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Oscarcast was 'a bore and a sporadic thrill,' TV critics say

February 25, 2008 |  9:41 am

In his encore as host of the Oscars, Jon Stewart fared slightly better than he did with the TV critics two years ago. However, most of them found fault with the Oscarcast itself, chiding the academy for sticking with a clip-heavy show even though the resolution of the writers strike should have allowed for more original material.

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As Mary McNamara of the Los Angeles Times writes, "All the film clips and montages of past winners seemed left over from Plan B (what the show would have looked like had the writers strike continued), causing the 80th Academy Awards to look and feel weirdly as much like an Oscar BYOB as an Oscar ceremony. " However, she gave the academy the benefit of the doubt, noting that, "Katherine Heigl's case of stage fright when delivering the award for makeup; Tilda Swinton and Marion Cotillard's obvious astonishment upon winning, even Cameron Diaz's snappy comeback from her mispronunciation of cinematographer ('Oh, I can do this,' she said with a sassy head toss) all lent a we're-all-in-this-together air, which seemed eminently appropriate given the circumstances."

For Frank Scheck of the Hollywood Reporter, "The short prep time for this year's Oscars was easily discernible during a broadcast that was Oscar_reviews_2aheavy on clip montages and videotaped recollections from former winners and light on, uh, the awards." His main criticism? "Somehow, the producers failed to notice that the best moments in those endless montages came from memorable acceptance speeches. Instead they were in such a rush to get winners off the stage that at one point host Jon Stewart was forced to drag one of them back (Marketa Irglova, co-composer of the song 'Falling Slowly' from 'Once') to deliver her remarks."

Frazier Moore of the AP found, "This three-hour-and-20-minute affair had an underwhelming feel that left the clear impression it was put together on the fly. Host Jon Stewart was strong, but there were no eye-popping production treats (unless you count the brief computer-animated opening sequence, which viewers might have mistaken for a UPS commercial). No outrageous comedy bits. He did think Stewart "was vastly improved from his 2006 appearance. He proved equal to the challenge posed by Oscarcast's quick turnaround. His crash-deadline material worked. And even when it didn't, he was genial, relaxed, and seemed utterly at home."

Alessandra Stanley of the New York Times wrote, "The show, with Jon Stewart as host, seemed less polished than usual but not much more spontaneous. If anything, the evening was weighed down by insecurity: the producers, worried that the strike would not be over in time, commissioned many montages of acceptance speeches and odd moments of Oscar ceremonies past –- a streaker, Cher -– and then, even after the strike was settled, kept them in as filler. It was as if they felt they needed an insurance policy against dullness." But, as she points out, "those flashbacks reminded viewers of what they were missing. And showing other actors’ memorable acceptance speeches –- especially Cuba Gooding Jr.’s -– seemed to leave the new winners self-conscious and subdued."

And says Robert Bianco of USA Today, "Maybe settling the strike in time for the Oscars wasn't such a good idea after all. True, Oscar has been less than scintillating before, but has it ever felt like more of a padded bore than it did Sunday night? If so, blame the writers' strike, which left the producers with only a few weeks to prepare for the ABC broadcast and persuaded them to lean less on the host and more on old clips. The goal, no doubt, was twofold: to distract us from a crop of nominees who, to put it nicely, failed to stir much popular interest; and to make up for the writers' inability to create more elaborate, host-driven bits."

While Matthew Gilbert of the Boston Globe was bored with the show, he thought, "It was good to see Jon Stewart being Jon Stewart. He is shaping up to be a dependable Oscar host for the post-Billy Crystal years. He's not musical, but he's versatile enough to swing smoothly between jokes about politics, Hollywood, new media, and, most importantly, hair. Last night, after every Oscar moment of ego bloat, and after the many long stretches of highlight-reel nostalgia, his aggressively ironic smile was a welcome sight at the podium."

Brian Lowry of Variety was relatively impressed with the Oscarcast. As he notes, "Nobody starting from scratch would ever design a TV special with all the hurdles that assail this one -- where technical categories far outnumber those for stars and the playing field has shifted toward movies that relatively few people have seen." To that end, "Based on that grade-on-a-curve yardstick, this Academy Awards was alternatively a bore and a sporadic thrill. Sure, even streamlined compared with past marathons, the show easily could have been 20 minutes shorter. But it's a definite improvement over last year, and any extensive nitpicking requires a short memory -- forgetting that Oscar's 'good ol' days' are generally best viewed through the prism of three-minute montages."

Not so, says Tom Shales of the Washington Post who thought, "The show was so overstocked with clips from movies -– from this year's nominees and from Oscar winners going back to 1929 -– that it was like a TV show with the hiccups. There were hardly any emotional moments from winners on the stage and there was little in the way of drama for viewers who watched, especially those who stayed with the tedious drag all the way past 11:45, when it finally drew to a close." For Shales, one of the few highlights –- "Javier Bardem did move the crowd when he concluded his speech with a message to his mother in his native Spanish; she was sitting in the audience, surrounded by the usual suspects and celebrities" -– was almost ruined by the host. "Jon Stewart, the cable TV comic brought in to host, did only a fair-to-middling job, mostly middling, and in fact threatened to ruin the poignancy of Bardem's speech by later informing the audience, 'That was a moment,' in case we were all too dumb to have figured that out for ourselves."


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