Jumper, plot points, and the two Brian Coxes.

Jumper, plot points, and the two Brian Coxes. February 21, 2008


Dirty Harry at Libertas articulates one of the bigger problems with Jumper in such a simple and concise way that I cannot help but wish it had occurred to me to put it this way in my own review:

In normal superhero films once the hero realizes the danger his place in the world puts on his loved ones, he separates himself from them. Much of our protagonist’s conflict in the better Superman and Spiderman films revolve around their giving up the women they love. David’s different though. As soon as he realizes Sam Jackson will stop at nothing to kill him he uses his powers to hook up with the old girlfriend from high school.

This way of approaching the film probably didn’t occur to me because I never really thought of Jumper as a “superhero” movie, influenced as I was by my reading of the book, which is more of a sci-fi coming-of-age story. The David of the movie may refer to comics once or twice, but the David of the book is more inclined to read classic literature; this, indeed, is why the first place he “jumps” to, in both the book and the film, is the local library.

Incidentally, Dirty Harry is also one of a number of critics — including Brandon Fibbs and Christopher Campbell — who have zeroed in on another aspect of the film that zipped past me, again because it had nothing to do with the book. There is a scene in the film where David Rice (Hayden Christensen) sees a flood and its third-world victims on TV, and a few critics have suggested that David could have just teleported out there and saved them — but he doesn’t, preferring to go surfing and night-clubbing instead.

The thing is, I am not so sure that David could have teleported out there and saved those people. The mechanism behind “jumping” — spelled out very clearly in the book, and followed in the movie more often than not, especially in the prologue — requires the Jumper to have a strong memory of the place that he is “jumping” to. He must either have been there before, or he must at least have seen the place he is “jumping” to. This is why the teenaged David cannot “jump” to places that he has seen only in postcards and travel brochures, but he can “jump” to a tourist spot that he remembers visiting with his mother. This is also why the teenaged David has to walk past the open bank vault before he can “jump” into it, and why Roland (Samuel L. Jackson), the “Paladin” who is hunting the Jumpers down and killing them, can confidently tell the bank manager that whoever robbed the bank has been inside that vault before. This mechanism is also implicit in the scene where Roland looks at all the pictures on David’s wall and tells a colleague that they now know what David’s “jump sites” are; those pictures are memory aides, helping David to remember the places that he has been to before, places that he would have had to visit the old-fashioned way first. (In the book, David flies to various airports so that he can “acquire” places to “jump” to there.)

Certainly, the film suggests a certain callousness on David’s part towards all those people who are suffering without his powers, and it is perfectly legitimate to discuss how the film portrays and possibly even encourages this callousness. But unless David has already made a point of “acquiring” a “jump site” near the place where that disaster happens to have occurred, there isn’t really any way he can intervene, at least not immediately.

And for what it’s worth, this callousness is just one of many ways in which the film completely ignores and, indeed, goes against the thrust of the original novel, once the prologue is over. The David of the book — and its sequel, Reflex — steals money when he is a runaway teen, yes, but he is also a compassionate kind of guy who makes a point of terrorizing wife-beaters and giving money to homeless people and saving airline passengers from skyjackers, etc. He’s a troubled guy, sure, but he is definitely not callous.

The David of the book also goes out of his way to use his newfound power to try and track down his mother, who left his abusive father when David was very young; and the David of the book also wonders constantly if there are other Jumpers out there. (In the book, there aren’t any, at least not that he hears about.) But the David of the film is so busy indulging in his hedonistic pursuits that he shows zero interest in his mother’s whereabouts and zero curiosity about the possible existence of other Jumpers; indeed, when he finally meets Griffin (Jamie Bell), a second Jumper who does not exist in the books but was invented just for the film, the new character chides him for thinking he was “the only one.”

So, read the book if you can, and don’t let the movie discourage you. And that’s all I have to say about that, for now.

But while we’re talking about the book and movie versions of Jumper, I do have to mention one fun little coincidence.

In the book, which came out in 1992, there are no mysterious Paladins but there is a shadowy American government official who tries to capture David, and whose name is Brian Cox.

Brian Cox also happens to be the name of an actor who has had experience with teleporters and with Jumper director Doug Liman — but not in the same movie. Cox played William Stryker, the shadowy American government official who mind-controls the teleporting mutant Nightcrawler, in X2: X-Men United (2003); and before that, he played Ward Abbott, the shadowy American government official who tries to capture Jason Bourne, in The Bourne Identity (2002), which was directed by Liman.

It’s a shame the movie version of Jumper didn’t follow the novel more closely, or we could have had an actor named Brian Cox playing a character named Brian Cox — and he wouldn’t have been playing himself! It might have seemed like typecasting, though.

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  • Is jumper any good? I’m intrigued to see it, but have heard it’s rather lame.