As industry watchers know by now, Doug Liman has a funny way of making a movie. The idiosyncratic director lives to buck conventional wisdom and play havoc on production schedules; as a result, he frequently tangles with studio bosses. Jumper is no exception. First Liman jettisoned most of the source material—a youth novel by Stephen Gould—and worked with screenwriter Simon Kinberg and producer Lucas Forster to re-conceptualize a script developed by at least two other writers (final script credit goes to Kinberg, first-drafter David Goyer, and Fight Club's Jim Uhls). Liman got three weeks into production before getting a brighter idea to age the characters from teens to twentysomethings, resulting in a recasting of all but one actor.
Jumper proceeds from a grabber of a "what if?" premise. David Rice (Hayden Chistensen) has the power to teleport, or "jump," to any place on the planet he's ever been. On discovering this ability as a fifteen-year-old (Max Thieriot), David doesn't concern himself much with the existential "why?" (nor does the film, which takes the magic-realist existence of jumpers for granted)—he refines his technique, cases a bank, and steals enough money to emancipate himself from his not-so-dear ol' dad (Michael Rooker). The only pang he gets by jumping away from his old life in dreary Ann Arbor is leaving behind his first love, Millie (AnnaSophia Robb).
One of the smart moves by the creative team is to be honest about what someone (especially a teen) would do if a superpower suddenly manifested. Christensen's opening narration puts it bluntly as we see him chilling atop the Sphynx: "I'm standing on top of the world...Once I was a normal person. A chump, just like you." Now, he has a luxe playboy pad outfitted with toys and stashed cash (in a nice touch, he's so lazy he "jumps" down the couch for the out-of-reach remote). The jig is up when Samuel L. Jackson's sinister Roland arrives, explains that he's a paladin (the historical enemy of jumpers), and promptly tries to rub out David with jump-inhibiting electrodes and a big-ass knife. A true believer in his murderous cause, Roland explains, "Only God should have the power to be all places at all times."
David's an expert at escaping from his problems, but now he's off balance and on the run in an intriguing spin on the fugitive/chase story. A return visit to Ann Arbor finds David unable to resist checking in on Millie (now Rachel Bilson), and before you can say "super-cool location," the two are on a jet-set date in Rome. But Roland and the Paladins won't be stopped, which spells trouble in paradise (beginning with a fight cleverly set in the Coliseum) and a patronizing save by another jumper named Griffin (Jamie Bell, worth his weight in gold), who schools David on survival techniques. To dazzling effect, Foster and Liman don't skimp on the special effects or the globe-jumping locations, which include Tokyo, Times Square, Baja, and Prague, with a bit of "local color" from Big Ben and the Pyramids thrown in for good measure. The wow factor of it all is considerable, with the special effects impeccably rendering the jumps.
Action aside, the subtly subversive story is an erratic journey from attractive wish fulfillment toward some measure of ethical consideration on the part of its callow, hubristic hero. Millie warns the irresponsible David, "We all need to grow up," but succumbs to his Pleasure Island invite. Roland's estimation is harsher: "You think you could go on like this forever? Living like this, with no consequences? There are always consequences." And there are consequences to the film's exhilarating but wearying determination to "skip the boring parts": the young and stupid leading characters (played by stars lacking in high wattage) challenge audience identification, the backstory is bare bones, and the sensory overload action sequences risk incoherence.
Liman's chaotic production style leaves unrepaired plotholes requiring "leaps" of faith, and the female characters (Bilson and Diane Lane as David's long-absent mother) needed some more incisive dialogue to shore up their poorly established motivations. The climactic action showdown stretches the premise to an arguable breaking point, and the irresolute resolution—catching us off-guard just when most action films would be revving up for more story—conveniently demands a sequel (which we may or may not get), leaving an audience curiously unsatisfied. Viewers might find themselves more forgiving on a repeat viewing, going in understanding what the film is and isn't prepared to provide in terms of narrative.
Though Liman's restless creativity can be maddening for his collaborators, the friction often results in a strong film (The Bourne Identity) or at least a superficially robust one (Mr. and Mrs. Smith), a record that has thus far allowed Liman to keep working. If Jumper too often feels like a special-effects demo reel in search of a story, at least the eye candy is pretty darn sweet. Liman and company conceived Jumper as the first in a potential trilogy—and it's a franchise with, well, potential. Since the film turned a profit, Liman just may take his chance to follow through with end-tying and perhaps more sensible sequels.
Fans of Doug Liman and his latest film will jump for joy over the two-disc special edition hitting Blu-Ray and DVD (there's also a one-disc DVD version). It's no surprise that Jumper looks and sounds crystal-clear on Fox's Blu-Ray—if the presentation has a flaw, it's that the image occasionally appears a bit too bright or "boosted," reminding us we're watching a digital transfer rather than a film. But as "complaints" go, that's not a bad one to have: Jumper looks awfully good. And the transfer is the jewel in a crown studded with bonus features.
