You can count on one hand the number of things that impressed me about London’s opening ceremony of the Olympics. The rings that rained gold were pretty. The Queen parachuted Bond-style into the arena. That was definitely cool. And who doesn’t like a bit of Beckham on a boat? The rest (that I stayed up for) left me feeling back in school, without the answer and about to be called on.
I had one overwhelming thought as I watched Friday night’s display: What on earth is going on? My confusion began shortly after the madcap, dizzying montage opening and lasted all the way through to the start of the Parade of Countries. (I gave up and went to bed with a headache after Australia.)
I loved Slumdog Millionaire, but personally, I’d call this a miss for British director, Danny Boyle. Unless the point was to entertain Brits only (even though the whole world was watching.) There were lots of inside jokes and cultural references that only a local audience would understand. But I have to wonder how much of all that history even the English knew. In a performance that was supposed to represent England’s Industrial Revolution, but looked more like a scene from Les Miserables, dirty, ragamuffin actors were miming some kind of manual labor (shoveling?) while hoards of other actors with top hats and beards joined them. I still haven’t figured out who the bearded men were supposed to be.
And I know I risk standing alone on this one and outing myself as a real stick-in-the-mud, but I don’t think Mr. Bean (Rowan Atkinson) is that funny. I would’ve rather watched the musicians play “Chariots of Fire” than him make fun of it.
There were some brief moments of clarity for me when classic children’s characters created by British authors took center stage. Everyone could recognize Mary Poppins, Captain Hook and Cruella de Vil. It was less clear, however, why the Mary Poppins were tucking a giant baby (think Toy Story 3) into bed. I’m with the announcer who said, “I’m not sure if that’s cute or just creepy.” Oh, it’s creepy all right.
All this really shouldn’t come as a surprise. Boyle is known for being complex and often dark. My mother probably loved it. As did most of England. As for me, I’ll be looking to the Games themselves for my dramatic storytelling. No Cliff’s Notes needed.