LOS ANGELES - The epic journey of a raggedy gang of humans, hobbits, wizards, dwarves and elves hoisted the fantasy genre to Oscar glory as "The Lord of the Rings: The Return of the King" won a record-tying 11 Oscars, sweeping every category in which it was nominated, including best picture.
The directing Oscar went to Peter Jackson, overlord of arguably the biggest undertaking in cinema history, the simultaneous filming of J.R.R. Tolkien's Middle-earth trilogy: "The Fellowship of the Ring," "The Two Towers" and "The Return of the King."
"I'm so honored and relieved that the academy and the members of the academy that have supported us have seen past the trolls and the wizards and the hobbits in recognizing fantasy this year," said Jackson, who just a few years ago was an obscure New Zealander known mainly for one admired art-house film ("Heavenly Creatures"), a run-of-the-mill Hollywood horror tale ("The Frighteners") and a scattering of cult splatter flicks ("Bad Taste," and "Meet the Feebles").
Other top Oscars played out predictably, with front-runners claiming all four acting trophies - the first for each.
Sean Penn took the best-actor prize as a vengeful father in "Mystic River," and South African-born Charlize Theron won for best actress as serial killer Aileen Wuornos in "Monster."
Oscars for supporting performances went to Tim Robbins as a man emotionally hamstrung by childhood trauma in "Mystic River" and Renee Zellweger as a hardy Confederate survivor in "Cold Mountain."
"Return of the King" matched the record 11 Oscar wins of "Titanic" and "Ben-Hur" and became only the third movie to sweep every category in which it was nominated, following "Gigi" and "The Last Emperor," which both went nine-for-nine.
Jackson also shared the adapted-screenplay Oscar with co-writers Fran Walsh and Philippa Boyens.
The 42-year-old writer-director thanked "our wonderful cast who just got their tongues around this rather awkward text and made it come to life with such devotion and passion and heart."\
"Return of the King" also won for song, musical score, visual effects, editing, makeup, art direction, costume design and sound mixing.
Sofia Coppola's Oscar victory for original screenplay for "Lost in Translation" made her family the second clan of three-generation Oscar winners, joining Walter, John and Anjelica Huston. Her father is five-time Oscar winner Francis Ford Coppola, who was an executive producer on "Lost in Translation." Her grandfather, Carmine Coppola, won for musical score on "The Godfather Part II."
"Thank you to my dad for everything he taught me," Coppola said. "Thank you to my brother Roman and all my friends who were there for me when I was stuck at 12 pages and encouraged me to keep writing."
Only a handful of fantasy films have been nominated for the top Oscar - "The Fellowship of the Ring" and "The Two Towers" among them - but none had won until now.
At best the genre was viewed as high camp, not the stuff of Oscars, which usually go to grand dramas with their feet firmly planted in recognizable reality.
The people behind "The Lord of the Rings" changed that, approaching Tolkien's mythical realm with dead seriousness. Jackson sought three-dimensional humanity all around - compassion, nobility and self-doubt in heroic hobbit Frodo (Elijah Wood), wizard Gandalf (Ian McKellen) and human Aragorn (Viggo Mortensen), covetousness and Shakespearean malice in villains Saruman (Christopher Lee) and Gollum (a computer-generated creature voiced by Andy Serkis).
Audiences received Jackson's fantastical creation with equal seriousness, with global ticket sales of $2.8 billion for the three films. "Return of the King" has topped $1 billion alone, the No. 2 box-office draw behind "Titanic" at $1.8 billion.