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Opening Ceremonies a wonderful spectacle

Posted by Chad Finn, Globe Staff  July 27, 2012 03:25 PM

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LONDON -- They don't give out golden trophies for producing the Opening Ceremonies of the Olympics, and Danny Boyle won't get to make an acceptance speech.

Which is too bad, because the acclaimed filmmaker's direction of Friday night's formal opening of the Summer Games here was a wonderful contemporary spectacle of extraordinary tone, production, and entertainment.

If there's been a superior Opening Ceremonies in terms of pure enjoyment, I must have missed it. Perhaps NBC is still waiting to air it on tape delay?

The three-hour-plus ceremony served as more than a beginning, for it was a celebration of so much that came before, of Great Britain's rich history, culture and tradition. Smoke stacks that rivaled sky scrapers in height and magnitude rose from the ground in homage to the age of industry. Children danced as a symbol of London's beloved Great Ormond Street Hospital. JK Rowling read "Peter Pan.''

But there was also humor in unexpected places -- Queen Elizabeth II made her acting debut in a short film featuring the current James Bond, Daniel Craig, and appeared to parachute out of a helicopter. Rowan Atkinson -- the goofy Mr. Bean -- reinterpreted a classic scene in a classic film. The music was relentlessly spectacular, from the Beatles and the Who to Queen and the Sex Pistols.

And the athletes -- current, future, and present -- basked in the scene, particularly during the Parade of Nations. Even Kobe Bryant looked mesmerized by it all.

David Beckham proved an able boatman. Sir Steven Redgrave was prominent in the cauldron lighting, joined by seven children to represent the future. The only surprise was that Sir Roger Bannister, the odds-on favorite to light the cauldron, was nowhere to be found.

One disappointment must be acknowledged, though it was probably no fault of Boyle: a failure to acknowledge the Israeli athletes killed at the Munich Games 40 years ago. That belongs on the shoulders of the IOC.

The night, however, belonged to the British, and Boyle, who orchestrated it all. And in the end, he even had the perfect coda: Sir Paul McCartney, leading the crowd in a chorus of "Hey Jude.'' It was a flawless ending to a nearly flawless beginning. The Games have formally begun, and it couldn't have been better.

* * *

12:40: Sir Paul McCartney is in as the closer, first with a few bars of "The End,'' then "Hey Jude.'' After a brief glitch at the beginning, he sounds pretty great. Na na na na, and let the games begin.

12:37: The cauldron is lit, the sky is a palate of fireworks for as far as the eye can see, and it is beyond spectacular.

12:32: Redgrave passes the torch to a young athlete, who is joined by six others in circling the track, passing the torch to one another. When they complete their lap, they are joined by British Olympic legends Lynn Davies, Duncan Goodhew, Dame Kelly Holmes, Dame Mary Peters, Shirley Robertson, Daley Thompson, and Redgrave, who pass each of the young athletes a torch as they begin jogging toward the current Olympians. Anyone who bet on Roger Bannister lighting the torch is panicking right now.

12:25: David Beckham arrives on his trusty speedboat, with young soccer standout Jade Bailey riding shotgun carrying the torch. Bailey pass the torch to Sir Steven Redgrave, the five-time rowing gold medalist, who carries the flame into the stadium through an honor guard of 500 construction workers. They're the ones who built this place.

12:20: Eight of the nine flag bearers, among them the great distance runner Haile Gebrselassie, carry the white five-ringed flag. They are then joined at the end of their march by the greatest, Muhammad Ali.

12:19: Rogge: "I now have the honor to ask the Queen to open the gates to the 30th Olympiad." Queen: "I guess." (OK, she was more eloquent than that. Then, fireworks.)

12:09: The Artic Monkeys, straight out of Sheffield, play "I Bet You Look Good on the Dance Floor" and "Come Together" during segment celebrating bicycles, followed by speeches from LOCOG chair Sebastian Coe and IOC president Jacques Rogge. Interesting juxtaposition there.

11:55: And here comes the home team. As David Bowie's "Heroes" blasts and confetti falls from the sky, cyclist Chris Hoy leads Great Britain -- wearing white outfits not-so-subtly trimmed in gold -- out to raucous cheers. Great stuff.

11:50: And here comes the US. Mariel Zagunis flashes a medal-winning smile while carrying the flag. The members of the US men's basketball team are easily spotted because of their height -- LeBron James, a smiling Kobe Bryant, Carmelo Anthony holding a video camera. Ryan Lochte and Michael Phelps, who are swimming in the 400 individual medley Saturday, are missing the ceremonies to rest up for their competition. Oh, and the berets? Totally cool.

11:47: For anyone who wants to suggest that the Parade of Nations drags, keep in mind that for most of the athletes, this is the pinnacle of their Olympic experience.

11:44 U2's "Beautiful Day" plays as Trinidad and Tobago marches in. Appropriate song for this occasion, but I'll always associate it with the Patriots' Super Bowl victory over the Rams.

11:37: Pau Gasol happily leads the Spain contingent, happily oblivious to Kobe Bryant staring daggers at him from the US contingent behind the glass. C'mon, you know he was.

11:34: A beaming Novak Djokavic leads Serbia, energetically waving the flag. He's right there with Bolt among the most engaging big-name athletes participating.

11:21: The Netherlands come out in orange and blue outfits that look like something Dr. Timothy Leary would have designed for the New York Mets. They never disappoint.

11:07: Usain Bolt gets a huge roar as he leads the Jamaican delegation. It's possibly the slowest he's ever moved.

11:03 Love the team of Independent Olympic Athletes. Worked in Concord, N.H. when one of them, marathoner Gwor Mariel, was in high school there.

