Review: The Davinci Code
Jumper   (2008)
[RP] Starring: Hayden Christensen
Directed by: Doug Liman, Jamie Bell, Samuel Leroy Jackson, Rachel,  Sarah Bilson, AnnaSophia Robb, Maximillion Drake Thieriot
Written by: David S. Goyer
Jim Uhls, Simon Kinberg
 

Walk up to the nearest brick wall and rap on it--hopefully not with your head, although, like us, there are days when you may want to. How's it feel? Really really really hard--duh. Everyone knows this, but what you might not know is that at the atomic level the supposedly solid wall is almost entirely filled with empty space. What you feel when you rap on the wall is the electrostatic repulsion force between the electrons in the wall and the electrons in yourself.

While the above might sound like the latest bleeding edge quantum physics, we've actually known about it for about a hundred years. The knowledge dates back to the Rutherford experiment in 1911. Rutherford had graduate students (okay, he was the professor and grad students do the real work) shoot alpha particles through metal foil.

On an atomic level, an alpha particle (a helium nucleus) is the size of a Volkswagen. The fact that it would zing straight though the foil was something of a surprise, but the biggest surprise was that once in a while it hit something (a metal nucleus)  and was deflected. From this it became clear that almost all the mass in the metal atoms was contained in a tiny volume or nucleus. The rest of the atom  was nearly all empty space.

So, what has this got to do with Jumper? If a person could somehow get around the electrostatic force (no small trick), he could conceivably pass through solid stuff--a prerequisite for the type of teleporting done in the movie. Indeed, some actual teleporting experiments have been done by real scientists using real quantum physics on a laboratory scale--generally an atom or two teleported a few centimeters, a far cry from teleporting a human to the other side of the world.

While teleporting a living human is an extremely remote possibility, waking up one morning and finding that you can teleport at will without specialized equipment and a significant power source is beyond an extremely remote possibility, way beyond it. But that's what science fiction movies often do: take a grain of truth and build it into a Mount Everest. In many cases they have to do so for the sake of story. However,  if a science fiction movie that creates its own physics wants to succeed as art, it must first remain consistent with its newly created boundaries and second deliver a compelling story. Jumper does neither.

After falling through thin ice on a river and ending up soaking wet in the Ann Arbor library, as opposed to ending up dead,  David Rice ((Max Thieriot, young David) realizes he can teleport. Without so much as saying goodbye, he jumps to New York City and soon after teleports himself into a bank vault, steals a fortune, and starts a new life of easy thrills.

When he teleports home eight years later (David now played by Hayden Christensen), people easily recognize him but respond with about as much emotion as if he'd just returned from summer vacation. Keep in mind that many of the individuals he encounters saw him fall through the ice and not come up. To the best of their knowledge he died, yet they don't even ask where he's been or how he survived. His high school love interest (he never quite made it to the boy-friend stage)  begged him to get off the ice just before he fell through. She cried her eyes out afterwards and now learns he wasn't dead just merely avoiding her for the past eight years. Does she cry and ream him out? No, she zips off to Rome with him no questions asked. Wow, that's some gal!

Of course, we have a super secret society (Paladins) who have been out to kill all jumpers since the dark ages and here is where the movie's newly created physics get inconsistent. The modern Paladins use all sorts of high tech gismos including a wand that shoots a web of metal cables energized at high voltage. These trap the jumpers who cannot teleport while being zapped. That's all well and good, but how were sword swingers in the middle ages supposed to kill individuals who could teleport away from them at will. If the jumpers were capable of reproduction, it seems like they and their offspring would have easily bested the Paladins and gone on to rule, if not replace the human race.

Even human ignorance was on the side of the jumpers. They could have conjured up any number of miracles to bedazzle multitudes of believers, raised a fanatical army, and extolled them to wipe out the Paladins.

So, how have the Paladins counteracted all the jumper advantages over the centuries? The movie informs us that apparently Paladins are very very cleaver. By contrast, Hayden Christensen's character flunked high school algebra. We would add, that he's totally hedonistic and self absorbed, but judging from our observations of politicians, that's sometimes an advantage.

Our money would be on the Paladins since they've lasted into the 21st century, apparently are extremely well funded, and have remained a  secret (no small accomplishment). Cleverness combined with the right technology trumps physical ability by itself and the longer the Paladins last, the better their technology. However, since they're Hollywood creations we suspect the Paladins are doomed to lose, but not before a few sequels.

As for the inability of jumpers to teleport when subjected to high voltage, no distinction is made between high voltage with low energy output and high voltage with high energy output. Relatively small handheld zappers of various kinds are invariably battery operated and incapable of delivering high energy zaps of electricity. True, the zaps they do deliver are painful and do a good job of messing up impulses in the nervous system but they don't have enough energy to cause deep and serious burns. The high voltage lines that feed entire neighborhoods are another matter.

These high voltage wires--atop typical telephone poles--are operated at around 7,000 volts and can provide enough energy to instantly give deep third degree burns to anyone who so much as touches one (assuming the person is even partially grounded). The wires atop metal towers generally operate above 100 thousand volts with enough energy surging though them to not just burn humans to a crisp but make them snap, crackle, and pop by instantly turning the water in their blood to steam. Short-out one of these wires and it will create a localized cloud of plasma around it comparable in brightness to looking at the sun. It's also going to create a very loud noise.

If the wires on a tower break or short-out, safety devices generally kick in immediately to turn off the power, Unfortunately, if a person has already touched the wire, it's too late.

In the movie one of a pair of jumpers is restrained by the high voltage wires in a wrecked metal tower, thus preventing him from jumping. Is he burned to a crisp? Do we see an incandescent cloud of plasma around him? Do we hear the terrifyingly loud sound of arcing high voltage? Do the automatic safety devices kick in? No, no, no, and no. The uninjured jumper is able to talk normally and presumably be back for the next movie.

On a cultural note, the high voltage incident occurs in Chechnya. Bullets are flying everywhere as Russian soldiers and tanks advance oblivious to the two jumpers who mysteriously show up in the middle of the battle. And what is usually one of the first casualties of a modern war? The electrical power system. Remarkably, it's still working. Even more remarkably, the two jumpers aren't immediately shot.

Do jumpers jump out of their clothes when they teleport? Well, no, not unless they're having a romantic moment. In fact, jumpers can apparently create an aurora around themselves allowing them to jump with their surfboard, lawn chair, car, or whatever. How they do this is amazing. On trips we can't remember to pack our socks. Imagine what it would be like to be a jumper and arrive at your destination naked due to a moment of distraction.

Do jumpers get tired when they jump excessively or long distance or while carrying massive objects like cars? Again, none of the above. We're left wondering how the energy requirements can be so low. Clearly the energy requirement can't be zero and about the only source has to be inside the individual jumper's body, yet jumping never seems to wear them out.

The fantasy of being able to jump is great fun and maybe that's enough to carry the movie, but it seems like it could use an overhaul in both the physics and story departments. Like it or not, we're going to be subjected to jumper sequels, but then maybe we should wait for the box office results before we jump to such conclusions.

 


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