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H'wood plans for Hobbits

If The Lord of the Rings wins Best Film, it would be the only fantasy film in the Oscars' history to do so.

india Updated: Feb 29, 2004 21:46 IST

Hollywood's brightest stars were primping and preening hours ahead of Sunday's glittering Academy Awards ceremony that looks set to be overrun by the hobbits and orcs of Middle Earth.

Peter Jackson's final episode of the "Lord of the Rings" fantasy trilogy is heavily tipped by pundits to snatch the coveted best picture Oscar as well as the best director trophy from among its 11 nominations.

If "The Lord of the Rings: The Return of the King" does win the ultimate prize of best picture, it would become the only fantasy movie in the Academy Awards' 76-year history to do so.

"It'll be the first time ever that a fantasy film has won the Oscar. It will be a historical moment," said awards expert Tom O'Neil, predicting that "Rings" will triumph where "Star Wars" and "E.T" failed.

Oscars voters are expected to crown the film as a reward for Jackson's entire groundbreaking series of movies, sparking speculation that "Rings" could stage a sweep and cash in many of its nominations.

The trio of films based on J.R.R. Tolkien's classic books were shot simultaneously in New Zealand over 16 months on a record 270 million dollar budget. But they have so far raked in a combined total of 2.8 billion dollars at the box office and garnered critical and popular acclaim.

As the hobbits pressed their tuxedos, Hollywood's royalty were breaking out their designer outfits and polishing their jewels for the world's biggest fashion show - the flashbulb-lit stroll up the Oscars' red carpet.

Workers were making last-minute adjustments to the expansive red carpet area and sets for the show ahead of the Tinseltown's biggest celebration, the 76th annual Academy Awards.

Up to one billion television viewers across the globe will tune in to see cinema's top honours awarded in a ceremony hosted by comedian Billy Crystal and featuring a star-studded line-up of presenters and performers.

Even fears of rain in usually arid Los Angeles could not dampen preparations for the show at Hollywood's Kodak Theatre, where a rain tent was on standby to shield 20,000 dollar gowns from spluttering skies.

But after months of preparation and nail-biting in Hollywood over who will walk off with the golden statuettes, some of the traditional Oscars suspense was absent from the final hours of this year's race.

It was diluted by a crop of clear front-runners in the race for the major awards, by controversy over Mel Gibson's new film, "The Passion of the Christ," and by a calendar change that brought the show forward by a month.

With the resounding pitter-patter of furry Middle Earth feet building up on the red carpet, and with the best actor, best actress and twin best supporting actor categories looking sewn up, Oscar watchers were worried that the Oscar's thunder could be stolen.

"Rings" seems to have eclipsed its best picture competition: Peter Weir's 10-time-nominated seafaring adventure "Master and Commander: The Far Side of The World," horse-racing epic "Seabiscuit," which has seven nominations, Clint Eastwood's drama "Mystic River," which has six nods, and Sofia Coppola's gentle comedy "Lost in Translation," which has four.

And South African beauty Charlize Theron is strongly tipped to win best actress for her transformation into a harsh-faced prostitute and serial killer in "Monster," while former bad boy Sean Penn leads the best actor race for his role as a dying man in Clint Eastwood's dark "Mystic River."

Tim Robbins was the clear favourite for best supporting actor for "Mystic River," while Renee Zellweger is favoured to make good on her third consecutive Oscar nomination and win best supporting actress for the Civil War drama "Cold Mountain."

Some suspense however remained, as early frontrunners Penn and Zellweger faced possible last-minute challenges from heartthrob Johnny Depp and Iranian-born actress Shohreh Aghdashloo. Depp is up for best actor for "Pirates of the Caribbean: The Curse of the Black Pearl," while Aghdashloo is nominated for her supporting role in the drama "House of Sand and Fog."

Veteran comic Bill Murray is also seen as another potential best actor winner for "Lost in Translation," while Britons Jude Law ("Cold Mountain") and Ben Kingsley ("House of Sand and Fog") are also contending. Vying against Theron is 13-year-old New Zealander Keisha Castle-Hughes, the youngest-ever best actress nominee, for "Whale Rider"; Australian Naomi Watts, for "21 Grams"; Oscar-winner Diane Keaton, for "Something's Gotta Give"; and Britain's Samantha Morton, for "In America."

Canada's "The Barbarian Invasions," written and directed by Denys Arcand, was battling Japan's "The Twilight Samurai," the Czech Republic's "Zelary," the Netherlands' "Twin Sisters" and Sweden's "Evil" for best foreign film.

First Published: Feb 29, 2004 17:37 IST