(World Cup opening ceremonies; Place de la Concorde, Paris)
Producers, Gad Weil, William Perkins; director, Jean-Pascal Levy-Trumet; designer, Jean-Pascal Levy-Trumet; music, Hector Zazou; television direction, Renaud le van Kim for TF1. Running time : 330 MINS.
The year’s biggest entertainment show kicked off Tuesday with the kind of disrespect for timing and viewers that only the French can put together.
Around 37 billion viewers are expected to tune into the 1998 World Cup of soccer, making it the most popular TV draw on the planet. And the 100 countries that bought rights to Tuesday’s opening ceremony may have wondered how to handle 5-1/2 hours of Gallic flair.
To use a soccer analogy, this opening ritual was a game of two halves: The first one kicked off at around 6:30 p.m., with the awakening of four 60-foot-tall, 38-ton robots. The second half wearied its way onto the small screen four hours later.
The four robotic stars — Pablo (repping Latin America), Romeo (Europe), Ho (Asia) and Moussa (Africa) — “awoke” at various monu-ments in Paris and traveled separately throughout the city, accompanied by blaring music and 4,500 costumed extras.
The cameras of French TV’s TF1 panned from one robot to another but since they traveled at the princely pace of less than one mile an hour, TF1’s reporters were left struggling to find something to say. While this was nothing new to most Parisians, who are vets of frequent transport strikes, it hardly made for lively TV coverage.
The normally laid-back French reporters noted that the facial design of the African giant had little chance of passing the school of political correctness, but at least Moussa was accompanied by dancing termite hills and performers dressed as ostriches and giraffes.
Pablo’s supporting cast of twinkling fire — South America is a place of fiery temperaments, according to the show organizers — did little to enhance France’s post-colonial reputation.
The show’s pace picked up after 3 and a half hours, when the four giants, powered by small trucks hidden in their feet, finally arrived together at Paris’ central Place de la Concorde.
At that point, some 1,800 youngsters finally got to kick a soccer ball around, reminding people that the evening was meant to be the curtain raiser to a massive soccer event rather than a strange combo of Fellini meets the Power Rangers.
By that point, however, even the most ardent Brazilian or Scottish soccer fans had probably fled to a local watering hole to discuss the opening game, which brings the two nations together today.
Private network TF1, which paid $2 million for rights and technical coverage of the event, can be forgiven for struggling somewhat to pull the whole thing together.
Paris being a rather busy city, neither France’s World Cup organizing committee nor TF1 was allowed a full dress rehearsal, leaving TF1’s Renaud le van Kim to rely on storyboards.
By the end of the day, the idea of taking four,slow-moving robots across a city that doesn’t like being disturbed at the best of times may have been a French folie gone too far.