Director Doug Liman woos DISCOVER with talk of dimensional teleportation. His latest film, Jumper, opened on February 14.
The lead in your new movie can teleport. Do you envy him?
Nothing would make life more convenient. I’m a pilot, and flying in your own little plane is probably the closest thing to teleportation that exists today in terms of how many things you can get done. You feel like you’ve just manufactured time. I fly a Mooney. It’s the fastest prop plane made, but it is just a prop plane.
Is that why you chose to make Jumper?
My interest in it was how I could use this power to explore the human psyche, the way I used automatic weapons to explore the intricacies of a marriage in Mr. and Mrs. Smith, or the absurd setup in The Bourne Identity. There is no amnesia like the amnesia Jason Bourne has. There is no teleportation like the teleportation David Rice has in Jumper. But I take that one leap of faith and say “what if,” and then I use that “what if” to explore something about human nature. It’s worth it to me to fudge on the science in Bourne or fudge on the science in Jumper to be able to explore a character on a level that you just couldn’t do if you didn’t have that power.
What does it look like?
Teleportation is actually the least impressive visual effect in the movie, ’cause it’s extremely fast and violent so it’s over before you can even see it. But the impact that it has on the environment around it persists. Whether it launches something into the air, whether it causes condensation—those are extremely elaborate visual effects.
How does teleportation work in the film?
Portals are opened between dimensions. It seems like we’re 6,000 miles from Tokyo, but that’s if you only travel in dimensions we’re aware of. Maybe in some other dimension, the world folds back around on itself and Tokyo is an eighth of an inch from here.
Did you run your scheme by a scientist?
Yes, but he just dismissed the concept as Hollywood bullshit.
And yet you consider the film realistic.
Aside from teleportation, everything about it is as real as possible. If you’re free-falling off the side of the Empire State Building, you don’t just get to teleport to the sidewalk—you’re still traveling downward at 120 miles an hour, and you will die. If you teleport from one city to another, for a split second the radio stations from the city will come through to the other city. If you’ve got two environments where the temperatures and humidities are vastly different, there will be consequences to that.
Consequences seem to be a theme of the movie.
I lived through the energy crisis under Carter, and shortly thereafter I invented a car that used no energy. It had a tank filled with water. I single-handedly solved the energy crisis as an 11-year-old.
So, did you tell Detroit?
No, because my sister pointed out—she was two years older and on her way to becoming a brilliant scientist—you don’t get anything for free. You can’t get more energy out of it than you put in. That’s always sort of stuck with me: There is a consequence to be paid. You can’t just keep doing it.
How does that play out in the film?
I’m a character-based director, so I was caught up in what it would do for the character. I saw it as an amplifier—whatever weaknesses or predilections you have would just get stronger because there would be no mitigating factors.
Do you have high hopes for the science of teleportation?
The reality will be vastly different from the movie. When they make teleportation work, it will not be this sexy thing where you get into a booth and go from New York to L.A. in a split second; it will be that they get a complex molecule to go two feet. That will be a massive breakthrough, and it will be something so small you won’t even be able to see it.