The 2012 Olympic Games Open with Lots of Bangs—and a Whimper.

Dylan Martinez / Reuters

Dylan Martinez / Reuters
Fireworks explode over the Olympic Stadium during the opening ceremony of the London 2012 Olympic Games July 27, 2012.

Oh Danny Boyle. The Slumdog Millionaire director’s opening ceremony for the London 2012 Olympics started with such verve and promise. There were fireworks! There were sheep! There were geese! There was electricity in the stadium, not just the kind generated by 80,000 people in a state of excited anticipation but also a clever arrangement of LED panels at every seat that sent pulses of color across the stands. Rustic folk strolled beneath fluffy cumuli and disported themselves in a vision of the green and pleasant Britain celebrated in verse by William Blake at the beginning of the 19th century, as the industrial revolution gathered steam. By 1916, when Sir Hubert Parry set the poem to music, creating the greatest of all anthems, “Jerusalem,” ever more Britons lived in cities and worked in factories; world war would soon further threaten Blake’s idyll. Boyle’s history appeared to cast industrialists as the greater danger, though the program notes made clear that the engineer Isambard Kingdom Brunel, played by Kenneth Branagh, should be regarded as a hero. Great chimneys sprouted from the stadium floor and the once carefree yokels were transformed into drudges. It was powerful and surprisingly scary for an event that at previous Games has dazzled but never daunted. “This is ****ing terrifying!! i want my mummy,” tweeted the British critic and journalist Giles Coren.

(INTERACTIVE PANORAMARe-live the Opening Ceremony)

And it got better, at least if what you wanted from London 2012 wasn’t a poor man’s Beijing or an updated Sydney, all spectacle and not much substance. In the segment entitled “Happy and Glorious,” Boyle served up great dollops of the quirky humor that sustains his compatriots. A filmed sequence showed James Bond, in his current, Daniel Craig-shaped iteration, on a mission to Buckingham Palace. He is greeted by a pair of corgis and then by the Queen, “in her first acting role,” according to the Olympics organizers though she’s arguably been performing as the Queen since 1952. They board a helicopter and fly to the Olympic Park, and in a coup de théâtre, a real helicopter materialized above the stadium, and 007 and Q (or their stunt doubles) parachuted to the ground. And Her Majesty, in the same fetching apricot-colored gown she wore for the filmed sequence, took her seat in the box.
by Catherine Mayer.

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