As protesters massed in the streets of Hollywood Sunday, the stars filed quietly into the Kodak Theater.
Gone was the usual ostentatious spectacle of Oscar arrivals — the red-carpet jabber and gaudy displays of Oscar finery.
In its place was an orderly and restrained pageant of stars, who streamed into the building in steady and rapid waves, pausing only briefly to flirt with the press.
In an effort to strike a more somber tone as war raged in the Middle East, the Academy canceled the traditional red-carpet ceremony, which last year stretched from Highland Avenue to the theater entrance.
This year, limos disgorged passengers directly in front of the theater, and most people passed quickly across a red carpet stretching roughly 100 feet into the mouth of the building.
The Academy also quelled the usual media frenzy. Reporters were confined to a 3-foot-high riser on one side of a bottleneck at the theater entryway. Television camera crews were arrayed on a bridge spanning Hollywood Boulevard.
Print reporters and paparazzi were enjoined from interviewing the attendees. Reporters who stepped from the riser in an attempt to engage the stars were scolded by Academy security.
Some stars dawdled for the press, pirouetting and air kissing for the cameras.
Jennifer Lopez and Ben Affleck, among the last to arrive, indulged photographers with a ceremonious kiss on the lips.
“It’s so calm,” Jennifer said as a dozen cameras snapped away at her. “They should do this every year.”
Hilary Swank modeled a pink gown from Christian Dior; Red Buttons introduced Eva Marie Saint to the photographers as his “illegitimate daughter”; Sally Kirkland, who arrived a full hour and 45 minutes before the start of the ceremony, posed from several angles; Nia Vardalos, who arrived with an entourage of nine family members, modeled a massive diamond bracelet and ring.
“I didn’t know you were going to be here,” Cameron Diaz said, pausing briefly in front of the photographers.
Other actors sidestepped the media swarm.
Peter O’Toole smiled only briefly to reporters before entering the theater; Nicole Kidman darted inside with nary a smile to the paparazzi; Harrison Ford and Calista Flockhart, arriving minutes before the ceremony started, strode quickly into the building, as Ford pointed to his watch with a shrug. And Susan Sarandon and Tim Robbins, both dressed entirely in black, made peace signs to the camera crews before marching into the ceremony.
As helicopters roared continuously overhead, and throngs of people, many with anti-war signs discernible behind a black fence on the opposite side of Hollywood Boulevard, gathered nearby, Oscar arrivals made for an unusually sober spectacle. Stars seemed eager to get on with the show.
One particular oddity in this odd Oscar year was the shift in the televised pre-show power balance.
Coping with harsh war-related restrictions, KTLA and E! had to mount two-hour shows without red-carpet access, which is a bit like broadcasting a ballgame from outside the arena.
ABC, meanwhile, has done a pre-show only since 1999, but it got the lion’s share of star access on Sunday, interviewing them on a flower-festooned platform just a few feet from the limo drop. In a typical year, many stars will “work the line” on the red carpet, dispensing soundbites to several broadcast outlets.
This year, Rene Zellweger, Denzel Washington, Salma Hayek and many more did interviews with ABC. Meanwhile, E!’s Melissa and Joan Rivers could scarcely lure a single notable to its set in the Roosevelt Hotel. The biggest name: “Lord of the Rings” star Sean Astin.
KTLA acknowledged the uphill battle and favored pre-taped segments, most of them evergreen lifestyle features on where to borrow the best diamond jewelry, how to slim down before the Oscars, etc. KABC-TV typically does a lengthy pre-show before ceding to the network, but this year the station broke away from news programming only for brief reports from George Pennacchio.
E! reporters spent the first hour gamely trying to spot who was arriving at the Kodak Theater from an aerial vantage point.
“A bunch of limos have just arrived!” one said as gown- and tux-clad guests disembarked on Hollywood Boulevard. “Who’s that? Oh, it’s nobody. … Is that Daniel Day-Lewis? … Nope, it’s nobody.”
Rivers mom and daughter made one cheeky concession to their plight: They erected a small hedge and a miniature red carpet in their Roosevelt roost.
Fittingly, it was the size of a doormat.