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Jumper and Jumper

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As I mentioned the other day, I saw the movie Jumper back in March. Back when we saw it, all I wrote was:

The movie itself was fun, with some great visuals, but there were various things that were handled badly or confusingly or just didn't make much sense; I think I'm gonna read the book, 'cause I suspect it handles those things much better.

Well, it turns out I was wrong, because the plot of the movie diverges wildly from the plot of the book.

They're both about a guy who can teleport, and the plots are more or less the same up through the end of part 1 of the book, around p. 50. There's also a bit in part 2, maybe pp. 70-75, that's loosely adapted into a bit in the movie. But other than that, the rest of the story is completely different. Even the parameters around how teleportation works seem to be quite different, though since the parameters were never spelled out in the movie (and I'm not sure they were consistent), it's hard to be sure of that.

The book (published in 1992, written by Steven Gould) is a novel about abuse. The protagonist, Davy, jumps the first time to escape from his abusive father; his mother escaped years earlier, leaving Davy behind with his father. The repercussions of the abuse and the abandonment are deeply embedded in Davy's character, and a lot of the book shows Davy continuing to try to escape in various ways.

I'm not normally a fan of fiction that focuses on abused kids; it tends to all read the same to me, and it tends to have messages like "abuse is bad" and "protagonist is messed up because of the abuse he or she suffered as a kid." But this book does some stuff with it that I haven't seen before--and in particular, it shows us (over and over but without overly belaboring the point) the effects that the abuse has had on Davy's psyche and character and reactions. I thought it was pretty well done.

The book is also, of course, a science fiction novel. Gould makes clear in his Acknowledgments that he's familiar with the classic teleportation-related works in the field; I think he does a good job of exploring new areas. It's interesting, though, that Davy doesn't recognize what he's going through as a classic superhero scenario; I think if the book were written today, with the current boom in all things superheroic, it would've been marketed as a superhero origin story. And Davy might've thought of wearing a mask.

I found the book a little disappointing in a couple of ways. One is that it gets a little lecturey in places; it has a kind of YA feel to it, at least in places. Nothing wrong with that; I just wasn't expecting it, 'cause the current edition is not marketed as YA. Though the original edition has a cover that clearly marks it (to me) as being for kids, so I had that kind of in the back of my head. Anyway, there's a kind of Heinleinian tone to a few of the places where Millie lectures Davy on Right Behavior and Right Thinking; I actually agree with Millie in this book more than I tend to with Heinlein, but it seems clear that Millie is speaking with The Author's Voice/The Voice Of Moral Authority. But that's not so bad, 'cause I happen to think she's also speaking with the Voice Of Wisdom most of the time (which I guess is to say, I agree with her), and I like her as a character. . . . The blurb from Susan Palwick compares the book to Heinlein juveniles, which I think is fairly apt. The blurb from Bujold says not to compare the book to Heinlein: "Heinlein never had this much psychological depth, never got this real." Dunno as I agree, but at least I'm not the only one who saw the ghost of Heinlein hovering near the book.

The other disappointment for me is obviously not the book's fault: it's that it doesn't explain any of the tantalizing backstory that we glimpsed, but that wasn't very clear, in the movie. Of course it couldn't, since three-quarters of the movie's plot was made up ten years after the book was written, by a different writer. But I didn't know that, so I was hoping.

Oh, and in case this isn't clear, the plots aren't just different, but actually strongly inconsistent with each other. The book and the movie cannot take place in the same world.

To complicate things even further, the book has a sequel, Reflex. And the movie has a tie-in novel, Jumper: Griffin's Story, set in the world of the movie. And both of those books were written by Steven Gould.

Gould has a blog, by the way, and a few months back he wrote a nice entry about "ruining the book"--or rather, about the fact that a movie adaptation doesn't harm the original book. A very sensible attitude, imo, particularly given that writers generally get little or no control over the way the movie comes out anyway.

(Side note: I like the new front cover of the new edition of the book, which is an image from the movie poster, a lot more than the original front cover image. But the scene shown does not appear in the book. That's okay, but the back cover shows three stills from a particular scene in the movie, and not only does that scene not appear in the book, the other character shown in these stills doesn't appear in the book. Fascinating marketing decision.)

I continue to think about the ways that different versions of stories reflect on and interconnect with each other (with my prime example being the large number of very different takes on the Superman mythos that we've seen over the decades, and the way that nobody seems to have trouble holding those vastly divergent stories in their heads), but I'm still not gonna write up my thoughts on all that in any detail yet. Some day.

Anyway. I liked Jumper, the book, and I liked Jumper, the movie. I like teleportation stories, and I like the characters, and I think both book and movie do interesting things with the ground scenario. But I do wish that both book and movie dealt a little more directly with Davy's biggest moral failing (his theft); and I still want to know more about the backstory of the world of the movie. But there's a graphic novel (Jumper: Jumpscars) and the tie-in novel, and potentially a movie sequel, so I can probably still get some of that backstory if I want it.

The "Production" section of the Wikipedia article about the movie has some fascinating stuff in it. Apparently they had cast the movie and written a draft of the screenplay in early 2006, but then a producer suggested to the director that the protagonist should be 25 instead of 18, so they stopped production, re-cast, and re-wrote. That's a remarkably big change, and I think it has interesting reflections in the stuff about Prince Caspian and character ages that we're discussing in comments in my entry from yesterday.

The other thing I wanted to say about both the movie and the book is that they both make me do that "what would I do if I had that superpower?" thing that's so much fun to speculate about. But I think I'll make that a separate entry.

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My very strong feeling about that book when it was new was that it was written with the author's head rather than his gut; like it had all the formula pieces for a good novel, but they weren't sewn together with soul. (This is why I don't write fiction; I would write it with my head, and I don't like fiction written that way.)


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