Saturday, February 13, 2010

MTVP Vancouver 2010 Olympics Coverage: Opening Ceremonies

I am most definitely an Olympics fanatic, and I especially love the Winter Olympics. Sure, I love the excitement of swimming and gymnastics during the summer Games, but I can turn on the TV and be content watching just about any sport in the winter. I especially enjoy figure skating, hockey, and speed skating (both long track and short track). So, it makes sense that I devote a little blog space to the Olympics for the next two weeks. I’ll post as the coverage inspires me, but the opening ceremonies seems like the logical place to start. We’ll start from the very beginning, as it were.

The venue, BC Place, presented some interesting challenges considering it was the first indoor venue to be used for the opening ceremonies. Two challenges especially stand out in my mind. One was to create that magical outdoor atmosphere of the typical opening ceremony while indoors, and the other was what to do about the Olympic Cauldron. I think the designer of the ceremony, David Atkins, and those from Vancouver who planned the logistics of the Games overall made an admirable effort to meet both challenges, but they succeeded more with the later than they did with the former.

There were some moments that were indeed visually spectacular. The presentation overall made extensive use of massive, high quality video projection. The video screens were so integral to the visuals that spectators were instructed to wear white ponchos to increase the area on which the images could be projected. My favorite visual moment of the evening was when the video projections and some well-timed spouts of water from the stadium floor created the illusion that orca whales were swimming from one end of the stadium to the other. Another effective visual was when simulated snow rained down on the stadium. Matt Lauer I believe even remarked that it was like being inside a snowglobe.

One other segment that I think may have been visually stunning to TV audiences if the NBC crew had filmed it properly was a tribute to the prairie provinces of Canada. Young aerialist Thomas Saulgrain, a student at the École Nationale de Cirque, performed to images of golden prairie grasses projected on the floor. Most of the time, the camera was focused on extremely wide shots that pretty much just showed what was being projected on the floor or on Saulgrain’s face. It would have been nice to find a way to really show the TV audience the tricks Saulgrain was actually performing.

Some of the night’s entertainment was 100% pure Canadian cheese, but that’s not necessarily a bad thing. My mom and I enjoy watching the NHL awards for just that reason. It’s endearing in its own way. Nelly Furtado and Bryan Adams (!) singing the new song for this Olympics “Bang Your Drum” had us both laughing hysterically. Mostly because Canada felt the need to bring out Bryan Adams to showcase its national musical prowess. Again. It was exactly what you’d expect from a Canadian production of this type, and we wouldn’t have it any other way.

On a more serious note, I thought that a very appropriate amount of time at the ceremony was devoted to remembering Nodar Kumaritashvili, the Georgian luger who was tragically killed during a training run yesterday morning. International Olympic Committee President Jacques Rogge offered public condolences, the Olympic and Canadian flags were brought to half-staff, and a minute of silence was observed. Most poignant were Kumaritashvili’s remaining Georgan teammates who entered the stadium in the Parade of Nations wearing black arm bands and with their country’s flag adorned with a black ribbon.

Also on a more serious note, I was impressed by the tribute to Canada’s indigenous people that opened the ceremony. I think that the idea was better than the execution, but I was impressed nonetheless. The chiefs of the four First Nations of the Vancouver area welcomed the spectators, and representatives of all of Canada’s indigenous people eventually made their way to the stadium floor and performed traditional dances. I was most impressed because I honestly can’t imagine many, if any, American cities offering the same acknowledgement to Native American tribes.

The lighting of the torch at the end of the ceremony was designed to be unique and distinctly Canadian, although it didn’t exactly go off without a hitch. Not one, but four Canadian athletes, with Wayne Gretzky as the crowning jewel of the group, were supposed to light the cauldron after it rose from the stadium floor. When it came time for the big moment, however, one of the trap doors in the stadium floor didn’t open. The torchbearers stood awkwardly for about two and a half minutes until the decision was made to go ahead with the cauldron lighting without the pylon that was still trapped below the stage.

As I alluded to earlier in this post, the fact that BC Place is a covered stadium meant that something needed to be done to make sure that the Olympic cauldron could be seen by the public in Vancouver. The solution was a second, larger cauldron outdoors near the International Broadcast Center. Wayne Gretzky was given the honor of lighting this cauldron. He rode from BC Place to the site of the second cauldron in the back of a pick-up truck, adoring fans running along beside him. It was really quite a spectacle. The main, outdoor cauldron, especially when lit up at night, is truly a beautiful sight.

These opening ceremonies certainly could never match the overpowering visual spectacle of the Beijing 2008 opening ceremonies, which were impressive if only for the sheer number of people included in the production, but I think it was still successful. It definitely had a Canadian feel, featuring famous Canadian musicians such as k.d. lang and Sarah McLachlan. It also made me curious about Canadian culture and anxious to know more about the various diverse regions of the country. Here’s hoping the Games are as memorable as the opening ceremony!

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