Was it worth it, Academy?
When the Academy in February announced a controversial plan to give the Oscars a makeover by not presenting all the awards live this year, President David Rubin said the goal was to create a "tighter and more electric" broadcast and "keep the show vital, kinetic, and relevant."
Well, save for that unscripted Will Smith jaw-dropper — or jaw popper — it's safe to say the mission failed. Giving out about a third of the Oscars during an untelevised pre-show, then editing them into the broadcast, was a profoundly disrespectful choice that never sat right throughout the evening. It was also awkward, it disrupted the flow, and most strangely of all, it accomplished nearly nothing at all. Plus, some other additions to Sunday's ceremony came across like embarrassing, desperate attempts to appeal to a demographic of viewers who surely weren't interested in the watching the Oscars in the first place.
The night started on a sour note with the Academy, as previously announced, giving out eight Oscars for crafts like makeup and score in the Dolby Theatre without televising it — meaning we were finding out who won these awards on social media before the show began. Going in, most pundits felt this concept was at odds with the Oscars' mission statement of celebrating all parts of the filmmaking process equally, as it would communicate these crafts don't deserve equal treatment with the rest. That did end up being the case, and for diehard Oscar fans, it was heartbreaking to first learn about the triumphant moment these dedicated craftspeople won their Academy Award by reading about it on Twitter.
But after all the drama about this decision, the way the footage of the pre-taped acceptance speeches was spliced into the broadcast was baffling. Most people assumed the Academy would edit the pre-taped footage together into a tight montage at some point in the evening. That would still be disrespectful, but at least it would fit with the mission of trimming down the show and maintaining a fast pace. Instead, the awards were just plopped into the spots where they'd normally be presented throughout, and viewers watched slightly edited versions of the speeches, saving almost no time at all in the end. In fact, the show ended up running longer than last year.
But let's talk about the additions to the ceremony. Most disastrous were the Twitter polls, in which the Academy asked fans to vote for their favorite movie of 2021 and the scene that made them cheer the most, or a "cheer moment." It felt like the Academy was begrudgingly throwing a bone to those viewers who haven't seen the nominated movies, clearly assuming Spider-Man: No Way Home would win the polls. Instead, diehard fans of Zack Snyder, Johnny Depp, and Camila Cabello spammed them to boost much less popular contenders. In Depp's case it was for a film few have heard of, Minamata.
Besides, the theme of the show was allegedly "movie lovers unite," but that narrative didn't feel very present throughout. It's an idea that could have been hammered home while introducing the best cheer-worthy scenes poll, for example. Instead, we barely even received an explanation as to what "cheer moment" meant before random scenes from blockbuster movies abruptly started playing on screen.
Other parts of the show saw the Academy trot out random celebrities who have nothing to do with movies, appearing desperate to engineer viral moments that might inspire people who don't know movies like Drive My Car to grab their remote and tune in to ABC. DJ Khaled and Megan Thee Stallion popped up, BTS introduced King Richard, and a James Bond tribute package was set up by ... sports stars Tony Hawk, Kelly Slater, and Shaun White. At one point, the cast of Pulp Fiction reunited to celebrate its … 28th anniversary? Is that a thing?
And then, of course, we had Will Smith slapping comedian Chris Rock over a perceived slight of Smith's wife, Jada Pinkett Smith — and the stunning sight of the show continuing on as if nothing happened. The incident overshadowed not only the night's numerous historic winners, but the vast majority of the broadcast. It also made producers' cringe-worthy attempts at generating their own headline-grabbing moments even more pointless in retrospect.
It's at least a relief that no awards were fully cut from the show, and the Oscars did include a lot more of the eight pre-show speeches than expected. But then again, cutting some awards entirely to reduce the runtime would at least be a vision for the Oscars, even if it was an objectionable one. And who is the person otherwise not interested in watching the Oscars who's going to tune in because "We Don't Talk About Bruno" will be performed or Spider-Man could be briefly mentioned?
This doesn't mean the Oscars must completely neglect trying to switch the format or capture the general public's interest, and next year, getting an A-list host like The Rock or Tom Holland might help. But the Academy Awards are at serious risk of gradually turning away those who still care about this ceremony in a quest for viewers who probably won't be coming back, no matter how many Twitter polls the Academy dreams up. Well, unless Will Smith slaps someone again, that is.