Saturday, July 28, 2012

The Olympics Opening Ceremony: Review

First, some disclaimers.

I have no idea what I would have done had I been given the assignment to create the Opening Ceremonies.

Danny Boyle, who did have that herculean task, is one of my favorite film directors.  

The logistics must have been an unbelievable nightmare. Just coordinating all the dancers, costumes, sets, molten steel, LED screens, special effects, etc. was a miraculous feat in itself.

The TV coverage was amazing. A gazillion cameras. I can’t imagine directing that show – live yet.

I was looking forward to this.  I went into the show wanting to be moved, wanting to be awed, hoping to be overcome by emotion,  dazzled by the spectacle – and if you were I am happy for you and somewhat envious.

All that said…

I thought the Opening Ceremonies were the world’s longest graduation ceremony combined with the most overblown Orange Bowl Halftime Show ever.

I’m sorry. I was soooo exhausted after four-and-a-half hours of being bombarded by pomp & circumstance, and costumes, and running commentary that by the show’s end I felt like I had run the marathon.

I did however, love the faces of the young athletes. I know how hard and long they’ve trained for this and what an extraordinary accomplishment it is for them just to be there. I could feel their pride and was thrilled for each and every one of them, regardless of country, politics, or quality of their foreign films. But Jesus, there were over 200 of these countries. By Italy I was spent.

The show was seen around the world, and depending upon where you are the coverage might’ve been quite different. I can only speak for NBC and the U.S. feed.

Now NBC paid more for the rights to these games than the national budget of probably 136 of the competing nations, so it’s understandable that they'd want to squeeze in as many commercials as they could. So the program began at 7:30 with the first half hour being nothing but filler. Bob Costas talking to Tom Brokaw about security. Long filmed pieces about London. Zzzzzzzz.  Noted sports authority, Ryan Seacrest interviewing athletes. I was sure he was going to ask one, “So what are you going to sing for us tonight?”

Then the ceremony began hosted by Matt Lauer and Meredith Viera. If NBC loves Savannah Guthrie so much how come she didn’t co-host instead of Viera? Matt was his usual smooth polished self. Meredith was a ditz. Every five minutes she was saying, “I didn’t know that.” Well, you’re the commentator. You’re supposed to know!

If you’ve taped the show and haven’t seen it yet, here’s a fun drinking game: Take a swig every time someone says, “This is a moment he/she will always remember.” You’ll be smashed in an hour.

The presentation began with a bloated history of Great Britain complete with children’s choirs, Kenneth Branaugh doing a dramatic reading from THE TEMPEST, Brigadoon mountain, and my favorite – a salute to smoke stacks. Everything all night long was symbolic. Everything “represented” something. So what do you think giant poles rising to the sky might possibly represent?

I thought the burning Olympic Rings hovering over the stadium was a cool effect, marred however by the NBC logo in the corner of the screen. At least they didn't also have a crawl that read "WHITNEY MOVES TO FRIDAY."

Funny bit with Daniel Craig as James Bond supposedly fetching the Queen and then the Queen making her entrance via parachute. But that was the last laugh I got from the entire evening – including the tepid Rowan Atkinson bit.

I did love the subtle message Great Britain sent to the United States by doing an entire production number on the value of National Health Care. Otherwise, I don’t know why the bit was there. Billed as a salute to Children’s Literature, we saw thousands of children jumping on beds. Who cares? And at one point villains of Children’s Literature appeared – Captain Hook, the Queen of Hearts, Cruella de Vil. Knowing NBC, I was surprised they didn’t slip in the monsters from GRIMM.

Then came four decades of British music along with a boy-meets-girl scenario surrounded by dancers that felt like a half hour Dr. Pepper commercial.

Once it was time for the Parade of Athletes, NBC mercifully replaced Meredith Viera with Bob Costas. He and Matt tried their darndest to find interesting things to say about each passing country but after awhile everything blended to where I thought they said kids from Jordan speak Korean.

Finally the torch was lit. Thank you NBC for just showing us the last two miles of someone running with it and not the entire 12,000. I know that was tempting. Think of all the extra Matt Perry GO ON promos you could have shown!

And what better way to end this overly-long show than by having Sir Paul McCartney sing the longest Beatles song they ever recorded, HEY JUDE? As he was singing, I was thinking – a week ago Ringo Starr performed at Humphreys, an outdoor lawn venue in San Diego. Meanwhile, Paul McCartney sings at the Olympics Opening Ceremony for one billion people.

Let the games begin… already.

What did you think? I’d be especially interested in hearing from readers in other countries. What was your coverage like? Whoever your co-host for the Opening Ceremony was, we’ll trade you Meredith Viera for her.


crispy said...

The point of the NHS thing was that the tory government are making massive changes to how it's run. I think this was a rather pointed - and by all accounts deeply unpopular with the culture secretary Jeremy Hunt - defense of a beloved British institution to a government threatening to do it some serious damage. The other reason was because of the involvement of the Great Ormond Street Hospital children in the event. Sales of Peter Pan immediately go to the hospital so it kind of made sense, in a roundabout way...

Max Munro said...

I would like to apologise on behalf of Great Britain.

It thought it was incredibly boring all-round. A bit embarrassing after all the build up.

Here's some typical thoughts of the rest of us Brits:

Greek Donkey said...

Didn't watch live. Liked the Bond bit, but they should have dragged Sean to do it. Also, no Doctor Who, though I guess in a future episode he can appear relighting the torch after it's extinguished by a Dalek.

Brooke McMaster said...

I couldn't agree more. Also, I mentioned many times throughout that I wouldn't know exactly what to showcase in an opening ceremony myself, and that some parts were incredible - including the Olympic rings as you mentioned, Ken.

It was, plain and simple, a piece of shit. Now, I live in Australia, so of course I'm going to be bias and say our 2000 Sydney Olympics kicked total ass. But this...this was just...boring. I loved seeing Kenneth Branagh, and I had such optimism for the entire thing. The setting was beautiful, the costumes, the props, all of it was just visually stunning. But I found myself constantly looking up at the clock, bored as batshit and waiting for it to pick up speed. I perhaps pinned this down to my now almost consumed American type humour and thirst for entertainment, where I wish to be entertained at all times. However, growing up with that british sensibility, I couldn't even come up with the opposing argument as to why it was considered 'so good.'

Like you said, Danny Boyle is incredible and Trainspotting was one of the first movies I saw when I was younger that wasn't Disney or a blockbuster, so I definitely hold him in high esteem. I liked the Daniel Craig bit, but thought it needed just a little something else as it sort of just became a dead gag in the end, and the Rowan Atkinson bit was funny until they crossed to the Chariots of Fire parody and that kind of ran out of steam and had no legs in the end (no pun intended...alright a bit of a pun). It just needed an injection of...something! I thought the way in which the cutaway shorts were filmed were incredibly tacky, merging some CGI with real time footage with some blurry, shitty interchangeable shots. Then when they moved onto the whole 'emerging technology' blah routine with the young boy and girl it was so all over the place and rushed. First she says 'we're going to the 70s' and then they rock up straight into the 80s and then jump an entire decade again and include something by The Prodigy? It was just weird. As a huge music fan, it seemed very lacklustre and importance wasn't placed on the bands that truly made them who they were. Instead they skipped through them lightly and compensated by shoving in a shit looking yellow submarine and a blue meanie pissing about the stadium in a totally arbitrary moment.

God, I sound like a whinging pom now. But I've seen many opening ceremonies and this one really fell flat as far as a showcase of what the country is about. I'm hoping the closing ceremony has a much more festive feeling about it and entices the audience to join in and not rely on the same old tactics. Shit, I even would have settled for the Spice Girls. At least they're not overexposed (and didn't JUST play the bloody Queens Jubilee, looking at you, Sir Paul) or even The Rolling Stones. I can hear the opening notes of 'Satisfaction' echoing around the stadium now.

The Curmudgeon said...

I wouldn't -- couldn't -- watch the whole thing. The White Sox were playing the Rangers. But the game was on Channel 26 here in Chicago and there wasn't the usual pregame. So we watched the first half hour of the extravaganza and a little more and we switched back and forth during the commercials. So we saw the Queen/James Bond bit and the Rowan Atkinson bit out of the bloated context of the whole. (There was a debate in our den about why Kenneth Brannagh wouldn't light his cigar. What? They didn't want any smoke in the stadium?) After the "salute to the Internet" started, we stayed with the Sox game more and more. But the ballgame was over in time for us to see Paul McCartney.

