Wednesday, 5 December 2012

London 2012 Olympic Games – DVD/Blu-ray review

"When our time came, Britain, we did it right"

RRP: £29.99/£34.99
Released by: BBC Worldwide
Release date: 29 October 2012

It was a truly unforgettable time. The eyes of the world were fixed on Great Britain, as the Games of the XXX Olympiad took place. Now, the best moments of the Games can be relived on this five-disc DVD/Blu-ray release from BBC Worldwide.

Occupying Disc 1 and some of Disc 2 is director Danny Boyle’s opening ceremony, which was the subject of a huge amount of hype and – let’s face it – concern. The comparisons were always going to be with the Beijing 2008 opening ceremony, and it must have been a superhuman task to devise a credible successor to that phenomenal spectacle.

But they did it.

After a fun countdown sequence involving all things London, Bradley Wiggins took to the stage to ring a rather large bell, marking the start of proceedings. What began next was a journey through the cultural and industrial history of Britain. As Kenneth Branagh appeared in the green and pleasant land, playing Isambard Kingdom Brunel while reciting Caliban’s speech from The Tempest (strange, yes, but not to worry), we were thrown into a pulse-pounding and breath-taking sequence which represented the industrial revolution. On every re-watch, the staging of this section never ceases to be incredible – the urban landscape of bricks and chimneys literally rises out of no-where. Quite how much logistical planning this took is anybody’s guess, but the result is remarkable. All of this was building up to a moment of pure genius, as the five Olympic rings were forged out of the burning chaos and then set ablaze high up in the air. This – surely one of the most memorable images of London 2012 – was truly the start of something very, very special.

Next, the Queen made her acting debut, starring alongside Daniel Craig in a specially-shot James Bond sequence. This led to ‘the Queen’ jumping out of a helicopter into the Olympic Stadium. Yes, it was ludicrous, but it was also utterly captivating. But not as captivating as what followed it. In a time when the NHS is being increasingly privatised, it was a delight to see a whole section of the ceremony devoted to it. Perhaps inspired by the stacks of children’s books which can be found in so many hospitals, this celebration developed into a surreal dream-like adventure as characters such as Lord Voldemort and Mary Poppins appeared, accompanied by an appearance by J.K. Rowling. The reaction from the audience at this point says it all.

007 wasn’t the only person allowed an appearance – enter Mr Bean! Rowan Atkinson made a hilarious contribution to the London Symphony Orchestra’s rendition of the Chariots of Fire theme, flowing neatly into a pre-filmed re-enactment of the iconic beach running scene. Moments like this embody the brilliant thing about the ceremony – it was a showcase of the very best of British, celebrated in a way that only an Olympic ceremony could achieve. My personal favourite segment, though, has to be the whirlwind tour through a jaw-dropping quantity of film, music and television from across the decades.

By and large, the live and pre-recorded material here blended reasonably well, and the result was an energetic and bonkers montage of everything. The focus was very much on the younger generation, using social networking as a narrative framing device to great effect. Because of this, it’s entirely appropriate that this part of the proceedings builds up to an appearance by Sir Tim Berners-Lee, inventor of the World Wide Web. Special mention must go to the projections onto the house which run throughout this sequence – it must have been a magnificent spectacle for the audience in the stadium, and it still works wonderfully on television. That said, it’s impossible to fully appreciate the complexity of the graphics on the small screen, which is where one of the special features on this release comes in – but more on that a bit later.

Prior to the beginning of the athletes’ parade, there was an emotional pause to remember the victims of the bombing of London on 7 July 2005, the day after it was announced that London had won the bid to host the Olympics in 2012. Amid the partying and celebrations, this brief moment of slow, quiet reflection is a fitting and beautiful tribute to those who lost their lives. To this day, I still can’t quite believe that NBC removed it from the US broadcast of the ceremony.

The athletes’ parade is where, for some people, the existence of the fast-forward button will come in handy. But anyone who wants to can view it in its entirety, although this does make the wait for Team GB even more excruciating than it was on the night. But when they finally emerged, it was a once-in-a-lifetime moment of glory, and something which truly will remain in the memory forever.

Following a performance by the Arctic Monkeys, it was time for the traditional speeches to mark the opening of the Games. Up first was Lord Sebastian Coe, who gave a truly inspirational speech. At the end of the day, it is Coe who we need to thank for providing such a wonderful London 2012. As the chairman of LOCOG, he was at the helm of London’s bid to become the host city of the 2012 Games, before being ultimately responsible for every aspect in the organisation and running of these Olympics. Yes, there were some worrying moments along the way involving ticket controversies and construction delays, but it all came together spectacularly in the end. Coe deserved all the applause he got here. It was then the turn of IOC president Dr Jacques Rogge, who described London as “the birthplace of modern sport”, and spoke of the inclusion of female competitors on every team as “a major boost for gender equality”. Indeed, Rogge’s speech seemed to focus largely on the theme of legacy – the fact that this was the third time that the Games would be held in London, the lasting influence of Britain on global sport, and the aim to Inspire a Generation. Mission accomplished.

