BBC 2018 Winter Olympics coverage: have the fearless chickened out?

The BBC’s Olympic trailer marks a highly-anticipated moment in the build up to the Games, and is this year entitled ‘The Fearless are Here’. In the words of the creators Smith & Foulkes at Nexus Studios, it “depicts the psychological and physical obstacles Winter Olympics athletes face in their quest to be the best in the world”.

It is a dark, somewhat demonic sequence, with a red, black and white colour scheme, in which smokey and fluid abstract shapes metamorphose into snakes and monsters with wicked red eyes. Its creators say it was “toned down” for a family audience, although the graphics of clocks, eyes on the mountain side and snakes are a bold choice given their satanic connotations. It is, however, full of energy and drama, with a James Bond-esque pictorial style, and it conjures up the idea of fear in its multiple and shifting manifestations.

It’s ironic that this unusually 2D animation, created using emerging virtual reality (VR) cinematography software, aims to depict a far more multi-dimensional image of Olympic sport than ever before, capturing the psychological battles that athletes face. Seeing the heartbreak of Elise Christie reminds us of the ruthlessness of sport at this level, and that audiences should appreciate the holistic battle each competitor undergoes.

How innovative this animation really is can be contested. Animals have featured in almost every BBC Olympic animation in recent years, from Vancouver 2010’s mountain bear chase to Rio 2016’s athletic jungle gathering. While the Olympics do evoke images of nature, untameable force and beastly strength, it is an exhausted connection and could be in need of more drastic remodelling in the future.

As for the sport itself, the long, live-broadcast programs are slow, with panning shots of the slopes of Seoul and vague remarks about the cold weather. However, given the nine hour time difference, they will satisfy those late-night viewers or super fans among us, as they do relay entire events without too much disruption or channel changing. BBC iPlayer is also practically made for Olympic coverage, and it is the ‘best in snow’ clips of a star performance or a curling player slipping over that provide an accessible way to dip into this immense competition whose colossal schedule of events can be daunting.

That said, it’s a shame that entertainment clips like these, or a ‘Brent vs Figure Skating’ comparison video are being used as the best means of generating clicks for the BBC’s website. The traditional quick break down of the sport, its history, key skills and terminology, are excluded from this quick-access layout. They are, however, included in the full-length programmes, alongside brief interviews that reveal the additional facts (such as how GB Olympians have roughly 110 items of kit each) that remind us that the Winter Olympics are also an awe-inspiring logistical feat.

In the ice-skating arena, Robin Cousins keeps in-routine comments to technical name-calling and spots missed half-turns with remarkable live-vision. He combines this practical experience with professionalism in the commentary box, respectfully leaving all subjectivity until the skater has left the ice. He is one of the five ex-Olympians, alongside Amy Williams MBE (skeleton), Chemmy Alcott (alpine ski racer), Jackie Lockhart (curling), Jon Eley (short track speed skater) with whom the BBC has bolstered their Winter Olympic coverage. This team adds notable credibility and glamour to the commentating, without which the broadcaster might struggle to attract both amateur and fanatic audiences to this incredible celebration of sub-zero sporting prowess.


Image: Adrian Myers via BBC Pictures

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