Oscar video is, of course, long and slow


LOS ANGELES -- The Academy Awards haven't always been the most exciting of TV shows, but, until now, they've always been relatively pure.

Unlike the Olympics, which rely on official sponsors to survive, the Oscars have never been linked to consumer products. Somehow, the Academy of Motion Picture Arts and Sciences has resisted the temptation to hook up its prestigious icon with even something as appropriate as, say, No-Doz.

So it's particularly jarring that the first things you see and hear when you pop "Oscar's Greatest Moments" into your VCR are a picture of a candy bar and the words "Kit Kat Wafer Bar is proud to be associated with 'Oscar's Greatest Moments,'" followed by a similar announcement about Sony videotape.

Tie-ins are by now routine for movie videos, but it's disappointing to see Oscar indulging in this sort of commercialism, particularly in his first (and long overdue) video venture.

Then again, disappointing is a word that comes to mind often during a viewing of the 110-minute tape, a fairly routine clip job drawing from the last 21 years of Academy Awards telecasts. (For Great Moments from before the 1971 awards show, you'll have to wait for volumes two and three.)

Certainly producer-director Jeff Margolis has fulfilled his basic mission: If it happened at the Oscars in the past two decades and you remember it, sooner or later it will show up on the tape. No notable sins of omission here.

But, as with most Academy Awards telecasts, you have to wait until the second half of the tape to get to the really good stuff -- David Niven and the streaker, Sacheen Littlefeather filling in for Marlon Brando, Vanessa Redgrave being jeered by the audience and then chewed out by Paddy Chayefsky, John Wayne making a game last appearance two months before his death and Charlie Chaplin's emotional return to Hollywood.

You expect a certain amount of boilerplate -- specifically, the segments that chronologically run down the Best Actress, Actor and Picture winners, complete with whatever clips were shown during the telecast.

But there's way too much of just the things that have dragged down the awards shows, particularly the production numbers. Did we really need to see Madonna's entire rendition of "Sooner or Later" from the 1990 telecast.

Perhaps the flattest thing about the tape is the narration. In recent years, when the Oscars have worked as TV, it mainly has been thanks to the great comics who have worked the show as hosts. Academy president Karl Malden may be the appropriate spokesman, but he's no Bob Hope, Johnny Carson or Billy Crystal.

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