Reporting from Las Vegas — — At the International Consumer Electronics Show, the massive annual expo in Las Vegas devoted to the hard sell of high tech, it's just assumed that the next big thing is always better than what came before. That's why director Oliver Stone managed to sound lonely in a crowded room Saturday when he suggested that, for cinema, the future just doesn't look so bright.
"Watching my children and friends look at a computer screen with a movie — with the lights on, with interruptions, trying to multitask — is very depressing to people like me," Stone said at a filmmaker panel discussion on the Las Vegas Convention Center floor. "Now, my daughter had [a movie on] a phone the other day. I found it, literally, sad. I feel like we are the last of the Mohicans, in a way."
Stone made that fading-frontier analogy for the benefit of director Michael Mann, his generational peer who was sitting beside him and who had just shown the crowd an especially vivid sequence from the new Blu-ray edition of his 1992 epic, "The Last of the Mohicans."
Mann chuckled, but Stone wasn't smiling. As Hollywood moves further into the era of portability and pixels, the "Sunset Blvd." words of Norma Desmond spring to mind: "I am big. It's the pictures that got small."
The panel, which also included "Moulin Rouge!" director Baz Luhrmann, was a bit of an anomaly at the hardware-obsessed event. The discussion, organized by Fox Home Entertainment and moderated by this reporter, was focused on high-definition Blu-ray discs.
While all three of the famous perfectionists expressed enthusiasm for the format — Mann said "Blu-ray does a better job [than DVD] by a factor of about 12 or 13" — they voiced less certainty and even flashes of anxiety when the talk turned to other technology topics.
Luhrmann, 48, said he worries about the integrity of classic films when modern technology adds too much clarity to the images — for example, when the wires holding the flying monkeys can be seen in new versions of "The Wizard of Oz." And Mann, who spent months preparing "Mohicans" for last year's Blu-ray version, noted that despite his affection for the format, he could guess that it might last eight more years.
Still, Luhrmann said he is "fantastically optimistic" about technology in general and eager to see where 3-D leads to as stereoscopic approaches and gear improve. Backstage, he spoke with crackling enthusiasm about his investigation into 3-D for an upcoming adaption of "The Great Gatsby." Mann also said he would like to see what 3-D might bring to a carefully constructed dialogue drama as opposed to the action spectacle films that dominate the sector now.
The directors were part of a slightly greater emphasis on content at CES, but gear and gizmos really still ruled the four-day event that came to a close Sunday. More than 2,700 technology companies came to sell themselves to 140,000 hard-wired professionals from 80 countries. Computer tablets, smart appliances and Ford's first electric vehicle were the talk of the show, whereas the entertainment sector seemed to have less eye-popping offerings than last year, when 3-D TV was a hot topic.
Although more and more entertainment is moving toward digital delivery, Stone said the Blu-ray format may be able to extend its life if people consider it a collectible.
"This is about film preservation … it's the last hardware, the best of the last hardware. There won't be any other hardware now," he said. "It's going to be on a digital phone or on a computer or on a TV screen."