Made on a $30 million budget, Looper is notable for proving two things. The first is that a futuristic science fiction flick can be made to look compelling on a relatively low budget, and the second is that a low budget science fiction movie can also be a box office success story. The greater question is whether or not Rian Johnson’s film holds up so well on DVD.
Looper tells a story set in a not-so-distant future. As a voiceover tells us at the beginning of the film, time travel has been invented some time in the years following the film’s starting point, and now the bad guys send the criminal trash from the future to the past for disposal by a group known as loopers, who work until their own numbers come up. If it sounds complicated, it is, but don’t think too hard about it—if director Johnson isn’t worried about the specifics of time travel, we shouldn’t be.
We meet Joe (Joseph Gordon-Levitt), a young drug addict who works as one of these aforementioned loopers. One day, he’s confronted with killing the future version of himself, a hardened, balding badass played by Bruce Willis. The next moves he makes are tricky chessboard plays that lead to young Joe chasing old Joe, the whole looper crew (led by Jeff Daniels) chasing both Joe’s, and a few five-year-olds standing in the way of life returning back to normal, or as normal as it can be. There’s so much chasing going on onscreen, it’s almost comic, but plays out in quite a serious manner.
Eventually, we are led to a farm in the middle of nowhere, where Sarah (Emily Blunt) and Cid (Pierce Gagnon) live a simple and somewhat difficult life. This may be the first time I’ve seen Blunt play a badass on film, with a shotgun nonetheless, but it’s Gagnon who is captivating to watch. The young kid manages to fluctuate between piercing intelligence (for a five-year-old) and uncontrolled rage, and by the time Joe steps into the little family’s path, a can of worms has been opened up that will lead to a story that rapidly spirals out of control, until we reach an ultimate shoot ‘em up concluding set of scenes.
This doesn’t mean Johnson’s script is ever out of control. Just as in his other films—most notably Brick--there are constant nods to other cinematic achievements and premises, from Gordon-Levitt’s costume to Daniels’ clever aside, "The movies that you're dressing like are just copying other movies.” It’s not just the script that’s careful, it’s the casting—which also feature small roles from Paul Dano, Piper Perabo, and Garret Dillahun-- and the setting—the grimy, dark, and sometimes lively 2044, which was shot in present-day New Orleans.
All of these things work for the movie, and grow even more impressive once we realize how much was achieved with how little money it was achieved with. DVD quality picture even hides any notable CGI misses within the frame, which can be taken as a bonus or a miss regarding the quality of the set. First time viewers will probably be too busy considering the story unfolding on screen, however, to contemplate some of the more intricate shots—like the screen tumbling upside down before righting itself during one of Joe’s drug trips.
In any body of work, fully realizing a premise that has not yet been invented would be tricky, and I think the director was right to leave the explanations to the audience’s imaginations. Johnson may not be the most literate on the concept of time travel, but time travel is never really the focal point of Looper, just the starting point. When all of the seemingly never-ending possibilities line up and begin to unfold in a cane field in the middle of nowhere, we may not be given the most satisfying ending of all the thousands of possibilities, but it’s still one worthy of the fluidity of the movie, the idea that if any one choice, one moment, or one bullet had been flipped on its head, the narrative of the script could have totally changed, as well. If anything else, that’s a commendation on Johnson’s writing talent.
For a lower budget film, Looper still relies a lot on its visuals, and while the transfer on to DVD is fine, the picture doesn’t pop on my television as it did at the movie theater, and as I’m guessing it would on Blu-ray. The good news is, if you haven’t transitioned to Blu-ray, yet, or don’t love the film enough to spend an extra few bucks, the extras on the disc are still worth a watch.
There are several deleted scenes on the disc, including the original cut of “The China Sequence” which was initially going to be played over a piano piece. These can be played with or without commentary, and I would suggest you watch “The China Sequence” with commentary and the rest without, as the others help explain some of the time travel stuff and the more key plot points. The scenes are pretty good, but fans will get to watch even more deleted scenes if they roll with the Blu-ray copy of the flick.
There’s a shoddily animated trailer to go with the flick that's fine to skip. Following this is a set of lengthy featurettes that take a look at the different instruments and musicians used to score the movie. Composer Nathan Johnson created a score using a lot of found sounds that he recorded with a field recorder while the film was shooting in New Orleans. “The Time Machine” sequence and a couple of others are even shown in full, with a focus on the music. The entire process the team went through is pretty strange, and a welcome addition on the disc.
Commentary rounds out the bonus features, and while Johnson is pretty dry, he does offer tons of insight, and Gordon-Levitt keeps things fun and joke-oriented throughout. Pretty early on Blunt shows up as well, and enjoys poking fun at her performance. DVD and all, it’s a better-than-average set to go with a good film.