Unlike opening ceremonies of years past, Beijing's stab at the Olympics kickoff on Friday was—as media outlets around the world are agreeing—simply awesome. The three-hour show was a technicolor ballet of eery coordination, described by NBC commentator Bob Costas as having “massive scope, and minute precision.” Or, as New York magazine's Vulture blog put it in a post titled “Did the Beijing Opening Ceremony Just Make Opening Ceremonies Cool Again?“: “It just goes to show you that when you give one of the century's great cinematic geniuses, Zhang Yimou, millions and millions of dollars, and put him in charge of 15,000 performers raised in a totalitarian society, you can really make something magical.
“While some backlash has arisen—yes, those 29 footprint-shaped fireworks were indeed fake—the ceremony was largely a success, attracting nearly a billion viewers worldwide, including 34.2 million in the U.S. (According to The New York Times, this marks the most viewers garnered for an overseas opening ceremony, while ESPN.com said it was the biggest televised event since the Super Bowl—yes, bigger than both the American Idol finale and the Acadamy Awards).
And its no surprise. According to CNNMoney.com, 2008 marks the most expensive Olympics in history, with the Chinese government spending an estimated $40 billion, compared to the $16 billion Athens spent in 2004 or the $1.72 billion spent on Atlanta in 1996. The opening ceremony cost an estimated $300 million to produce, and some seven years to plan.
The bulk of that cost was likely spent on technology, which ranged from a 482-foot screen made up of 44,000 LED beads to 2008 individually lit costumes and a giant glowing globe made of aluminum alloy, which runners, who trained for eight months, circled (some while upside down) during a performance by Chinese pop star Liu Huan and soprano Sara Brightman. Opening ceremony technical team leader Yu Jianping told Chinaview.cn, “Most of the core technologies used in the opening ceremony were independently developed by domestic companies.”
Beyond the light and video shows, most audiences were rapt by the event's synchronization. In EW.com's rundown of “The Best and Worst of the Olympics Opening Ceremony”, author Mandi Bierly gave the second “best” slot to ”the big reveal that it was people controlling those bouncing blocks. Unbelievable. It blew my mind when they finally flipped their lids and peeked out. Plus, their waves were adorable.” Added Denverpost.com, “One of the most remarkable scenes was by 897 blocks that moved up and down to music, imitating movable-type printing, also a Chinese invention. At the end of the bit, tops came off the blocks and 897 performers popped up and waved to the crowd. They had trained for 10 months, each with his/her own movement program.”