The Insane Fever Dream That Was the 2012 Summer Olympics Opening Ceremony (PHOTO RECAP)

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What kind of maniac doesn't enjoy the opening ceremonies of the Olympics? If you're like, "Hey, I don't like them!" then I don't even feel bad about calling you a maniac, you should feel bad as you're putting on a straight jacket and driving to the mental hospital because you are a MANIAC. The opening ceremonies are the best part of the Olympics which themselves are the best part of anything ever in THE WORLD. That's because the Olympics' opening ceremonies are a rare instance in which huge, massive, enormous amounts of money are poured into what is essentially avant-garde performance art! And the spectacle watched by A BILLION people. They are an opportunity for visionary artists to show us sights we've never seen OR conversely (and maybe even better yet), they are an opportunity for total charlatan artists to turn questionable creative decisions into LEGENDARY FIASCOS. In short, opening ceremonies are essential viewing always and forever.

London was always facing a challenge when it came the city's turn at the opening ceremonies table. Not only would it have to follow China's sincerely incredible demonstration of how beautiful conformity can be on a massive scale, London's very culture has been so advanced for so long, that really all it has had going for it in the past century, arts-wise, is some of the brashest, most annoying pop culture in the world. How on earth would YOU turn Yellow Submarine and/or Scary Spice into the jaw-dropping sublimity we've come to expect from this world's stage? Here's how: You'd hire Danny Boyle to supervise!

Now, if you're not familiar with Danny Boyle's oeuvre, he's an incredibly talented filmmaker whose resume is jam-packed with excellent flicks. The problem is, where he excels at energy and emotion, he has not once in his life created a frame of celluloid that's attractive to look at. Whether it's the frantic grime of Trainspotting, the busted-camcorder look of 28 Days Later, or the strobing headache of Slumdog Millionaire, Danny Boyle is basically Britain's answer to Spike Lee: The (occasionally brilliant) ends justify the (frequently gaudy) means. But how would Boyle do with several hundred million dollars, seven years of planning, and a world stage unlike any he'll ever experience again? He created a handful of stunningly beautiful moments surrounded by three hours or so of hilarious, maddening, creepy, insane, and just plain baffling creative decisions. At least it wasn't boring! Officially titled "ISLES OF WONDER," a better title for this opening ceremony would've been "GREAT BRITAIN: NOT AS CLASSY AS YOU THOUGHT."

All right, I know this thing went down on Friday, but can we still talk about it? I kind of think we need to talk about it.

So, NBC might have done an okay job at packaging the broadcast, but it was a little hard to tell because of how badly it messed up A LOT of stuff. Like adding Ryan Seacrest to the mix. Like excising an entire segment (in tribute to victims of terrorism) because it didn't appeal enough to U.S. viewers? Because we only tune into WORLDWIDE SPORTING EVENTS for America-centric content apparently. But also this...

Ugh, these two knuckleheads. What on earth is the point of color commentary when the two commentators proudly admit to not knowing stuff? Tons of interesting imagery was happening on screen but then Meredith Vieira would butt in to inform us that she had no idea what she was looking at. Thanks! I can understand filling us in on fun facts when there's a break in the action, but for the most part this was like an intermittently informative DVD commentary that we couldn't shut off. I STILL haven't forgiven Katie Couric and Matt Lauer for TALKING THROUGH Bjork's performance in Athens. Can we just watch this thing next time? Silence the jibber-jabber!

Haha anyway. Sorry so negative. THIS immediately cheered me up:

The Wind in the Willows gang! So the very beginning of the ceremony began with a very Danny Boyle opening sequence in which a camera whooshed across British locales and was intercut with seemingly random bits of stock footage and cartoonish edits. A total mess, but very watchable. Beginning a theme that would continue into the night, it looked like the world's most expensive internet video.

Then groups of children holding exploding balloons were intercut with enormous digital numbers flashing across the audience. A typical countdown, really.

Then some dude came out and rang a bell and THIS started going down:

As sort of aimless and weird as it seemed, I did kind of like the stadium setup. Actual organic plant life and animals and human beings actin' all British up in there. There were even helium-filled clouds being led around on strings. Definitely off to an expensive and insane start!

Then the children began to sing as is legally mandatory during all opening ceremonies. In this case there was a choir of children in the stadium and then two other choirs standing in remote locations beamed in via satellite. Bummer for those kids!

Then the biscuit man arrived with his perfect biscuits. Relax biscuit man, your biscuits ain't all that. They're fine.

Then Kenneth Branagh came out and started shouting at everybody about whatever. Shakespeare quotes or something.

Then albino Anjelica Huston started banging on drums. Apparently she is deaf? No, yeah, couldn't tell. "SHE BANGS." —Ricky Martin

Oh, okay, so then the tree on the hilltop lifted up and HUMAN MEN erupted out of it as if emerging from a jostled ant hill. It was like a river of hot lava but instead of hot lava HUMAN MEN.

It was unclear what was happening, but men in stovetop pipe hats were doing this:

HOW DARE YOU, SIRS.