By the way, for me, the security interview was very interesting. But, then, I'd just read this piece on about "5 creepy things" that London did to prepare for the games.

EnglandIsNotAThemePark said...

If the TV coverage left you Yanks thinking the mound really was something to do with Brigadoon it's no wonder you didn't get it. Blame NBC, not Danny Boyle. It would all have made sense if your presenters had done their homework.

Given the cutesy Beefeaters / changing of the guard / Princess Di theme-park nonsense we could have served up to pander to foreign preconceptionsof the UK, I think everybody got off lightly (until the moment Paul McCartney opened his mouth).

HogsAteMySister said...

We're sorry, but real American Olympians do not wear berets. Except maybe on Halloween. If they also have a pencil-thin moustache drawn with eye liner. But definitely NOT when the world is watching on TV.

If the Olympic torch had been made in America, it would've been a Weber and come with mesquite chips.

Mr. Bean is the funniest person in the world. For about 15 seconds. After which we want to throw a javelin at his head.

If the Queen can be bored at a hometown extravaganza like the opening ceremony, man, she must have seen some serious pomp and pageantry in her lifetime.

Why do all British musicians start to look like Dame Edna when they get old?

OK, we admit to liking the Queen. She had us after, "Good evening, Mr. Bond."

It is a very, very good thing that middle age men do not compete in the Olympics. If we did, the opening ceremony would last for approximately 72 days, because we would have to stop and take a leak every lap.

We still cannot get over American Olympians wearing berets. We're wondering if they were also wearing Spanx Skinny Britches under their tight pants. The men, we mean.

Finally, Oscar-winning British director Danny Boyle is either enormously creative or plain, old creepy.

Harry the Bastard said...

Sorry Ken, if you missed some of the references you can blame your presenters / education system. Look up JM Barrie (here, I'll do it for you: and you'll get the connection with the NHS in general and the GOSH in particular. It's ok to just admit you're not very well read Ken, it's ironic considering your profession as a writer, but there again American TV is hardly the Bodleian Library is it.

Brent said...

Ken, one of the advantages of living in the Seattle area has always been that I can get the Canadian Olympic Coverage off the CBC. MUCH better than anything NBC puts on, especially if you want to see an event that doesn't include a likely medal for a U.S. athlete.

Except... this year. For some reason the Vancouver B.C. station that used to carry them doesn't this year. Considering the (lack) of quality programming from NBC and affiliates I doubt I'll watch the Olympics at all.

The Guy Not Left Behind said...

Where was Elton John singing Torch... err... Candle in the Wind? as the Olympic Torch was lit?

Kept hearing about how fast the Parade of Athletes was, but it still seemed agonizingly long to me... And where the hell was Helen Mirren? She's the real Queen (well, her and Elton anyway).

I'd still like to know why they couldn't have showed this event live. And clearly, if Mitt doesn't become President, surely he'll become Ambassador to Great Britain.

brian t said...

I thought the Torch ceremony was the most risky and impressive bit by far: instead of one star athlete lighting one big torch, they had seven future athletes lighting 200+ little torches that came together to make one big torch. I thought Paul McCartney might have been better suited to the closing ceremony.

Re: the NHS bit, my thinking is that it's also a reference to the year 1948: the NHS was formed in the year that London last hosted the Olympics. Only the most right-wing politicos in the UK had a problem e.g. this guy

Overall: it was never going to be as big and polished as Beijing's opening ceremony. It reminded me of London, which is also a bit noisy and shambolic as a city.

Eileen K. said...

I agree with much of your review, although I'd take Meredith Viera over Bob Costas any day. The games hadn't even started and I'm already sick of him. And he looks ghastly--way too much botox and bad hair dye. Loved the Bond bit and the children's literature/NHS piece. The rest was too long and mostly confusing. Loved the way they did the flame, but with the theme of passing on to the next generation, a better use of Sir Paul would have been to have him join the Arctic Monkeys in their cover of Come Together--a more fitting song than Hey Jude anyway. And to Brent: I can usually get the CBC coverage in Michigan, too, but it isn't your station--the CBC didn't buy the rights.

Unknown said...

Hey Ken,

I didn't like the ceremony either (overly long, pompous and boring), but about those villains - they were all from children's books written by British/Scottish authors (101 Dalmatians, Alice in Wonderland, Peter Pan).

And since I'm from Germany - the other half of Disney movies were made after stories collected by the Grimm brothers :-)

Anonymous said...

RE:Brent The CBC lost out the rights to the olympics to CTV/Bell Globemedia that's why your station isn't showing it

Colin Holmes said...

Nothing says the the drama of human athletic endeavor like the Electric Light Bedpan Parade.

Rory W. said...

At one point, my wife turned to me and asked, "Why does Meredith Viera sound like she's narrating the Macy's Thanksgiving Day Parade? Doesn't she know this is the Olympics?"

Anonymous said...

Must have been good, the yanks are jealous

Thomas said...

I liked it. Not flawless, but highly enjoyable.

However, I am a Brit. I fully got the impression that it was made *for me*. Everything from the NHS to the humour was done exclusively in our own style, and I am sure it has been more difficult to interpret by cultures that mostly see the UK as it is interpreted by the US.

Also helped that our coverage had no ads. (Actually, I'm a little surprised the BBC didn't get a handshake in the ceremony.) And that we all have healthcare. That's nice.

Eric J said...

Since I don't have a blog, I didn't have to watch it. God, it sounds terrible. I'd rather watch grass grow. No, I'd rather LISTEN to grass grow than watch something like that.

I think it would be better to do an opening ceremony ABOUT the Olympics and the athletes, Maybe 30 minutes, then get on with the first competition.

BillFusion said...

I found it unwatchable for more than five minutes at a time, due largely to the fact that the commentary reminded me of watching the Rose Parade.

Mr. First Nighter said...

I liked the Parade of People in Silly Hats From Pretend Countries With Almost Real Sounding Names.

Dirk said...

I enjoyed it,and feel much as Ai Weiwei’s does in his review in The Guardian:"

Johnny Walker said...

I'm sorry you weren't impressed by our opening ceremonies, Ken. I think they were designed to celebrate Britishness more than to 'wow' foreign nations. Indeed there's an increased sense of patriotism around at the moment (which is normally non-existent outside of England football matches - and even then it's not something most people are proud of). I think there was a ton of cultural references that only we'd get. 

Personally I was fearing the worst, so maybe that's one of the reasons I was happy with the final result, although I do concede that most of your criticisms are valid. 

To be honest, it was nice to be reminded of British culture and heritage. We get so bombarded by American culture these days that I felt oddly proud by what was on display. We kick-started the industrial revolution, we created some legendary literature, we invented the World Wide Web, and we have some pretty awesome bands. It was an unusual feeling to praise our nation for a change.

As for the celebration of the NHS and Great Ormond Street Hospital... it had zero to do with America.

As other commenters have pointed out, it was more of a message to our current right wing government, who are (predictably) trying to shut down as many public services as they can, including the NHS. (They've even started trials on privatising the police - fucking hell.) The average British person couldn't tell you anything about America's politics outside of a disbelief that Bush got in for a second term, that you've got some bizarre issues surrounding censorship and nudity, that the Christian Right are a weird bunch with too much say, and that you're very gun happy. (I think this partially explains why The Simpsons was a HUGE hit here - it seemed to share these same impressions of America and satirised those parts brilliantly.)

When it comes to political intricacies, like healthcare systems, you'd be lucky just to find someone to relay the story (myth?) that ambulances will let people die if they can't prove they have insurance, and that even those with insurance get stuck will bills of hundreds of thousands of dollars of they're unlucky. 

The average British person couldn't tell you the difference between a Single Payer healthcare system and some toenail fungus. 

I digress. 

As flawed and in trouble as the NHS is, it was nice to see it celebrated for a change. (Those badly synchronised dancers were real doctors and nurses! A nice touch.)

So yes, I acknowledge that it was an extended half-time show that was probably filled with a ton of references that only a British person would get, but, as a Brit, it made me proud of my country for a change. And for that, I heartily thank Danny Boyle, and the Olympics.  

I'm sure this feeling will wear off soon enough, and I'll start feeling ashamed again, but for now (today?) I feel a little bit proud to be British. 

Laurie M said...

