehow corresponds to the recently mounting global, cultural and psycho-social suspicion that perhaps things are more together than they are apart, that our being in the world is not as singular in time and space as we have previously thought. Maybe this is the upcoming major paradigm shift that we all subconsciously suspect to appear anytime soon. A shift that we sense and await for with anticipation and trembling.

The film cost 80 million and took 100 days to shoot (!) It was developed in a workshop-during- the-production method of constant rewrites and re-shoots, typical to Doug Liman already on his previous (“Mr. and Mrs. Smith”) film. “He shoots until literally the money and the lights go out,” (the quotes are from memory) disclose the writers of Jumper when talking on the “Creative Screenwriting” magazine podcast. They voice it also on the dvd commentary track.

“We decided to cut out the boring parts” they say. Apparently the early drafts fleshed out the backstory and gave more insight into the family life of the main character. They showed him arriving at certain decisions. For example it took him 4 scenes to ask the girl to fly with him to Rome for the weekend. On the screen he meets the girl and bum... asks her out. “We realized we didn’t need all this time because as a jumper he lives a condensed life.”

The writers also talk about ‘humanizing the hero.” These two premises - humanizing a superhero character and devoiding him of the time needed to develop his rationale do not easily go together.

The writers band over backward not to talk themselves out of sequels. It is however clear that that they have fallen victims of some external forces: be it a towering personality of the director, or the studio. If you watch the film all sorts of character, plot points and structure questions come up. You wonder what’s going on, don’t they know this is not working? When listening to them talk you realize all the ideas that would make this story stronger and better were written and considered. Some even shot. Finally all were rejected. So of course they know how to design a story. Some other force knows better what will lure people to buy tickets. I do not believe in “the dumber the better” option for a popcorn movie. The 18-25 target is smart and sophisticated enough to consume complex stories. So what’s going on here?

Ironically, the hope is in the sequel. (The producers apparently convinced the great Diane Lane to play the mother promising her a strong character, which is yet to come.) Perhaps a sequel will allow to develop the superhero and his parents connection, which in its darkness, drama and twists potentially could rival the Luke Skywalker/Darth Vader model.

Bottom line? Putting aside the complains about the missing opportunities this sucker will line up to buy a ticket for Jumper 2 even if it is as half baked as the original. Just to see what’s next. Wait, let’s be honest here: in actuality - to jump myself.


  1. I haven't seen "Jumper" and I'm not goin' to cause some part of me just feels that all movies starring Hayden Christensen suck. The fact that screenwriters know how to make an interesting story doesn't justify them from being puppets ruled by producting molochs of Hollywood. Luckily, there seems to be a major shift onwards in the superhero genre recently. Look at Spider-Man, look at X-Men, look at Iron Man. Look finally at The Dark Knight - those are all proofs that moviemakers are eager to push the envelope of the genre even harder and make something more of it than just naive morality stories for children.

  2. True that Jumper sounds scary enough, to avoid the cinema for 20 meters, but then it might have a good idea, no doubts 'bout that.
    But commenting mostly Młody's opinion about Spider Man trilogy (or maybe just the first part?) and X-Men (maybe the trylogy as well) being more than just a naive morality story for children of all ages. It seems to me as a funny statement. Of course it seems this way, because I could never agree to try even comparing these two productions with The Dark Knight (faster with Iron Man which was a cheap yet funny - thx to brilliant Robert Downey Jr. - piece of filmography), and throwing them to the same 'basket' is only a blasphemy and nothing more. We could compare the stories, and find nothing alike (exept for the basics which characterise superhero movies), we could compare the actors, and find that there's a big canyon between one and another (just for fun, lets compare in these movies the roles - not looking at the actors pasts - of Tobey Maguire and Willem Defoe [good guy - bad guy] with Christian Bale and Heath Ledger [again good guy - bad guy] NO COMPARISON!)
    So conclusions? Quite obvious, while "moviemakers are eager to push the envelope of the genre even harder" than some movies are still the same old crap which we've seen for years but in a nicer cover, while some are the cream of the crop. It's been like this for ages, and ther's no sign that it's going to change. There will always be movies that try to be innovative but fail, while there will be always fewer less movies that become cultivated world wide hits.