The stars did not tarry on the fabled Red Carpet, to grin like bedazzled royals, paparazzi popping from the media pit and fans screaming down from the bleachers.

No, tonight as war raged many time zones away, the arrival at the Academy Awards was more like valet parking.

Hurried. Almost . . . furtive.

In and out of the limos gliding up in front of the Kodak Theatre, quick-quick-quick, a nod and a wave to far-distant fans lurking behind a gray, not very transparent scrim, as if the stars weren't sure if their presence was welcome or a distraction from events half a world away.

Inside the ceremonies, it was mostly a war-free zone in the first hours; only a few winners and presenters touched on the subject, delicately; a few wore tiny pins on their lapels or spoke, as did Chris Cooper, the Supporting Actor winner for his role as the orchid thief in "Adaptation," wishing us all, simply, peace.

Even Susan Sarandon, who has been especially outspoken about her opposition to the war, did not hold forth.

It all seemed very low-key, all the giddy craziness and spontaneity edited away. Even backstage, winners seemed strangely sober. (They are usually bouncing off the walls).

Then the facade cracked: An emotional Best Actor winner, Adrien Brody of the Holocaust film "The Pianist," pleaded for a swift end to the bloodshed. And, of course, maverick director Michael Moore denounced the war. Big time.

Moore called shame on President Bush from the podium after winning the Best Documentary Oscar for "Bowling for Columbine." Backstage before the press, Moore said he heard the applause from the audience, and downplayed the boos. Asked why he did it, the filmmaker said, "I'm an American." He said he believed that Bush had hijacked the White House and was waging war in Iraq not to free the people there from Saddam Hussein but to secure the oil fields.

Did he fear being blacklisted? No, Moore joked, interrupting otherwise serious comments, "I'm funded by people from Canada."

So, the show went on. It just wasn't the show a lot of people wanted to watch. As the world's entertainment press gathered, the television sets in the Kodak Theatre's backstage rooms were tuned to the news, and reports of Patriot missile strikes and American POWs.

The "in" look this year: black.

There were black-jacketed security guards, whispering into little walkie-talkies, and, of course, the Los Angeles Police Department SWAT teams dressed like black ninjas.

And there were black gowns, worn by Best Actress winner Nicole Kidman, Meryl Streep, Geena Davis, Julia Roberts, Cameron Diaz and Barbra Streisand. The only prominent decolletage was hoisted aloft by Supporting Actress winner Catherine Zeta-Jones, who is about eight months pregnant.

Also in: closed-circuit cameras, FBI background checks, and bomb-sniffing dogs.

The war wrapped the awards show in the tightest security blanket ever, including the deployment of a special National Guard laboratory to test for chemical or biological warfare agents in the Hollywood air.

LAPD Chief William Bratton had promised that the guests at the Academy Awards would be sitting in the most secure vault on the planet.

Mostly, the police dealt with peaceable protesters. There were two rallies, actually, one supporting the president and the troops, and a larger one of several thousand people (also favoring black), who stood along Sunset Boulevard, banging on drums and holding signs with messages like "Honk for Peace."

Some drivers waved peace signs with two uprised fingers. A few others raised one instead.

The few fans within the security zone mostly shouted for their favorites -- "Nicole!" and "Salma!" -- and the occasional voice would bellow, "No war for oil!" and "Shame on me!": cries against the war in Iraq.

The stars -- Best Actress nominee Renee Zellweger in a body-exposing blood-red gown, past nominee Kate Hudson, in a diaphanous pink confection, and neither wearing the touted "peace pins" -- then gathered in a small knot on the edge of the red carpet where a dozen photographers took their pictures. They were a tiny fraction of the army of celebrity addicts who usually work the annual gantlet.

The atmosphere was quiet, almost funereal, considering this was a celebration of film. Invited guests spoke little as they waited to pass through metal detectors on their way into the theater.

Other stars didn't even want that much attention; they stole up some side stairs into another entrance to the theater. The glorious, ridiculous, over-the-top orgy of gowns and jewels and fantasies of conspicuous consumption -- everything the red carpet entrance represents -- was muted because of the war.

As it probably should have been.

The antiwar rally was wedged between an IHOP restaurant and an In-N-Out burger joint. Tim Collins was there, waving a peace sign, as entertainment journalists in tuxedos and evening dresses (required for the press covering the Oscars) milled about doing interviews.

Collins said, "I can't believe this silly show is going on as the bombs are falling." The 42-year-old musician thought it appalling and strange.

Not so, said Barbara Alexander, 55, who stood behind a fence a few blocks away, trying to catch a glimpse of an arriving star. "I think the people need to see a little glamour," explained the hairdresser from Orange County. "They could use a few hours of escape, to see all the pretty people and handsome men." So, disappointed? "You betcha," Alexander said.

In the days after the war in Iraq broke out, the Academy of Motion Picture Arts and Sciences and Hollywood were fast-cycling and flip-flopping between postponing the show or going ahead -- albeit with the watchword "appropriate" on everyone's lips.

Rumors swirled about no-shows. Will Smith was uncomfortable, and bowed out as a presenter. Brendan Fraser stepped in. Jim Carrey said nope. Matthew McConaughey said sure. Barbara Walters scrapped her pre-awards interview show, and television stations nationally alternated between news from Iraq and Tinseltown.

ABC went ahead -- with its 58 commercial slots scheduled during the 3 1/2 hour presentation at $1.35 million a pop. The breaks in the ceremony came not so much in news bulletins from Iraq but 30-second commercials for Charles Schwab, Bud Light, Cadillac and JC Penney.

The Academy Awards have never been canceled but have been postponed three times in 75 years -- for a flood in Los Angeles in 1938; the assassination of Martin Luther King Jr. in 1968; and the attempt on Ronald Reagan's life in 1982.

The awards did proceed three months after Pearl Harbor and throughout World War II, Korea, Vietnam and the Gulf War.

Staff writer Sharon Waxman contributed to this report.

The big limos arrived as in past years, but the over-the-top party spirit of other Academy Awards ceremonies was missing from this wartime event.Documentary Feature winner Michael Moore, above, made his opinion about the war quite clear. "Lord of the Rings" actor Andy Serkis and wife Lorraine Ashbourne, below left, protested. Susan Sarandon and Tim Robbins made a statement too. Marty Ingels, left, reveals a U.S. flag inside his jacket as he arrives at the 75th Academy Awards, presided over by an oversize Oscar onstage. Right, Matthew McConaughey and friend.