After the Games were officially opened by the Queen, the Olympic flag was carried in by a group deserving special recognition, including Ban Ki-moon and Doreen Lawrence. As it neared the flagpole, legendary boxer Muhammad Ali made an appearance. It was very sad to see him in such a frail state, but nevertheless, the inclusion of this sporting icon was undoubtedly one of the highlights of the ceremony. Then, it was time to lift the lid on perhaps the biggest mystery of all.

A quick Google search a few hours before the ceremony aired told me that the biggest names rumoured to be carrying the torch into the stadium and lighting the cauldron were Steve Redgrave or Roger Bannister, two sporting legends. As a boat with the flame rapidly approached the Olympic Stadium (among those on-board was one of London 2012’s greatest ambassadors, David Beckham), and a figure awaited its arrival, it looked like this huge question would finally be answered. It was Steve Redgrave. But there was a massive twist waiting in the wings. As Redgrave jogged into the stadium, the future of the Olympics was waiting for him – seven young athletes, each one selected by an Olympian, and showing massive potential in their respective sports. These were the people who would complete the long journey of the Olympic flame, but there was still one final enigma: the cauldron. Earlier, when the competing nations entered the stadium, each carried in a ‘copper petal’. Now, the function of these petals was finally revealed – each was a component of the cauldron itself. This is a perfect embodiment of the spirit of the Games. It is completely appropriate that each nation is essentially a part of the greatest symbol of the Olympic Movement.

This was a ceremony designed to present the best of Britain’s past, present and future. It was about welcoming the world to a party seven years in the making. Many of us weren’t sure what to expect, but what we got was a captivating, joyous and clever rollercoaster ride. Danny Boyle and his team created a show which really did have something for everyone, but best of all, all of it was merely a part of one grand story.

The version of the opening ceremony included on this release isn’t exactly as it was broadcast. It is a ‘director’s cut’, tweaked to take advantage of post-production, a luxury which obviously wasn’t available to the live production. Before watching it, I had mixed feelings. I was intrigued about what had been changed, but also concerned about what might be missing given that the transmitted version wasn’t present. But having now seen it, I’m delighted to say that I really didn’t notice any notable excisions. It seems that the vast majority of cuts have been made simply to tighten up the delays between each segment of the ceremony. In addition, some tweaks have been made here and there – some alternate camera angles have been inserted in places to replace certain broadcast shots, one part of the ceremony towards the beginning has had stylised freeze-frames added to it, and extra captions have been added where they were lacking on broadcast, such as when the seven athletes of tomorrow conclude the flame’s journey. This re-edit of the opening ceremony gets the balance spot on – a brilliant use of post-production, while remaining very sympathetic to the essence of the original broadcast. My opinion on this has totally turned around; I actually don’t miss the broadcast version, and genuinely don’t think it needed to be on this release.

There are no less than three audio tracks available for the opening ceremony: the original BBC commentary by Huw Edwards, Hazel Irvine and Trevor Nelson, the raw stadium sound (which was also available as an optional stream on the Red Button, one of the BBC’s dedicated Olympics channels and online during the live broadcast) and a brand new commentary by Danny Boyle and writer Frank Cottrell Boyce. This commentary is fascinating to listen to, as the two contributors have a huge amount to say about the genesis of the various aspects of the ceremony. Facts on offer include the person originally signed up to play Isambard Kingdom Brunel, and a genuine historical relic that was included. They are glowing with praise for the volunteers, and go into depth about the historical context which connects the different elements together. If you want a genuine insight into the creative minds behind the opening ceremony, look no further than here.

The remainder of Disc 2 and all of Discs 3 and 4 is where you’ll find all the sporting action itself. Over seven hours of highlights are included, presented in a chronological day-by-day format. Used as a framing device is a mixture of original links by BBC presenters during the Games, and newly-filmed footage presented by Sue Barker. This glues the highlights together into a coherent collection of the greatest moments from these Olympics, and the medals table is shown at the end of each day. This means that these highlights convey the story of London 2012 very well – the highs for a number of the competing nations, and the ongoing battle between China and the United States for the top spot on the medals table, not to mention Great Britain’s gradual climb up the ranks.

Inevitably, the amount of time given to different sports varies, depending on how much notable action there is to cover. Some events such as gymnastics get a large chunk of screen-time in one go, while others like mountain biking are only touched upon briefly. Most sports at least get a look-in to some degree, although not all of them – for example, synchronised swimming is one event that springs to mind as being almost absent, apart from a few very brief clips during montages. A condensed collection of highlights like this could never be totally balanced, due to the sheer range of events that make up the Olympics, but the day-by-day format means that this release is as close as it’s really possible to get.