So, okay, then all the actors started dragging away the fields! That's right, a major part of the opening ceremony involved cleaning up the stadium! And they apparently rehearsed this act for several months in their spare time!

And the men in stovetop pipe hats were ARM DANCING?

Then some kind of old timey Occupy movement showed up, which I thought was rude. Take your protest outside, Occupy peeps! We're just trying to enjoy the opening ceremony, you know? Don't ruin this for us.

At this point tons of smokestacks began to rise up, because Danny Boyle was like, "You know what the world would be entertained by? A literal interpretation of British industrial history."

Then a moment of silence was observed while everyone stared at poppies.

Then the red coats arrived! Get off our soil! Oh wait, this was London. Carry on then. Tally ho.

And really, what's a British celebration without THIS hot look?

I mean, I'm sure these get-ups were immediately recognizable to anyone with even a passing knowledge of British culture, but to me they looked like Dia de los Muertos outfits. Or, I don't know, Three Amigos cosplay?

So after the Industrial Revolution happened, the workers began to "forge" an iron ring, which rose up just as four more descended from the sky. Whoa, five rings total? That reminds me of...

Oh. Right. This was the Olympics. And here I thought I'd just drank a bottle of cough syrup. This guy was pretty stoked:

I guess I should mention that this seemed to be the first opening ceremony I've ever seen that was explicitly geared to be filmed by cameras in close-up. Maybe that's because Danny Boyle is a filmmaker, or the producers shrewdly decided to appeal to the BILLION people watching on TV, but for the most part this whole ceremony probably looked like a chaotic mess to those in the stadium, but was a lot more focused and sensible (in a manner of speaking) for those of us at home. Like, do you think the spectators in the nosebleeds got to see this self-satisfied smirk on Kenneth Branagh's face? I really doubt it.

Then came this bit of fun: James Bond escorting Queen Elizabeth (BRB brain melting from fictional character mixing with real life person) to the Games.

I loved how over it she looked the whole time. Also, this video was nearly ruined by Danny Boyle's directorial flourishes, specifically his cartoonish insert shots of the Queen's corgis. Oh, and the NIGHTMARISH Winston Churchill statue coming to life!

Then in a moment that might've come off a little bit tackier than intended, the Queen's body double jumped out of a helicopter.

The weirdest part was that it was DAYTIME when they jumped, but now it was nighttime? (Ugh, brain won't stop melting.) Anyway, the parachuting gag was a real hit!

It probably would've worked better if Queen Elizabeth hadn't been basically at her seat already by the time her skydiving double had disappeared from sight. But again, the best part about Queen Elizabeth was how she clearly didn't G an F all night.

Anyway, then some kids came out and sang "God Save the Queen."

But these kids were JERKS. For one thing, they didn't even bother to wear nice clothes? You are at the OPENING CEREMONY, kids! Pajamas are NOT appropriate. Second of all, what's with the gang signs? Totally inappropriate. Youth today, am I right?

Speaking of which, Danny Boyle was like, "You know what'll REALLY dazzle 'em? An insanely lengthy tribute to British health care that somehow segues into a child's nightmare."

I mean, it seriously went on forever and was so elaborate, yet no amount of explaining on my part will ever make it make sense.

At some point a child read a book under the covers. (Just a very TV friendly thing to have happen.)

And then J.K. Rowling came out and shouted at everyone about reading.

And then the Child Catcher from Chitty Chitty Bang Bang arrived (finally).

And whatever this was.

At this point several enormous, INFLATABLE villains sprang up, including this slightly special interpretation of the Queen of Hearts.

Oh and Voldemort, because sure.

Meanwhile the whole time this dude was playing some really hot, sultry guitar. Look at him up there, just feelin' it.

Then several dozen Mary Poppinses descended from the sky. Why several dozen? Because GO BIG OR GO HOME. Also cloning?

Anyway, they chased off the villains. And by that, I mean caused them to deflate into the ground.

The kids seemed grateful? But they also seemed worried that maybe they'd lost the battle with Voldemort and were now in heaven? I'm honestly not sure.

By the time an inflatable baby popped up and its blanket started pulsating like the angry seas of Poseidon, I had to excuse myself and just sit in a parked car for a minute. What was even happening?

Mr. Bean had a funny bit where he had to play the same synth note from Chariots of Fire over and over.

Also he daydreamed about running with some dudes except his head was poorly CGI'd onto someone else's body. That was seriously the only thing I could pay attention to the whole time. What even happened during this scene besides Mr. Bean's head disjointedly bobbing above someone else's body? R.I.P. anything not Mr. Bean's CGI'd head.

Lord, then this whole thing. Apparently it was a tribute to both the internet AND 40 years of British music. And it all centered around two teens (again with the close-up storytelling) who hook up after the girl loses her phone.

And there were pop-up texts and status updates the whole time. But if you ask me, there was a bit of a plot hole. So he found her phone and then called her... On her phone?

REWRITE, Danny Boyle. Rewrite.

Anyway, as baffling and of questionable taste the whole thing was, it did have a few things going for it: The music was genuinely great. Plus at one point there were severed heads of David Bowie and Alice Cooper being bandied about. Never thought I'd see that.

