James Bond. The Queen. Mary Poppins and Mr. Bean. The Olympic opening ceremonies were, more than anything, a joyful cinematic celebration of everything folks worldwide think of when we think of Britain.
Using a mix of pre-recorded film and live-action dance and storytelling, artistic director Danny Boyle kept things moving right along. Aside from a few children's story villains, they stayed mostly upbeat, with subjects ranging from Britain's steelmaking and textile-making past to today's cultural icons.
Boyle's massive stage musical memorably lauded the ironworkers who launched the Industrial Revolution, with dancers swinging their arms to mimic labor in the mills. The product of their labor on this night: The Olympic rings, which rose above the crowd appearing to drip sparks.
Appropriately for Britain, which has seen its share of darkness but makes the best of everything, the highlights were either touching or funny in the way that only the British can be (I snorted as Rowan Atkinson, of "Mr. Bean" fame, played his one note, over and over again, during the London Symphony Orchestra's performance of "Chariots of Fire").
Music had to be huge, of course. Classical music lovers swooned when they heard the opening strains of British composer Edward Elgar's "Enigma Variations." The ceremony hit all the 20th-century requisites: the Beatles, the Who, the Eurhythmics, the Kinks and, of course, Queen (the band, not the monarch).
I loved the more meta bits, including a quick reference to Boyle's first hit, "Trainspotting." He also incorporated romantic and idealistic elements of the sort we saw in his "Slumdog Millionaire." And the Sex Pistols playing for the Queen of England? It's the sort of deliciously cheeky stuff I've been hoping to see from the London Games since they pulled up in a big red bus and took the torch from Beijing four years ago.
There were a couple items that could be taken as gentle jabs at the US, including a loving tribute to the National Health Service and a reminder that Tim Berners-Lee (not some American, and certainly not Al Gore) invented the World Wide Web.
There was the obligatory torch relay footage. Forget David Beckham in a jet boat; I loved it when a torch-bearing bloke dropped to his knees to propose to his Union Jack-festooned girlfriend.
Cool country costumes include the Czech Republic, which paid homage to Britain by adding blue rubber welly boots to its ensemble. (But what was up with Estonia, with their shiny silver parkas? Did they think this was the Winter Olympics? And what about Germany and Spain? They should know better.)
A handful of British athletes walked up to light the Olympic cauldron's "petals" with torches — perhaps not the most exciting of choices for the cauldron lighting, but the cauldron itself more than made up for it. While other design aspects (the logo, the colors and the mascots, for example) have faced criticism, it would be hard to find fault with the cauldron, which looked like a beautiful mass of long-stemmed lilies with flames at their ends.
Unlike the Vancouver 2010 and Sydney 2000 games, the lighting went without a hitch. What minor problems there were overall (the Arctic Monkeys sounded much better than Sir Paul) seem forgivable given the scale of the event.
One of the BBC announcers called it "a celebration of all the great things about Britain." Indeed. British citizens, and the rest of us, are lucky that there are so many of them.
by Christy Karras
For more Olympics coverage: http://sports.yahoo.com/olympics/