Tuesday, January 11, 2022

Lessons From a Crappy Movie

So I just watched the 2008 movie Jumper. I honestly only watched it to see Hayden Christensen's acting skills in a movie other than a Star Wars one. And with that, I was suitably impressed. Dude can act, y'all. But the movie itself (and I knew this from the start) is kind of crappy.

Don't get me wrong, the premise is great and has tons of potential, a man who has teleporting powers and is hunted by an organization that wants to kill all teleporters. But the movie had several mistakes along the way that turned what could have been a great movie into a lackluster one.

The biggest problem was that the writers didn't trust their viewers to understand the backstory without voiceover. The first couple of scenes are filled with voiceover from the main character, David (Hayden Christensen). Voiceover in movies is always risky because it's the epitome of telling instead of showing. And us writers know that's a big no-no in most cases.


The thing I noticed, though, was that the movie didn't even need the voiceover. All the things in the voiceover were shared through the scenes. The emotional beats were strong on their own and would have impacted the viewer much more than they did with the voiceover. The voiceover cheapened the emotional beats that could have made the beginning of the movie strong.

The second problem that doomed the movie was David himself. Hayden Christensen played him very well, no doubt, but the writers gave their protagonist no redeemable qualities and no reason for the viewers to root for him. David was an objectively bad person. He robs banks to fund his lavish lifestyle of hopping around the world with his teleporting ability vacationing all the time. Nevertheless, he could have been a sympathetic character viewers rooted for with just one simple action.


A common term for making antiheros likeable is "petting the pooch." If in the beginning of his kind of crappy lifestyle, David had pet a pooch, then that could have solved the likeability problem. This didn't need to be literally petting a dog, though. In fact, the movie had the perfect opportunity to have David pet the pooch. After the beginning set-up scenes, David is zipping around his apartment filled with pictures of his travels, generally having a good time and living for himself. He turns on the TV and watches a brief news clip of people stranded in a flood. The reporter even says that there's no way to get those people out. David takes this clip in, and what does he do?

He hops up, gathers a bag, and travels to London to pick up a hot date. He then travels to Fiji, which was just hit by a big storm, so he can catch some large waves.

Jeez. Talk about insensitive.

If, instead, David had used his buildup of supplies and money to help the stranded people and then gone on his vacation, that would have presented an interesting dichotomy, where he is using his gift compassionately, yet also doing terrible things with it and living a pretty selfish life. This simple change could have given viewers a reason to root for David.

One more simple change could have brought this movie up from lame and forgettable to memorable. This is the acceptance of moral nuance and introduction of a character arc. David, a selfish Jumper, is chased by a fanatical organization that wants to kill him simply for possessing his abilities. The movie uses this plot to emphasize the message "Murder bad, David good." However, there were seeds of complexity that could have enhanced the movie if capitalized on. For instance, the main bad guy (he was played by Samuel L. Jackson, so he was too Samuel L. Jackson for his name to register) tells David that all of the Jumpers, even if they start out good, always end up using their abilities for selfish ends, which in his mind justifies murdering them all. This claim actually is a fairly valid one, coming from the classic Invisible Ring scenario, which posits that any normal man, given an invisible ring, would become completely immoral and selfish, taking whatever he wanted because he has the power to do so.

David protests that he's different, but this conversation, which should have come earlier in the movie, could have been the impetus of his character arc (which was practically nonexistent in the movie). David is different, in that he didn't have a slow slide to selfishness but started out that way. A slow realization of his selfish behavior, and that he actually does fit the reasons Samuel L. Jackson wanted to kill him, could have slowly transformed him from the selfish man living for himself to the man you got a glimpse of in the pet the pooch moment we didn't have. In the end, without the character arc, David ends up in pretty much the same place he started out in, as does the bad guy, except for the fact that David has a girlfriend now.

Hayden Christensen is a good actor, but the writers for this movie really dropped the ball.


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