London put on quite a show as the 2012 Summer Olympics kicked off this evening with an opening ceremony produced by Danny Boyle. United Kingdom history was celebrated, various performances took place, celebrities and royalty made their appearances, and athletes from the various competing nations paraded out to plant their flags on the hilltop set inside the stadium.
NBC had some video posted on their Olympics Youtube channel but for some reason, they pulled them all. If they return to being embeddable, we'll be sure to add them. In the meantime, while the ceremony didn't managed to top China's production in 2008 (the bar was set really high there), there were some definite high poings in tonight's opening ceremony.
Things got started with four musical performances featuring children representing England, Northern Ireland, Scotland and Wales. This portion of the ceremony was a nod to the agrarian era, which included a grassy setting and villagers playing games and enjoying an era of simpler times.
Kenneth Branagh stepped up onto the hillside near one end of the arena and quoted Shakespeare's The Tempest. At that point, the agrarian era was rolled and carted away, making way for the industrial age. The stage transformed before our eyes as the thousands of costumed volunteers cleared the stage. The grass was removed and underneath, a steely looking surface. The tree on top of the hill rose up and soot-covered industrial workers emerged from underneath, while tall smoke stacks rose up.
Tribute was paid to the soldiers, after which the workers lined up to forge a massive ring in the center of the stage. There were also carnival people at some point, though I'm not 100% sure how they fit in to what was happening, but they did add some color to the otherwise smoky setting. The industrial workers lined up to "forge" a huge steel ring, which lit up as though it were fire-hot. The ring eventually raised up to join four other floating rings, which came together to form the interlocking Olympic rings.
It's at this point that it seems someone noticed the Queen wasn't present. Fortunately, James Bond was on hand to fetch her and get her there as quickly as possible. And by that, I mean he got her onto a helicopter and the two parachuted into the stadium. It was a cute illusion, made even better by the fact that it looked the Queen was actually dressed in the same thing she was wearing in the video, making it seem like she'd actually arrived by helicopter.
Once the Her Majesty was settled in, the flag was raised and a children's choir sang God Save the Queen. And then came my favorite part of the whole ceremony. In a tribute to Children's Literature and acknowledgement of the U.K. healthcare system, the "Second Star to the Right" performance took place. This included an appearance (and brief reading) by Harry Potter author J.K. Rowling, and musical performance by Mike Oldfield. It involved children in hospital beds, dancing and eventually dreaming.
Enter the classic villains including Voldemort, Cruella De Vil and the Queen of Hearts. Winning moments there included the arrival of the heroic Mary Poppins' to save the day, and the sight of all of the children dressed in colored pajamas, standing on beds. The giant baby was a little bit creepy though.
Next up was a performance that took us into the digital age and acknowledged Sir Tim Berners-Lee's contribution in that respect, as he's credited for creating the World Wide Web. The story followed two teens falling for one another and trying to find each other as they dance their way through various eras. This included music from the Rolling Stones and the Beatles. David Bowie and Queen were also among the featured music.
I didn't totally follow the story, but I got what they were trying to do, it looked cool and obviously, the music was great.
Next up was David Beckham on a boat. Because, why not? His appearance was actually explained later on in the show.
Following the lengthy Parade of Nations, which had the various competing countries represented by their athletes marching into the stadium, there was a performance of the Beatles "Come Together" by Alex Turner and the Arctic Monkeys, which included a display of people costumed as glowing butterflies parading in.
Sebastian Coe, chairman of the London Organizing Committee for the Olympic Games stepped up to a podium in front of the hill where all of the flags had been set and gave a speech to introduce the games, welcome everyone to London and speak about his love of sport. "London 2012 will inspire a generation," he said. "In every Olympic sport, there is all that matters in life. Humans stretched to the limit of their abilities, inspired by what they can achieve, driven by their talent to work harder than they can believe possible, living for the moment but making an indelible mark upon history."
Coe kept it brief, after which International Olympic Committee Jacques Rogge took the podium to speak about the games and express gratitude toward the volunteers for their time, energy and smiles. The Queen opened the games.
The Olympic flag was carried and raised, and then David Beckham reappeared to help pass the torch, literally, which was brought in by boat and handed off to British Rower Steven Redgrave, who jogged the torch toward the stadium.
A group of young athletes were the ones to light the torch, which was made up of copper leaves, each of which was carried in by a member of each competing nation. The leaves lit first and then rose up, coming together to form the Olympic cauldron. The effect was pretty beautiful, and it produced a fairly major amount of fire. This was followed by a magnificent fireworks display that lit up the stadium and the surrounding area, set to Pink Floyd's "Eclypse." And one of the final effects used with the seat-lights was the image of a runner jogging around the stadium.
Paul McCartney closed out the show with a performance of "Hey Jude." Not exactly an Olympics-themed song, but also not a bad way to close out anything, really.
NBC has some video highlights at their Olympics website, and here's the link to the live feed for the events.