What Will Danny Boyle’s Olympic “Live Film” Look Like? Six Ways He’ll Leave His Mark
With the world watching and expectations high for Friday's 2012 Summer Olympic Games Opening Ceremony, it's hard not to speculate on how filmmaker Danny Boyle will direct his latest effort. Boyle and ceremony organizers aren't saying much, but on the Today Show Thursday morning, Boyle did offer up a few more details, noting how "the immense scale" of the staged event is its single biggest challenge. "What we're really trying to do here is a live film," he told Meredith Vieira on Today.
Which is why he'd still like to keep much of the show under wraps. During the ceremony's technical rehearsal Monday, Boyle hoped to engender Olympic-sized team spirit by asking the gathered crowd to refrain from posting images of the rehearsal and tweet #savethesurprise instead. As expected, sly Instagram photos and wise-guy twists on that appeal began to appear almost instantly.
As opening ceremonies go, the artistic bar was set four years ago by Chinese director Zhang Yimou's acrobatic and pyrotechnic spectacle that launched the Games of the XXIX Olympiad. "Beijing was beyond compare," Boyle said on Today. "All hail Beijing. That's the peak." Directing the opening ceremonies was "100 times harder" than directing a movie, Yimou admitted at the time, and as one blogger put it, "[Yimou] put on a show with 22,000 actors and no cut takes, digital effects or stunt doubles. Just good old fashioned theatre, at the highest level."
Boyle no doubt has his own ideas how to top, or at least meet, that achievement. How will he do it?
1. Zoom in on faces. Acknowledging a global television viewing audience of close to one billion, Boyle says he will move in tight at every opportunity. "We hope it will be more visceral," he said on Today. "There will be more close-ups, for example, which is how you convey emotion."
2. Include more action scenes. The London Sunday Times reported that one segment will pit Harry Potter nemesis Lord Voldemort against an explosion of umbrella-toting Mary Poppins nannies raining down from above. A short film, shot with Daniel Craig inside Buckingham Palace and starring Her Majesty, will allegedly precede a live Bond stunt in which a 007 double will parachute into the stadium.
3. Get referential, literarily. Boyle is no stranger to literary adaptations. He has successfully adapted both novels and a memoir (Trainspotting, Slumdog Millionaire, 127 Hours) and even staged a retread of Mary Shelley's Frankenstein at London’s National Theatre in 2011. Tomorrow's ceremony, he said, will include several "great characters from children's literature," like Poppins and Peter Pan, that originate in British classics. The ceremony's theme, however, echoes England's deeper literary tradition and was inspired by William Shakespeare's The Tempest. "A [27-ton] bell will sound and we'll begin with the line: 'Be not afeard; the isle is full of noises,'" he said. (Recently knighted Sir Kenneth Branagh is rumored to be delivering it, having replaced former Shakespeare's Globe artistic director Mark Rylance, who withdrew following a family tragedy.) William Blake's poem, "Jerusalem" —the words to the elegiac WWI English anthem composed by Sir Hubert Parry and arranged by Sir Edward Elgar—will also play a starring role.
4. Feature plenty of aerial stunts. Speaking of flying nannies, secret agents, and boys who won't grow up, this Opening Ceremony should have its share of aerial choreography. London has its Eye and native son Richard Branson can now fly us to the moon, after all. Twitter photos from Monday's rehearsal all show networks of wires criss-crossing the stadium. The rest of Caliban's speech from The Tempest also points in that direction: "The clouds methought would open, and show riches, ready to drop upon me, that when I waked, I cried to dream again."
5. He won't be afraid of the dark. In addition to building an English village green and cricket field, complete with real grass and soil, Boyle has said he will include much grittier homages to his country's past, including Depression-era "dark satanic mills"—again a reference to Blake's poem—populated by the kind of out-of-work miners, protestors and factory workers found in Stephen Daldry's Billy Elliot. Will London's darkest hour during the Blitz also make an appearance?
6. Deliver it all with his trademark dark sense of humor. Voldemort vs. multiple Mary Poppins is funny enough, but if this tweet is to be believed (and, of course, it isn't), might Boyle make a chain-smoking EastEnders matron the butt of the joke? "I know I'm supposed to #savethesurprise," tweeted Don Gibson, "but Dot Cotton lighting the flame with a cigarette butt was a shock." Dot or not, plenty of onlookers Monday noted Boyle's "wicked sense of humour" was clearly on display, the surest sign we'll find as much Trainspotting as Slumdog Millionaire in the details Friday night.
(Photo, left top, courtesy of darrylbx/Twitter; photo, right top, courtesy of Gary8345/Twitter)