Big Woolly JUMPER: Three Screenwriters, One Unholy Mess

Peter Travers summed up my thoughts of Doug Liman’s 2008 sci-fi blockbuster with his review in Rolling Stone Magazine by saying this: “It took three screenwriters to turn Steven Gould’s novel into an unholy mess.” The three in question – David S. Goyer, Jim Uhls and Simon Kinberg – have scripted good and bad in equal measure. Goyer was the creative force behind the mixed Blade trilogy. Uhls previously adapted Chuck Palahniuk’s novel Fight Club. Kinberg worked with director Doug Liman before on his enjoyable action rom-com Mr & Mrs Smith, but also wrote the franchise destroying X-Men: The Last Stand. Liman himself was on a roll, following up The Bourne Identity and Mr & Mrs Smith with this, his first foray into the sci-fi genre.

So what went wrong?

The short answer is Paladins. Whoever suggested transforming the antagonists from the book (the NSA, and a separate terrorist front) into a religious order that has existed for centuries should put their hands up and admit it was a bad idea. The ill-conceived and poorly executed antagonists hunt the jumpers because, and I quote, “Only God should have the power to be everywhere at once.” In one fail swoop, what could have been an interesting film about the lengths world governments and terrorist organisations would go to in order to have a jumper working for them is shot down and replaced with a bunch of one-dimensional religious zealots.

Another change from the source novel is the fact the lead protagonist’s mother is a) alive and b) a Paladin (in a twist that is SO obvious by the film’s conclusion). This actually makes no sense, because the mother, Mary Rice (played by the criminally underused Diane Lane) states that she left David and his father William because David first jumped when he was five years old, yet we first see David teleport at his school when he is in his teenage years; this is his first jump according to the character himself. She claims she left him so the Paladins did not find him; but I find it hard to believe she, as a member of this exclusive religious order, would shack up with William, by all accounts a depressed, angry drunk. It also makes no sense that she would risk having another child (a cameo by Kristen Stewart as David’s half-sister at the end) in case any further offspring were too also jumpers. Of course this is assuming jumping is a genetic ability; alas it is never explained.

One change which I did quite like was the addition of other jumpers, namely Griffin, although his introduction leaves a lot to be desired. We first see Griffin in a pub in London that David just happens to coincidentally be in as well. Somehow, and it is never explained how, Griffin then tracks David, yet does not make himself known until Rome. This is but one coincidence in a script plagued by holes. For example:

• Why does Young David say “Did I just teleport?” when that is his second time doing it? (or third if you believe his mother)
• Why does it take the Paladins, who seem to have unlimited resources, eight years to track David down from his initial bank robbery?
• Roland Cox, the lead antagonist, asks early on “Who is protecting him?” Yet there is no evidence anyone is.
• When adult David escapes into his old room, why is there still chains on the door after eight years?
• Why does David wait until now, when he is being followed by Paladins, to visit Millie, thus placing her in danger?
• Why does David leave the bully trapped in a vault, someone who can readily identify him?
• Why does David decide to go on a massive romantic getaway to Rome when he is on the run from the Paladins, instead of, for example, worrying about who they are and what they want?
• Why, when he is in police custody, does David not jump?
• How does David’s Paladin mother Mary find him before the other Paladins do?
• Why do the two jumpers go to China? There seems to be no logical reason for them to go there, other than to court a Chinese audience.
• How or why does David get the landing time of the plane so wrong?
• Why is Roland not waiting for Millie at her apartment, since he is in the same town (having previously visited David’s father)?

And on and on. The character motivations in the script are very weak, bending and breaking to fit the plot rather than the plot working around the character. It really is a shame, because the film has a great concept, and one or two moments of brilliance (such as the two jumpers fighting for remote control, leaping across the globe). The book has three antagonists; David’s abusive father William; Rashid Matar, a terrorist who kills David’s mother in a bombing; and Brian Cox, an agent of the NSA. In my retrospective rewrite I would try and remain more faithful to the book, giving David a powerful motive (the death of his mother) to push the story forward. In the novel, he is also a hero, using his power to save people, whereas in the film, he is, to be blunt, an arrogant, unlikeable dick.

