Returning to Hollywood for the first time in 42 years, Oscargoers found themselves parading past the Roosevelt Hotel, where the first statuettes were handed out in 1929 — and they found themselves definitely liking it.
The Academy of Motion Picture Arts & Sciences was banking that its new digs in the heart of Hollywood would resonate with Oscargoers and viewers around the world.
“This is where the awards should be — the heart of Hollywood,” said Ridley Scott, who was nominated for best director for “Black Hawk Down.”
With many stars decked out in diamonds, they seemed tickled pink with the more elaborate backdrop — especially after an awards season in which flash and dash was toned down out of respect for the victims of the Sept. 11 terror attacks.
“I grew up 10 blocks from here, and our whole life was sitting inside, eating Chinese take-out and watching the Oscars on TV. And now the show is actually happening in Hollywood. I think it’s great,” Jodie Foster said.
If the pomp and circumstance on the red carpet seemed to pump up the celebs on parade, so too did the elegantly appointed Kodak Theatre.
Although criticized for being too small — it seats only 3,300 rather than the 5,000 of the Shrine Auditorium — most attendees praised the venue.
The Academy spent a fortune lighting and dressing the approach to the theater in order to obscure the area’s more mercantile side.
To downplay the mall aspect, the Academy insisted that the entrance to the Kodak, the Orchid Walk, be completely different from the rest of the complex. Store fronts were draped in red velvet, in effect turning the walk into an extended lobby.
There were 75,000 to 100,000 flowers on display and 3,000 blooming plants in pots decking the approaches to the Hollywood & Highland complex.
As for the Kodak Theater itself, the venue exudes a warmth and intimacy, which partially comes from its “pushed forward” steepness — and which helped host Whoopi Goldberg quickly establish a rapport with the live audience.
However, the presenters and award winners mostly came across as prepared but somewhat stiff.
Some said the show was glitchless but not particularly lively.
“Aside from Halle Berry breaking down into tears, there wasn’t a lot of spontaneity up there, was there?” one attendee hazarded.
Reaching the seats in the steep upper balcony required mountaineering skills, and there was something of a bottleneck entering the theater at curtain time.
But the only really sour notes: Acoustics were underwhelming in the top balcony — some of the speeches were muffled. It was, said some in the peanut gallery, hard to hear Whoopi.
And, several attendees griped about the monitors outside the theater, saying that having the sound turned off was a big mistake.
MPA chairman Jack Valenti summed up the sentiment of the majority of Oscargoers, however, calling the Kodak “intimate, elegant and full of adventure. And that’s what the Academy Awards are all about.”
As for the snipes that the whole Hollywood and Highland complex was nothing more than a trussed-up shopping mall, Roger Deakins, nominated for best cinematography for the Coen brothers movie “The Man Who Wasn’t There,” said he saw no reason not to embrace the new venue.
“It’s definitely more like part of the community. What’s wrong with a mall? You go to watch movies in a mall. So it’s appropriate that it’s here. I don’t think we should be snobbish about the venue,” Deakins said.
The switch to Hollywood from the Shrine Auditorium near downtown Los Angeles also seemed to energize fans.
While only 400 were allowed in the bleacher section along the red carpet because of tightened security, thousands showed up outside police barricades in hopes of glimpsing their favorite stars.