Opening Ceremony 2012: How London Compared to Spectacle in Beijing

Nick HouserCorrespondent IIJuly 28, 2012

LONDON, ENGLAND - JULY 27:  Fireworks over the Olympic Stadium during the Opening Ceremony of the London 2012 Olympic Games near Olympic Park on July 27, 2012 in London, England.  (Photo by Clive Brunskill/Getty Images)
Clive Brunskill/Getty Images

The 2012 Summer Olympics have officially kicked off, and while London's rendition of the ceremonial start wasn't quite the spectacle Beijing produced, it still put forth a quality effort full of memorable moments.

Beijing was over the top.

Not that that is a bad thing by any means, but in 2008 it meant London would have a difficult time outdoing China.

As many predicted, London couldn't match China in pyrotechnics and visual effects.

Yet, the route London took with the Olympic opening ceremony is difficult to compare because it was completely different.

It was clear director Danny Boyle recognized the challenge of competing with the opening ceremony from four years ago and took an unrelated course as opposed to attempting duplication.

It worked.

Sure, London didn't have many wide-eyed for the course of four hours quite like Beijing did, but they did their own thing and it turned out splendidly produced.

Simply put, it was unique.

Boyle and crew didn't try too hard—or in the least they didn't appear to be desperately pulling out all stops.

The ceremony stuck to historical and cultural references, playing on what England did and does best (children's literature and the Industrial Revolution).

Here's how the two compared in-depth.


In 2008, the Olympic opening ceremony began with a comet striking center stage, lighting up a floor of 2,008 drummers beating in perfect rhythm as the countdown ticked away.

London attempted a balloon-popping countdown.

While it was unique and a great effort, it wasn't memorable.

Beijing: 9

London: 7

Cultural Segments

China incorporated thousands of people, a spectacle in itself. Many scenes were filled with bubbly-looking children with magical singing voices.

China spotlighted a few achievements here and there, then turned their attention back to fireworks.

London, however, took a little longer to spell out their culture.

While the segments were quite long, they were much easier to relate to. The transition from pastoral England to the Industrial Revolution is something many viewers are familiar with from grade-school education. Likewise, millions of viewers grew up with stories of Peter Pan, Mary Poppins and more.

Afterwards, London's opening ceremony highlighted the country's musical rise through the generations while integrating the youth and technology of today.

The music was nostalgic.

This year's hosts also commendably poked a bit of fun at themselves.

From James Bond's (Daniel Craig) escort of Queen Elizabeth II to Olympic Stadium and subsequent parachuting into the arena to the addition of Mr. Bean (Rowan Atkinson) to the London Symphony Orchestra—London showed the world how to take themselves lightly.

Beijing: 7

London: 9

Visual Effects

The amount of fireworks used in 2008 was enough to fuel one county fair's Fourth of July celebration for a month.

The pyrotechnics were absurdly amazing.

The Olympics are the place to pull out stops and dazzle with overwhelming displays. Beijing did just that.

On top of the much talked-about fireworks, thousands of volunteers worked together to create segment after segment of rhythmic movements on cue. The displays were so well done, many considered them to be electronic until the volunteers appeared from beneath their hand-held accessories.

Beijing was like Disneyland on steroids.

London, on the other hand, decided to go with less fireworks and more theatrics.

It was like watching a play.

Rather than utilize in-air bursts of light, London went with the LED-produced visuals. They were subtly tucked into the background, yet lent huge additions to the center stage acts.

Beijing: 10

London: 8

Torch Lighting

If you remember, Beijing sent one man carrying the torch on a sideways run around the entire stadium before sparking the ultimate lighting.

There was a final explosion and the main torch was lit.

Frankly, it was awesome.

Like the rest of their show, London's version was simpler.

Future Olympian hopefuls were tasked with the obligatory lap before any big ordeal was made.

But while Beijing dazzled with firework after firework, London saved it for last. The torch was lit and a massive exhibit of pyrotechnics arose, continuing on for a solid minute or two.

It too was awesome.

Beijing: 9

London: 9


Beijing went over the top. London kept it simple.

Beijing focused on dazzle. London targeted their culture as a focal point.

The two shows were completely different.

In the end, Beijing was more exciting.

The 2008 show had viewers dropping their jaws and wondering what was in store next. It was amazing to see how each scene would be outdone by the next.

But that doesn't mean London was bad.

London had a quality feel to it which felt easier to connect to.

Above the comparison of Beijing to Disneyland was made. Not many individuals have the good fortune of visiting Disneyland twice a year, every year. Due to its lack of everyday presence, its over-the-top effects are necessary and awe-inspiring.

London was like your favorite play.

It's a story you know and remember well, but still like to be reminded of. When you are, you can't help but smile.

Beijing: 9.5

London: 8