I would also re-title the film. The title of any film is a selling tool, it is your first impression of a film before a trailer or poster, and frankly Jumper just does not do it for me. It’s something woolly that I wear when its colds. However, echo left behind after a jump is referred to as a Jump Scar, which sounds all kinds of cool.

JUMP SCAR – ALTERNATIVE STORYLINE

OPEN ON: David, a young teenager, hiding out at his school’s library, not wishing to go home, doing his physics homework. Also there is Millie, a girl in his class. There is a mutual attraction here, but both are young and shy. They leave the library when it is closed for the evening. They walk home, separately, but smiling at one another across the road, until David arrives at his house. From outside we can hear his mother and father arguing. David pauses, not wishing to enter this parental storm, but then it starts to rain.

David enters the house; he watches the argument escalate until his father William, a drunk, strikes his mother, Mary. David tries to intervene, but his father strikes him as well. Later, Mary takes David and they run away to the airport. Mary has booked them tickets on a plane bound for Europe via New York to see her parents. Further drama ensues when William follows them to the airport, trying to stop them from leaving, but he fails.

The plane is hijacked by terrorists in mid-air, who seize control of the craft, with the intention of causing another 9/11. David is suddenly scared as the passengers revolt, and the plane begins to descend towards the ground. As it nearly crashes, David teleports for the first time, his jump scar breaking the plane apart.

David teleports into his school library, now closed. He is scared and does not know what to do. He can still see the Jump Scar he left, and re-enters it, appearing above a field, falling. He jumps again, landing in the field. In the next field is the flaming wreckage of the plane he was just on. As the police and fire crews begin to arrive, David teleports into his house. He packs some of his things, but pauses when he sees a picture of him and his mother on the Empire States Building. He jumps there, and watches the sun come over New York with tears glazing his face. It is a new beginning, born from grief.

He gets a hotel room, and watches the news about the plane crash. His father is on the news, as he was detained by police at the airport, and questioned, until a terrorist organisation, Al Matari, led by Rashid Matar, claimed responsibility, issuing a video message. David tries to jump to where Rashid Matar is video-taped, but cannot. He realises he has to have been there.

Meanwhile, the bodies of the victims are laid out in a hanger being used by the NSA to gather all evidence pertaining to the crash. Veteran NSA Agent Brain Cox is informed that one of the bodies is missing, a young boy, David Rice, who was sitting where the plane broke apart. Cox tells them to fake David’s remains.

David, on the rooftops of New York, jumps from one roof to another, learning to master his ability. He jumps into an alley, his jump scar accidentally destroying a homeless man’s cardboard shelter. David apologises, sheepishly jumps away.

At the funeral for Mary and David, David jumps into the graveyard, spying on the proceedings. He sees Millie, sad, but also sees his father, which angers him.

After the funeral for his wife and son, William returns to his house, only to be visited by what he mistakes for the ghost of his son, telling him to turn his life around. William is scared out of his mind. David returns to New York, pleased with his results, seeing the benefits of his power.

David tries to get a job, but he cannot use his real name, and does not have a social security number, cannot open a bank account. It leaves him with no alternative but to steal, to fund his plan. He returns to the alley to befriend the homeless man, Larry, and cleans him up. He uses Larry as a front, purchasing an apartment where Larry will live with him, at least when he is there. He saves Larry from the streets.

Brian Cox visits William Rice to ask him about his son. William tells him about the ghost incident, and Cox also finds out that David liked Millie at school (via a photograph). Brian is now sure David is a jumper, assigns men to find him, tells them to watch the girl.

David goes travelling to all corners of the world, taking pictures of his journeys so he can remember being there, and jump there if need be. David also begins his own investigation into Rashid Matar, setting up safehouses around the world and learning a variety of languages, his goal to avenge his mother.

