The opening ceremony at the London Olympics was artistic expression in its purest form, and filmmaker Danny Boyle, who directed the ceremony, has shown his artistry throughout his career with special movies like “Slumdog Millionaire” and “Millions.” It was a massive spectacle of sight and sound, and there were more than enough “wow” moments to keep me wanting more.
However, artistic expression can also carry with it a healthy dose of weirdness. The Olympics opening ceremony had more than its fair share of oddball moments, and certain scenes showcased a British sensibility that the rest of the world just doesn’t get.
Case in point, the ceremony opened with scenes of peasant life, and then segued into the industrial era (wisely, or conveniently as the case may be, skipping over imperialism.) The industrial era was important, no doubt, but the thought of it doesn’t put me in a celebratory mood. As the performers grimly marched through their robotic dance sequence and smoke stacks were erected, I was growing uncomfortable thinking about nineteenth century England: I couldn’t help being reminded of the slave-like conditions of the work houses and poor houses straight out of “Oliver Twist,” though fortunately, and maybe surprisingly, they were not portrayed. I’m sure the athletes were feeling really pumped by this point.
Kenneth Branagh was an excellent choice to be the master of ceremonies of sorts for this section, and he read a selection from “The Tempest.” I would have liked to have seen a lot more Shakespeare and a lot less from the belching smoke stacks.
Still, there was lots to love about the ceremony. As an Anglophile I couldn’t help but get giddy when Daniel Craig as James Bond visited Buckingham Palace (in a pre-filmed segment) and received his next mission from the queen herself: get thee to the Olympics, and take me with you! The queen was wearing the most sensible shoes known to woman. Together they boarded a helicopter and were later airdropped into the stadium (fear not, the queen had a stunt double). And that is how Her Majesty became a Bond girl.
Yes, there were plenty of other strange things, notably people in dove costumes bicycling to “Come Together”–and I realize I need to remind myself that this is art–but the tribute to the British National Health System took the cake (or would it be the scone, since this is England?). Seemingly every doctor and nurse in England marched into the staging area for this one.
Why not a tribute to British dentistry, or lack thereof, as well? My husband wanted to know if the theme to “The Exoricist” was playing in the background during this section. However, my two-year-old daughter was completely entranced, saying “How beautiful!” as the performers spelled out “NHS” in lights.
Her delight grew with the tribute to children’s literature. This part we loved, especially when it started raining Mary Poppins with illuminated umbrellas.
The bedtime idea, having the nurses tuck in hundreds of children in hundreds of illuminated beds, was unique and charming, yet it was capped with a gigantic glowing baby underneath an undulating blanket that made it look preternatural (i.e., a giant haunted baby ghost). “I don’t know whether that’s cute or creepy,” commented Matt Lauer. “It’s big. I have to say it’s big…a big baby,” Meredith Vieira responded. They were almost speechless (for once).
The queen seemed almost bored to tears, but for me there were a lot of other “wow” moments, such as that shirtless guy from American Samoa. And the grand finale with Paul McCartney: yes, Paul, we still need you; yes, we’ll still feed you, and yes, you still know how to put on a great show.