10:57: As far as I can tell, not a single athlete has picked the apple Travolta-style during "Stayin' Alive." Missed opportunity there.

10:54: "The Bee Gees for Fiji?" (Hat tip, assistant sports editor Scott Thurston.)

10:49: Notable flag-bearers we haven't seen yet: Usain Bolt (Jamaica), Pau Gasol (Spain), Novak Djokavic (Serbia), Caster Semenya (South Africa), Maria Sharapova (Russia), and of course, Mariel Zagunis (United States).

10:41: Pet Shop Boys' "West End Girls'' plays as hoopster Yi Jianlian carries the flag for China. No one ever said it was logical.

10:32: The music during the Parade of Nations is played at 120 beats per minute to encourage the athletes to walk a little bit faster. Sort of the Olympic equivalent of the orchestra starting up in the middle of an acceptance speech.

10:21: The Parade of Nations begins, of course, with Greece, the birthplace of the Olympics. The 203 other nations participating will follow, alphabetically but for the host, Team Great Britain, which will be the last to enter the stadium.

10:15 Moving moment: Spectators who presented images of deceased loved ones see their photos on a digital wall while the hymn "Abide With Me'' plays. However, it's accompanied by the inexcusable: no specific tribute to the Israeli athletes killed in Munich 40 years ago. Hard to fathom. Will Costas acknowledge them later?

10:11: General thought: This is really, really good.

10:06: Save for "Relax,'' the music during this segment has been affirming: The Stones, The Beatles, Queen, The Sex Pistols, Prodigy, Bowie.

10:02: Queen, absolutely. Frankie Goes to Hollywood, pass. We may be in London, but this definitely has a major Hollywood feel to it.

9:57: So far, the star of a segment titled "The Family" is a Mini-Cooper, though the theme is how a lost phone leads to a budding romance for one of the sisters. It's a tribute to Tim Berners-Lee, the founder of the World Wide Web, and presumably, Al Gore's arch nemesis.

9:48: Mr. Bean, an instrumental song that hit No. 1 on the Billboard charts in 1982, a Rosie Ruiz imitation, and a fart joke. That's all I'll say.

9:38: JK Rowling makes a rare public appearance to read the first paragraph of Peter Pan during a segment on the beloved Great Ormond Street Hospital for children, and the United Kingdom's National Health Service. (All 600 dancers during the segment are NHS staffers.) Following her wonderful if too brief reading, some of the great villains in British literature appear as puppets, including her own Voldemort. They are banished, of course, by Mary Poppins -- about 50 of her, actually. What, you thought the Spice Girls?

9:32: Told you it wasn't really her. The Queen enters the stadium with her husband the Duke of Edinburgh and Jacques Rogge, the president of the International Olympic Committee. I bet she's wondering where Daniel Craig went.

9:29: The helicopter has arrived at the Stadium. The Queen parachutes out. I'll believe it's Frank Drebin before I believe it's her.

9:26: Another short film, with James Bond (his IMDB page refers to him as Daniel Craig for some reason) arriving at Buckingham Palace and leading Queen Elizabeth to a helicopter. I think we all know where she's headed. (No, not Detroit.)

9:19: Five metal rings weld together in the sky, closing the segment. The Olympics have arrived.

9:16: The Beatles -- or faux Beatles, since Sir Paul will be part of this ceremony later -- are supposedly at the end of a parade that includes trade unionists who fought for workers' rights, Suffragettes who won the right for women over the age of 30 to vote in 1918, and past kings and queens. Haven't seen and mock mop-tops yet, though.

9:12: Seven massive chimneys rise from the ground during a sequence on the age of industry. They look like cigarette-shaped skyscrapers, and they are staggeringly impressive. The smell of sulfate is in the air.

9:04: There was much whispering about real livestock being utilized during the ceremony, and here it is -- 40 sheep, 12 horses, 3 cows, 10 chickens, 2 goats ... and, well, you get the picture. It's part of a scene designed to look like a British meadow, with citizens following the traditional country pursuits. Must have been disappointing for the chicken who found out he was the 11th-best during tryouts.

9 p.m. British Summer Time Gorgeous beginning, with an opening film following the River Thames from Gloucestershire to London, with various iconic stops along the way. The music included in the film would make a fine playlist, including the Sex Pistols' "God Save the Queen'' and The Clash's "London Calling.''

* * *

LONDON -- Seven years after this city won the rights to 2012 Summer Games, its moment has arrived, and wouldn't you know it, the sky just opened up and it's pouring.

That's a quintessentially British plot twist, but it's also no detriment here, where the Opening Ceremonies at Olympic Stadium will formally signal the commencement of the London Games at 9 p.m. local time.

In fact, rain was a scheduled prop: Danny Boyle, the superb director of such films as "Trainspotting" and "Slumdog Millionaire" and the mastermind of the festivities, intended to use fake rain at one point during the Ceremonies if the real stuff wasn't falling.

Stick right here to find out when Boyle's rain is necessary and other live updates throughout the Opening Ceremonies. And no, we still don't know who is lighting the cauldron either, though the Opening Ceremonies media kit promises plenty of surprises that you'll surely enjoy.

Oh, right, and let's not forget the obligatory warning:

This entire blog post beyond this point will serve as a spoiler.

The 9 p.m. start here equates to a 4 p.m. start on the East Coast -- but NBC won't begin its taped telecast until 7:30 p.m.

So again: This post contains lots of stuff Bob Costas isn't going to tell you until later.

There. Got that out of the way. Now stick around. This going to be fun.

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