Feel that it was chillingly post-apocalyptic. Ugly, disillusioned. Lacking in cohesion, vision, direction, class, heart, soul, and talent. I have never seen the opening ceremonies before and I have never owned a tv. I am 52 years old. I thought it was hideous.

Nathan said...

I was waiting to see how the "History of Britain" was going to handle that little tiff with Germany during "The Blitz". It would have been cool watching the smokestacks get blown up, but I'm not sure the German team would have felt all that welcome.

And I'm convinced that the only reason they chose "Hey Jude" is that everyone knows the words -- Nananananananahhhhhhh, nanananaahhhhh, Hey Jude. (Rinse and repeat.) Otherwise I have no idea what its significance was.

Fenway said...

I watched it live on the BBC where it ran 3h 40m

NBC edited out some things to fit their window.

To the person in Seattle - CBC lost the contract to rival CTV.

JC said...

The Canadian commentary is pretty good, mostly because Brian Williams and Lisa Laflamme shut the hell up and only interject with actual commentary. My biggest pet peeve was Lisa Laflamme obviously mispronouncing some countries names.

It was long, but ... they're always long. I was hoping for more live music performances ... with all the canned music they played I thought they really missed out on some great opportunities for some live performances.

William Jansen said...

I watched it in Denmark, and enjoyed it immensely, probably benefited by the lack of commercial interruptions. The Danish commentators spoke over much of the event, where I felt that the event could have spoken for itself. Would you want somebody doing a live-commentary on top of one of your Fraiser-episodes?

I like the fact, that it was quite high-brow at times. When was the last time Shakespeare was cited in earnest on a popular TV-show, or an opera-singer was given time to sing a beautiful hymn?

I like the fact, that they took their time with each idea, and didn't cave in to our expectations, that something new must be happening soon. At the best times, it was quite meditative.

If you know a bit of history, there were tons of miniscule references just lasting a second or two, that made it quite enjoyable. And once you noticed, that they put in these references, it became a game to spot the next one.

I never watch the Parade of the Athletes, and I am sure it was monotonous, but right up to that point, the time flew right by.

Best night of TV in a long while.

Wiggos Saddle said...

America is too used to seeing Britain as a scale-model version of itself, and it obviously comes as a surprise to you that so many of the cultural references in the ceremony have gone straight over your heads.

A lot of cynics prepared to scoff at the show (like me) were won over by the honesty, relevance and - yes - the Britishness of the show. It was a British story performed in a style to amuse, engage and entertain Britons. The rest of you can just enjoy the music and the light show.

Andy said...

As a Brit I enjoyed the first 30 minutes as we had the history of Industrial Britain but then it become disjointed and messy with the overlong tribute to music and the digital age becoming annoying. Having said that I though the rings effect was good and the whole James Bond thing amusing, highlighting what a good sport the Queen is. But the best bit was when we eventually got to see the caldron lit and we got the magnificent copper petals raised up into a flaming flower. Now that was spectacular.

Mike Barer said...

I think that the millions of dollars of hype, actually billions have made this thing out of control. The athletes deserve the spotlight, but what percentage of people watching the show will watch a single Olympic event? Probably less than 20%?
A big hand to Portland product Mariel Zagunis who carried the US Flag, she not only has won 2 Gold Medals in Women's Sabre in a sport that is in the very back of Americans minds, but twice has beaten the favored American,my cousin Sada Jacobson, who has since retired.

SueMac said...

An Olympic opening ceremonies designed FOR the host country, not for the rest of the watching world and their guests? And that doesn't seem a little off to you? Good to know though, I thought it was the blah commentary of Vieria and Costas that made the ceremonies disappointing and the NBC coverage that made it seem chaotic--not always, there were some great bits, but too often to keep me glued to the set.

Loosehead said...

Curmudgeon said:
I'd just read this piece on about "5 creepy things" that London did to prepare for the games.
7/28/2012 6:18 AM

Curmudgeon, you don't know the half of it. How about "ejection from any venue" if you are drinking Pepsi (coke are the official sponsors), wear Nike shirts or trainers (Adidas are the sponsors), try to pay with Amex or Mastercard, or indeed anything except Visa or cash (guess who the sponsor is - no, its not 'cash'). But my favourite has to be the "community wardens" who patrol the streets of the country threatening shopkeepers with prosecution for daring to make the Olympic rings (a trademark) out of bagels, or a flower arrangement that looks like one of those torches, or for using the words "Olympics", "London" (yes, really) or "2012" (ditto) in promotional material. No, I tell a lie. My favourite is when fish-and-chip sellers are forbidden from selling chips alone within 5 miles of any venue, in case MacDonalds (another sponsor) fail to sell a portion of what they call chips.
Home of freedom, mother of democracy. It all happened while Tony B'Liar was in power.

Johnny Walker said...

The inclusion of "real" people, from the doctors and nurses, to the construction crew is one of the main reasons it was so British: Those volunteers were there because of what they do in real life. They weren't liposuctioned, boob jobbed, spray-tanned "perfection", they were a real representation of real people. Not typical American fake plastic versions of people. Bravo, Olympics!

Iain Coleman said...

The ceremony was not, of course, a history of Britain. That would have included the Danelaw, the Norman Conquest, the Anglo-Scottish wars, the Wars of the Roses, the Civil War, the Commonwealth, the Restoration, and so on and so forth.

No, it was a mythic-history of British modernity, based on and extrapolated from William Blake's famous lyrics in the preface to "Milton", now most popularly known as the hymn "Jerusalem".

The fact that the ceremony opened with a young boy singing "Jerusalem" was a fairly major clue to this approach.

Boyle's vision starts with Blake, and goes forward into the present day and the new Jerusalem of the World Wide Web, created and made freely available to the world by British scientist Tim Berners-Lee

In between we had key developments in British culture, from the Suffragists to the NHS. None of this was aimed specifically at America. Why would it be? Although I dare say the points about human rights and tolerance were made with one eye on regimes that have little of either.

One of the great things about the ceremony, though, was that you didn't need to appreciate Blake or even the Beatles in order to get one basic message about Britain out of it. Which was this:

"You know all that cool stuff in the world? That was us. Cheers."

SueMac said...

Re: Johnny Walker's comment about "'real' people." Great point! (Though I don't think that's just the British.)

Breadbaker said...

I enjoyed much of it, probably helped by having DVRd it so we could fast forward through all the commercials. But we didn't fast forward through any of the production numbers or the parade of athletes.

Our impression was the Queen was crying during God Save the Queen. She first did this in 1976 in Montreal (looked it up; hubby opened the Melbourne Games in 1956), so she's probably thinking wow, last time for me. She ordinarily is so unemotional, it was moving to me.

I love Rowan Atkinson but not as Mr. Bean, but I thought the dream was fine and the need to blow his nose was wonderful.

I've spent enough time in England and watching the BBC to have gotten a lot of the references and I agree with several commentators that the theme was its utter Britishness.

When Meredith said something about how J.K. Rowling avoiding public speaking, I thought back to her Harvard commencement speech in 2008 (my son's graduation) and considered she was full of it. She doesn't do public appearances the same way the Beatles didn't.

Am I the only one to notice the only Olympic team whose athletes were all unsmiling were the Palestinians? It seemed odd, but the ones they showed were scowling.

Mary Stella said...

All in all I enjoyed the Opening Ceremonies. I would have enjoyed them more if Matt, Meredith and Bob had shut the hell up and let me watch without their inane babbling. I didn't need them to explain the salute to the Industrial Revolution. I pretty much figured out the salute to children's literature (my favorite part) all on my own.

The whole night moved quickly for me, but that was helped in part by the nap I took between Guam and Tanzania.

Note to Bob Costas, you didn't need to keep saying that it was the fastest parade of nations ever and you and Matt had to reduce your comments.

I loved the bit with Daniel Craig and Her Majesty and the Corgis. It made me laugh out loud.

Even the cynicism that arose when I later saw that Danny Boyle directed the upcoming new Bond movie didn't diminish my pleasure. Although when I watched the Skyfall trailer and heard all of the drum beats, I did fleetingly wonder if that was planned to connect with the continual drumming during the ceremony.

The whole "Dancing through the Decades" bit was weak. I almost took another nap but was afraid that I'd miss the entry of the torch. I loved that they had those young athletes do the final lighting. Very moving.

Mary Stella said...

Other comments made me remember that I was horrified by the official outfits of our team. Prior to last night, the worst fail by Ralph Lauren was getting the uniforms made in China instead of by a U.S. manufacturer. Then we saw our athletes dressed in something that mixed suffragettes with Thurston Howell. WTF?

