The Sun tabloid had a one-word, front-page headline Saturday morning: “Wow.” Inside, the paper described Friday night’s 3 ½-hour spectacle as “Flaming Fantastic.”
Film director Danny Boyle took more than 60,000 spectators at London’s spanking new Olympic stadium through a tour of British history and culture in a sprawling production.
It was a journey that began in a pastoral countryside complete with geese, cattle, sheep and dancing farmers and milkmaids, through a steel-forged Industrial Revolution, then through an array of distinctly British musical styles: 60s pop to punk to hip hop, all the way to the modern day.
Along the way, there were tributes – some mesmerizing, some bizarre – to just about everything British; Mary Poppins, Harry Potter, the National Health Service, the BBC and, of course, the Queen.
Her Majesty was on hand to help open the Games. But she also took centre stage in a big-screen video alongside James Bond star Daniel Craig. The film, shot in Buckingham Palace, showed Her Majesty and super-spy 007 hopping into a helicopter for a tour over London.
'Queen' entertains spectactors with parachute stunt
The surprise came when Her Majesty — well, a stunt double, of course — attached a parachute and jumped from the aircraft only to be seen drifting to Earth outside the stadium in a Union Jack parachute.
Another moment to get the crowd laughing was a comedic crossing of two other landmarks of British culture, the movie Chariots of Fire and the classic comic figure Mr. Bean.
Rowan Atkinson, the man who plays the bumbling but endearing British twit showed up in yet another video in which he manages to cheat and beat a team of British runners racing along a beach to the strains of the movie’s famous Vangelis theme music.
The evening was capped off with a performance by Sir Paul McCartney who had the stadium singing along to his classic Beatles hit, Hey Jude. It was a magical moment.
If there was any let-down to the evening, it may have been at one of its central moments. After months of speculation about which high-profile sports star would be chosen to ignite the Olympic cauldron, organizers chose to instead go with a group of seven young athletes, a nod to the Olympic ideal of amateur sport — a noble gesture, though it lacked a certain dramatic quality.
The elaborate opener that cost more than $40 million and included a cast of 10,000 performers was kept under wraps throughout its development. The pressure was on Britain to at least equal the spectacular opening ceremony put on by the Chinese at Beijing in 2008.
And there was a nagging national worry the opener – if it wasn’t up to par – might turn into an embarrassment.
By Saturday morning, those fears were swept away.
The left-leaning Guardian, which savaged the Vancouver Games in 2010, calls last night “A night of wonder”. The Times asks “How on earth did they do that?” And Danny Boyle, the man who put it all together is a bit of a national hero.
From outside Britain, the show may have looked eccentric and even confusing at times. “That’s what we do best,” one U.K. newspaper columnist explained this morning. But to the hometown crowd it was a triumph.
Britain is breathing a sigh of relief. The first test of these Games is over. Now, the really big show begins.
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