Last night's opening ceremony at the "bird's nest" stadium for the 2008 Olympic games was bar-none the best opening ceremony the world has ever seen. It made Cirque de Soleil look like a school play and reduced the Atlanta and Salt Lake City ceremonies to middle-school pep rallies. With the largest LCD screen ever made serving as a kind of interactive stage, the feats of optical illusion, artistry, and technical effects were jaw dropping. There were modern dancers interpreting Confucian meditations, thousands of Tai Chi masters creating dozens of concentric circles seemingly by instinct alone, and the haunting rhythms of ancient Chinese strings against a hyper-techno backdrop of lighting and explosion. It was easy to sit agape thinking, How did they do that? Still, I couldn't help but wonder about the logistics of a $300 million production that had thousands of performers training for more than eight months (let alone the cyber-savants working tirelessly behind the scenes). After watching a moving opening routine that featured 2,008 drummers performing in a kind of mind-boggling unison I’d only ever seen accomplished in kooky North Korean videos of parades in honor of Kim Jong Il, it was easy to wonder: Could this kind of mass-synchronized undertaking only be accomplished in a totalitarian state?
Of course, lighter notes were struck when, during the parade of nations, President Bush and First Lady Laura Bush both checked their watches, Bob Costas refused to comment on the truly hideous floral frocks worn by the Hungarian women, and the Ralph Lauren-clad Americans came marching along looking for all the world like the crew of "The Love Boat."