Looper (4K UHD Review)

  • Reviewed by: Bill Hunt
  • Review Date: Feb 16, 2022
  • Format: Blu-ray Disc
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Looper (4K UHD Review)

Director

Rian Johnson

Release Date(s)

2012 (February 15, 2022)

Studio(s)

TriStar Pictures/Film District/Endgame/Ram Bergman Productions (Sony Pictures Home Entertainment)
  • Film/Program Grade: B+
  • Video Grade: A
  • Audio Grade: A+
  • Extras Grade: B-

Looper (4K Ultra HD)

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Review

In the year 2044, a slick twenty-something named Joe (Joseph Gordon-Levitt) gets steadily richer working as a “looper” for a Kansas City crime syndicate. This means he executes the syndicate’s enemies and disposes of their bodies, but not current enemies—targets from the future that the syndicate’s operation in 2074 sends on one-way, dead-end trips back in time. Joe kills by day, parties by night, and generally cares for nothing but himself. But when his friend and fellow looper Seth (Paul Dano) fails to kill a target that he realized was his future self, Joe briefly tries to help, which swiftly draws the wrath of their boss, Abe (Jeff Daniels). It seems that “having your loop closed” is a prospect that every looper must face eventually. So Joe isn’t too surprised when his next target is his own future self (played by Bruce Willis). But future Joe manages to escape before young Joe can kill him. It seems he’s on a mission to take out the person who wants him dead in 2074, who in 2044 is just a boy. But determined to close his own loop to get right with Abe, young Joe tries to predict where his future self will go next, which soon leads him to Sara (Emily Blunt), a single mother who’s struggling to manage a farm and give her young child a better future.

What makes Rian Johnson such an interesting filmmaker is that he brings something slightly unconventional to every project he works on. He takes old school ideas, mixes in some fresh ones, and pushes the result in a different direction that feels both familiar but also fresh at the same time. Part of this down to the fact that his films are seasoned with simple touches, details, and character moments (Joe trying to learn French, for example) that build authenticity. Part of it too is due to his longtime collaboration with cinematographer/image scientist Steve Yedlin (be sure to check out Yedlin’s excellent website here), who brings his own unique look to every project. With Looper, the result is unquestionably high-concept, yet it doesn’t require an abundence of expensive visual effects—it’s set in a future that’s near enough to our own that it feels grounded in reality. And while time travel is a topic that’s been explored on film before, Johnson’s found a way to make it feel clever without relying too heavily on M. Night Shyamalan-style “out of left field” twists. The casting of Gordon-Levitt and Willis as Joe at two different ages is inspired; each brings a different edge to the role, one as a young man who can’t really imagine caring about the future—or anyone—and the other as an old man who’s lived a future worth caring about. Each makes you emphasize with their plight, which strongly motivates their actions even as it sets them in conflict. Add another great sci-fi performace by Blunt (think The Adjustment Bureau, Edge of Tomorrow, A Quiet Place and its sequel)—who derails young Joe’s nihilism and makes him stop, think, and care—and the result is a genuinely worthy piece of neo-noir cinema.

Looper was shot on 35 mm photochemical film using Panavision Panaflex Gold II and Millennium XL2 cameras with Panavision anamorphic lenses. It was originally finished as a 2K Digital Intermediate at the 2.39:1 aspect ratio. For its release in Ultra HD, Sony has rescanned the camera negative in native 4K and upsampled VFX shots as needed to create a new 4K Digital Intermediate. What’s more, Yedlin has confirmed that he’s personally supervised the remastering and HDR grading on this release—which apparently wasn’t the case with eOne’s recent UK Ultra HD (see our review of that disc here). The result of this new effort is a significant improvement in image quality over the UK release. While the film still retains its gritty, high-contrast look, film grain is now more evenly controlled from shot to shot—more light-medium than medium—yet it remains organic. The color grade (which drops HDR10+ but retains HDR10 and now includes Dolby Vision) is less harsh. Gone is the UK disc’s obvious blue push. Skin tones are particularly more accurate, though really all the colors are more natural and nuanced. Blacks are still deep and inky, but there’s more detail visible in the shadows now. And the brightest areas of the frame are no longer blown out, so you gain more detail there too. Take a look at the daytime shots of the diner exterior, and also the distant city skyline, and the difference between the two 4K presentations becomes obvious. Sony’s new UHD release offers a much more refined and pleasing image.

Sony’s disc also now includes a new Dolby Atmos mix, in addition to the same 5.1 DTS-HD Master Audio mix found on the original 2012 Blu-ray release (it was included on the eOne 4K as well). Like the DTS mix, the soundstage is big and wide here, with lovely panning and movement from channel to channel, as well as muscular bass. But it’s also much smoother sounding now, still aggressive but more effortlessly so. Dialogue remains clean throughout, and the surrounds and overhead channels are alive with well-layered atmospherics—city ambiance, nightclub chatter, and nature sounds on Sara’s farm. Gunshots are appropriately meaty. Ryan’s cousin Nathan Johnson adds a score composed of unique and edgy “found object” rhythms that propels the action forward. The Atmos offers a lovely sonic upgrade; this is a fantastic and reference quality surround mix. English Descriptive Audio and Spanish Dolby Surround options are also available, along with subtitles in English, English SDH, and Spanish.

Unlike the UK release, Sony’s new 4K disc has no special features. That’s a little bit of a bummer, as it means the 4K doesn’t include the audio commentary with Johnson, Joseph Gordon-Levitt, and Emily Blunt. However, what’s gained in the omission is more disc space that allows for a higher AV data rate. And Sony’s package also includes the 2012 Blu-ray edition, which does have the commentary and more, as follows:

  • Audio Commentary with Rian Johnson, Joseph Gordon-Levitt, and Emily Blunt
  • Deleted Scenes (HD – 22 scenes with optional commentary by Johnson and Noah Segan – 36:50 in all)
  • The Future: From the Beginning (HD – 7:52)
  • The Science of Time Travel (HD – 8:29)
  • Scoring Looper (HD – in 3 parts – 16:18 in all)
  • Animated Trailer (HD – 1:34)

These features are grounded and interesting, focused on things you’d actually want to know more about as opposed to more straightforward EPK material. The only drawback is that there’s just not enough of them. Still, the commentary is terrific and entertaining, and the animated trailer is lovely. You also gain an additional deleted scene here that wasn't included on the eOne 4K release and you get a Digital Copy code on a paper insert. Unfortunately, a pair of featurettes from the eOne 4K release are missing: New Future, Old School (HD – 3:18) and The Two Joes (HD – 4:45). So if you have the UK disc, you may wish to keep it.

Looper is a smart, tense, and engaging science fiction thriller. Though not quite at the level of the very best entries in its genre, it certainly deserves to be considered alongside such second-tier gems as Ex Machina, Sunshine, Under the Skin, Dredd, and Dark City. And thankfully, Sony’s new 4K UHD is a great upgrade of both the eOne 4K and original Sony Blu-ray release. It’s highly recommend for fans of this film.

- Bill Hunt

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