Disc 5 is devoted entirely to Kim Gavin’s closing ceremony, which is presented here exactly as it was broadcast. It took a very different approach compared to that of the opening ceremony – the story being told here was that of the evolution of British music throughout the decades. Thinking of it as a concert, it did the job really well. There was certainly a wide range of music on offer – from Muse, Ray Davies, Madness and the Kaiser Chiefs to Ed Sheeran, the Spice Girls, Queen With Special Guest Jessie J and the Pet Shop Boys with traffic cones on their heads. (No, I haven’t got a clue why either.) For me, the highlight was Freddie Mercury’s virtual contribution to the show. Just listen to the crowd – even now that he’s no longer with us, that man retains his unique and unrivalled ability to command everybody in the audience. Magical.

The issues start to arise when you look past the concert aspect, and at the show in its wider form. There’s no doubting that the ambition and intent was there, but there’s something not quite right about the whole thing. The sequence depicting the chaotic London as a city made, quite literally, out of news shows some interesting statements and ideas, but unfortunately it comes across rather bland. Things get a bit livelier when Stomp and the acrobats appear, but it still never quite manages to hit the right note. Then there’s the downright bizarre; why did Timothy Spall recite exactly the same Shakespeare as heard in the opening ceremony? It almost looks like Gavin and Boyle didn’t speak to each other at all, but they surely must have done – the repetition of the same dialogue can only have been intentional, but it doesn’t really make any sense at all. When the entrance of the athletes overran, and Elbow ran out of music to play, it was time to bring out plan B. No, not Plan B – a repetition of a lot of the music that had been performed live just moments previously. Wasn’t there any other good British music to share with the world?

Perhaps all of my misgivings are simply because of the unavoidable comparisons with the fantastic opening ceremony, but while there are some great moments – such as the construction of a representation of the head of John Lennon, and the rising of a phoenix out of the ashes of the Olympic flame – the closing ceremony at large was something of a hit and miss. Best just to enjoy the music bits.


Over half an hour of bonus content is included, most of it related to the opening ceremony. Nimrod is the London Symphony Orchestra’s performance of Elgar’s classic composition, while Frank Turner sees the musician perform some of his acoustic songs on the recreated Glastonbury Tor. These uplifting performances took place in the stadium in the build-up to the start of the ceremony, and are presented here as separate menu items.

Isles of Wonder Deconstruction is a look at the creation of the memorable animated journey up the Thames to the Olympic Stadium, by removing the different composited elements from selected parts of the sequence layer by layer. Although it doesn’t cover the whole animation, and doesn’t have any explanatory input from its creators, the visuals alone provide a fascinating glimpse of the work that went into blending ‘real’ imagery with computer-generated enhancements.

Thanks Tim Projection House is an absolute revelation. As mentioned previously, it allows all of the projections during the house sequence to be seen in full. In addition, the output of the two LED big screens is represented along the bottom of the screen. This feature allows more appreciation of the technical complexity than the television broadcast itself possibly could, and it was only after watching it that I realised just how big an achievement this part of the ceremony was. Commentary on this extra is provided by Danny Boyle (by the sounds of it, this was recorded after the main feature commentary), who discusses the thoughts and intentions behind what is arguably the most elaborate section of the opening ceremony.

An item listed on the menu as Extra Sporting Moments is a look at some of the things that didn’t quite fit in the main highlights. Originally broadcast prior to the closing ceremony, it serves as a reminder of some of the lowlights of the Games. It’s not all doom and gloom, though; there’s uplifting stuff in there too, such as crowd opinions, and the very well-written narration makes it essential viewing. The perfect companion to the many hours of highlights on this release.

AUDIO/VIDEO (DVD version reviewed)

Across these discs, the commentaries seem perfectly audible, and none of the audio really seems amiss. The opening ceremony’s raw stadium sound is presented in Dolby 5.1 surround sound, while the commentaries are in stereo. The highlights and closing ceremony are in 5.1.

As far as the video goes (and keep in mind I’m working from the DVD here), while it’s certainly not perfect, it’s probably as good as was possible. Aliasing can be seen in places (the OBS captions with extremely small lettering suffer) and particularly dark areas of the picture are rather noisy, but this is probably due to the very nature of standard definition DVD, and the MPEG-2 compression it employs. For the most part, except for these issues when they appear, the pictures do generally look rather good. Selected shots have been ‘filmised’, removing the interlaced video look. In itself, I’m not entirely sure why this was done, as it doesn’t seem very natural for content that was originally broadcast live. The really strange thing, though, is that there doesn’t seem to be any defined pattern of what was and wasn’t filmised – on more than one occasion, we go from filmised video to interlaced and vice versa from shot-to-shot. A minor annoyance, but not a major showstopper. It should be noted that Disc 3 has some brief video quality issues inherent in the highlights footage, but this was there on broadcast and was therefore impossible to remove (there is a disclaimer about this before the menu appears on this particular disc).


I enjoyed this. A lot. I’m so glad that I have these discs in my collection, so that I can relive these Olympic Games whenever I like. And that is precisely the reason I’m giving for you to go out and buy this release. These were once-in-a-lifetime moments, and this is the perfect way to remember them. Add to this the special features that are included, and this is not only the definitive release of the London 2012 Olympics, but without doubt one of the best DVD and Blu-ray releases of the year. I simply can’t recommend it enough.

9 OUT OF 10

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