Al in Portland said...

If you're going to have Rowan Atkinson, shouldn't he be there as Edmund Blackadder? That would be a ceremony worth watching.

Phillip B said...

As a devotee of trainwreck TV, I did not think it was weird enough - given the amount of material the UK has accumulated since 1066 alone.

Assume the planning meetings must have achieved that level of trippy outrage. The Industrial Revolution section worked for me, thought the NHS/Children's literature was appropriately nightmarish, and found the music section long, aimless and out-of-touch.

Married to a literature professor who insists that using that Caliban's speech as a symbol for the games in just plain WRONG - but refuses to otherwise explain. The rest of us are left to wonder about that, the random rugby references, and exactly why Rowan Atkinson is supposed to be funny..

Paul said...

The British people I know seem very proud of how the show was made for Brits, and not for anyone else. But it's the Olympics. The opening ceremonies are supposed to appeal to a global audience, not just the host country. I didn't have to have intricate knowledge of China (or their healthcare system) to get a deeper understanding of their culture, heritage and history from their opening ceremonies. That's why their opening ceremony was one of the best and this one was one of the worst.

Perhaps it would have been more acceptable if the broader parts of the show hadn't all flopped: Rowan Atkinson, that awful love story, Paul McCartney. They were all terrible. Sure, the whole ceremony felt very British, but it wasn't very good. There are ways to share history and culture without boring people to tears. If it goes over people's heads, then you've failed to teach anyone anything.

bettyd said...

I loved the torch lighting. It was the best since the flaming arrow of Albertville in 1992, IMO.

Long parade of nations, but what can you do to speed that up? Have them already in the stands? I think the tried that at one of the closing cermenoies, right? One way to make it amusing for me was to follow these fashion guys on Twitter (tom and Lorenzo). They had funny comments to help pass the time. I'm sure there were other snarktastic commenters on twitter as well.

The big baby was really creepy. I agreed with Matt Lauer on that.

William Jansen said...

SueMac wrote: "An Olympic opening ceremonies designed FOR the host country, not for the rest of the watching world and their guests?"


I love the fact, that the British did not ask themselves what the world wanted, but asked themselves what could be their unique British contribution. I'd rather watch a new opening ceremony rooted in a new culture every four years, than being pandered to by different countries trying to guess, what the world might want from them.

scotty said...

I would love to read what some of these folks would have done instead. It was true to its creator and mostly entertaining.

Some people love Costas (like me) others hate him. Feh.

I personally can't stand the smug and suddenly kinda nasty Matt Lauer (just shave the head at this point).

I enjoy the athletes march because of the pure joy on the great majority of their faces.

Kirk said...

@Johnny Walker--

The British invented the World Wide Web? I didn't know that. I thought the Pentagon had something to do with it. Maybe they just invented the Internet, which is somehow different from the Web.

As for U.S. ambulences wanting proof of insurance, I was taken to the hospital in one a couple of weeks ago after passing out at work due to a combination of heat exhaustion and dehydration. The ambulence attendents nor anyone in the ER asked me for proof of insurance, as it was assumed worker's comp would pay for it. Well, I just found out Worker's Comp is turning down my claim, which means I have a bill coming my way for my visit to, and couple hours spent at, the hospital. In retrospect, I wish someone HAD asked for proof of insurance. I would have said I have none, gone home, and fanned myself in front of a bottle of Aquafina.

Jonty said...

I liked the visual and musical extravaganza, though it's too boring watching the teams come out.

Suggestion that the NHS bit was a message to US??? I'm speechless. Why? Sounds a bit self obsessive/important. Everything could have been a message to some country or other.
It was about Great Britain, her past, the people.
Also agree, yes a bit shambolic, but still much talked about and a good watch.

Iain Coleman said...


The World Wide Web was invented at CERN in 1990-91 by British physicist Tim Berners-Lee -- now Sir Tim Berners-Lee. You can get more details at his Wikipedia page.

The really important thing Sir Tim did, though, wasn't the invention of HTTP itself. It was releasing it freely and without patent, and ensuring that the web was built on open standards. If he hadn't done that, the modern world would be a very different, and poorer, place.

Hence the quote from Sir Tim that flashed up around the stadium at the end of his appearance in the ceremony -- "This is for everyone".

Matt said...

I thought it was unevenly, chaotically, and slightly madly great. The first act through until the forging of the Olympic rings was terrific, it sort of lost its way after that (although there were still some wonderful moments: the Queen and James Bond, the lighting of the torch itself especially).

But I'm British and it was unabashedly aimed at us.

Pretty much I'd echo the sentiments of some of the other people around here: it was nice, just temporarily, to feel genuinely proud of the country.

Steve C said...

I watched via my DVR and was glad to be able to skip through 85% of it. Like most openings it was stupid at times and really neat at times. Viera was an idiot.

The Indian Bustard said...

The reason I liked the show (aside from the music history bits) is also the same reason I like some British sitcoms much more than American ones.

As Johny Walker said, it featured real people - clumsy, overweight, bad teeth, etc., etc., but still, genuine.

Case in point re British sitcoms - Grand Dad on Fools and Horses. I don't think any American sitcom actor would agree to be seen in a shirt like Grand Dad's.

As for the people who thought a part of the show was some kind of a dig at the American healthcare system?

This world has more than six billion people. I think it would not be wrong to say that at least five billion of them do not know, or care, that a country known as the US exists.

Michael Hagerty said...

It's American television. A presenter that did their homework would have no career. Sadly, NBC could actually have done worse than Meredith Viera. I mean, these guys can barely get through the Macy's Thanksgoving Day parade, for God's sake!

gottacook said...

Paul should have lip-synced to a vocal track from 10 or 20 years ago. His longtime fans would've had nothing to cringe about - they'd have understood.

Separate from the condition of his voice, I wish his appearance hadn't been so anticlimactic - I mean, Lionel Richie was in good voice when he capped off the multi-hour Live Aid TV broadcast in the mid-1980s singing (solo) "We Are the World," but the performance was wholly unsurprising and superfluous, plus the song itself was overfamiliar. "Hey Jude" was featured in McCartney's Super Bowl halftime show only a few years ago. I still have the "Hey Jude"/"Revolution" single I bought at age 12, and I know it's easy to sing along with at the end, no matter your native language (and was probably selected for that reason), but can't it be retired now?

Smurkenstein said...

I think the NHS/Great Ormond street set was more of a historical note..GB is often credited with pioneering social healthcare (since 1911, although Germany had something similar before then) - it was a first - something brits are proud of and quite important historically.

And it was a bit of fun ;)

D. McEwan said...

Well, the boring first minutes of interviews and filler I fast-forwarded through. NEVER watch something like this live! That's what the DVR is for.

The tribute to industrial pollution was ugly and awful. Meredith Viera saying "Don't you wish you had Smell-o-Vision?" was inane. No, Meredith you dolt, I do NOT want the stench of sulphur pumped into my home.

What a bore! Didn't Boyle see the unforgettable spetacle China staged 4 years ago? Why bottom it?

And the DVR also shortens the Parade of Nations. You know it's coming. They always do it, so pre-record and hit "FF".

They kept saying how the scowling, sour old queen made "a spectacular entrance." Even Costas said that. Yes, I really believe that was the queen parachuting in and not a stunt woman,or stunt man, or stunt Corgi. And doesn't 007 have more pressing duties than escorting that sour old bitch? (If only he would have ACTUALLY pushed her out of a helicopter - sans parachute.)

velvet goldmine said...

I wonder if other English-speaking critics of the opening ceremony are enduring the same left-field swipes of their own culture -- simply for debating the pros and cons of a host-centric event. (I'm seeing this a lot today -- a woman from Norway hijacking Ebert's blog to scream about how American culture has been foisted on her country.)

Hey Brits -- relax. People are just riffing on a big stadium show. And your ignorance about us, in turn, is showing. Has it occurred to you that the U.S. TV show imports you get may be based on the tastes of your own countrymen? I assure you, we have plenty of dramas and comedies that do not feature spray-tanned bimbos or "gun happy" citizens. But maybe those are simply not the ones being purchased by your providers.

I guess all this wouldn't rankle so much if I didn't have to suffer through "Are You Being Served?" every week.

Ron Rettig said...

I'm Rowan Atkinson fan but bit was overdone and I felt hugely insulting to London Symphony Orchestra and conductor.

