John C. Wright (johncwright) wrote,
John C. Wright
johncwright

Jumper. Read the Book. Skip the Movie.

JUMPER is a novel by Stephen Gould and a film by Doug Liman and starring Hayden Christensen. The book was a delight, reminding me of the best qualities of a Heinlein juvenile. The film was repellent, reminding me of the worst qualities of modern movies and modern movie-makers.

Repellent. I cannot think of the last time I saw a film where I was so revolted with a protagonist that the film maker was supposed to get me to like.

I have seen films with unsympathetic protagonists before, but they were deliberately made so, either as part of a character arc, where a bum becomes a decent man, or as a gritty look into the grimness of real life, where we are supposed to see the sins of others as a way to reflect on our own sins. But this was not like that. This was a bit of sciffy special-effect action extravaganza, and all that was needed was a main character who was likeable.

In the book, young Daniel Rice discovers he has the ability to teleport when he uses this mysterious ability to escape from his drunken, abusive, child-beating father. In the movie, young Daniel Rice uses the same mysterious ability to abandon his father, who is not a childbeater, not abusive---and Daniel immediately goes and robs a bank. This indicates to me that the father should have taken the rod to him, because it was pretty clear the child was spoiled.

He does not steal enough money to live on, he steals enough money to live in the lap of luxury in a New York apartment overlooking Central Park, wearing fine clothes, and in a palatial suite that looks for all the world like a James Bond villain's hangout.  Spoiled is an excellent word to use here.

In the very next scene, we see our hero at a bar. On the news comes a report of a disaster: a schoolbus is trapped by rising flood waters. The newscaster breathlessly says that no one can reach the victims in time, no one can get to them.

Well, naturally, I thought that this was a set-up for our Jumper, who can go anywhere, to rescue some innocent people with his mysterious gift. But, oh no, the gift is not meant for so noble a purpose. The moment he sees the newscast, Dan the Jumper Rice teleports to England, where is picks up a blond in a bar, and immediately fornicates with her. We don't find out the girl's name and I assume Mr. Jumper does not either. While she is sleeping, he jumps back to America. Does anyone but me think it is a little rude, to say the least, just to squirt your semen into a young lady and depart without a word? No flowers, no hug, no nothing? Maybe I should be happy he did not give the woman a few slaps in the face to show her what he really thought of her. Maybe he was in a hurry to go visit the graves of the children who drowned in the school bus, and point and laugh at the mourners.

The Jumper in the book was not a creep like this. This character was not just an asshole, he was vile.

Let me dwell on the bank robbery for a moment. The voice-over explaining the life of crime asks insolently, "Hey—I was seventeen! What would you do?"

This is the wrong question to ask, if you are trying to win audience sympathy. When I was seventeen, I would have died before I would have stolen a dime.

If you have the ability to teleport, and you cannot think of an honest way to make a living in America, then you deserve to starve. Good grief, beg on the street while teleporting four feet to the left and right, until you have enough money to buy a T-Shirt that says "The Amazing Disappearing Boy!" and I am sure you could get five bucks from a kind old lady or a sailor on leave or something. Jeez. What about a job as a delivery boy? Teleporting Pizza service!

Now, I am older and less idealistic, so I can imagine stealing a loaf of bread to save my starving child. Almost. It would have to be a child I particularly liked, however. And it would have to be bread that was going to be thrown out anyway. On the other hand, I do not think anyone should make a movie out of me stealing bread for my child, lest it glorify or excuse theft.

Now, in this film, young Daniel Rice leaves an IOU behind when he robs his first bank. Okay, that is more sympathetic—but then he never pays the IOU back. He does not steal enough to live on until he can get a job, and earn enough to pay it back. He steals enough to take a bath in the money like Scrooge McDuck. I kid you not: there is a scene where Jumper Boy is rolling around in piles upon piles of cash on his bed.

Now, in the film, he is not shown doing something with this stolen money. He does not invest it or use it to open a business or anything. He just spends it. As best I can tell, he merely steals more whenever he needs more.

In the book, Daniel Rice is chased by some Government Agents whom he handily outwits, but the real antagonist of the book was a Muslim terrorist who kills Rice's mother. Rice decides to use his Jumper power to track down this villain and get revenge. His innate decency does not allow him to simply kill the man as he deserves, but he uses his teleport ability to imprison him in a remote location, and he brings his prisoner food and supplies.

