10 years ago, writer/director Rian Johnson wasn’t known as the divisive director of Star Wars: The Last Jedi (2017), he was a still new entity with only two features under his belt: Brick (2005) and The Brothers Bloom (2008). Then he released the sci-fi action thriller Looper (2012) and, in my estimation, made the greatest impact on general and critical audiences alike, showing what his creative mind could do on the small scale. With Looper as a calling card, it makes sense that he would go on to create (again, in my estimation) the second best Star Wars film in the entire Skywalker Saga, not to mention establish one of the best modern whodunit series with Knives Out (2019). For some cinephiles, we need only a reason, even the barest of one, to go back and revisit a film that we enjoy and, thanks to the 10th anniversary of Looper, we can do so with Sony Pictures Home Entertainment’s offering of a 4K UHD remaster of Looper with director-approved sound and picture.
It’s 2074 and time travel is possible but outlawed. As such, it’s used strictly by criminal organizations as a means of disposing of bodies by sending them to the past for termination and discarding. To do this, the organizations employ a group of people know as Loopers, hitmen whose job is to be at a specific place and time to kill, upon arrival, anyone that appears from the future. Retirement plans come in the form of an opportunity to live for 30 years with a large severance, under the condition that they will be sent back themselves for disposal at an unknown designated time. This is called “closing your loop.” For young Looper Joe (Joseph Gordon-Levitt), this is business as usual, but for Old Joe (Bruce Willis), being sent back provides an opportunity to change his past in order to preserve his future.
As this is a 10th anniversary home release review, what follows will include spoiler details about Looper.
One of the best things about Looper is how brilliantly contained it is. Time travel films have a tendency to focus on the larger, wider impacts of what a change in the past can cause to the future. Here, Johnson uses Willis’s Old Joe to declare via a frustrated, almost curmudgeonly line delivery how unimportant understanding time travel is in this instance, urging them not to waste time trying to understand how this all works, preferring to stay focused on the narrative at hand instead. Old Joe seeks to save the woman he loves, his wife, the woman who saved him when he was a drug addict and saw value in him. Young Joe, having no investment in her at all, only sees Old Joe as the thing that will get him killed, despite some part of him understanding the desire to protect something he loves (Johnson does show Young Joe trying to find that connection with Piper Perabo’s entertainer/prostitute Suzie). The film doesn’t want to waste time trying to explain the consequences of Old Joe’s attack on Young Joe’s boss, the murders Old Joe commits, or anything else that should technically not have happened once Young Joe sacrifices himself to prevent the murder of two people he’s recently met — Emily Blunt’s Sara and her telekinetically enhanced son Cid (played magnificently by Pierce Gagnon). Instead of thinking of Looper as either a literal loop being closed (who knows how many times this may have played out differently), considering the film as a linear progression of the perspective of the audience get us everything we need to grow invested in these characters as they try to navigate a depreciating world. Though it’s a little trite for the narrative to employ a mirroring (Old Joe fights to save his wife; Young Joe eventually finds the love and companionship he wanted in Sara and Cid), without it, Young Joe would never make the choice to remove himself from the equation in the conclusion. Especially as the script makes it plain that Old Joe remains selfish in his ways, wanting to save his wife on his terms, refusing Young Joe’s offer to purposefully avoid his future wife so as to spare her life, that then Young Joe would fall in love and sacrifice himself presents a growth and strength of character Old Joe’s missing. So no matter how noble his mission, the manner in which he executes it tarnishes any possible virtue. All of this is explored within a bottle, the larger implications ignored and, frankly, the film is all the better for it.
Even though this new release is a 10th anniversary, the only thing new about it is the 4K UHD edition. Everything included, either on the Blu-ray or digital editions, appears to be legacy materials. So if you already own the previously released edition, you’ve already got access to the feature-length commentary, three featurettes, 38 minutes of deleted scenes, and the Looper animated trailer. For those of you with iTunes access, it also includes the script and “New Future, Old School” featurette. There are, however, no new materials, so the choice to upgrade comes entirely down to whether or not 4K UHD picture and Dolby Atmos audio is enough to make the purchase.
So with everything hinging on this one aspect: is it worth it? Sort of.
Looper itself is shot as naturally as possible, the various VFX shots designed to work as much in-camera as possible, so that digital magic was kept to a minimum. This does a wonderful job in keeping everything we see in this possible future feel grounded and natural, even when dealing with something as seemingly impossible as telekinesis and time travel. That Johnson used more traditional 35mm film stock to shot means that the remastering into 4K UHD is far more compatible to the process, resulting in a cleaner image and better sound. Films with a great deal of digital effects or that are shot on digital don’t produce the best 4K remasters as it’s more of an upscaling to fit the new specs versus an actual scan of the negative. In this case, this translates to a remaster that captures all the colors of the sunset, the natural green of grass, and the rich brown of the dirt. This makes for a vibrant-as-in-alive final confrontation between Old Joe and Young, but also means that the dark sequences, of which there are several, are especially dark and difficult to track activity. Similarly the audio is a bit of mixed bag. The dialogue and score come through clearly at appropriate levels. I found myself constantly adjusting the audio to hear, but even through my 5.1 Yamaha stereo, I rarely found myself immersed in the adventure. Even the sequence when Cid loses control after Old Joe shoots at him and threatens Sara, when his telekinetic outburst roars out of him, there was no sense of direction within the audio. There was just a rush of noise. Given how delicately newer releases like Dune programmed their sound to offer a sense of direction, it’s a shame that Looper wasn’t afforded the same in the remaster.
It’s been some time since I watched Looper and, even with distance between watches and knowing full well how it ends, it remains highly rewatchable. The performances from the cast are top notch all-around, especially Willis, who appears to be phoning it in lately. Others are like a time capsule for actors we’d not yet realized were absolute stars at the time of release: Paul Dano (Swiss Army Man) and Emily Blunt (Edge of Tomorrow). It is, however, another feather in the cap of a writer/director who knows how to play with expectations, how to set up details without heavy obviousness, and to lead with emotion in order to invest his audience. It’s 10 years later and anyone who saw it upon release and loved it, undoubtedly still does today.
Looper 4K UHD Special Features:
- Feature presented in 4K resolution with Dolby Vision, reviewed and approved by the filmmakers
- All-new Director-approved Dolby Atmos audio + Original 5.1 audio
Looper Blu-ray Special Features:
- Feature presented in High Definition
- Feature Commentary with Director Rian Johnson, Joseph Gordon-Levitt and Emily Blunt (1:58:51)
- Looper: The Future From the Beginning — Making-of Featurette (7:53)
- 22 Deleted Scenes with Commentary (38:37)
- Scoring Looper (16:27)
- The Science of Time Travel Featurette (8:32)
- Looper Animated Trailer (1:36)
Looper iTunes exclusive Special Features:
- View script for Looper.
- New Future, Old School (3:18)
Available on 4K UHD Blu-ray February 15th, 2022.
For more information, head to the official Sony Pictures Looper website.
Final Score: 4.5 out of 5.