NHS propaganda did not belong in international Olympics event.

Tim Berners-Lee, originator and donator of World Wide Web, was slighted by Viera and Lauer.

D. McEwan said...

Oh, and the appearance of Romnuts made me puke, as did Costas verbally kissing Romnuts's ass.

D. McEwan said...

"velvet goldmine said...
I guess all this wouldn't rankle so much if I didn't have to suffer through "Are You Being Served?" every week.:

Who forces you to watch it? Is it at gunpoint?

D. McEwan said...

Costas: "There's the queen cheering wildly for the British athletes" over a shot of the humorless old German bitch scowling at the world.

Wendy M. Grossman said...

Kirk: the Internet grew out of a number of networking experiments, most but not all of which were in the US and funded by the US govt (via DARPA and the NSF). Some of the key technologies were invented in Britain and France. (British computer scientist Donald Davies, at the National Physical Laboratory, came up with the phrase "packet switching" for the way data in transit is divided into chunks for transmission.)

Tim Berners-Lee, while working at CERN (also a government-funded body, but not *just* the US government), invented the World Wide Web.

Many people confuse the Internet and the Web, but the Web is just one very popular application that runs across the Internet, very much the way a word processor runs on your single computer. There are many other such applications, such as voice over Internet protocols (VOIP - including Skype).

I don't actually have a problem with the ceremony's being primarily for the citizens of the host country; they paid for it, after all. Just about all of my British friends absolutely loved it. The Daily Telegraph called it "breathless, brash, bonkers, and utterly British". I guess if you want to tell the world who you are, those are pretty good characteristics.


Steve said...

Ken, apropos of nothing, I was re-reading your very funny take on Hawaii 5-0 from a while back, then decided to go to to see if that show was actually still on the air. If you go there, you'll see an invitation to join the show's official "Facebok" page. The website is a labor of love equal to the show itself.

Dr. Leo Marvin said...

Maybe Danny Boyle was (as he claimed) able to put the Beijing 2008 Ceremony out of his head while conjuring this snoozefest, but I sure couldn't while watching it. The Chinese put on a show that was impossible to follow, so the Brits were pretty much screwed whatever they did. That said, my expectations were low and I was still disappointed. Not a good sign.

Joey H said...

Memo to Ryan Seacrest: It's OK to occasionally turn down a gig.

Mr. First Nighter said...

Maybe the Palestinian athletes were scowling because they know they don't represent an actual country, and have no business at the Olympics.

RCP said...

The scale and technology of it was impressive, but I began looking at the clock (and rolling my eyes) by the time the kids started jumping on their beds. The Queen's parachute jump was funny, but she looked like such a sourpuss during the bit and from then on that it was a downer every time she appeared on camera. Rowan Atkinson's bit was so-so, and McCartney's performance was okay. I could have easily done without a camera shot of Mr. and Mrs. Plastic (Romneys).

I did like the descending Mary Poppins, some of the dancing, the lighting of the Torches, and the Parade of Nations - a good reminder that - gasp - even our supposed arch-enemies can include smiling human beings.

When you keep wanting something to be better than it actually is, I guess that sums it up. That said - Britain certainly has a lot to be proud of.

For the life of me I can't recall a thing Meredith Vieira said, but do remember laughing at one point and thinking, "Gee Meredith, nothing gets past you." (She probably expressed wonderment that smoke was coming out of the smoke stacks).

jb said...

Needed more Python.

Someday they'll point a camera at the opening ceremonies and put all the commentator yammering on a crawl at the bottom, and that will be the greatest day in the history of television

Dave EK said...

Thank you, Sir Tim Berners-Lee. Because of your work, I can search for fetish porn and Doctor Who fandom with ease.

And speaking of which....What the fuck, Danny Boyle? No Doctor Who in the opening ceremony? (Other than a random TARDIS noise mixed in with the hoopla.) Daniel Craig as Bond working with Matt Smith's Doctor to help the Queen? Epic, I tells ya, EPIC! But nooooo...

(What? You thought I was going to complain about the lack of fetish porn in the opening ceremony? No, I'm good.)

Iain Coleman said...

There was supposed to be a section at the end that would have included Doctor Who and Monty Python, but it was dropped because the athletes' parade over-ran.

Andrew said...

Did anyone catch the horribly awkward moment when Ryan Seacrest asked one of the American gymnasts if she had a crush of Justin Beiber, and then said she had a big surprise waiting for her?

For Christ's sake Ryan, she's a world class athlete in the competition of her life, not some sick kid on Ellen.

As far as the actual ceremonies go, I wished Matt and Merideth would shut up for 10 seconds, I have eyes. At the very least, they could have been silent for the moment of silence. They broke in towards the end, to tell us a red poppy was a sign of mourning in the UK and Canada. That couldn't have waited 20 seconds. Classless assholes.

They appearently cut out another moment of reflection on the 2005 london attacks to air another dumb Ryan Secrest interview.

Also, did anyone notice the many clips of American movies and music during the four decades of music bit. Gloria Gaynor, Wayne's World?

In the end, the entire show seemed like a joke.

velvet goldmine said...

D. McEwan! Bitch, you don't know my life!

OK,to be tediously straightforward: Wow, some Britcoms sure do suck!

bevo said...

Did not watch a single minute of it. Will not watch a single a minute of any sport.

Now, if NBC would mark or highlight the athletes that are NOT doped, then I would consider watching. Otherwise, who cares about groundhog sports (i.e., sports no one gives a damn about except for the quadrennial Olympics).

Bob Claster said...

--Brilliant performance by Rowan Atkinson. However, there is no excuse for the absence of some sort of Python participation. Python was one of Britain's greatest exports. They changed comedy as much as the Beatles changed music. (Nice to see the Who, Kinks, and Stones in the mix, if only briefly.) However, what were all those people in the Sgt. Peppers suits doing in the Industrial Revolution section? Did they jump their cue or something?

--Nice to see Mike Oldfield again. Wish I could have heard him, too.

--Couldn't help but notice Sir Paul's teleprompter screen with the "na na na na na na na" there for him in case he forgets them.

--Speaking of which, come on, Your Majesty, you only had fifteen words to say. I know you're an old bat, but couldn't you have memorized fifteen words? Or barring that, couldn't you have read them from a card held under the camera? Anything would have been better than the pathetic sight of you reading from a crumpled piece of paper. And while we're at it, couldn't you have managed some sort of a smile?

--My favorite part: the salute to Butane at the end.

HerMaj'sCorgis said...

I was watching from Australia- I thought it was an entertaining opening ceremony; if not a bit long.
I did think the inclusion of the NHS was a bit bizarre, as Eddie McGuire (one of our commentators) pointed out, at our Sydney 2000 we didn't include a tribute to the Medicare Health System.
I'm not entirely sure why the Queen has to feature in everything, the James Bond clip was great- but is it necessary to have a standing ovation for an elderly woman just sitting in the crowd?
Admittedly, I dozed off between the athletes of Georgia and Zimbabwe coming out… To wake up in time to see the stadium on fire.

mimi said...

Just to clarify for some posters who will never see this. The internet is the invention of the US Defense Dept., and it was Al Gore's idea to bring it to the world. The WWW is not the internet, but a means of transporting information across the internet.

I would give most of the ceremony a D, but I always enjoy the parade of athletes, and really liked the part following that, though Sir Paul was dicey.

UPennBen said...

Do people realize that Ken writes comedy? Brigadoon was a joke. The NBC commentators were very clear that it was the Glastonbury Tor, as were they clear about the connection between GOSH and Peter Pan. We're not idiots.

Gotta say, I liked this immensely more than the Beijing opening ceremony, which I found tedious and boring. The British themes made sense. Beijing's were abstract. The drummers were vastly overrated. I was more impressed by the deaf British drummer, who played a much more interesting piece. And does anyone remember the guy who climbed around the stadium to light the torch. Do you remember that it lasted 10 agonizing minutes?

Breadbaker said...

@Bob Claster, the Queen is 86 years old. We'll see how well you can remember 15 words when you're 86 and compare.

More to the point, the head of state, whoever he or she is, is allowed those 15 words and no others. The IOC makes a huge point that they cannot vary the text by so much as a word. Given we had a Chief Justice screw up the specific words of the Presidential Oath, and Roberts was more than three decades younger than the Queen, I give the woman props for taking a prop with her.

Ambar Servadac said...

I''m not American, and I hated it!
It was plain and boring.

Steve said...

