Before we offer our usual playful take on the televised spectacular, we need to acknowledge the serious side of last night’s Olympics Opening Ceremony. It was dedicated to 21-year-old Nodar Kumaritashvili, the luger from Georgia who died Friday after a 90 mph crash at the end of his final training run. When his seven teammates entered BC Place, and the crowd stood to applaud their decision to honor him by competing, it was by far the most moving moment of the evening. For many athletes who have no hope of medaling, walking in the Parade of Nations is their podium, which made the absence of Kumaritashvili, who was ranked 44th in the world, all the more poignant. The Olympics are about nations coming together to celebrate the human spirit; watching 82 of them pay tribute to Kumaritashvili’s and his countrymen’s was reaffirming.
Now, the show must go on…
Ceremony mastermind David Atkins spent somewhere between $30 million and $40 million on the production, roughly a tenth of Beijing’s budget. He wanted it to feel intimate and personal as the story of Canada unfolded before our eyes, starting with a welcome from the Four Host First Nations. He succeeded.
Best entrance: Snowboarder Johnny Lyall, who jumped through the Olympic rings after a stunning video-taped mountain run.
Worst entrance: The fourth leg of the indoor cauldron that failed to rise.
Best effect: More than 100 projectors were used to create the ceremony’s “landscape of dreams” theme. The orcas spouting across the ocean after the ice broke up = the night’s first rewind. Honorable mention: The faux precipitation that made Matt Lauer feel like he was sitting in a 60,000-seat snow globe. Noteworthy: The rising bear constellation that deserves its own Coke commercial.
Worst effect: The collective groan heard throughout living rooms in America when we found out we were about to hear spoken word. But slam poet Shane Koyczan’s Canada-defining, stereotype-defying “We are More” was better than expected. You felt the pride, and suddenly wanted to say “zed.” The transcript. Honorable mention: The disappointment at seeing the Mounties not on horseback. It would have sped up their walk with the Canadian flag, but I suppose they couldn’t risk a horse going potty on the floor, which was such an integral part of the show.
Best less-is-more performance: Proving the quality of the song was more important than the presence of a singer, Joni Mitchell’s “Both Sides Now” was the perfect soundtrack for the prairie tribute, which featured aerialist and Ècole nationale de cirque student Thomas Saulgrain walking, running, then soaring through fields of gold. Honorable mention: k.d. lang, who captivated the arena singing Leonard Cohen’s “Hallelujah” barefooted, as the audience lit up the stadium. Noteworthy: Donald Sutherland’s voiceover.
Worst less-is-more performance: Nelly Furtado and Bryan Adams, who failed to pop, even on a bare white stage, during their duet of “Bang Your Drum.” (Sarah McLachlan’s necklace saved her.) Honorable mention: The dancers in all white who lined the tunnel for the athletes’ entrance. Aside from the guy who kept doing the Molly Ringwald Breakfast Club move — he was at peak form during Spain and Tajikistan — their enthusiasm had a certain ebb and flow.
Best trivia shared by Bob Costas and Matt Lauer during the Parade of Nations: It really is one of our favorite parts of the ceremony. They’re good when they’re sharing vaguely relevant information, like the fact that in 1964, a group of Mongolian cross-country skiers showed up unexpectedly at the Innsbruck Olympics but were allowed to compete anyway, or that Poland’s flag bearer has a museum in his hometown where he charges $2 admission to see his skis and bibs. They’re better when they’re riffing on the fact that Finland hosts the World Sauna Championships.
Worst trivia shared by Bob Costas and Matt Lauer during the Parade of Nations: New Zealand was largely responsible for the visual effects in Avatar. Reaching!
Best outfit: Italy. Sleek and stylish jackets, but the athletes still looked comfortable and sporty. Honorable mention: Bermuda, which opted for Bermuda shorts.
Worst outfit: Azerbaijan. Loud, loud pants, which caused Costas to joke that as president of the country’s figure skating federation, their flag bearer was allowed to make whatever sartorial decision he wanted. Honorable mention: The pants on the Czech Republic.
Best discovery: Split decision: Newfoundland’s punk tap dancing fiddlers or this rum they call Screech?
Worst discovery: Jamaica did not send a bobsled team.
Best reaction shot: Honestly, any one of Shaun White, but we’ll go with him and Louie Vito enjoying the aerial snowboarders during the tribute to the Rockies.
Worst reaction shot: Wayne Gretzky couldn’t hide the worry on his face during the mechanical malfunction. Fortunately, we’ll remember a different image of him: Riding on the bed of a truck through the streets of Vancouver to light the outdoor cauldron with people spontaneously running behind him. It was like a scene from Rocky.
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Photo credit: White: Cameron Spencer/Getty Images, Adams/Furtado: Adrian Dennis/AFP/Getty Images