He becomes a modern day Robin Hood, stealing from the world’s rich and greedy, giving to the poor. Every once in a while, he sneaks back to his home town to watch over Millie, a guardian angel of sorts. He finds out that her parents cannot afford to send her to university. David has Larry pose as a benefactor to a New York university, putting money up for a scholarship, for a student. David plays it so Millie gets the scholarship. The NSA find out, and Brian Cox tells his men to narrow their investigation to New York. He realises David wants Millie in New York so he can be closer to her. Tells his team to follow the money; track someone who has been investing money suddenly, buying property, art etc.

David is now in his early twenties. He is rich but not brash, well educated and read, and well trained. His investigation into Rashid is still ongoing; in a locked room we see years of research adorning the walls, people and places and dates, all connected by string. He is getting close.

David jumps to the Middle East to meet a contact. He speaks Arabic well, and learns from his meeting that Rashid Matar will be in Algeria in five days for an arms deal. However, his contact tries to kidnap him, knocking him out with a drug. David comes to, only to be questioned by Rashid’s men. David jumps each man to a very remote location (desert, Antarctic, etc) asking them what if they told Rashid about him. They say no, that they were going to offer him to Rashid when he returned from the arms deal. David then deposits them for the U.S. Army to find and lock away.

Brian Cox hears about this incident, watches the interrogation tapes. He realises that David is planning something, and tells his men they have to stop him before he causes an incident. He managed to get a photo from surveillance tapes in the Middle East, and has the NSA computers tasked to facial recognition.

David returns, a little shaken after the incident. Larry is concerned, but David realises Larry is in danger, and tells him he has to leave, thanks him for his friendship.

Before David goes to confront Rashid, he visits Millie, who is now at a New York University. He is caught on a camera which alerts the NSA. David now allows Millie to see him, and she recognises him. He speaks to her, briefly, but then runs away. He tries to jump, but finds he cannot. Brian Cox confronts David, explains they are blocking his ability to jump with a machine that sends out a certain frequency (here we get a brief explanation how he can jump). David tries to run, but without his ability he is swiftly caught. However, Larry turns up and helps David escape. They head for the roof, but Larry falls. David is still unable to jump, and watches his friend plummet to his death, before the NSA take him prisoner. Millie sees him being arrested. Brian Cox explains someone has stole David’s identity, that she should think nothing more of it.

ACT TWO

David is questioned extensively by Cox, but he is un-cooperative. Cox locks him up in a cell. There is another boy, Griffin, in the cell opposite. He too is a jumper, an orphan, who has been held by the NSA for years. David tells Griffin his story, that he has to break out of here and get to Algeria to get Rashid. Griffin agrees to help, revealing they have to get a certain distance from the building, which houses the machine stopping them from jumping, a larger version of the portable device they use, it uses a combination of radio waves and radiation to do so. They two young men manage to break out of the NSA holding facility together and jump away.

David and Griffin find Millie, and jump her away, eluding the NSA tail that was following her. David explains to her what happened to him, and shows them both his plan, in the room with all the pictures and string. Millie does not want him to kill Rashid, he will just be as bad as him, a killer. Meanwhile Brian Cox and his men are raiding the properties owned by Larry, including David’s apartment. We will believe Cox is going to break into David’s plan room, but it turns out just to be a storage room. The room David’s plan is in will be a remote room in a remote location that he built himself, somewhere in accessible. Millie almost dies when she tries to leave, almost falling to her doom. David says he has to have his revenge. Millie asks that he take her home.

Cox and his men board a plane to Algeria, as they know from the captured men when David is going to strike.

Meanwhile, Millie, in shock at David’s re-appearance, returns to her home town. She visits David’s dad William, who has managed to turn his life around after David’s ghostly intervention. Millie tells him what David is planning.

David and Griffin scout out the location of the meet, a heavily fortified mansion. Their plan is simply to jump in, grab Rashid, and jump out. Griffin however convinces David that all the people in the room should die, and that it would be easier to jump in with a bomb, jump out, and detonate it. Neither has any ideas about bombs – there would be a funny scene where they steal some C4 explosives, and then go into the desert to practise using it, reading instructions. They eventually get the C4 to explode.

However, their new plan is complicated when they learn that the NSA has followed them, and has the jamming device with them, situated near the compound. They will have to disable it before they can get Rashid. David wonders why the NSA is protecting Rashid.