First up is a dense audio commentary by director Doug Liman, screenwriter Simon Kinberg, and producer Lucas Foster. It's a great listen, never letting up on information and opinion while giving a strong sense of how the team collaborates (and the tone of their friendship). The three discuss why the film diverges from the book, the influence of Goodfellas' voice-over narration, the film's moral ambiguity, its insistence on flouting audience expectations in terms of character, how the team spent three years debating the plot, and how Liman stole shots in Times Square on the fly, among other topics (there's also a brief squabble over whom was more likely to die in uncontrolled traffic: Liman or Jamie Bell). Kinberg sums up their approach, "It's scientific, it's physical, it's psychological, it's moral. We talked about all the different possible consequences of having a sort of supernatural ability/disability." In short, these guys talk a good game for a movie that's been maligned by many.
"Jumpstart: David's Story" (8:07) is an entertaining, crudely "animated graphic novel," offering an additional chapter to the story. It's well worth watching, though oddly no credits are provided for this short.
Jumping Around the World is a feature that takes advantage of the incipient picture-in-picture technology for Blu-Ray players. If your player has the function, you can use the feature to see behind-the-scenes footage and location information appear in the lower-left of the screen during the feature. But you'd just as well watch the non-PIP version that's thoughtfully provided, allowing one to quickly access the behind-the-scenes tidbits: a "Multi-City Pod" (2:08) giving an overview, with Liman, Kinberg, and Foster; "Michigan, U.S.A.: Pod #1" (2:11), adding comments by production designer Oliver Scholl and 2nd unit director/stunt coordinator Simon Crane, Hayden Christensen, and Rachel Bilson; "NYC" (8:17 with "Play All" option), comprising "Pod #1" (:39), "Pod #2" (:37), "Pod #3" (2:53) with Samuel L. Jackson chiming in, and "Pod #4" (1:59) with Diane Lane; "London, England: Pod#1" (:23) with visual effects supervisor Dan Lemmon; "Rome, Italy: Pod#1" (5:18) with Jamie Bell and visual effects supervisor Eric Rehnquist; "Giza, Egypt: Pod #1" (:32); and "Tokyo, Japan" (2:18).
The best of the bonuses is "Doug Liman's Jumper: Uncensored" (35:34), a head-spinning look—constructed of fly-on-the-wall footage and to-the-point interview clips—at the semi-controlled chaos of a Liman production. Most of the above cast and crew appear here, as well as costume designer Magali Guidasci, who laments having to navigate "the triangle of Bermuda": Liman, Foster, and executive producer Kim Winther. The doc sums up our love-hate relationship with the defiant director as auteur. Liman commands respect by being so sure of himself and hands-on, eagerly operating the camera himself or stripping down to lend a hand (or give the appearance of lending a hand, anyway) during an actor's submersive stunt.
We also get the impression that Liman's dodgy resistance to pinning anything down results in a near-runaway production, wantonly burning money and jerking around actors as it slips out of its scheduled bounds. On camera, we see Jamie Bell both playing politic and praising Liman's creativity but also ranting frustratedly about being called to the set (and sometimes made-up in the wee hours) for nothing...repeatedly. How much time did Bell have on his hands? Enough to choreograph and perform a dance with one of his doubles—one of the doc's most absurdly funny moments. But nothing compares to the unprecedented sight of Liman directing two scenes at the same time, operating the camera for one and monitoring another down the hall.
"Making an Actor Jump" (7:36) is a straightforward explanation of the key special effect, concisely showing its development from a series of ever-more-refined test shots to the final stages of producing the film's effects shots. Liman, Bell, Foster, Christensen, Crane, Lemmon, and special effects supervisor Joel Hynek participate. "Jumping from Novel to Film: The Past, Present, & Future of Jumper" (8:08) gets the novel's author Stephen Gould on the record about his own inspiration and his sanguineness about the film's liberties; Liman, Foster, Kinberg, Christensen, and Bell also pitch in their two pennies each about the coolness of the story.
Deleted Scenes (11:17 with "Play All" option) include "Inadvertent Jumps" (2:47), "Alternate Roland Intro" (1:55), "Tokyo and the Machine" (1:10), "Daniel Hides from Roland" (3:36), "Taxi to Airport—Rome" (1:19), and "Epilogue War." They're intriguing, not least because they present raw soundstage footage unfinished by special effects. Lastly, in a sign that's not terribly encouraging for the supposedly greenlit sequel, we get the presumably spoiler-ific "Previz: Future Concepts" (4:34) depicting a big action sequence, in computer animatic form, from a continuation of the story. Then again, the way Liman changes things up, very little of this preview reel may ultimately be used even if the sequel does go ahead. And if I may jump back to the disc's beginning for a moment, the disc kicks off with a five-minute, Jumper-themed HP ad (urgh) and a preview for The Happening. All in all, it's another staggering special edition from Fox, especially in high-definition Blu-Ray.
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