A lot has happened since Great Britain last hosted the 1948 Summer Games, but director Danny Boyle was determined to squeeze it all into his four-hour, $42.3-million opening ceremonies today to begin the 2012 London Olympics.
From J.M. Barrie to J.K. Rowling, Industrial Revolution-era smokestacks to internet inventor Sir Tim Berners-Lee, if you needed a brief history of the United Kingdom, then the opening ceremonies attempted to bring you up to speed.
“I declare open the Games of London,” Queen Elizabeth II said, triggering a fireworks display from the rim of Olympic Stadium and ushering in the five rings on the Olympic flag.
Those waiting to see David Beckham, 4-minute miler Roger Bannister or British rowing champ Steve Redgrave light the Olympic cauldron may have been surprised.
Instead, seven “future Olympians” nominated by British champions carried the flame around the track and lit a cauldron made from 204 “petals” that formed a magnificent moving sculpture created by Thomas Heatherwick.
London’s organizers said they wanted to “inspire a generation.”
Former Beatle Paul McCartney sent everyone home with a song — an upbeat rendition of "Hey Jude," complete with audience participation.
The entire spectacle opened with James Bond coming face-to-face with Her Majesty in a two-minute short film. Actor Daniel Craig escorted her majesty to the stadium, before “they” parachuted to the venue.
That quickly gave way to more pastoral visage of England’s lush landscapes, and the Kaos Signing Choir for Deaf and Hearing Children performing “God Save the Queen.”
Rather than a co-ordinated, single performance, Boyle opted for vignettes.
He said before the Games began that he wasn’t interested in competing with the lavish, somewhat imposing, effort from the 2008 Beijing Games.
“There has to be a modesty,” Boyle told reporters. “Up to Beijing you can look back and clearly there was an escalation — the shows get bigger and bigger and bigger. … And you can’t get bigger than Beijing. That in a way kind of liberated us. We thought, ‘Great, good, we’ll try and do something different. We’ll try to use our resources in a different way.’”
Great Britain’s history of music, movies, literature and television played a pivotal role, which makes sense.
Few viewers wouldn’t recognize references to Peter Pan, Harry Potter, Oliver Twist or even Mr. Bean.
We heard Mike Oldfield’s “Tubular Bells” and the London Symphony Orchestra perform “Chariots of Fire.” There was also The Who, Queen, Led Zeppelin and the Sex Pistols, whose songs gave way to New Order, Pet Shop Boys, Prodigy and Arctic Monkeys.
Throughout, Boyle tried to connect with his audience while also transporting them to other worlds.
He enlisted 320 volunteers from the National Health Service, many of them children, to dance and sing.
Yet Beckham, international soccer superstar, piloted the flame down the Thames River to the stadium’s edge.
Boyle also asked audience members to submit family photos of departed loved ones that he displayed on TV screens and in the stadium.
That gave way to an interpretive dance routine to the music of Emeli Sande before the parade of nations.
There are small and large teams, from tiny Dominica and its two competitors to the mighty, 436-strong Russians, competing. As well as everyone’s favorites – like Canada and Australia – to those feeling the grip of international pressures, such as Iran and North Korea.
Even civil war-ravaged Syria sent 10 athletes despite having its Olympic chief banned from Britain for his affiliation with President Bashar al-Assad.
First lady Michelle Obama was on hand to greet 529 bereted, American athletes, led by fencer Mariel Zagunis.
Regardless of the flag, spectators greeted all athletes warmly.
Of course, the loudest cheer went to host Great Britain, last to march into Olympic Stadium.
Cyclist Sir Chris Hoy led his 541 teammates into a standing ovation and David Bowie’s “Heroes” and “Galvanize” by Chemical Brothers (“Don’t hold back…”).