BEST: Down The River
The night began with a kaleidoscopic journey down the River Thames and through the Tube. The video had all the visual kineticism you could expect of a Danny Boyle production. Hey, remember when Danny Boyle was the guy who made the movie about heroin addicts having withdrawal nightmares about zombie babies? How far he’s come!
BEST: Exploding Number Balloons
Why start with a bang? Let’s start with ten bangs! Gaggles of adorable peasant children held aloft balloons numbered 10 to 1, which all exploded as the crowd counted down. This is how you knew the night was not going to be subtle.
BEST: Kenneth Branagh Reads The Tempest
Branagh is probably the most popular Shakespeare performer of the modern age. So it was a kick to see him ascend the holy hilltop and read a famous speech from The Tempest. And all this while modeling an impressive set of mutton chops! If there is any justice, everyone watching the ceremonies immediately Netflixed Henry V and Much Ado About Nothing (both available on Instant.)
WORST: Kenneth Branagh Meanders Around for Half an Hour, No Longer Reading The Tempest
The telecast kept cutting back to Branagh throughout the ”Industrial Revolution” phase of the show, which means that millions of viewers thrilled to the sight of the director of Thor ambling around the arena admiring the smokestacks. Hey, you know another good Kenneth Branagh movie? Dead Again. It’s like Inception with less frowns.
BEST: All Hail the Aggressive Drum Lady!
Deaf Scottish percussionist Evelyn Glennie gave the ”Industrial Revolution” a bombastic undertone.
BEST: Out With The Old...
The most poetic visual of the evening was also one of the simplest: As the agrarian society of Olde England faded away, volunteers simply rolled up the lush scenery and carried it away.
BEST: And In With The New.
All hail industry! Smokestacks rose up from the middle of the arena, replacing the pastoral beauty with a bleak vision of industrialized England. But the smokestacks were themselves kind of beautiful, in that Ridley Scott ugly-dystopian-beauty way.
WORST: The Pepper's Parade
Yes, they took the easy way out with this Fab Four tribute, choosing the most cliché Beatles costumes possible. (An Abbey Road tribute would’ve been sharper. Picture a squadron of barefoot Pauls.) But the real crime here is that they didn’t fully commit to the look. Look at all those cleanshaven faces! A true Beatles tribute would have featured a flock of period-appropriate mustaches.
BEST: Pretty Lights!
It’s like someone transformed the iTunes ”Visualizer” function into a kamillion-dollar fireworks display.
BEST: Bond Loves Puppies
Yes, it’s impressive that Danny Boyle convinced the Queen of England to participate in a James Bond short film. But you know what’s even more impressive? The moment when Bond looks out of the window of the helicopter and smiles at the Queen’s dogs. Scientists estimate that this is the first recorded smile on Daniel Craig’s face in at least three decades.
WORST: Winston Says ''Hullo, Mum!''
A smiling Daniel Craig is one thing, but the whole James Bond sequence officially overdosed on whimsy when a digital Winston Churchill ghost statue offered the helicopter a wave and a grin. Somewhere in the universe, the real ghost of Winston Churchill greeted the whole enterprise with a dour shake of his head, a light puff on his cigar, and a deep sip from a glass of scotch.
SPLIT DECISION: The Queen Parachutes into the Olympics
Generations from now, people will still be arguing about the moment when the Queen of England — or anyhow, a stunt-person wearing the Queen’s clothes — jumped out of a helicopter and re-enacted the opening of The Spy Who Loved Me. A brilliant bit of royal self-deprecation? A subtle admission that the Western Powers are fast becoming a circus intended to amuse the developing world? An extremely high-impact advertisement for Skyfall? We can all agree on one thing: This was a million times better than Quantum of Solace.
WORST: The Royal Third Wheel
The camera kept cutting back to the camera-ready Duke and Duchess of Cambridge. But our eyes lingered on Prince Harry, sitting there all alone. Poor Harry. Can’t that boy find a date?
WORST: Socialist Nurses Celebrate Fascist Health Care System
The night’s second biggest setpiece featured a group of nurses dancing for Britain’s National Health Service, a horrific blight on the British system which forces every citizen to submit to free medical care. It’s widely rumored that this universal healthcare system was started as part of a communist plot, conceived by a villainous cabal that included Josef Stalin, Zombie Hitler, Ivan Drago, and Bowser from Super Mario. Horrifying.
BEST: J.K. Rowling reads Peter Pan
The only thing more awesome would have been if they could have Tupac’d a hologram of J.R.R. Tolkien reading Beowulf.
BEST: The Queen of Hearts! Captain Hook! Lord Voldemort! And...Cruella de Vil?
Props to the designers for rounding out their nightmare-gang of iconic Brit villains with the unexpected addition of the 101 Dalmatians villainess. They even let her keep her iconic cigarette holder!