Britain put on a show but I guess Andrew Lloyd Webber was busy so we got a celebration of an agrarian/industrial economy followed by a girl who lost her phone.

D. McEwan said...

"velvet goldmine said...
D. McEwan! Bitch, you don't know my life!"

I have a soft spot for Are You Being Served, if only because the late John Inman (Mr. Humphreys) was a fan of my first book.

Bob Costas: "Well Matt, Paul McCartney closed the show literally and figuratively on a perfect note." Bob, were you LISTENING? He was WAY out of voice. It was excruciating!

I think here was a point that lasted almost 3 minutes in the Ceremonies when none of the NBC comentators, not Lauer, not Viera, not Costas, said: "They'll never forget this moment!"

Oops. It was just a commercial break. My bad.

cam.robbins said...

I enjoyed the opening ceremonies *because* it was a narrative of the nation and their cultural impact on the world. The Digital Era was a bit, uh, intricate though.

NBC commentary was beyond awful. Besides being inane, the chatter completely obscured the music...a huge part of the experience. Open captions, NBC, use them.

Cap'n Bob said...

When I tuned in the queen was just entering. I'm still wondering why she didn't wave. Maybe her jewelry's too heavy.

Next thing I saw was a stadium full of kids jumping on beds. I wondered if they were all in love with Katie Holmes.

The parade of nations. I'm awestruck at how many nations have been born since I learned geography. Surely they could have shoehorned Palestine in somewhere during all those years.
While waiting for the US athletes, the wife and I tried to name all the countries starting with the letters ahead of U. We missed many more than we got. I feel sorry for current mapmakers.

And what were those kids at the front of each nation's group carrying? Looked like an old dentist's spit basin to me.

Nick said...

Interesting hearing your views Ken. There seems to be an American attitude (in general - not yours in particular) that the opening ceremony should be directed towards American audiences - which perplexes the rest of the world because it is just not true. I'm not sure where this attitude comes from - maybe just a lack of awareness of other countries and other cultures and how they can exist without American influence or interference.

For my part - as a New Zealander living in Australia I wasn't going to get up at 5:30 am to watch the ceremony live. i watched the end of it and watched the highlights later.

Rowan Atkinson - I guess you either love him or not. For me I really enjoyed what he bought to the show. For me Rowan is Blackadder or Johnny English. Mr Bean was that other thing he did for an international audience for a while. As such I found myself laughing throughout his performance.

As for the set pieces - i think Danny Boyle took the right approach in that if you can't please the whole world - then just try to make something you know you would enjoy. People will criticise him from leaving out this, includng that, not including this blah blah... but in the end Britain has such a rich culture that the show could have gone for ten hours.

Oh and for those who say why didn't it include the negative aspects of it's colonial history? I'm not sure what country you come from but i don't know any nation which uses a national celebration to do penance for it's past. I wasn't aware that the Americans celebrate 4th of July with references to slavery, the massacres of Indians etc... The French don't celebrate Bastille Day with recreations of their colonisation of South East Asia... it's not the right context for that kind of history lesson.

As to comparisons to other opening ceremonys? Thought it was much better than Bejiing or Athens and as much as i may get stoned for it - i thought Sydney's opening ceremony was boring and embarrassing (dancing lawn mowers for goodness sake...).

good job Danny.

aryunsun said...

Thank You Ken Levine!! I thought I was the only one that...was annoyed by the constant commentary, that didn't understand a lot of the symbolism, and the commercials OMG!! I finally gave up and rented a movie. What a disappointment.

Lorimartian said...

I agree. I was trying to figure out why they chose "Hey Jude". Awkward.

I guess when you're lucky enough to get Morgan Freeman to voice your commercial, you don't dare coach him on the correct pronunciation of the word "athlete", (hint, it's not "athalete"). Much like giving George W. Bush a pass on the mispronunciation of the word "nuclear" as being a "regional thing". Sorry, nowhere on the planet would it be pronounced "nucular" by someone who is paying attention. Educate yourself and say it correctly, especially if you're leading a prominent nation. But don't get me started about George.

Ken, I am an industry veteran with lots of opinions (laid off out of my last job in 2008), and the reason I have been posting here is that you don't ask for my first born male child which I am too old to produce anyway. Thank you.

I admire the Oscar winning writer/director Frank Pierson who recently passed away at 87. His obituary stated he was working as a consulting producer/writer on "Mad Men" and "The Good Wife" 87! I can't imagine. Although I still have a lot to offer, I'm not THAT good. RIP, Frank.

Corinne said...

I am second generation Canadian. My grandparents were English, Irish, Scottish, and Welsh. I grew up as a member of the Commonwealth.

As such, I totally got the historical aspect of the opening and it's foundations in literature and music.

As mentioned previously, the Canadian coverage was excellent- mainly because they only spoke when they needed to or to clarify something. The live coverage had very few, short breaks. The replay later in the evening had more breaks and longer ones.

I agree the girl meets boy segment could have been shorter. I loved the Queen and James Bond segment.

You'll never shorten the parade of Champions down. As mentioned by Brian Williams, one of Canada's hosts, he's been to 14 games and they have yet to keep it to an hour or less. The athletes are having too much fun.

SoozWest said...

Can anyone tell me what the deal was with the ugly ass dress with the faces on them. It was worn by one woman for each nation during the parade of nations. She also held the nation's sign and walked next to the guy with the spit tray. I couldn't begin to understand why someone would make these women dress in these hideous costumes while representing their country. Absolutely Hideous!

A_Homer said...

THANK YOU for writing this. What a relief not to be told this was such an important succcesful opening evnet, as the Brits and BBC coverage insist on repeating every second. I was wathing it in Europe, along with a live commenting stream from different newspaper bloggers, which was redeeming what the tv personalities obviously could not say.
Provincial, I don't know why the UK had to celebrate merry england nor do I need a commentary on the NHS at this moment - the UK is so self-centered, rather than recall this is a GLOBAL olympics they are hosting. Imagine if an African Nation did this, the jokes that would be made, or if they decide to commemorate their view of history including the good old days of the UK? There is no need for any of this, it is empire acting out again without any sense. It's JUST the Olympics, and yes, notice there were alot of empty seats in the stadium for the events already. It was bombastic and exhausting, out of scale and looking to the past (HEY JUDE as the last song? What year is this, and why a sing-along with the emost banal empty words ever? Why after the parade of atheletes ) Even Athens was more modern a ceremony, shorter and more hip by inviting a then relevant international star - Bjork - in SMALL role. Because it is about an opening spectacle, not a history lesson of such insider-knowledge, as if the GLOBAL audience knows the tv show they were referencing for SO LONG or what exactly is about the NHS. Silly.

By Ken Levine said...

Sorry. I don't buy the argument that since the Olympics were set in London the opening ceremony should have been devoted strictly for the host country.

This show was seen by the world. You're welcome to use your country as a theme but don't fill the show with inside references only the British will know. And don't claim "it's not for you anyway." You're asking me to devote my time to watching it.

Bob Claster said...

@Breadbaker: Sorry. The lady is paid (quite handsomely) to do one thing. Smile and give speeches. If she can't do the job, she should let someone else do it.

As for Atkinson, I think I was so grateful that it was an Atkinson segment rather than a Vangelis segment, I might not have been overly critical.

Is there a gold medal for the Best Photo Taken by an Athlete Parading Around the Stadium? It almost looked as if they were marching for the sole purpose of showing off their nation's handheld devices.

Anonymous said...

"(Actually, I'm a little surprised the BBC didn't get a handshake in the ceremony.)"

They got one or two, but they were references which wouldn't be immediately apparent - at the beginning of the "Frankie and June" piece, you Michael Fish's forecast, followed by the old 50s BBC news theme and The Archers theme tune.

John in London said...

I thought it was rather good.

Each host country interprets the remit in different ways that reflect their national character while trying to entertain the world.

One problem Britain has is that many people have a narrow or out of date perception of it. In my many trips to the US I've seen a lot of type casting which is limited to 1776 / Royals / Downton Abbey. This is a wider problem due to Britain's empire history. I've been to places as far apart as Azerbaijan and Venezuela and there are views of the UK fixed by memories of events a hundred years ago.

So yes, there were multiple goals involved in the event:
1) entertain the world
2) create some iconic images to remember the 2012 games
3) try to explain modern Britain
4) make Brits feel proud

1) and 2) were similar and hopefully the forging of the Olympic Rings, the Queen and James Bond, Becks and the speed boat, the artistic merging of the Olympic flames etc would achieve those goals.

