Every recent opening ceremony of the Olympics went for glitter and glamour, in an escalating war of excess. Ceremony fanatics consider the Beijing opening ceremony the gaudiest of all — and Oscar-winner Danny Boyle (the director of Slumdog Millionaire) had $42 million to try to outdo the Chinese organizers.
Instead, Boyle says, "You can't get bigger than Beijing. So that, in a way, kind of liberated us. We thought, 'Great. Oh good. We'll try and do something different, then.' "
The result is a "show," as Boyle calls it, focused on Britain's pastoral past and the "pandemonium" of the Industrial Revolution. It also celebrates British culture, music, literature — and even socialized medicine. The government-supported National Health Service "is embedded in our culture," Boyle says, and it's also embedded in the ceremony.
"We hope the feeling of the show is a celebration of generosity ... and of hope," he told reporters before Friday's ceremony began.
"There's no better expression of that," he continued, than the 15,000 volunteers performing in the ceremony, and their belief "in this ideal that we can all come together in peace and celebrate the greatest of us."
In the U.S., the opening ceremony is being broadcast by NBC on tape-delay Friday, airing at 7:30 p.m. in most markets and at 6:30 p.m. in the Central time zone. In London, the show begins at 9 p.m. — or 4 p.m. EDT.
Forgive Boyle for waxing rhapsodic about this "warm-up act for the games." Sitting beside him at an embargoed news briefing was Sebastian Coe, the former Olympic gold and silver medalist who chairs the London Organizing Committee.
"This is probably the biggest day of my life," Coe declared. "This has been 10 years in the making."
About half of the opening ceremony is lightly produced, as thousands of athletes march into London's Olympic Stadium behind colleagues bearing their nation's flags.
"We don't get lost in show business," Boyle says.
"The show will say a lot about us," Coe adds. "But I also want it to be a dedication and a welcome — a British welcome — to the athletes of the world."