Also there was a massive rave-themed dance number that might just live on in my nightmares for years to come.

And during the '90s portion of the routine, Prodigy's "Firestarter" played while b'mohawked ghouls on pogo sticks jumped around because OBVIOUSLY. The '90s were a truly terrible time.

Anyway, in case you were wondering, YES the teens fell in love!

And at the end, the house in the middle of the stadium lifted up to reveal the inventor of the internet, some dude named Tim. I loved how the dude who invented the internet was NOT invited to the massive party being thrown outside. Nope, he was inside playing FarmVille or whatever.

Oh, just a lil' Olympic torch TEASE: The torch was currently speeding up the Thames courtesy of David Beckham and the speedboat he'd stolen from Batman.

And then it was onto the Parade of Nations! (This was the part of the Opening Ceremony in which you fixed dinner or spoke to your children about what they'd done at day camp.)

The thing about the Parade of Nations was, it was nothing if not a reminder that Olympians are basically the most attractive people in existence. And they were all marching in the same stadium! Like, are you kidding me, Belgium?

In addition to that factor, the parade was a great place to check out some sweet uniforms:

Germany color-coded its genders, which was helpful.

I thought it was cool how many Union Jacks the French team was flyin'. For a moment there I almost forgot about those two countries' rocky history!

Mexico was doing BIG THINGS with their uniforms.

These women were rockin' the house.

The best by far were these Independent Olympic Athletes (athletes whose countries ceased to exist or something) who straight-up did the CABBAGE PATCH during the Parade of Nations. So great. I am rooting for them X a billion.

Just FYI:

Are we SURE he's Norwegian? I'm skeptical.

This lady might look like a foxy babe hubba hubba, but watch out, fellas: She will judo-chop you all up!

Maria Sharapova (I like tennis, deal w/it) was probably like "I am too rich for this sh*t."

Remember that time the whole world hassled Caster Semenya about possibly being male? That was the worst. We owe her a card or something, don't you think? Maybe a Beanie Baby? (A rare one.)

A lot of people were making fun of the Spaniards for wearing uniforms that looked like McDonald's uniforms, but come on. Nothing was as bad as the gift bows the ladies were wearing on their heads. That was ridiculous! Unless they were saying that their intelligences were like gifts to humanity. In which case, carry on, ladies. And thanks!

Not sure what was going on here.

But I AM sure what was going on here: EXCELLENT shirts.

Michelle Obama was there with Grant Hill. Body language experts: Are they doing it?

Anne Romney and an unidentified friend enjoyed the parade from the bleachers.

Then America deigned to show up! Finally, guys, jeez!

LeBron James was there. Almost all the athletes were there except for the swimmers, so for me this was kind of a NO LOCHTE NO CARE situation.

I spotted at least ONE guaranteed winner on the British team:

Great Britain definitely won the night for best uniforms. I loved those so much. Just white athletic gear with gold-leafed collars. Well done, Danny Boyle. Anyway, parade over!

Then this happened:

SRSLY?

All that went down while Arctic Monkeys played a faithful cover of "Come Together." Which, since that is a song I despise, means that I did not care for it.

The President of the Olympics came out and read his speech. Exciting stuff! "The Olympics are important and that's why we did such a great job," basically.

The Queen said her piece.

Then some humanitarians carried the Olympic flag out and allowed a noticeably diminished Muhammed Ali to inspect (?) it.

Guys, please DO NOT DO THIS. Put your damn phones away during concerts and especially Olympic Opening Ceremonies. No terrible .mp4 file on your SD card will ever compare to the memory stored in your brain. Look at this joker, he was super close to the action! Yet still choosing to watch it through an LCD screen. Ugh. THIS IS BAD DECISION-MAKING.

GOOD decision making was allowing a gaggle of young, crazy-attractive athletes to light the Olympic torch in lieu of the traditional former Olympians. There was even a sweet moment when each of the youngsters hugged their assigned mentors before proceeding to set the (very cool) torch aflame.

What began as hundreds of separate copper horns suddenly began to rise up and combine into one big torch:

It was awesome and by far the highlight of the whole ceremony. Surprising, beautiful, and moving. Genuinely great.

Then fireworks. I'm a total sucker for those.

Then a sad old lady came out and sang for a bit.

Honestly, just a tip from a know-nothing: "Hey Jude" is a great song, but wouldn't it have been more appropriate for the CLOSING ceremony? That outro is just SO outro. Going out of things. You know? It just seemed too soon for the athletes to be locking arms and singing poignantly about that hussy Jude. Just my opinion.

I loved that the Malawians totally photo-bombed the Americans though. The games have BEGUN!

Right at the end Meredith Vieira cornered Danny Boyle. Quick question: Is he a charlatan or a genius?

And so wrapped up one of the best opening ceremonies in the past 3.9 years. You know something, it was definitely memorable and almost successful. But really, what terrible idea wouldn't be when financed to the tune of NINE FIGURES? Still though, the Opening Ceremonies are the Opening Ceremonies. I'll take what I can get!


What did YOU think of the Opening Ceremony?