Blu-ray Director’s Panel – CES 2011

Posted Sun Jan 9, 2011 at 12:04 AM PST by Dick Ward

Baz Luhrmann, Michael Mann and Oliver Stone sit down to talk about how they see the Blu-ray format and how the adaption of Blu-ray changes the way they make movies.

I’m sitting in one of forty seats reserved for the CES directors panel and I’m surrounded by other press members as well as executives from Fox Home Entertainment. Around our stadium seats, a crowd gather to get a chance to hear from some of the greats.

After a quick introduction, Jeff Bucher of the L.A. Times brings out Michael Mann, Oliver Stone and Baz Luhrmann, who take their seats on director’s chairs that don’t actually seem that practical. Mann sits in his comfortable, but Stone‘s feet dangle and Baz simply leans on his. Their seating style reflects their character too, with Baz playing up the crown and Stone seeming like he’d prefer a one-on-one to a crowd.

Bucher starts off with a question for all the directors, and it’s just what you’d expect from a Blu-ray panel sponsored by Panasonic. “What does Blu-ray mean to you, and what excited you when you consider the format?

Mann takes the first crack at the question. He says that the high-definition picture of Blu-ray really helps to pay off the work that directors do on the films. “The attention to detail, the color, how dense we want a background to be with extras,” he says, are all things that come into consideration.

“It’s like having a print at home,” says Oliver Stone. “Not only is it like a print at home, but it’s actually usually better than the old print. Criterion Classics is great, but a Blu-ray compared to it – there’s just no comparison.”

Luhrmann briefly touches on how much he would enjoy having Orson Welles commentary on one of his films and then says, matter-of-factly, “Blu-ray for me, it’s better,” to a laugh from the crowd.

He says that when he made his trilogy of films, the goal was to reproduce three strip MGM Technicolor, and they were unable to do it. When the films were redone for Blu-ray, colorist Jan Yarbrough spent around 1,000 hours rebuilding a tri-color look. Baz suggests that if you want to see ‘Romeo + Juliet’ or ‘Moulin Rouge’ as he intended then “please go out and buy the newly released Blu-rays.”

We’re treated to a clip from ‘Romeo + Juliet’ that shows off the color reproduction of the Blu-ray format which has Baz half-jokingly suggesting that “I think the reds still need a minor adjustment – just one more tweak and I’ll be done!”

Introducing the next clip – the Elephant Love Medley from ‘Moulin Rouge’ – Baz explains that the movie grew from a love of musicals as a child. He set out to recreate the magic with a combination of new techniques and old techniques.”

“When you’re making a film now,” asks Bucher of Baz, “how far into it do you start thinking about the Blu-ray release.”

“That really has changed,” says Baz. “I’ve always been a DVD, and now Blu-ray, nut. I think you can have a relationship with a film and want to know more about it.” He says that the Blu-ray can dramatically improve that relationship if it’s done right.

He talks about the Blu-ray extras like behind-the-scenes footage and commentaries with a twinkle in his eye. It’s clear that not only does he love putting his movies on Blu-ray, but he loves watching all those special features on other films too.

The focus shifts to Oliver Stone as Bucher shows a few clips from both the classic ‘Wall Street’ and the new movie ‘Wall Street: Money Never Sleeps.’

The clips end to applause and Bucher moves away from the subject of Blu-ray briefly to ask Stone what it was like going back to a film for a sequel so long after its initial release. “It’s the best experience you can have. I would suggest that you don’t do any sequels for 23 years.”

“As Baz says, there’s too much light in the room, but you can really see the water, the fog in the air and the atmosphere in this movie. It’s a classic one-time experience and you don’t get that on anything else but Blu-ray.”

Bucher says that during a conversation back stage, Stone was ecstatic when talking about color reproduction.

“Every director has their thing,” says Stone, “and for me it’s color. Baz is a color freak I can tell, but I love color. I love reds and greens and [to Baz] your blues are beautiful.” He says that even in the brown and tan atmosphere of the original ‘Wall Street,’ colors reproduction is absolutely essential for communicating the mood and character of the film.

“Some people don’t like doing it, but how do you feel about director’s commentary,” asks Bucher. “Is that something that appeals to you?”

Stone says that he feels that it’s your last opportunity as a director to make the point you were trying to make with your film and to get the vision across to the audience. “I put my heart into it, I always do.

We then move on to Michael Mann, who introduces a clip from ‘Last of the Mohicans.’ He says that the real challenge in the movie was to sell the audience on the location and the authenticity of the environment, from the accuracy of the clothing to the vast expanses of land.

“It seems to me,” suggests Bucher, “that the vistas and cliffs aren’t just background, but a character.”

“It all had to do with the detail. Visually, we’re all smarter than we thing we are,” says Mann. He says that authenticity is one of the most essential parts of the film for the audience and the actors alike.

“We did everything, down to the braiding of an officer’s coat,” he says. He says that’s the kind of thing you couldn’t’ see on DVD but it finally pays off on Blu-ray.

“In this day and age, you can watch a movie on a telephone,” says Bucher. “Then there are movie theaters where the lighting isn’t right and screens that aren’t optimized. I’d imagine Blu-ray helps you keep some of that control. Do you find it satisfying to go back to a movie and put in on Blu-ray?”

“I take every opportunity to go back and fix this mistake and that mistake, I really do,” says Mann.

“Do you feel a sense of optimism about the future, or do you think it’s going to be problematic keeping up with everything and still telling a good story?” asks Bucher.

“Watching my children and friends multitask through a movie with the lights on is very depressing to people like me,” says Stone. “This is a moment in time about film preservation. This takes the old films and preserves it in a form that’s the best of the last hardware… You’ll never have access to a hard copy of these movies after Blu-ray.”

“I remember when baseball cards were on the way out and now they’re worth more today than they ever were when I was a kid,” he adds. “Keep on collecting Blu-rays, I think that’ll be an investment that pays off in 2050.”

Baz has a different attitude from Mann and Stone. “The power of the instrument is so great that I’m conscious about misusing it.” He says that some movies become amazing Blu-rays and are enhanced by the innovation. Others “are like friends that had too much plastic surgery and they come out looking completely different.”

He also says that you have to be careful when restoring works that the directors aren’t around to work on. His colorist was working on the ‘Wizard of Oz’ Blu-ray and when the higher resolution revealed details not originally present in the film, a decision had to be made about what to do with it.

The final word on film restoration, and the final word of the panel, comes from Baz. “Are we trying to recreate the film or are we trying to recreate your memory and your experience?”

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Tags: Blu-ray, Panasonic, CES 2011, Michael Mann, Baz Luhrmann, Oliver Stone (all tags)