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Looper Blu-ray + UltraViolet Review

Looper (2012) movie poster Looper

Theatrical Release: September 28, 2012 / Running Time: 119 Minutes / Rating: R

Writer/Director: Rian Johnson

Cast: Joseph Gordon-Levitt (Joe Simmons), Bruce Willis (Old Joe Simmons), Emily Blunt (Sara), Paul Dano (Seth), Noah Segan (Kid Blue), Piper Perabo (Suzie), Jeff Daniels (Abe), Pierce Gagnon (Cid), Summer Qing (Old Joe's Wife), Tracie Thoms (Beatrix), Frank Brennan (Old Seth), Garret Dillahunt (Jesse), Nick Gomez (Dale), Marcus Hester (Zach)

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Joseph Gordon-Levitt starred in writer/director Rian Johnson's first feature film, the 2005 high school mystery Brick. Gordon-Levitt appeared very briefly, uncredited and silent, in Johnson's second movie, the 2009 con men caper The Brothers Bloom. The actor has returned to leading man duties in Johnson's latest and biggest effort, the science fiction crime thriller Looper, one of 2012's most highly acclaimed releases.

Gordon-Levitt plays Joe Simmons, the titular future equivalent of a hitman in 2044 Kansas. Time travel will be discovered, then quickly outlawed in thirty years, to be used exclusively by crime organizations.
Loopers are assigned to show up at a specified time and location and to immediately eliminate by lethal gunshot the individual sent back to their time. Joe carries out his hits in an empty cane field, disposing of the body, and collecting silver bars as his reward. A looper's final assignment is to kill the future version of himself and "close the loop." Joe's friend (Paul Dano) cannot bring himself to do this and becomes hunted and tormented by the enforcers of their mutual kingpin boss (Jeff Daniels).

Joe soon gets his taste of the same experience, when he comes face to face with himself thirty years from now (Bruce Willis). The older Joe manages to avoid being killed and advises his younger self of an important mission they must do to spare the older Joe of being brutally widowed. Older Joe intends to kill the child who will grow into the Rainmaker, the man whose orders led to the senseless death of his beloved wife. Those plans bring younger Joe to the farm of a tough-talking single mother (Emily Blunt) and her gifted but temperamental young son Cid (Pierce Gagnon).

An older (Bruce Willis) and younger (Joseph Gordon-Levitt) version of the same character share a meal and chat at a diner in "Looper."

Trailers for Looper were not especially promising and Johnson's previous film, The Brothers Bloom, exposed him as a pale imitation of Wes Anderson. Thus, I found the warm reviews given this decidedly genre production quite surprising. Having seen the movie, I can declare that the praise was not unwarranted. Looper is definitely better than advertised and better than the Bruce Willis vehicle it most clearly recalled (the 2009 dystopian dud Surrogates).

Johnson devotes a good deal of effort into making Gordon-Levitt resemble Bruce Willis, fitting the 31-year-old with contact lenses, some prosthetics, and light stubble. It's kind of jarring and off-putting because no amount of make-up would convince us the two actors are the same person and once we buy the conceit, that becomes a non-issue. In addition, while no one would dispute that Willis is the bigger movie star, more iconic and better-known to the typical moviegoer, second-billed Gordon-Levitt has been far more prolific in recent years and clearly holds the film's leading role. If anything, it'd be easier to swallow the peripheral Willis being made-up to resemble the younger version of himself and without anything as drastic as the penciled-in eyebrows and lipstick Gordon-Levitt sports here.

Obviously, such concerns are a bit superficial and fade away as Looper develops from a violent tale set in a Blade Runner-type future into a more engaging The Terminator-like film that gets us thinking about time travel paradoxes. Once it gets us to that farm where a mother and child attract interest from two different points on a single person's life, the movie becomes substantial and riveting. This core story has clear value and intrigue beyond other portions that may merely remind you of other dark, futuristic fiction.

Single mother Sara (Emily Blunt) defends herself, her son, and her farm with tough talk and a loaded rifle. A bearded Jeff Daniels plays Abe, the man sent from the future to oversee and enforce the loopers.

The film manages to shake that feeling of familiarity and pull us away from a predictable course into something investable if not altogether satisfactory. The positive qualities overshadow the shortcomings, but we can't overlook the fact that there are a good number of both. Among the more glaring drawbacks are erratic sound design, an excess of violence, and derivative atmosphere and action.

As this month finds Looper picking up a number of original screenplay honors everywhere from the National Board of Review to my own Online Film Critics Society, I can't help but notice that Johnson isn't exactly bringing anything new to the table, he's just retooling ideas in a way that feels fresh. For a genre movie not appearing to harbor any greater aspirations, that is still more than enough to get singled out and exalted.
But my gut tells me that while this will long be cited as enjoyable thinking man's entertainment, it will not be upheld as a science fiction milestone. Already, even with its makings aligning with IMDb readership's well-established tastes and with new movies typically ranking most highly at their earliest point, Looper has fallen out of that web resource's Top 250 list, its 7.8 weighted average ranking paling next to comparably decorated recent films like District 9 and Drive.