Meanwhile, Millie and William arrive in Algeria, determined to stop David from making a mistake that will ruin his life. The NSA follow them, but the two man detail is killed by Rashid’s men, who kidnap Millie and William.

The arms deal takes place. David and Griffin take out the NSA machine. David gives Griffin the detonator, tells him if something goes wrong, or if he is not out in five minuts, to blow it anyway. David jumps inside the arms deal, trapping them all in one room before jumping inside with the bomb, but finds Millie and William hostage to Rashid. Rashid says if he jumps, they die. David cannot save them both. It will be revealed that Rashid is an NSA operative, that he had to blow up the plane to get this far into an underworld organisation, that Cox is his handler. Cox appears, tells David not to blow up the bomb. David says Griffin has the detonator. Cox has a back up jamming machine, smaller, big enough for the room, and says he will turn it on once David jumps.

David jumps back to Griffin, but when Griffin learns Cox is there, he tries to blow the bomb up, after years of being held captive. The two jumpers fight across the globe for the detonator. Eventually David wins control, and jumps back. Griffin does too, trapping them both in the room. Cox takes the detonator, but is shot by Rashid, who reveals himself to be tired of the NSA, has so much power himself. He steals Cox’s jammer and takes Millie for safety. He hits the detonator once he is clear. David and Griffin have only just got the ability to jump back. David and William have a brief second to share apologies. Griffin sees the bond between father and son, and as the bomb detonates, Griffin jumps with it. The majority of the bomb blast goes through his jump scar, Griffin’s body twisted and distorted between two places, eventually dying, but not before David can thank him for saving his life. Griffin tells him to save the girl.

ACT THREE

David jumps Cox to a hospital at the behest of William, where he is saved by surgeons.

David leaps all over Algeria, but is unable to find Rashid.

David blames Cox for Millie’s kidnapping, for Larry’s death, for his mother’s death, but needs him to find Rashid. Cox says he will try and do everything to help him.

Rashid contacts them, tells David that a man with his unique ability could be very useful. Rashid instructs David to blow up an American building. Cox informs Rashid that all US Government installations have jump jammers inside them.

Rashid wants him to blow up the Statue of Liberty, which will crush the Americans spirit with a crippling message. David refuses. Rashid shows him Millie, a gun at her head, says she will die otherwise.

Cox tells David he cannot do this, but Cox does not have the power to stop him. William agrees with Cox that he should not give in to Rashid, but Millie is his true love, he cannot let her die.

David jumps to Liberty Island, and gazes at the statue.

Cox and his team try and locate Rashid – he is on a private jet. David jumps back, and they get to a vantage point. David can see the jet high in the sky. He jumps into the sky, and then onto the plane, his jump scar causing the interior to crack. Rashid says he is a fool, now he cannot jump out. David says he had to give him a present – he has a small version of the statue of liberty, taken from a gift shop on the island. The fractures in the craft caused by the jump scar widen, and a hole opens up. David fights Rashid as the plane descends, Millie sucked out into the sky. Rashid stops David going after her, fighting as the plane spins. David has the opportunity to shoot Rashid, but cannot kill a man. Rashid realises he is going to die, and turns the jamming device off, says David will save him, that he is a good man, uncorrupted. David says he cannot kill him, but that does not mean he has to save him either.

David jumps away out of the plane, leaving Rashid to spend his last few seconds in a plane, just like all the people he killed, like David’s mother.

David jumps out and saves Millie from splatting on the ground. They jump away and land roughly. They gaze into the distance and see the plane nosedive into the ground.

END – Millie graduates, attended by her parents and William. David appears later to congratulate her in private.

Cox appears to speak to David, knowing he would be at Millie’s graduation. Cox offers him a job at the NSA. David refuses. Cox says if David was working for them, they would not have to deal with men like Rashid, that David could help protect a lot of lives. David says he will think about it, but things would have to change.

David jumps Millie to a holiday destination that he previously visited alone.

THE END (CUE MUSIC BY MOBY).

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