Page last updated at 10:49 GMT, Saturday, 21 February 2009

Surprises expected at Oscar gala

Oscar statue
A large Oscar statuette is delivered to the Kodak Theatre ahead of Sunday's ceremony

By Neil Smith
Entertainment reporter, BBC News in Los Angeles

With final preparations under way for this year's Oscar ceremony, Hollywood is buzzing with rumours on what form it will take.

Bold measures have been promised in an attempt to arrest the ratings slide which saw last year's event watched by just 32m viewers in the US - the lowest figure since 1974, when the current ratings system began.

Details are sketchy, however, with producers Bill Condon and Larry Mark - the team behind 2006 musical Dreamgirls - keeping their counsel on what viewers will see come Sunday night.

Host Hugh Jackman has remained similarly tight-lipped, beyond expressing a wish to have the show completed in under three-and-a-half hours.

Kodak Theatre
Organisers are keeping details of the ceremony under wraps
So far, no award presenters have been announced. Indeed, it has even been suggested that some celebrities will be smuggled through a back entrance of the Kodak Theatre to keep their presence secret right up to the moment they walk out on stage.

Who these guests will be and what role they will play is a mystery that has stoked an atmosphere of feverish, and occasionally outlandish, speculation.

As the big day approaches, though, some rumours appear to have more credence than others.

Jackman is expected to launch the evening with a spectacular song and dance number, choreographed by Moulin Rouge! director Baz Luhrmann and featuring some surprise participants.

However, the X-Men star told CNN the biggest surprise was that he would be presenting the show "drunk and nude".

"That's our new fresh approach," he explained. "It's the Australian way."

'Intimate club'

For the show itself, a different running order is anticipated, with awards presentations forming part of an over-arcing narrative linking the various segments of the show.

Zac Efron and Vanessa Hudgens
Zac Efron and Vanessa Hudgens are rumoured to be performing
The three best song nominees will be combined into one medley - a proposal that has already seen singer Peter Gabriel, cited for his contribution to the Wall-E soundtrack, pull out in protest.

A closer relationship between the audience and the stage is also on the cards, with an on-stage orchestra enabling production designer David Rockwell to dispense with the usual orchestra pit and create what has been described as "an immersive environment evocative of an intimate club."

It has been widely reported that teen heartthrobs Robert Pattinson and Zac Efron will be in attendance, with the latter tipped to perform alongside his High School Musical co-star Vanessa Hudgens.

Beyonce Knowles is also tipped to sing - as will Mamma Mia! stars Dominic Cooper and Amanda Seyfried, if one rather dubious report is to be believed.

The two producers are smart guys who have approached this as an attempt to at least shake off some of the traditional ways things have been done
Gregg Kilday, The Hollywood Reporter.
It has been suggested that the traditional 'In Memoriam' roll call of Hollywood's dear departed will feature live musical accompaniment from former Oscar nominee Queen Latifah.

Another erstwhile Oscar hopeful, Capote director Bennett Miller, has been enlisted to create a video segment in which acclaimed filmmakers shoot the breeze with ordinary cinemagoers.

Judd Apatow, producer of such hit comedies as Knocked Up and Superbad, has been commissioned to create another short film with some of his regular collaborators.

The protean set, meanwhile, will feature giant chandeliers, a circular dias that juts out into the audience and 20 moving screens that will coalesce at certain points to form a single image.

It is said the ceremony will end with excerpts from upcoming releases that may figure amongst next year's shortlisted films.

Facelift

Hugh Jackman
Host Hugh Jackman has a background in musical theatre
There is also talk that the contents of the legendary goodie bag given to nominees and presenters will be scaled down, in deference to the current economic climate.

"It's not going to be a wholesale revamp, but there will definitely be some changes," said Gregg Kilday, film editor at industry journal The Hollywood Reporter.

"The two producers are smart guys who have approached this as an attempt to at least shake off some of the traditional ways things have been done."

With the Academy of Motion Picture Arts and Sciences committed to having all of its 24 competitive honours handed out during the live telecast, however, Kilday suggests this year's alterations will be cosmetic at best.

"They're looking to give it a facelift, but there's a limit to how much they can meddle with the formula," he told the BBC News website.

Speaking at a charity event held at Paramount Studios on Friday, one US star sounded a similar note of caution.

"Award shows are award shows," Desperate Housewives actress Eva Longoria Parker told the BBC. "There's not much you can do to change them."



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