BEST: Whatever The Hell Is Happening In This Picture
The Queen of Hearts is punching Cruella de Vil in the stomach, while Voldemort tickles Cruella’s toes. You gotta admit: Villains throw great parties.
BEYOND ALL DEFINITIONS OF GOOD AND BAD: A Fleet of Mary Poppinses Attacks A 100-Foot Voldemort
Meredith Vieira summed this up as well as anyone could: ”I think Poppins won this one.”
MISSED OPPORTUNITY: The Dance of the Poppinses
No ”Supercalifragilisticexpialidocious”? Unforgivable.
WORST: The Demon-Child Goes to Sleep
Matt Lauer was mostly a nonstop source of rah-rah cheer. But that was before the whole Poppins/Voldemort dream sequence concluded with the arrival of a gigantic baby-sculpture thing that looked like something you had a nightmare about before waking up screaming. The Today host had to admit: ”I don’t know whether that’s cute or creepy.” Well, it ain’t cute.
BEST: Mr. Bean Has a Sneeze
Cards on the table: I positively winced when the orchestra started playing Chariots of Fire, possibly the most overplayed ”inspirational” music of the millennium. But that was before Rowan Atkinson appeared onscreen, playing his iconic character Mr. Bean. (Newcomers: Imagine Charlie Chaplin crossed with Larry David.) An unbroken stretch of physical comedy hilarity ensued. On a night filled with carefully constructed viral ”moments,” this was pure brilliance.
WORST: Mr. Bean's Digital Short
Did somebody say carefully constructed viral ”moments”? Mr. Bean fell asleep and imagined himself on the beach with the Chariots of Fire runners. This would have been funnier if Lonely Island did it. At least they would have had T-Pain.
Men dressed as mod astronauts ascended into the sky to the tune of David Bowie’s ”Starman.” This was awesome, because the only thing cooler than David Bowie’s ”Starman” is a jetpack, and the only thing cooler than a jetpack is multiple jetpacks.
WORST: The Jetpack Sequence Didn't Last Very Long
As the old English proverb says: ”All good jetpacks must come to an end.”
BEST: Four Decades of Great Music
We kind of lost the plot of the whole ”Internet” phase of the opening ceremonies: Was it about the future of Britain? Or about the history of youth culture? Or about how kids today are so funny, with the texting and the dancing and rap music? But there was no denying the charge of hearing decades of great music from the British Isles. The Beatles! The Kinks! Queen! The Eurythmics! Yeesh, the Prodigy!
BEST: Tim Berners-Who?
In a night overstuffed with celebrities, you have to love that the ceremonies featured a spotlight appearance by Sir Tim Berners-Lee, the tech pioneer who helped create the whole apparatus of the digital age. ”Tim Berners-Lee” immediately became a trending topic on Twitter.
BEST: David Beckham, World's Handsomest Chauffeur
England’s most famous midfielder spent most of the opening ceremonies ferrying the Olympic flame down the Thames in a speedboat. His suit was impeccable, and his hair was perfect. Did we mention the speedboat?
BEST: Team Czech Republic
We don’t know why the Czech team wore matching blue boots, and we don’t want to know, because we’ve already ordered our own blue boots.
WORST: Team America
It’s bad enough that the Ralph Lauren-designed outfits made all the American athletes look like the pretentious foreign exchange student on a prep school a cappella team. (And it’s even worse that Ralph Lauren had the outfits made in China — the kind of cheap Olympics irony that seems guaranteed to garner half a page in The Economist.) But did LeBron James and his pals really have to march in taking video on their smartphones? Like, dudes. I don’t think you’ll have a problem finding a picture of this moment from any angle you could possibly want.
BEST, MAYBE: The Dove Takes Flight
Bob Costas thought this moment was a reference to E.T.: The Extraterrestrial. But to this anglophile’s eyes, the flying dove-bike bears a closer resemblance to the iconic penny farthing bicycle which appeared in the end-credits of the classic British sci-fi series The Prisoner. Hey, pretty much every other part of British cultural history got a reference. (If you listened very, very closely, you could hear an audio cameo from Doctor Who‘s TARDIS during the youth-dance montage.)
BEST: The Torch is Lit
Seven young British athletes lit seven copper leaves, which then ignited 200 copper leaves, which formed together into the Olympic Cauldron of the 30th Olympic Games of the modern era. Guys, I just realized: Children are our future.
BEST: Paul McCartney Leads a Billion Freaking People in the Most Transcendant Karaoke-Bar Rendition of the ''Hey Jude'' Chorus That Has Ever Happened and Will Ever Happen.
Trying to resist…but cannot! Oh, naaaaa. Naa. Naa. NA-NANA-naaaaaa. NA-NANA-naaaaaa. Hey-ey, Jude.