3) is harder because there is so much in this small isles. History that goes back beyond Stonehenge,
writers from Shakespeare to J K Rowling, music that is known around the world decade after decade, science and engineering from Brunel to the WWW... it really is a remarkable list for a small country.

But also Britain has changed: the industrial revolution was born on these islands and changed not just the UK but the world.

The NHS is actually the 2nd most supported institution in the UK after the royal family and IMHO rightly so as it gives us the roughly same medical support per head of population as the US but half the price. But no, this wasn't about the US, it was something bigger than that.

Children's literature connected so many good themes - the undeniable gifts to the world from the UK in literature, the aim of the 2012 games to "inspire a generation", Britain's relaxed unstuffy human scale society at ease with itself - contrasting again to Beijing.

Yes some points were subtle and needed concentration, but then richness and subtext are usually considered to enhance an experience. There was a lot going on - e.g. the Child Catcher was from Chitty Chitty Bang Bang which was written by Ian Fleming who also of course wrote James Bond. The shipping forecast connected the BBC to the Britain's maritime history.

I didn't agree with some points - Kes and Trainspotting too obscure films IMHO and Arctic Monkeys & Muse not the bands I'd have chosen, but at least Dizzee Rascal and co showed London's diversity and energy not just another Big Ben photo op.

The view from most commentators in the UK is it achieved these conflicting goals well and that Danny Boyd and his cast of volunteers did a good job.

Oh and re. the Palestinians - if I'd suffered 60 years of oppression, discrimination, ethnic cleansing, war crimes, occupation, tragedies etc and see the world look away and even deny their existence I'd be much more pissed off than this delegation was.

DJ said...

But which version? Elizabethan? WW I? Future Blackadder?

DJ said...

The flaming arrow was Barcelona

DJ said...

They were copper leaves, inscribed with each nation's name, the date, etc. Each piece was used to build the cauldron used to light the flame.

Only One F In Fulham said...

Interesting that a round up of world press reaction today suggests that nearly all of Europe, Africa and Asia was very complimentary about the opening ceremony. Other than a few British right-wingers the USA has pretty much cornered the market in hostile criticism. Is this a result of the quality of coverage or are you really that out of step with the rest of the world?

DJ said...

The faces were those of Olympic volunteers, so that more of them could "participate" in the ceremony.

And the confetti in the end? 7.2 billion pieces, one for each person on earth.

DJ said...

Quality of coverage. Edited highlights (deleting the tribute to the deceased of 7/7 for an inane Ryan Sechrest interview of Michael Phelps was a disgrace), uninformed commentary (despite the fact that the organizing committee prepares a fact sheet for the media explaining the ceremony), irreverent commentary (Meredith, if you don't know who Tim Berners-Lee is, assume he deserves to be there, and STFU).

Most of the reports here in America were also quite complimentary of the ceremony.

Anonymous said...

I found it very tedious and boring, hammering home a political world view in parts, celebrating a health system that many other nations have and was invented by the Germans, originally, and it had little to do with sport. Some of the music selection was questionable too, the Mr Bean gag, and I love Mr Bean, wasn't all that fresh either.

James Bond dropping off the Queen was one of the few good moments for me.

DJ said...

Recall that in 1984, Ronald Reagan reversed the order of the phrases.

(In his defense, his reversal made the speech a bit better)

velvet goldmine said...

Only One F: I will have to take your word for the fact that only Americans were tacky enough to have a civilized discussion about whether a chock full o' coded references ceremony vs. a more welcoming "welcome" ceremony was called for. I can actually see the merits of either one.

But I don't quite see, as Nick posits, how calling for a more global-friendly ceremony translates into insisting that it be more American somehow.

OrangeTom said...

I'm a huge Anglophile. My wife was born there, worked in London four years after her college graduation, and I've enjoyed my visits there. As such, was really looking forward to the opening ceremonies and was stunned at what a hash they turned out to be. I'm guessing the narrative flow would have been better without the NBC edits and talking heads, but that would still leave the viewers with what seemed at times to be a presentation on the living history of hedgerows. And what the heck was David Beckham doing in the boat on the Thames. I guess I should be glad they didn't bring Jan Hammer out at that point to play the Miami Vice theme. Strange stuff.

Anonymous said...

Hi just to help the person disputing Tim Berner's Lee's invention/ conception of the World Wide Web. use article on Wikipedia which fills in some gaps for anyone who doesn't get how one man helped make such a

Ian Mac

gottacook said...

As a fan since childhood of the Ian Fleming book Chitty Chitty Bang Bang (with the first-edition illustrations) and a non-fan of the movie for nearly as long, I have to correct "John in London" who wrote above that "...the Child Catcher was from Chitty Chitty Bang Bang which was written by Ian Fleming..."

The movie was adapted by Roald Dahl, and if Fleming had been alive he might have exerted some counter-influence over the results. Not a single character in the book is in the movie, unless you squint and pretend that the movie's widowed Mr. Potts and his son and daughter resemble the book's intact Pott family of four.

I am horrified every time I realize that a stage adaptation of the movie exists, and that people have paid to see it.

SankYew said...

Being a final year medical student who has called UK her adoptive home for the past 5 years (and counting), I have to say I was pretty proud of the opening ceremony and how NHS, GOSH and children literature was portrayed. It reminded me why I chose this vocation in the first place.I was highly amused that I managed get all the British cultural references and have to admit the ceremony was executed in what make the Brits unique in their very own way.

Kirk said...

@Ian Mac--I hope you don't think I'M the one who's disputing Tim Berner's invention of the World Wide Web. I merely expressed surprise, not because I think British people can't invent anything on it's own, but because I confused it with the Internet, which in some form or other does seem to be a product of the Defense Department. After all, we DO spend a lot of money on defense here in the USA. Next time we host the Olympics, in order to display our national character, our opening show could have anthromorphic missles riding piggy back on dancing babies.

Kirk said...

That should be "can't invent anything on THEIR own"

the man himself said...

im from the uk and loved ALL of it APART from the digital music era bit. A tribute to the NHS made up of actual NHS workers, and the fact that kids from the Great Ormond Street Hospital, a trully great institution, participated was really touching. I think that it was a political move to highlight the free healthcare system we take for granted here and to remind us of that fact. I was always astounded about the opposition to a more friendly healtcare system to the poor ensuring equallity for all rich and poor in the USA . However also i think by far the most symbolic and best part was the torch, made up of a part that every nation brought, and although small flames individually became a great torch as one

Anonymous said...

Shame you did not like it Ken.

I thought it was a terrific show that covered the UK from the perspective of a regular person. Some lovely touches and hat-tips to the East End of London.

The fact that you did not know that British authors wrote Peter Pan etc shows this story needed telling.

Tim Berners Lee is an incredible human being and deserves the exposure he got for dreaming up the www and not profiting from it.

All in all and excellent show.

By Ken Levine said...

I did know that a British author wrote PETER PAN and that the profits go to that children's hospital. But to use that to equate sick children and National Health Care to Children's Literature is a stretch.

And I didn't hate the whole thing. I had problems with part of it. And even after 100 comments I still do.

DJ said...

Danny Boyle did not direct Skyfall; Sam Mendes did.

The continuous drumbeat was designed to keep the athletes moving at a fast pace during the parade. That, and the producers like drums...

D. McEwan said...

Part of what annoyed me about the commentary was its assumption of our ignorance. I did not need to be told what a "tor" is. I read Hound of the Baskervilles (for the first of many times) over 50 years ago. I didn't need to be told that the proceeds from Peter Pan go to the Ormond Street Hospital for Sick Children, as I've not only known that for over 60 years, but have actually visited that hospital. (It is only a block from The Dickens House Museum; why visit one and not the other?) I hate the presumption of ignornce. Just because Meredith Viera knows little doesn't mean the audience does.

R's Woman said...


Seems I'm very late (112th or so) in adding a comment...

Didn't watch the ceremony live, but here in Jamaica it was shown live at 3.00 or so Easter time. We do not get the NBC feed, so were spared Bob Costas, etc. It's a purely live feed, and Jamaican commentators are providing commentary (off-camera). Easy flow, except for commercials every 45 mins or so.

That being said, I didn't watch it live (was working), but got the original Jamaican re-broadcast when I was at a bar later that night. Didn't understand the children in beds, the nurses, chimneys etc. And, several drinks in, thought Mr. Bean was the highlight. Couldn't stop laughing.

