Let me begin by saying, I’m British. Although the U.S. has been my wonderful home for two decades, I consider myself a Brit first and foremost, proud of that island nation’s culture and heritage. I’m still a British citizen. Friday night, my wife and I sat down to watch the opening ceremony. I was excited to see the sort of regal pageantry and pomp and circumstance the British do so well. In the weeks leading up to the event, I had some reservations. I’m not a fan of Danny Boyle, the ceremony’s director. I don’t think his movies are that great and consider “Slumdog Millionaire,” in particular, to be one of the most overrated films in recent memory.
And so we sat on the sofa, a bottle of wine at the ready, and watched. All I can say after the event is that I have no idea what the LA Times, New York Times, New Yorker, Chicago Tribune, and other major publications were raving about. What I saw, and it pains me deeply to say this, was a boring and disjointed mess. Perhaps it had something to do with NBC’s editing–or not.
I thought the set piece at the beginning—the one depicting old, pastoral England—was a nice way to open the show, but it quickly became obvious that nothing, other than people playing cricket on the “village green” and miners marching off to work, was happening. I enjoyed the children choir’s rendition of “Jerusalem,” but why Boyle intercut the song with images of rugby playing, I have no idea.
Following the somewhat lackluster opening, we all had to wait ten or fifteen minutes as “workers” from the Industrial Revolution swept away the bucolic greenery to make way for smoke stacks and steel foundries. The stacks rising from the stadium floor made for a cool spectacle, as did the forging of the Olympic Rings, but—again—nothing else seemed to happen. The piece was made all the more bizarre by the modern dance moves the “industrialists” kept doing at random intervals.
From this point on, the whole thing just degenerated into a cluttered mess. From an international standpoint, when one things of Britain, they most likely envision double-decker busses, red telephone boxes, kings, queens, knights, etc.—none of which featured in Friday night’s snooze fest. Instead, we saw tributes to things completely unknown to people outside the U.K. A dance number celebrating the understaffed and underfunded National Health Service—really? The Great Ormond Street Hospital is a wonderful institution, but putting it in the Opening Ceremony would be like an American city doing a number around St. Jude’s (no one outside the States would get it).
I realize the Opening Ceremony is a chance for the host nation to show off its culture and history, but couldn’t Boyle have selected themes that resonate with a global audience? What about capitalizing on Britain’s phenomenal pop-culture history? The nation that gave us The Beatles, The Kinks, The Rolling Stones, The Who, Pink Floyd, Led Zeppelin, and countless other classic acts, couldn’t have come up with something better than this? It got to the point where I had no idea what Boyle was trying to accomplish, or what message he was hoping to convey. The most perplexing number of the night was the “love story for a digital age,” featuring a teenage girl searching for her lost cellphone. It seemed totally odd going from pastoral England, to the Industrial Revolution, to a story about the digital age set in what looked like a 1960s acid flashback. Adding insult to injury, the mess of a number finished with a rap performance (no offense: I can’t stand rap).
Thankfully, the audio-and-visual torment eventually gave way to the Parade of Nations. What I didn’t understand were the outfits worn by the American and British teams. The Yanks looked like French flight attendants, while the Brits looked like crewmembers from the Love Boat.
From there, we had the lighting of the torch—not by any athlete who earned the honor, mind you, but seven teens who hope to be future Olympians. Again, a major fail. Either Roger Bannister—the English runner who broke the four-minute mile in 1954—or David Beckham should have been assigned the task. This gave way to the evening’s musical entertainment. Prior to Sir Paul McCartney taking the stage, we were treated to the Arctic Monkeys covering The Beatles “Come Together.” It was a good rendition, even if the choice of band—considering the numerous British musical acts out there—was somewhat questionable. Sir Paul performed “Hey Jude” and got the stadium singing. I’m a fan of The Beatles and McCartney’s solo work—but is the guy dying his hair?
In the end, the highlight for me was the fireworks extravaganza set to Pink Floyd’s “Eclipse” from Dark Side of the Moon. I really wanted to enjoy the ceremony, but it seemed to me the whole thing was a missed opportunity. I found out later the event featured a tribute to those who died in the July 7, 2005, terrorist attacks on London. NBC, however, decided to edit out that number in favor of Ryan Seacrest interviewing Michael Phelps. Another major fail, this time on NBC’s part.
Let’s just hope the closing ceremony is better.