Sunday, July 29, 2012

MTVP London 2012 Olympics Coverage: Opening Ceremony

So apparently when I developed the summer calendar here at MTVP, I kind of forgot that the Olympics were this summer. If you were reading this blog back in 2010, you know that I’m kind of obsessed with the Olympics. This year, my roommate and I have been up until midnight the past two nights watching all the festivities. So while I’m not going to attempt to bring you every day coverage like I tried (and failed) to in 2010, I do want to talk about the Olympics somewhat. Expect to see posts about the Opening and Closing Ceremonies, and check-ins on my favorite Olympic sports in-between. I’m a big fan of swimming and gymnastics, so there will definitely be some posts about that, and there may be some other sports too as the mood strikes me. I’m going to be out of town from Thursday-Monday next week, so there may be a bit of a lull in the coverage (Sarah may provide some tennis coverage while I’m gone if she feels inspired), but I’ll do my best to provide some amount of Olympics content over the next two weeks.

So, let’s rewind to Friday night where my roommate and I sat in front of the television, fish and chips dinners cooked by my roommate on the tray tables in front of us, and Strongbow Cider and Newcastle Brown Ale at the ready. We’re both Anglophiles, so we were ready to see the best of British culture on display. This year’s Opening Ceremony was designed and directed by acclaimed Oscar-winning director Danny Boyle, who is best known for “Slumdog Millionaire.” Up until this point, Boyle’s directing experience had been exclusively in film, so he tried to bring a little of that expertise to the ceremony with video interstitials in between big live production numbers. When I first saw Olympic Stadium all decked out for the beginning of the ceremony my reaction was, “Is it odd that I think the stadium looks like a Quidditch pitch?” The shape of the stadium and the lush green of the infield reminded me forcefully of the stadium where the Quidditch World Cup took place in “Harry Potter and the Goblet of Fire.”

After a rather beautiful sequence highlighting the UK’s pastoral roots (which also included a sweet video of children’s choirs singing traditional songs from each of the four states that make up the UK), Kenneth Branagh, with an expertly delivered monologue, ushered in the Industrial Revolution change in the stadium. Essentially, it was a transition from the Shire to Isengard. Sorry, it’s really difficult to describe a British cultural presentation, especially one that uses the imagery that this one did, without invoking Britain’s fantasy literary tradition. The Industrial Revolution scene resulted in the forging of the Olympic rings, which were lifted into the sky. The center ring was gold while the rest were read, even more forcefully invoking the Lord of the Rings trilogy. My mother, when I talked about the ceremony with her yesterday, really seemed to dislike this portion of the presentation, because she didn’t think that the destruction of the countryside should be celebrated. I thought it was more just an acknowledgement of the totality of British history. After the Industrial Revolution, things just got kind of weird as we followed two teenagers through decades of British music. The less said about that part of the show, the better.

I think the highlight of the ceremony was one of the earliest video interstitials. This video featured Daniel Craig as Jams Bond and Her Majesty the Queen herself. She and Bond walk out to a helicopter to take them to the Games, and the Queens corgis waddle behind. It was really quite adorable, and I appreciated that the Queen had the good sense of humor to participate in the sequence. The video was followed up by stunt doubles for Craig and the Queen parachuting into the stadium. I thought it was a lot of fun, and it showed the more lighthearted side of British culture- sort of the Monty Python side, if you will. Given this sequence, I was really looking forward to hearing the Queen open the Games, because I thought it would be fun or inspiring, but her actual opening speech was a bit dull. Can’t win them all, I suppose.

The other major element of surprise of any Opening Ceremony is who will light the big Olympic cauldron. David Beckham impressively brought the torch to the stadium, but the cauldron lighters were seven teenage British athletes who were chosen for the honor by former British Olympic medalists. Metal petals were lit, which then rose to form the cauldron. What I found a bit disappointing was that the cauldron is rather short by Olympics standards and located completely inside the stadium. I’m used to the big outdoor cauldron that serves as the fixture for television coverage establishing shots. Even in Vancouver, where they had small-ish in stadium cauldron, there was a separate, bigger outdoor cauldron, and Wayne Gretsky taking the flame from indoors to outdoors was one of the iconic moments of those Games.

Overall, I found the musical selections for the Ceremony to be pretty successful. The Arctic Monkeys delivered a rousing performance of “Come Together” as part of the teenage music through the decades sequence. Also, following the lighting of the cauldron, Paul McCartney played a couple of songs, including the classic “Hey, Jude.” While McCartney’s voice seems to leave a little something to be desired these days, the performance definitely had good energy. I think it a situation like this one, energy is the most important thing. Vocal slip-ups can be (mostly) forgiven (as long as the slip-up isn’t being horribly out of tune) if the energy is good and fun.

Overall, while there were some problematic elements, I enjoyed this Opening Ceremony. I liked that it wasn’t quite as serious as Vancouver. It celebrated the lighter side of British culture, and dry British humor is one of the things I love the momst (oh, did I mention, Rowan Atkinson, aka Mr. Bean, did a funny segment with the London Symphony Orchstera). No city could hope to recreate the sheer spectacle of Beijing, so I think keeping it light and true to the culture was a good move. I’ve been eagerly anticipating these Games since London was first announced as the host back in 2005, so let’s get on with it!

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