Olympic Games Opening Ceremony, BBC1

by | Aug 8, 2008 | All, Reviews

Did we like it?

A visually stunning spectacle but one that is as emotionally vapid as a Saturday night TV talent contest, concentrating the wonder and history of a fascinating nation into a bite-size abomination palatable to idiots and children the globe over.

What was good about it?

• Purely from a visual perspective, the opening ceremony was brilliant, with illusions of doves, printing presses and stadia made up of people glittering across the floor.

• The sterile nature of the ceremony is a shame as it doesn’t reflect all the talent and dedication of the thousands of participants.

• And initially it is a beguiling sight, with drummers performing what seems to be a cross between the Haka and an angry customer demanding their money back in a supermarket.

• China expert Carrie Gracie’s occasional moments of inglorious dissent such as remarking that China would be unlikely to recreate the opium wars and rise of the communists in the ceremony, and her rant about the hypocrisy of the anodyne one world part of proceedings in which she reminded everyone of China’s role as one of the world’s worst, and least repentant, polluters.

What was bad about it?

• Fireworks. The impact of seeing pretty lights in the sky has been little more than clichéd posturing since the grotesquely ostentatious millennium celebrations during which nation after nation fatuously fought to offer the most brazen display of human endeavour since the construction of the pyramids.

• We’ve lost all perspective and cease to marvel at mere fireworks, especially when you can gaze out of your window at the wondrously warped formations of clouds that offer infinitely more surprise and beauty than one of the succession of horribly precise firework displays on offer in Beijing.

• The opening ceremony in Beijing isn’t alone in its insipidity; it is a blight that has stretched back as far as any Olympics we can remember, and it will be just as awful in London in four years’ time.

• The main flaw is that the proud precision of the fireworks is replicated in every single aspect of the ceremony. As Huw Edwards didn’t tire of telling us, this whole event had taken a whole year to prepare for, a whole year in which all the little blemishes and imperfections were erased, along with all of the humanity.

• The endlessly perfect displays are supposed to represent some triumph of human ingenuity, when the indelible impression is that people can act like robots and computers, practising something so often and so repeatedly that they no longer have to think what they’re doing.

• This was most apparent in those moments when the admirable actors and performers were called upon to express laughter during a puppet display. The mirth rattled from their throats like change from a vending machine, all sonorous and synthetic.

• Why was Edwards the main commentator? He was stumbling into the most visually appealing parts of the ceremony clumsily upsetting what flavour there was with his bland observations like a drunken old tramp crashing into a line of gentlemen pissers in a lavatory. If Barry Davies isn’t dead he should have been here. He, above all other commentators, most empathises what the viewer is feeling and expertly captures the emotion with an exclamation of astonishment or hilarity.

• Edwards’ main fault was that while an excellent newscaster, he cannot summon up any enthusiasm nor enunciate any evocative imagery. He is pinioned by his inbred reserve, and cannot disguise his boredom churning out facts with all the fascination of a rusted plughole – “There are 20,000 fireworks and 600 people employed to take care of them” – or simply repeat bland appraisals of the dull ceremony that you would expect to come from the mouths of slightly embarrassed, repressed rural bachelors seeing a naked woman for the first time – “That was quite something, the precision, the sheer artistry”, “It really is quite something”, “The noise in the stadium is something else”.

• Edwards also crowed that “up to four billion people will be watching on TV screens around the world”. Take off three-quarters of that for people either at work or asleep, subtract another 90% of the remaining one billion and you probably have a more accurate figure.

• Whenever children are brought in to such charades, it is a cynical exercise. Here we had a five-year-old singing above the rest of the chorus, presumably she was the winner of China’s Got Talent, another five-year-old sat impotently beside celebrated pianist Lang Lang, one flew high above them both supported by wires while a little earlier on a whole phalanx of children had borne in the Chinese national flag only to be relieved of their burden by a squad of goose-stepping soldiers.

• In such situations as this children are strategically employed to represent the future and the unpredictability and wonder of life, but here they simply symbolised the next generation of children to be brainwashed. Only differing in that they may be schooled in communist capitalism; blending the communism of their forbears with the avaricious puerile smiles that will commemorate the opening of London’s games. It’s all the same really, here children are just pawns to make adults forget that exist beyond their role as a parent.

• Even though this was China and all about Chinese culture, the music that endlessly resounded about the Bird’s Nest stadium had the stench of antiquated European colonialism about it, every bit as much as the Chinese president wearing a very Western suit and tie.

• The music was that classical variant that is lapped up by dog-faced Tories who pop it on the CD player while catching up on the latest share prices on Bloomberg while a servant tugs off their hunting boots. And to make matters worse, Sarah Brightman appeared on a dais to spout one of these pseudo-classical dirges in Chinese; we almost wish she’d have sung I Lost My Heart To A Starship Trooper.

Luke Knowles

Luke Knowles


Editor of the website and host of the podcast. A general TV obsessive. I've been running the site since 2008 and you can usually find me in front of the TV. My Favourite show of all time is Breaking Bad with Cracker coming a close second. I feel so passionately that television can change the world and I'm doing my little bit by running this site. You're Welcome!


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