Baffling Olympics ceremony gave many goosebumps
"STRANGE, "baffling" and "surreal" was how director Danny Boyle described his Olympic opening ceremony. The rest of the world largely agreed.
In the press stands of the arena where the ceremony took place on Friday night, Chinese journalists looked puzzled and asked their English peers for guidance as they struggled to make sense of the artistic whirlwind for their readers back home.
Reaction to theR342-million showcase event at the main Olympic stadium and across Britain, which is hosting the 2012 Games, was overwhelmingly positive.
But the plain-talking Boyle, who won an Oscar for Slumdog Millionaire, will not be remotely surprised to hear that Isles of Wonder, a kaleidoscopic canter through Britain's past, left many viewers scratching their heads.
Boyle was braced for bewilderment even ahead of the four-hour ceremony inspired by Shakespeare's The Tempest and packed with references to British history, literature and music.
The opening minutes of the ceremony "you might find a bit strange and baffling", he told reporters from dozens of countries before the show.
The second half, he warned, would be "actually slightly surreal; some of you will be baffled, I can guarantee it".
So wide was the cultural divide for some that Spain's centre-right daily El Mundo pondered: "Are we of the same species as the Brits?"
But underlining how sharply divided opinions have been to the London 2012 opening, other Spanish newspapers were full of praise.
Quintessentially British, the ceremony opened with a re-creation of bucolic bliss, referencing William Blake's "green and pleasant lands", before turning dark and recreating the "dark Satanic mills" of industrialisation.
William Shakespeare and John Milton made way for Ian Fleming, Lewis Carroll and JK Rowling, while Elgar, Handel and Parry were drowned out by the Clash and the Sex Pistols.
Comedy character Mr Bean crashed the London Symphony Orchestra's party, while James Bond, played by Daniel Craig, joined Queen Elizabeth in a short, tongue-in-cheek video.
"The opening of the London Olympic Games reminded us that heart and passion are just as important as proficiency and technique!"
Nigel Lythgoe, a Briton and producer of American Idol working full-time in Hollywood, said: "As long as the games exist, Her Majesty the Queen Elizabeth's entrance with James Bond will always be remembered.
"Steeped in history and tradition the opening ceremony made me extremely proud to be British."
Many of the characters in the show resonate well beyond home shores, but the combination was too parochial for some.
"Of course it was a very British ceremony and it had to be like that, but for me it lacked a certain universality," Hansel Cereza, a Spanish actor and artistic director responsible for choreography at the 1992 Barcelona Olympics, said.
Others agreed with Boyle - the point of the show was to portray what it is to be British.
"There has to be an element of the home team showing off what they're all about," said Salman Dadobhoy, a businessman from Islamabad.
From Germany, where sporting rivalry with Britain is keenly felt after crunch clashes at major soccer tournaments in recent decades, there was plenty of friendly feedback.
The Bild tabloid called it "an opening ceremony with lots of goose-bump moments, and a big dose of British humour. Thank you! That was great, Britain".
Comparisons with the last Summer Games were inevitable, given that Boyle worked with a budget of well under half the estimated cost of the Beijing opener and created a show that was chaotic and more personalised.
"If Zhang Yimou's dazzling Beijing opening in 2008 was about automaton-like synchronicity and majestic spectacle, Boyle's epic opera of social and cultural history was a vibrant work of unfettered imagination that celebrated a nation, but even more so, its people," wrote David Rooney of the Hollywood Reporter.
Nearly 27 million Britons watched the opening ceremony. - Reuters