Looper has fared slightly better with professional moviegoers, i.e. critics, drawing an 8+ rating and over 90% approval at Rotten Tomatoes, making it one of few wide release films to be endorsed so enthusiastically. The rave reviews and good buzz translated to formidable fall box office, with respectable grosses of $66 million domestically and just over $100 M overseas. The film becomes the last big home video release of 2012 and the first big one post-Christmas today, as Sony brings it to DVD and Blu-ray on this New Year's Eve.

Looper Blu-ray Disc cover art -- click to buy from Amazon.com Blu-ray Disc Details

2.40:1 Widescreen
5.1 DTS-HD MA (English), Dolby Digital 5.1 (Descriptive Video Service)
Subtitles: English, English for Hearing Impaired, Spanish
Not Closed Captioned; Extras Subtitled in English
Release Date: December 31, 2012
Suggested Retail Price: $35.99
Single-sided, dual-layered disc (BD-50)
Blue Keepcase with Side Snap in Embossed Cardboard Slipcover
Also available on DVD ($30.99 SRP) and Amazon Instant Video

VIDEO and AUDIO

Like just about every new Sony film, Looper is treated to a spectacular-looking Blu-ray Disc. The 2.40:1 transfer is razor-sharp, full of detail, and absent of any concerns. The 5.1 DTS-HD master audio is likewise extremely potent, but it suffers from peaks and valleys. Presumably true to the film's intended sound design, the movie bounces from quiet dialogue to extremely loud gunfire and sound effects with wall-shaking bass, contrast that you might not appreciate as you repeatedly reach for your remote to adjust volume levels accordingly. It's a very effective mix, but I've never been a fan of such a wide dynamic range.

Kid Blue (Noah Segan) tracks Joe with surveillance camera footage in this deleted scene. In costume, Paul Dano discusses realizing his desire to work with Rian Johnson in a featurette.

BONUS FEATURES, MENUS, PACKAGING and DESIGN

The Blu-ray's all-HD extras begin with an audio commentary by writer/director Rian Johnson, Joseph Gordon-Levitt, and, coming in eight minutes late and leaving early, Emily Blunt. Their screen-specific and easygoing discussion touches on deletions, make-up, visual effects, and Johnson's family's involvement. They even field Twitter questions over the end credits.
It's a revealing track that isn't hard to listen to.

A whopping 22 deleted scenes (36:50) are presented, with optional explanatory audio commentary by Johnson and actor Noah Segan. There's more of the showgirls, more thoughts on a looper's calling, more dialogue-free depictions of Joe growing old, an extended Willis-Gordon-Levitt chat, and more of Old Joe and his Chinese wife.

"The Future From the Beginning" (7:52) is a general making-of featurette that has Johnson and the cast discuss their characters, the film at large, and the use of practical visual effects.

"The Science of Time Travel" (8:29) focuses on the topic that drives the film, with thoughts from the filmmakers and an author on real issues that time travel could create, how Looper presents the phenomenon, and on whether they'd want to travel in time.

"Scoring Looper" (16:18) consists of three featurettes on (director's cousin) Nathan Johnson's music for the film, which incorporates recordings of field instruments. The segments are presented video blog updates and wrapped up with previews of scenes featuring only their score, but remain worthwhile even after you've seen the movie.

Artistic renderings of Joseph Gordon-Levitt and a telekinetic Emily Blunt appear in the Looper animated trailer. A thief is troubled by an "Evil Demon Golf Ball from Hell!!!" in Rian Johnson's hidden student short film.

The extras conclude with a Looper animated trailer (1:34) that provides edgy graphic versions of shots from the film. The standard trailer for the film is not included.

Presented as either an Easter egg (I could find no way to access this from the menus) or something that was not cleared for (but not dropped from) the disc is Evil Demon Golf Ball from Hell!!!,
Rian Johnson's black and white 1996 short film (8:13). In this homage to classic horror films made by Johnson as a USC film student, bad things happen in the presence of a seemingly possessed, bouncing golf ball. It's a compelling debut that makes for a welcome inclusion here.

Based on what the case defines as Blu-ray exclusives, the DVD version includes only 5 of the 22 deleted scenes with commentary and loses "The Science of Time Travel", but hangs on to everything else.

The disc opens with a promo for UltraViolet, followed by trailers for Parker, Premium Rush, and Universal Soldier: Day of Reckoning. The Previews submenu holds those trailers along with ones for Company of Heroes and Seven Psychopaths.

To a robust score excerpt, the menu fills the 16:9 screen with silent clips from the film. Like all Sony BDs, this one resumes playback and supports bookmarks.

The Blu-ray case features reverse side artwork, inserts supplying your codes for UltraViolet and Sony Rewards, and an embossed, nicely-textured cardboard slipcover.

In an effort to more closely resemble Bruce Willis, Joseph Gordon-Levitt looks a little bit off as the young Joe. Old Joe (Bruce Willis) goes hunting for three specific young children in 2044 Kansas.

CLOSING THOUGHTS

Looper is definitely better than it looks, but not quite as great as its near-unanimous critical approval indicates. Rian Johnson's sci-fi action flick is relatively smart and thoroughly entertaining, though not terribly original or immune to scrutiny. Still, it's absolutely a movie to see and one that Sony's fine Blu-ray makes easy to consider owning as well.

Buy Looper from Amazon.com: Blu-ray / DVD / Instant Video

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Reviewed December 31, 2012.



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