Now enter the antagonist of the film: Mace Windu in a bad wig. Samuel L. Jackson, who has never turned in a bad performance in his life, does a fine job here. He comes on as an investigator for the government trying to track down the thief. Well, naturally, all my sympathies at this point in the film are for him. I naturally assume that cops who work for the government trying to stop thieves are good guys. But, oops, plot twist!, it turns out Mace Windu is a bad guy who stabs people with a big knife for no particular reason. He merely has the magical ability to be able to call upon a world-wide network of secret agents for a secret organization of teleporter-hunters. Now, I was prepared, while gritting my teeth, to accept the notion that rogue CIA agents or something were hunting down Jumpers to use for clandestine "black ops" or something of the sort. No, no, the plot twist was much stupider than that. Mace Windu is a member of an centuries-old highly organized group of illuminati who have been hunting Jumpers for centuries.

Now, that does not seem dumb, does it? I mean, who does not love secret organizations of centuries-old illuminati?

AH! But these illuminati are the Magisterium! They are the Opus Dei! You heard me. The Christians are the bad guys. Their motive for killing teleporters is that "Old God should Have the Power to Be in All Places At Once". Boy, that is so stupid it makes my head ache. Teleporters go from place to place, they are not in all places at once, and God does not teleport.

These guys are not Jews or even Evil Buddhists. They are called Paladins— yes, you heard me. The band of knights in service to Charlemagne who saved Europe from the Muslim hordes of Spain and North Africa are just the people the film makers thought it would be creepy to name their bad guys after. They are the same people (according to one character in the film) who were responsible for the Inquisition.

Whatever, film maker dude. Good thing you did not have the Muslim terrorist in the book as the villain, or that might have offended someone.

Now, at this point, the only thing the film could have done to make me hate the main character even more, would be to have him go look up his old girl friend, who is doing honest work, have him lie to her, and to show him trespassing over and over again when he tries to seduce her by taking her on a trip to Rome. Oh, and copulating with this pretty young girl who deserves better than a lying, thieving, pool of vomit jackass without the benefit of marriage also did not earn any points with me as a member of the paying audience. I could have bought Stephen Gould's book in paperback for the price of admission.

Jumper Boy, having successfully put his girlfriend in danger in order to satisfy his own selfish and thoughtless lusts and appetites, now makes an alliance with a nutcase Jumper. Jumper Boy and Nutcase Jumper decide to team up "like a Marvel Team-Up". You know, now is not the best time in the film to be reminding your long-suffering audience, who liked the book this was based on, and who really wanted to like this film, about other people with teleport powers, like Nigthcrawler of the X-Men, who is a hero, and the best part of the movie he was in. Jeez.

Special effects abound during some of the fight scenes. I wish I had seen this film in Japanese, like an anime, so I did not know what they were saying. I would have enjoyed the special effects scenes.

The two limits on teleportation are that (1) you cannot Jump when someone is tasering you and (2) you cannot teleport a building, or else you die. Jumper Boy does both, and for no apparent reason. This is after a scene where Nutcase Jumper wanted to blow up Mace Windu with a bomb, which struck me as a perfectly valid tactic at that point in the film. Jumper Boy beats up Nutcase, and goes in to where Mace Windu has set a trap for him, and— Huhn? He just waltzes in with no plan, and the Illuminati gizmos and guns and whatnot are simply ignored. Maybe Jumper Boy was protected by the Aura of Plot Contrivance, that turns aside bullets and knives and electric ray guns, and also grants you the ability to do the two things the film wasted our time explaining to us where the only two things Jumpers could not do.

Magic in a story is only magic if there is one thing the magic cannot do. Otherwise the story lacks magic, if you take my meaning.

That one thing, whatever it is, kryptonite, formed the basis of the plot: it is the obstacle the hero must overcome or circumvent. If kryptonite robs Superman of all his power in every scene except the climax scene, it makes no sense and invalids the story.  

A final word: the reason Mace Windu in a Wig gives for killing Jumpers is that teleportation in and of itself is a corruptive ability: everyone who was run away from his problems, the character says, turns into a selfish creep. They go bad. Well, as far as I can tell, that analysis is exactly right.

End of the film: the mother who abandoned Jumper Boy as a baby was also a Member of the Magisterium and/or Opus Dei, so she is a creep also. Jumper Boy does not kill Mace Windu, but drops him off without food or water in the middle of the desert, and leaves him to die. Or maybe Jumper Boy expected Mace to make it back to civilization somehow, in which case, why would he not continue to hunt this boy down?

Girlfriend has her house destroyed in the crossfire, and now she joins Jumper Boy in his life of pointless and endless sightseeing and tourism and, because we all know a shallow, unproductive life is best— what the heck where these movie makers thinking? What were they thinking?  

Everyone in this movie is a creep, and I wanted them all to die, except for Nutcase Jumper, who was funny, and Mace Windu, because, as best I could tell, he was van Helsing, a mortal man fighting a supernatural villain.

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