LONDON – Was it better than Beijing? Why bother to compare? From the moment the Chinese staged their spectacular show four years ago, people wondered whether anyone would ever top it. But they do not award medals for Opening Ceremonies. Every nation is unique. Every ceremony is unique. Everyone will have an opinion, colored by perspective, patriotism or cynicism.
Whatever you thought of director Danny Boyle’s effort to open the 2012 London Games – odd, awesome, undignified, funny, underwhelming, or overwhelming – it was yet another marvel of Olympic production. The stadium floor went from pastoral to industrial, from a hard rock concert to a soft dance performance and back again. Boyle crammed in hundreds of years of British history, high culture and pop culture, from sheep to Shakespeare to the Sex Pistols, and he did it in front of Queen Elizabeth II, who was decidedly unstuffy. She even joined in the fun herself before later declaring the Games open.
It was impossible to process all the light, sound and symbolism, much less report it all. So here are the top five memorable moments from the curtain raiser on London 2012:
5. The scene setters: We began in the olde English countryside, with fake townspeople living daily life and playing games, but with 7,346 square meters of real grass, real flowers and 80 real live animals – two goats, three cows, three dogs, 10 chickens, 10 ducks, 12 horses and 40 sheep. At one point, you could hear baa-ing in the stadium’s upper deck. Then suddenly the dark beat of drums gave way to a loud, chaotic and creepy depiction of the Industrial Revolution with seven gigantic chimneys rising from the stadium floor and belching smoke into the sky. Hundreds of workers forged iron to make Olympic rings. Romantic and real.
[ Photos: Highlights from the Opening Ceremony ]
4. Boat it like Beckham: Soccer star David Beckham isn’t playing for England in the Olympics, but he played a large role in bringing the Games to London and the Olympic flame to the stadium. Early in the ceremony, cameras showed him piloting a speedboat on the Thames, transporting the flame from Tower Bridge. He later helped transfer the flame to one of the final torches. Wearing a dark suit and a smile, he was nothing but dashing, perhaps drawing a key TV demographic with his Bond-like look.
3. "Chariots of Fire'': When you think of athletics and England, you hear "Chariots of Fire'' in your head. The London Symphony Orchestra played the iconic music as the famous movie scene played on the screens. That would have been enough, except Danny Boyle added a bit of British humor. Actor Rowan Atkinson, a.k.a. Mr. Bean, joined the orchestra and pretended to play one note, repeatedly pressing one key on a synthesizer. He also appeared inserted into the infamous movie scene, racing on the beach, jumping in a car, cutting to the front and finishing first. And he ended with a fart joke.
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2. "Hey, Jude'': The Olympic flame had been lit, the fireworks had exploded, and Sir Paul McCartney came on stage for the finale. With the flame burning bright in the center of the stadium, he sang "Hey, Jude'' as the volunteers swayed from side to side. The idea was for the athletes and spectators to sway from side to side, too, for everyone to sing along, for everyone to be united in song and sport.
"Na, na, na, na-na-na-na, na-na-na-na, hey, Jude …''
The only problem was, it was 12:45 a.m. by that time. Not everyone sang along as McCartney urged them to join in. The athletes began filing out. Everyone was tired, and there are Games to play, you know?
1. The Queen: Her Majesty did not just declare the Games open. She made her acting debut in a mini-James Bond film shot at Buckingham Palace. Her Majesty jumped out of a helicopter, or at least allowed herself to be portrayed as jumping out of a helicopter. The screens showed actor Daniel Craig coming to pick up the real Queen and escort her to her flight. And though it was a stuntman who did the rest of the work, the fact that the Queen showed a sense of adventure and a sense of humor was a royal treat.
The Queen is cool? Too cool.
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