As they say, “Let the Games Begin.” The 2012 Summer Olympic Games in London were officially opened Friday evening with the pomp and circumstance of the opening ceremonies. While the opening ceremonies of the London games will always be compared to those of the previous Olympiad in Beijing, perhaps unfavorably so, the festivities still had some moments of awe, wit, and folksy character which made them enjoyable.
Overall, the program- directed by Danny Boyle (Slumdog Millionaire)- was a far more understated and perhaps personal look at British culture/history than the presentation in Beijing which was more a spectacle of technological feats. Unfortunately, the ceremony suffered from a lack of continuity and coherent storytelling that one would expect from a nation famous for its renowned history in theatrical productions, ultimately resulting in a less than spectacular start than the host nation may have hoped. The ceremonies started as a sort of amusement park ride through the meandering rivers that make up the English countryside, as the viewers were treated to a “dragonfly’s” perspective at traveling towards the heart of London.
James Bond then came in to steal the show and help to deliver the Queen to the ceremonies. The pre-taped bit was funny with the Queen’s corgis featured prominently in the segment, and the appearance of the rare sighting of a smile from Daniel Craig. The Queen, well her body double, then made an entertaining entrance to the stadium parachuting from the Royal chopper with then the real Queen, accompanied by her husband, Prince Phillip, walking in to her seat. Once inside the stadium itself, the program of the opening ceremonies served as a history lesson for the world on the ever changing landscape of the United Kingdom.
Beginning in the pastoral quaintness of English life prior to the industrialization of the country, we were treated to some opening remarks by Kenneth Branagh from Shakespeare’s “The Tempest.” Unfortunately, things slowed down a bit from there, with far too much time spent watching actors meander in the lush green fields playing cricket and dancing around the maypole. As the actors began rolling up the sod and carrying it off the field it gave way to the Industrial Revolution which modernized the nation and also turned London into the intricately weaved pattern of streets, subway lines, and buildings which we are more familiar with today. While this portion again took some time to develop the transformation was interesting as the map of London appeared in black and gray on the floor and the smokestacks of industry rose from the ground.
While Beijing may have had acrobats flying around the smokestacks, the London games went for a more muted approach. One of the highlights of this period of the ceremonies and in fact the entire program was the forming of the Olympic rings in steel by the hammering of the smithy workers. As the five glowing hot circles rose into the heights and were aligned to form the familiar interlocking shape of the Olympic rings, they burst into a fountain of fireworks with streaming embers falling to the ground.
Finally, London showed a little pizzazz!
From here the pace of the ceremonies picked up as the decades of British history and accomplishment rolled by. The ceremonies celebrated the English healthcare system, which given the current dialogue in U.S. politics probably seemed a little bit odd. Luckily it was salvaged by being used as a backdrop for introducing the great history of children’s fantasy characters which have sprung from the minds of British authors. J.K. Rowling herself helped introduce the segment reading a selection from J.M. Barrie’s beloved Peter Pan, as the frights of childhood nightmares soon materialized in the forms of larger than life puppets of the Queen of Hearts, Cruella de Vil, and Lord Voldemort. But not to worry, they were soon vanquished by a flock of hundreds of Mary Poppin’s characters floating into the stadium with their umbrellas. While cute, it would have been used to greater effect if some of the beloved music from the play/movie, let’s say children singing Supercalifragilisticexpialidocious, were thrown in as well.
Overall, for a country, with such a rich history in theatre, there was certainly a lack of flow in these ceremonies and perhaps the need for a bit more music and dialogue. Much of the broadcast had to be injected with commentary from Matt Lauer and Meredith Vieira just to keep the viewers from being confused by what they were seeing.
We finally got a taste of some of the great British music as we progressed into the modern era of the country, but instead of taking advantage of the wealth of rock royalty that would have surely spared a few minutes to play live at the Olympics, we were given pre-recorded tracks with images of the bands or artists projected onto the side of a English cottage which was doubling as a television.
The brief skit with Rowan Atkinson as the lovable goofball Mr. Bean was another highlight of the ceremony, which does not bode well as an indicator for the success of the ceremonies. After the typical long interlude to accommodate the entrance of all the competing nations with their athletes, the ceremony finished on a high note with the lighting of the Olympic cauldron (if you were able to stay awake this long).
Instead of choosing a single and typically famous athlete for the task, the committee opted to honor the next generation of athletes and chose a group of the nation’s youngest Olympians to complete the task. They lit copper petals which in turn spiraled to light the cauldron, which was shaped like a flower. The cauldron has 204 stems representing each of the 204 nations competing in the games. At the end of the ceremony the cauldron will be disassembled and each of the stems will be given to the nations as a keepsake of the 30th Olympiad.
As the cauldron lit and fireworks filled the sky the ceremony was closed out in grand fashion as Sir Paul McCartney began singing Hey Jude one of The Beatles more famous and final songs as a band. As things came to a close with perhaps one of the largest sing-a-longs, the verdict on the success or not of these ceremonies will begin to be debated, but one thing is for sure… the Games have begun!
For a full schedule of events, visit London Olympics.