The Opening Ceremonies: An Experience in Visual Imagery

This past Friday evening, I eagerly sat in front of the TV to watch the London 2012 Olympic Opening Ceremonies. For anyone who follows me on Twitter (@_ErikaSalter), it’s no secret that I have been anticipating the games since the beginning of Summer. I love the Games. I also equally appreciate the time and production that goes into creating and broadcasting the iconic ceremony.

This year’s program was directed by Academy Award-Winning Director Danny Boyle, most famously known for the film “Slumdog Millionaire” and “127 Hours” starring James Franco. Much like “Slumdog Millionaire”, this year’s opening ceremony was a display for the senses filled with beautiful sights and intrinsic sound (I heard that audience members could smell the smell of steel melting during a scene which I will talk about later). Although I watched the show from my living room, I felt completely surrounded by the imagery and experience of the show. Boyle conducted a marriage of imagery, skillfully incorporating short films, CGI, some animation, and live-action to saturate viewers’ imaginations. The show, which was commentated by Meredith Viera (Who Wants To Be A Millionaire) and Matt Lauer (The Today Show), shifted gears almost seamlessly throughout the program.

Opening with a two-minute travel through time short film, Boyle heightened the fast-action experience with stop-motion animation and a syncopated musical score. The live-action stadium portion ushered in a British Industrial Revolution piece which was hard and chaotic. This is the portion of the show where commentators mentioned that audience members could smell the smell of smoke from steel towers which were erected during the performance. There was a homage to children’s literature featuring Harry Potter author J.K. Rowling reading to over 100 children performers in illuminated beds. That performance was light and whimsical.

I would be remiss not to mention Britain’s Queen making an appearance in Boyle’s James Bond scene, jumping out of a helicopter with Daniel Craig! What I enjoyed most about this year’s ceremony were all the references to popular TV and Film culture. Rowan Atkinson’s (aka Mr. Bean) cameo was the most tweeted topic during the ceremony according to Twitter’s manager of editorial programming, Andrew Fitzgerald. The ceremony capped off with a Social Media 2012 act where a host of free-spirited teenagers paraded around the stadium with computer-generated status updates hovering over their heads. I wondered if Boyle consulted MTV for this portion of the ceremony because it felt very in tune with the spirit of today’s youth culture.

The program garnered 40.7 million viewers in the U.S. and 26.9 million in the U.K. Overall, I think Boyle did a quality job directing the ceremonies proceeding Beijing. It definitely set the stage for the Games and sparked my interest in seeing how Artistic Director Kim Gavin will close things out in two weeks with the closing ceremony. In the spirit of the Olympics, Let the games begin!

(Danny Boyle’s next film “Trance”, a crime thriller starring Rosario Dawson and James McAvoy, is due out in 2013.)

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