io9 Talks To Jumper Director Doug Liman

If you charted Doug Liman's directing career, you'd see a big spike in popularity when he jumped from indie films like Swingers and Go right into the Bourne trilogy. He's hoping to continue in the mainstream, high-concept Hollywood vein with his new film Jumper, opening in select theaters today. The movie follows young "jumper" David Rice (Hayden Christensen) as he uses his "jumping" powers to teleport all over the world. The flick took Liman on his own journey to exotic international locations, only this time without superspy Jason Bourne in tow. Read on to get his thoughts on Jumper, as well as details about his next film, about colonizing the moon. He also tells us why Superman's flying is destroying the environment.

What was the most challenging aspect of making a film that involved teleportation?

We did everything for real. We didn't use computer generated characters. You know the superhero films that preceded this have relied heavily on them, and obviously it would have been a really simple way to do the visual effects, because if you computer generate the characters, you can easily make them "jump." It's a lot more difficult to have somebody teleport when you have a real actor doing it. Part of the reason the visual effects stand out in this is because we put all that extra work in when we were shooting.

Traditionally, there have been two kinds of Hollywood tentpole movies: there's the visual effects version where you shoot it all on a soundstage, you never leave it although you "pretend" you left it to go to all these places, and you use visual effect to do the pretending for you. Then there's the version where you physically travel the world, a la James Bond or Jason Bourne, but then you don't do any visual effects in those places. You justify that by saying since we're going, we won't have to use visual effect to communicate that we're there.

We did something that was a bit unusual. We physically traveled to all these places, and then we did visual effects in those environments. We really flew a helicopter over the Sphinx and around the Pyramids. It would have been a lot easier to just generate that stuff in a computer; they're simple geometric shapes, there's just desert in the background, it couldn't have been simpler to generate. But it would never look the way it looks when you see Hayden Christensen on the Sphinx. There's a level of reality that computers just can't achieve at this particular state.

Was he actually on the Sphinx or digitally put up there?

He wasn't digitally put on top of it. We designed the shot, we pre-visualized the shot, we went to the Sphinx without Hayden and flew a helicopter around it following a very specific trajectory. Then we took the telemetry of that shot and filmed Hayden in Mexico using a cable-cam which could play back the moves the helicopter did, and then we combined these two pieces of film the old-fashioned way. It didn't require any digital creations because they perfectly matched up. Every single of grain of film is real, not something that was created in a computer. We shot the real elements wherever we went.

We know the film is based on Steven Gould's books Jumper and Reflex, and now he's also published a novel called Jumper: Griffin's Story which is meant to tie-in with the film. What was the script like when you came onboard?

There was a first draft by David Goyer, which was very faithful to the Steven's novel. Anyone who has looked at my Bourne adaptation will see that I kind of take the cool idea from the book and then reinvent the whole thing as a movie, and I tried to bring that whole logic to Jumper. In particular because the book dealt with terrorism, which I didn't like. The combination of jumping and terrorism didn't seem good to me. There wasn't a second jumper in the book. I had really just fallen in love with Steven Gould's character David who was using his power for selfish means, and I wanted to actually pursue that more than he had in the novel.

I love the notion that... okay, you're a superhero, you're globetrotting, you have it all, and then suddenly you meet another superhero who is significantly more talented at it than you are, and you're not the big man on campus anymore. I found that really interesting. The moment I decided to chase David Rice's darker side, you don't get to have your standard cookie-cutter superhero movie plot. There's not a villain who is setting out the destroy the world, and you don't have a hero who is trying to save the world. I didn't feel the Hollywood need to have David Rice become a hero in the Hollywood finale. I didn't want to see Hayden Christensen become Tobey Maguire's Spider-Man in the second half of the film.

Did you create anything for the movie that wasn't in the books? The movie uses jumpscars and jumpcraters whenever someone uses their jumping ability. Were those created for the movie?

Those were created for the film. The source for them is that I wanted this movie to follow, as much as possible, to follow the real laws of physics that govern this planet and the universe. One of the most primary rules is that you don't get something for nothing. It's all a closed loop, it's a closed system. Everything you do has some kind of a price. For example, cars seemed like a magical device when they they were first invented, but they ultimately came with a price with pollution and global warming.

In other superhero films, people tend to have the power, but there's never any physical price that the person or the planet pays in order for that phenomenal event to take place. I wanted there to be some kind of consequence every time you jump, and that leaving behind a trace would ultimately mean that you wouldn't want a lot of people jumping because of those effects. They could be dangerous if somebody walks into them, they could be harmful to the environment.

I've tried to show that in some really subtle ways. For instance when he jumps from New York to Ann Arbor, the tv changes momentarily to a New York station. I'm trying to communicate that these portals stay open for a short burst... for instance if you jump from the Sahara desert to the Arctic, would be bringing warm air and cold air to each environment, and that might not be good for the planet on a large scale. If you jumped and there were no after effects or repercussions, it would seem like a much more magical power. But, my bullshit meter in me says this would come with a consequence, and wouldn't be like Superman just being able to fly. If he could actually fly, he'd leave a wake turbulence, and there would be consequences to him and other people when he'd fly. These things can't just happen for free.

What about Samuel L. Jacksons character and the Paladins who pursue the Jumpers?

There's no Paladins in the book, there's no mythology of that, there's no one pursuing the Jumpers in that first book. In the second book people are trying to catch the Jumpers for personal gain. You know if you could get a Jumper to work for you, they'd be extremely useful. I was more curious to explore a villain who really wasn't a villain, other than that they wanted to destroy the Jumpers simply because of what they can do. I really believe that in our current climate, if there were people who could actually teleport, there would be people who would think that was treading on some sort of holy land, and that should only be reserved for god. There are already plenty of people who kill in the name of god for far less dramatic reasons.

We do like the fact that there isn't a lot of exposition in the film about how the jumping works, or explanations of things like jumpsites and jumpscars. They just accept it and get right into it.

Well, because David Rise isn't a physicist. If I had a character who was quantum physicist at MIT who one day discovers he can teleport, then that character would commence an investigation as to how that happens. But, a high school dropout is never going to understand how he's able to teleport, and since I'm telling the story from his perspective, I didn't feel like it was necessary to bog down in science that the characters themselves wouldn't understand.

Can you tell us about your next film? We know that it involves going to the moon, but what else can you let us know?

The premise of the movie is about a group that mounts a private expedition to not only go to the moon, but also to colonize it. It's set present day, and it is not science fiction, it's science fact. The blueprint for going to the moon was designed 40 years ago, and the components for implementing it are so old that they're in museums waiting to be stolen. So the group steals, buys, and in other ways pull together all the components it would take to launch and actually land on the moon.

Their goal is to actually leave somebody behind. They're recreating the Apollo mission up to a point, and then exceed it by leaving someone behind and starting mankind's exodus out into the universe. Plus, you can imagine how much shit can possibly go wrong, and it does. It's actually a miracle that it didn't go wrong in any of the lunar landings. What I'm also hoping to do with this film is to once again celebrate what was America's greatest accomplishment in its 200 and some-odd year history. There really is no other country that could have done what we did in the 1960s with the space program.

We know you're executive producing the Knight Rider television movie that comes on this weekend, how involved have you been with it?

I've been very involved with it, at least as involved as I can be given the fact that I'm finishing a visual effects movie. But I'm very involved with it and I would remain a producer on it if it goes to series.