Beijing 2008, for me, had the most moving, astounding, and accessible production. Top-class.

In terms of the length of these things, a Jamaican athlete told me that in 2008, all the athletes were 'backstage' for hours during the ceremony until it was time for them to come out. Seems they're worse off than we are.

James said...

I was watching it live from Australia, which meant it started at 5.30am Saturday morning locally. While we didn't have the NBC coverage, we did have this ridiculous situation where the coverage of the olympics is shared between Channel 9 (free to air) and Foxtel (Pay-TV with 8 channels dedicated to the olympics), but only due to anti-siphoning laws in in Oz, only Channel 9 was permitted to show the openig an closing ceremonies - which they are choosing to show in standard definition). Our commentators didn't annoy me so much, and even Eddie 'Everywhere' managed to not talk as much (although i did expect him to say 'what a big week it's been in olympics' once or twice, but i digress)...

The good:
- The opening sequence (from going from the middle ages to industrial ages)
- The James Bond reference with the Queen (although I still think Daniel Craig is not really James Bond)
- Tubular Bells segment was good
- Lighting of the torch was very clever, although they did cheat and not put the caldron into it's final location, so a few points off for that. Still it doesn't quite match up to lighting the flame in water... ;)
- Mr Bean - for about 3 nano-seconds
- The moment's silence during the opening ceremony was a nice touch.

The amusing:
- Whoever designed the Czech Republic's uniform for the opening ceremony obviously had a sense of humour for incorporating gumboots into the uniform - maybe it was an Australian designer? :)

The confused
- NHS bit - a little quirky, but meh... It was definately a very 'British' thing. Couldn't imagine Sydney doing something on Medicare, or Centrelink (Social Security)
- The struggle between life and death segment - wasn't sure about the relevance of that at the opening ceremony.

The Bad
- Mr Bean from the 4th nano-second I saw him on the coverage
- The 'night out on the town' bit that they had on (that reminded me of a cheap rip off of HS musical). I mean, how can you lose your phone and then take a call from some dude telling you that he found your phone?? Duh!! If i wanted to see that, i would go to the local on a Friday/Saturday night.
- The Artic Monkeys - they were craptacular at best
- The US team uniforms. The women looked like they were hosties on a long haul flight from LAX to Sydney. The guys looked as though they were wearing private school uniforms - with berets??

The ugly
- The team GB uniforms - what drugs was the designer on when they designed those shockers - particularly the gold patches!
Not only that, but the whole thing with the tickertape parate feel to the team GB entering the stadium was a bit much.

Overall, while it wasn't terrible, it was nowhere near the calibre of past olympic opening ceremonies. Plus I missed the dulcet tones of Bruce McAvaney and the usual Ch 7 commontators who have been covering the olympics in Australia since 1992.

One mor thing - @Nick - if you think that the London opening Ceremony was better than Sydney, I suggest you should pack your chilly bun, your jandells and your All-Blacks Jersey and jump on a plane and head back across the ditch to NZ.. :)

That's my 2 cents worth


Anonymous said...

I reiterate; Johnny Walker is THE most darling Englishman since Davy Jones. I want to dip you in tea and positively bite you.

The opening ceremonies were completely mad, and somewhat daft, but that's why I love Britain (and being British-American) even their nonsense is wonderful. And still more interesting than a bunch of Chinese robots banging on drums while strobey lights go off and set off my migraines.

I still can't get past the 2012 logo; simply the worst logo in the history of graphics. If I didn't already know what it said, I'd have no idea what I was looking at; a logo should fire the message straight to your brain, it shouldn't make you have to work to understand it.

Aside to Ken; I must thank you, as a fan of both old time radio and Roger Corman movies, for your stories and insights on The Real Don Steele! I've been seeing/hearing him in my favourite Corman/New Line films for YEARS, thinking "Who IS this guy, and why is he in EVERY Corman movie?! He must have photos of Roger and a goat. " :)

"Hey! You're not a Rockin' Ricky fan...!"


Nick said...


My problem with the Sydney 2000 ceremony was that it just wasn't bold enough... where was Steve Irwin with a troupe of Dancing Crocodiles? AC/DC instead of Men at Work? And Nikki Webster.... did you forget Nikki Webster...?

Anonymous said...

Way too much commentaty. They feel as though we are total idiots. They talked over everything, like spoiled kids in a movie.

Johnny Walker said...


bconnell said...


The Rush Blog said...

And what better way to end this overly-long show than by having Sir Paul McCartney sing the longest Beatles song they ever recorded, HEY JUDE? As he was singing, I was thinking – a week ago Ringo Starr performed at Humphreys, an outdoor lawn venue in San Diego. Meanwhile, Paul McCartney sings at the Olympics Opening Ceremony for one billion people.

Ringo Starr was fortunate.

Loosehead said...

My favourite part? Watching my cousin have that flag blow in his face as he had to say the word "Olympism" in front of 2 billion people while barely stifling his laughter. When he was awarded the gig, he had to ask around if Olympism was a word, and most of the British team didn't have a clue.

Anonymous said...

Oh Lord... I meant New WORLD, not New Line. Kids, don't smoke and type.



Unknown said...

What I loved about the ceremony is that it pushed boundaries and made people think as well as being visually stunning and being set to the best music of any opening ceremony ever. Generally feelings towards the ceremony have been extremely positive with just a few clusters of narrow-minded, negative, backward-thinking people turning their noses up at something new, exciting, thought-provoking, creative and all together wonderful.

By far the greatest opening ceremony ever for all the right reasons. This was a people's ceremony. A ceremony that celebrated diversity, culture and open mindedness.

Shame on anyone who was expecting yet another generic ceremony from an a nation that celebrates music, art and all things cultural like we do in Britain.

Watch it again. Then watch it again - each time you watch you'll see something new.

*tarazza said...

*wipes away tears of laughter*

Oh god, this post was hilarious.

Lee Brimmicombe-Wood said...

As others have noted, this was aimed squarely at a domestic audience and pushed a lot of buttons. I am a Briton and many of my friends are world-class cynics who would normally not give a fig for ceremonial, but were incredibly moved by this.

If you didn't enjoy it, then I'll have to shrug. It genuinely made me proud to be British. We did it our way, and we did it well.

The Kid In The Front Row said...

"I did love the subtle message Great Britain sent to the United States by doing an entire production number on the value of National Health Care" -- really? It was made for Americans?

The Kid In The Front Row said...

Interesting also that many Americans are calling it 'Pompous' - we apologise for highlighting a bit of Britishness and will go back to focusing on America immediately afterwards!

The Kid In The Front Row said...

Nick, you summed it up so perfectly when you said:

"Interesting hearing your views Ken. There seems to be an American attitude (in general - not yours in particular) that the opening ceremony should be directed towards American audiences - which perplexes the rest of the world because it is just not true. I'm not sure where this attitude comes from - maybe just a lack of awareness of other countries and other cultures and how they can exist without American influence or interference."

But hey, Americans have been filling up the content of screens all around the world for years now -- perhaps there could have been a section midway through for Miley Cyrus and Kim Kardashian to do a little sing-along or something, something that could make it more digestible.

But I do agree re: Paul McCartney. He is old and should be kept at home from now on.

Unknown said...

GOSH meant "Go Sandy Hook". It was the next step in the new world order. The kids on gurneys should have been a clue and the baby's with a tear coming out. The last part was "NHS" but you have to turn it backwards: "Sandy Hook Newtown" and turn the moon backwards which is what the moon will look like on the Friday its done. The "sh sh sh" afterwards shows it's a secret and doctors nurses everyone involved will be in on it.

Unknown said...

The opening ceremony part where doctors and nurses are pushing gurneys is a foreshadowning of something the world leaders were and did pull off. Notice a bunch of kids on gurneys and panning out the gurneys are lights that make the words and shapes. GOSH means "GO Sandy Hook" and the NHS has to be turned backwards "Sandy Hook Newtown". The baby is the child sacrifice ritual with the tear coming down. The crescent moon is when this sacrifice will occur which also has to be turned backwards. The "Shh Shh Shh" of the doctors, nurses is the fact that its a secret but all the doctors, nurses, personell involved will be in on the secret. They turn their backs to the audience to symbolize that they will disavoy all knowledge of it. I wish this wasn't true but unfortunately it is. Gun control in the U.S. is a final step to the one world government as well as the child sacrifice which is a luciferian ritual.