We’re happy for the people of Great Britain as the Olympics continue in London this summer. London is a beautiful venue for the games, and the Olympics coverage has been a happy occasion to reconnect with many of the city’s classic landmarks, including the Thames, Buckingham Palace and Big Ben, which is slated to be renamed Elizabeth Tower in honor of Queen Elizabeth II.
But despite our enthusiasm for the games and our deep affection for London, we found the opening ceremony for the Olympics tediously overdone. The opener, conceived by film director Danny Boyle, featured a cast of hundreds, offering a capsule history of Great Britain with numerous stage effects and interpretive dance. Think of an English civic textbook as expressed by Cirque du Soleil, and you’ll get the general idea.
We love spectacle as much as the next guy, but Boyle’s narrative was just too overstuffed. We suspect that we weren’t the only ones nodding off a little during a song-and-dance tribute to Britain’s National Health Service — the kind of proletarian liturgy that seemed more in keeping with Beijing’s opening ceremony four years ago.
Beijing’s opening Olympics production defined the standard of bigger-is-better Olympics spectacle, and as this school of thought goes, there’s simply no way to overdo an Olympics ceremony.
Even so, we couldn’t help noticing that we found ourselves moved most profoundly by the simplest and most traditional elements of the London Olympics opener. Kenneth Branaugh’s recitation of Shakespeare was nice, and the relay of the Olympic flame, as usual, inspired a lump in the throat.
The arrival of the Olympic torch was an awfully long time in coming, though. The can-you-top-this carnival that preceded it could have been cut in half, we think.
Opening ceremonies have evolved into grand infomercials for the host country’s culture and traditions, and given that reality, we rather doubt that the hosts of the next Olympic games will scale things back.
Even so, we’re hoping that, at some point, Olympics organizers remember a time-honored adage from show business:
Sometimes, simpler is better.