Blu-Ray Review: Looper

'Own it in any format you can.'

Fred Topelby Fred Topel

After reviewing Looper highly, I named it number three on my Top 10 Movies of 2012 list. Believe it or not, I still have more to say about Looper, which comes to Blu-ray on December 31, 2012. I was not alone in my praise for Looper but it was far from unanimous, so I hope it still makes for an interesting discussion piece.

Joe (Joseph Gordon-Levitt) is a hit man in the future, whose assignment is to kill people sent back from 30 years further in the future. These so-called loopers’ careers are often ended when they are sent back to their younger selves for termination. Older Joe (Bruce Willis) remembers closing his loop 30 years ago, so he changes the past and gets away. Not only is young Joe faced with his own future self, but older Joe has an unexpected plan to change the future. Inherent in that great premise is: if you’re old Joe, how do you get away from young Joe when you can’t kill your younger self or you won’t exist? And if you’re young Joe, how can you be so eager to kill yourself? Thirty years isn’t that far away.

See my original review for specific things I liked in the way Looper handles time travel, the moral ambiguity of allegiances to characters and composing of action scenes. Even more than the actual choices writer/director Rian Johnson made, I love the fact that he made those choices. Making distinct choices means not everybody will like every single one, and indeed some audiences didn’t care for the prosthetic makeup on young Joe or the film’s detour to Sara (Emily Blunt)’s farm. That’s fine. There will be other filmmakers who make different choices, something for everyone. I think it’s more important that filmmakers make specific choices rather than try to play to the four quadrants. Of course I’m not saying make willy-nilly choices for shock value, but I don’t feel any of Looper’s choices were a stunt, even the prosthetic makeup. I think the makeup looks cool.

I have a few more personal connections to Looper that may be more appropriate to share in a Blu-ray review, where people may have seen the movie already, but just in case, a mild spoiler warning for the following. I was frankly surprised Willis was in as much of the movie as he was. I expected some creative storytelling to give him a few key scenes that could be shot in a week or less, a la The Expendables, but he’s significant without being the central protagonist. I related to the farm section because there are times in my life where I’ve known extraordinary people for a brief period, but now that stretch of weeks or months is just a mini movie in my memory, perhaps a few cuts in my own 30-year montage, which is getting really self-reflective on Looper.

The film looks great on Blu-ray, though just short of magnificent. It looks like the film I saw in a theater a few months ago, no extra reference quality revelations though. The picture is clear while remaining moody. Simple settings like the diner and the cornfields look like the real world we know, with HD detail selling the stalks of corn and leather booths. In the city, the future details blend into the background while the real grit of the city is in focus. The noirish use of shadows holds up well in HD, especially the scenes entirely in shadow. I really feel the prosthetic makeup on Gordon-Levitt looks seamless and you may even see a bit of authentic grain since this was shot on film too. Only if you’re looking though. The grain is only noticeable in one or two distracting shots, but enjoy it while it lasts. Looper may be one of the last movies to ever shoot on film.

The extras fall into standard territory. I enjoy the commentary track because Rian Johnson opens up nostalgic for the old TriStar logo. He’s joined by Joseph Gordon-Levitt and Emily Blunt. So much went into every aspect of the movie, Johnson has a lot to say. The actors get a chance to talk and Johnson doesn’t step over them, but as the writer/director he has more answers. I really like Johnson’s take on digital effects. That’s mainly because I agree with him but he’s got clear aesthetic reasons for that and issues of sound, script, design and cinematography. He can be very technical, but keeps it fun and accessible.

The inclusion of 37 minutes of deleted scenes suggests that many of these were probably smart cuts. The interesting ones give us some atmosphere in the nightlife of the future. Tiny little tidbits about Suzie (Piper Perabo) and Seth (Paul Dano) are unnecessary. An alternate version of the 30 year flashback/flashforward is much more awkward, showing just how important it was to get that montage right. Some scenes are literally minor cutaways, so they really dumped all the trims on here. A lot of these scenes have unfinished visual effects too, so they knew these scenes were out before they got too far.

The diner scene has some interesting additions in an extended version, elements that get to the most profound part of the movie. You’ve got the same person separated by 30 years, older and younger self-hating each other. That messes with your head in a Philip K. Dick kind of way, so I like the new little moments of old and young Joe tough talking each other. They try a few different time travel things that don’t work, but maybe you wondered why they didn’t try something another way. Here’s the reason. Kid Blue (Noah Segan) gets a nice action moment and there’s a creepy moment of old Joe talking to one of the kids. If you’re into Looper you probably want to see everything that was snipped out, so here’s just an idea of the ratio of interesting cuts to the usual redundant discards.

The behind the scenes featurettes are each under 10 minutes, which is good for this sort of thing. They’re basic “how did we do it” shorts with everyone giving interviews talking about how great the script was and what a great job everyone did. I happen to agree with them in this case but there’s no denying that it’s just like every other DVD extra. Believe it or not, a nine-minute bonus feature on time travel does not in fact answer every paradox of the theoretical science.

Seeing a time lapse of the prosthetic makeup process could make you appreciate how the subtle changes to Gordon-Levitt’s face made a big difference. They erase the wires holding up floating objects, blah-blah-blah CGI. We know this, but they know we’ve seen DVDs before so they simply confirm how they did a few effects scenes and move on. The three-part series on the Looper score has some interesting details on sound design mixed with scoring. That animated trailer that turned up online is pretty sweet to have on the Blu-ray.

So here we are. I gave the movie a 9.5 in theaters. I’m giving this Blu-ray a slightly lower rating because the bonus content is merely sufficient. Funny, if it were a movie-only edition, I could base the rating just on the movie, and it’s not that we don’t like having extras, but the bonus features bear comparison to other DVDs and Blu-rays. I’m talking in Looper circles here so I’ll stop now. Looper the movie is awesome. Own it in any format you can. 

Fred Topel is a staff writer at CraveOnline. Follow him on Twitter at @FredTopel.