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Oscar show has it dragging moments, as usual

Dale Roe

Oscar is definitely showing his age.

The producers of the 83rd annual awards honoring achievement in motion pictures promised us something different this year. But the major difference seemed to be that it was the least entertaining and slowest-moving broadcast in recent memory.

A pre-broadcast attempt to drum up interest with viral videos featuring co-hosts Anne Hathaway and James Franco re-creating scenes from films such as "Evita" and "Grease" never went viral. And the producers over-hyped a new "virtual reality" technology that would transport viewers to bygone eras in Oscar history — it ended up being fairly unimpressive.

The broadcast itself was supposed to be "young and hip," as young actress Hathaway and hip actor Franco kept reminding us. It began humorously, if predictably, with the hosts inserting themselves, Billy Crystal-style, into the year's best picture nominees. Riffing on best picture nominee "Inception," the pair found themselves within previous host Alec Baldwin's dreams after the actor sipped the sleep aid Ambien from a juice pouch.

The duo rode horseback through "True Grit," telling nominee Jeff Bridges as Rooster Cogburn that they loved him in "Tron" and discovering that Baldwin imagines Morgan Freeman narrating his cinematic slumber. Hathaway was stitched into "The Black Swan," doing a silly, molting "Dance of the Brown Duck." Somehow, incongruously, the bit concluded with a segment from "Back to the Future."

"Young and hip" presenters including Justin Timberlake, Mila Kunis, Russell Brand and Scarlett Johansson were more or less counterbalanced by Kirk Douglas, giving the award for best supporting actress to "The Fighter's" Melissa Leo, who dropped the f-bomb in her acceptance speech.

Douglas is a living Hollywood legend but, slow and barely intelligible with awful scripted comments that were supposed to appear off-the-cuff, you have to wonder if he was best choice so early in the broadcast for an appeal to a younger demographic.

Not that the younger presenters fared much better. If Hathaway and Franco's banter was slow as molasses, the bit between Timberlake and Kunis was downright painful, filled with awkward pauses and uncomfortable silence. All in all, only three awards were handed out in the first half-hour of the broadcast.

The much-hyped "virtual reality" technology amounted to projections on panels arranged in a telescoping bandshell that looked like nothing so much as the circle Porky Pig used to pop out of at the end of the Looney Toons shorts (the broadcast missed a real opportunity to include Porky in the animation categories).

The technology was occasionally effective, as when the orchestra in the middle of the stage appeared to be moving at warp speed as it played the "Star Wars" theme, or legendary Oscar host Bob Hope appeared to be onstage, behind a podium (voice impersonation allowed Hope to introduce Robert Downey Jr. and Jude Law). At other times, showing an introduction of the beginning of talkies, for instance, it seemed attractive, but unimpressive and kind of ordinary.

Aside from Leo's obscenity, most of the ceremony was void of any surprising, water-cooler moments. One advantage to having comedians such as Billy Crystal or Steve Martin host is that they are able to roll with the punches when the proceedings veer off-script. Hathaway got off a good, impromptu line after Leo's obscenity, saying "I thought 'F' stood for 'The Fighter.'"

Most of the winners toed the line, predictably thanking lists of people despite the producers' promises that they would employ a laser-equipped "paper detector" to discourage that practice (the orchestra must have gotten overtime pay for playing all the way through though Aaron Sorkin's acceptance speech for best adapted screenplay for "The Social Network").

Politics seemed largely absent, although Charles Ferguson (the documentary "Inside Job") took advantage of his winner's time at the podium to point out that "three years after a horrific financial crisis caused by massive fraud, not a single financial executive has gone to jail, and that's wrong."

The hosts had some truly odd moments. I don't understand why the producers decided to eat up several minutes with a tuxedo-clad Hathaway's unfunny musical jab at actor Hugh Jackman, but it was almost worth it to see Franco join her in platinum blond wig and hot pink gown as Marilyn Monroe. "The weird thing is, I just got a text from Charlie Sheen," Franco joked (if Golden Globes host Ricky Gervais had hosted ths show, we'd have had Charlie Sheen jokes all night).

The only other memorable comic set piece was an amusing montage employing auto-tune technology to make musical numbers out of dialogue from films including "Harry Potter and the Deathly Hallows," "Toy Story 3," "The Social Network" and "Twilight" ("He Doesn't Own a Shirt," Edward and Bella sang about a bare-chested Jacob).

It was the only segment all night that really seemed to be tuned to younger viewers.

droe@statesman.com; 912-5923