James Bond and the queen teamed to give London a wild Olympic opening like no other. And creative genius Danny Boyle turned Olympic Stadium into a jukebox, cranking up world-beating rock from the Beatles, the Stones and The Who to send the planet a message: Britain, loud and royal proud, is ready to roll.
Now over to you, athletes. It was a brilliant introduction to kick off a 17-day festival of sports.
Queen Elizabeth II, playing along with movie magic from director Boyle, provided the highlight of the Oscar-winner’s high-adrenaline show. With film trickery, Boyle made it seem as if Britain’s beloved 86-year-old monarch and its most famous spy parachuted into the stadium together.
Daniel Craig as 007, the queen, playing herself, and her royal corgis starred in a short movie filmed in Buckingham Palace.
“Good evening, Mr. Bond,” she said before they were shown flying by helicopter over London landmarks and then leaping — she in a salmon-colored dress, Bond dashing as ever in a black tuxedo — into the inky night over Olympic Park.
At the same moment, real skydivers appeared as the stadium throbbed to the James Bond theme. And moments after that, the monarch appeared in person, accompanied by her husband, Prince Philip.
Organizers said it was thought to be the first time she has acted on film.
“The queen made herself more accessible than ever before,” Boyle said.
Boyle sprang another giant surprise in giving seven teenage athletes the supreme honor of igniting the Olympic flame. Together, they touched torches to trumpetlike tubes that spread into a ring of fire and then rose elegantly to jointly form the cauldron — which organizers said would be moved Sunday night to one end of the stadium.
It was the end of the journey for the flame. Some 8,000 torchbearers, mostly unheralded Britons, had carried it on a 70-day, 8,000-mile journey from toe to tip of the British Isles, whipping up enthusiasm for a $14 billion Olympics taking place during a severe recession. The final torchbearers were kept a closely guarded secret — remarkable given the scrutiny on these, the first Summer Games of the Twitter era.
The evening started with fighter jets streaming red, white and blue smoke and roaring over the stadium, packed with a buzzing crowd of 60,000 people, at 8:12 p.m. — or 20:12 in the 24-hour time observed by Britons.
The show never caught its breath with a nonstop rock-and-pop homage to cool Britannia. The soundtrack veered from classical to irreverent. Boyle daringly included the Sex Pistols’ “Pretty Vacant” and a snippet of its version of “God Save the Queen” — an anti-establishment punk anthem once banned by the BBC. With a singalong of “Hey Jude,” Beatle Paul McCartney closed the spectacle that ran 45 minutes beyond its scheduled three hours.
The encyclopedic review of modern British music included a 1918 Broadway standard adopted by the West Ham football team, the Rolling Stones’ “(I Can’t Get No) Satisfaction” and “Bohemian Rhapsody,” by still another Queen, and other tracks too numerous to mention, but not to dance to.
Boyle, who directed “Slumdog Millionaire” and “Trainspotting” while developing into one of Britain’s most successful filmmakers, had a ball with his favored medium, mixing filmed passages with live action to hypnotic effect, with 15,000 volunteers taking part in the show.
Actor Rowan Atkinson as “Mr. Bean” provided laughs, shown dreaming that he was appearing in “Chariots of Fire,” the inspiring story of a Scotsman and an Englishman at the 1924 Paris Games.
Headlong rushes of movie images took spectators on wondrous, heart-racing voyages through everything British: a cricket match, the London Tube, the roaring, abundant seas that buffet and protect this island nation, and along the Thames, the river that winds like a vein through London and was the gateway for the city’s rise over the centuries as a great global hub of trade and industry.
Wearing his yellow winner’s jersey, newly crowned Tour de France champion Bradley Wiggins rang a 23-ton Olympic Bell from the same London foundry that made Big Ben and Philadelphia’s Liberty Bell. Its thunderous chime was a nod to the British tradition of pealing bells to celebrate the end of war and the crowning of kings and queens.
Former world heavyweight champion and 1960 Rome Olympic gold medalist Muhammad Ali also was cheered when he appeared briefly with his wife, Lonnie, before the Olympic flag was unfurled.
The show portrayed idyllic rural Britain — a place of meadows, farms, sport on village greens and picnics — that then gave way to the industrial transformation that revolutionized the nation in the 18th and 19th centuries, the foundation for an empire that reshaped world history. Belching chimneys rose where only moments earlier live sheep had trod.
The Industrial Revolution also produced terrifying weapons, and Boyle built in a moment of hush to honor those killed in war.
“This is not specific to a country. This is across all countries, and the fallen from all countries are celebrated and remembered,” he explained to reporters ahead of the ceremony.
“Because, obviously, one of the penalties of this incredible force of change that happened in a hundred years was the industrialization of war, and the fallen,” he said. “You know, millions fell.”
Olympic organizers separately rejected calls for a moment of silence for 11 Israeli athletes and coaches slain by Palestinian gunmen at the 1972 Munich Olympics.
The parade of nations featured most of the roughly 10,500 athletes — some planned to stay away to save their strength for competition — marching behind the flags of the 204 nations taking part.
Greece led, as the spiritual home of the games, and Team Great Britain was last, as host. Prince William and his wife, Kate, joined in thunderous applause that greeted the British team, which marched to the David Bowie track “Heroes.” A helicopter showered the athletes and stadium with 7 billion tiny pieces of paper — one for each person on Earth.
Bahrain and Brunei featured female flagbearers in what has been called the Olympics’ Year of the Woman. For the first time at the games, each national delegation includes women, and a record 45 percent of the athletes are women. Three Saudi women marching behind the men in their delegation flashed victory signs with their fingers.
“This is a major boost for gender equality,” said International Olympic Committee President Jacques Rogge, overseeing his last games as head of the IOC before he steps down in 2013.
Rogge honored the “great, sports-loving country” of Britain as “the birthplace of modern sport,” and he appealed to the thousands of athletes assembled before him for fair play.
“Character counts far more than medals. Reject doping. Respect your opponents. Remember that you are all role models. If you do that, you will inspire a generation,” Rogge said.
The queen then said: “I declare open the games of London, celebrating the 30th Olympiad of the modern era.”
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