Sunday, 20 April 2014

Queen’s Greatest Flicks

" So don't become some background noise, a backdrop for the girls and boys... " sang Queen in 1984. But their many appearances on movie soundtracks have sometimes even eclipsed the films themselves.

Original Flash Gordon serials screened on television in 1979, when science fiction was riding an unprecedented wave of popularity. Star Wars was still booming, and perhaps George Lucas’s much-quoted crediting of these serials as his inspiration convinced a canny television programmer to haul out this vintage fare.
Sure enough, each episode of Flash Gordon began with the introductory ‘crawl’ which Lucas pinched wholesale for his own film opening, and the accompanying music was ‘classical’ - a particularly heroic excerpt from Franz Liszt’s Les Preludes.

('Flash Gordon' begins at around 2:40).

When Dino de Laurentiis announced his Flash Gordon ‘remake’ shortly afterwards, I assumed Liszt would be joining Flash, Dale and Zarkov on the big screen; Les Preludes was the Flash theme, after all.

But whatever else the eventual film achieved (I remember disliking it at the time but have since well and truly joined the delirious party which I initially failed to realise this camp extravaganza is) that assumption was altered forever. Flash’s Theme is, now and always, the pounding bass rhythm, a lightning bolt sound effect accompanying the exclamation ‘Flash! Ah-ahhh…’ and Brian Blessed booming “Gordon’s Alive?!”

Queen’s first (and arguably only) movie soundtrack elevated de Laurentiis’s gaudy space pantomime to cultural icon status. The album is a riot of intentionally hilarious dialogue, retro sound effects (boasting a fully-fledged laser battle punctuated by Mr Blessed bellowing with murderous glee, including the prophetic line “Who wants to live forever?”) and towering, baroque instrumentals (only two tracks feature lyrics).

Perhaps because the chart-topping single and album contain so many easily-repeatable snatches of dialogue, an element of ‘audience participation’ has crept in, ensuring lasting popularity amongst we ‘pathetic earthlings’. But for every ‘Hail Flash; saviour of the universe’ there is a rich and evocative refrain, or an action score of pure electronic adrenaline.

Several years later, another fantasy film co-starring a James Bond was also elevated by music from Queen. But whereas Flash Gordon had all the publicity and hype which was de Laurentiis’s stock-in-trade behind it, Highlander snuck into cinemas in 1987.

Friends and I loved it at first sight, even if the rest of the world was slow to catch on – but, contrary to popular belief , Queen didn’t actually produce the soundtrack to Highlander.  The soundtrack is credited to composer Michael Kamen, and Queen only contributed songs – great songs.  It’s a kind of Magic became the unofficial Highlander theme, and the achingly beautiful Who wants to live forever? completely transcended it’s origin as a last minute addition to a film soundtrack (and a line shouted by Brian Blessed in a gold helmet and wings).
It's long, but worth it to see Mercury perform live,
and hear the now poignant remark he makes at the beginning.

Like Flash Gordon, Queen’s contribution to Highlander has surpassed the film the music was written for and taken on a life of its own. In the absence of an official soundtrack release, Queen released their songs for Highlander on the album A Kind of magic. Freddie Mercury’s typically barnstorming rendition of New York, New York sadly doesn’t feature, and the single Hammer to fall, also heard in the film, was from an earlier album The Works.
Connor MacLeod himself: French actor Christopher Lambert, has cited Queen’s music as a major factor in convincing him to take the role.
Queen’s enhancement of movie viewing experiences doesn’t end here. Since FM in 1978 (see here:, the ‘stamp-stamp-clap’ of We will Rock you has appeared on no less than eight film soundtracks, a total shared by We are the Champions (first heard in Revenge of the Nerds, 1984) and Under Pressure (most memorably in Grosse Pointe Blank, 1997).
There might never have been a better musically-choreographed scene than the use of Don’t stop me now in Shaun of the Dead (2004), where a jammed jukebox and some misappropriated pool cues make a zombie sorry he ever returned from the dead.

Often their songs are covered - Brittany Murphy’s exuberant rendition of Somebody to Love in Happy Feet, (2006) succeeds by sounding so completely different to Queen. But perhaps the ultimate Queen ‘cover’, (OK, ‘sing-along’) and most memorable use of their song in a film, ever, must go to Wayne, Garth and their most-excellent friends:


  1. Where to begin re Queen on Screen? Why not bullet points? Okay!!

    - As a rank amateur fan I can pinpoint my earliest matching of Queen to movies with the Bohemian Rhapsody video and its right-from-the-rigging lighting effect on Freddie's face being a visual nod to Garbo.

    - The Works fully deserves mention, borne as it was from the ashes of an attempt at a soundtrack to The Hotel Newhampshire (bonkers as the movie is, I just can't imagine this ever working) and also for bringing the cinematic and theatrical to the boys' videos. Yes, dragged-up I Want to Break Free is there, but more importantly is Queen's appropriation (and onscreen credit to) Metropolis, and the band's vague association with Moroder's ill-fated restoration of said movie. Worth noting that for their troubles Freddie earned a Razzie for his song on the soundtrack? No? I'll move on...

    -...except to say that the video for Ga Ga of course snuggles in nicely with the Buster Crabbe version of Flash Gordon so much that to my young eyes they were one and the same. So with that movie in mind...

    - It's been said by more than a few that of the many pretenders to Queen's throne, The Darkness have professed their admiration and worn their influence on their sleeves (and biceps as we could talk tattoos here.) What do I see on Twitter today? A tweet from a member of TD referencing Brian Blessed's performance in Flash Gordon with as much admiration. Yeah, they're fans. And maybe they should do the sequel.

    - Highlander/AKOM link duly noted - though as Wikipedia will attest, lyrics and dialogue meet in more than a few places. Who made who, I wonder? And of course there are the videos again - the album's title track being directed by Highlander director Russ Mulcahey

    -... let's pretend A Knight's Tale and its stinking use of WWRY never happened, shall we? Thanks!

    - I'll end with an ending, as Shaun of the Dead not only revived Don't Stop Me Now, but rather cutely used You're My Best friend to round things out. Lovely.

    All that way and no-one brings up Star Fleet. Well done, that man!

    1. Wow, thanks for that!
      I could have written for days on this subject, but the length of some of my blog posts has already been unkindly (but fairly) remarked upon in certain quarters.
      Also, as a wise man once said to me: “I was trying to make a point, not a list” but having said that, your bullet points have filled in some of the many gaps very nicely indeed.

      That Hotel New Hampshire addition is a real revelation – that’s the kind of gem I love having uncovered for me.
      Blessed’s force-of-nature performance as the “Looney bird” in Flash Gordon deserves nothing but admiration and regarding A Knight’s Tale – agreed, in fact, I’d like to forget everything about it.

      However, I must take exception to your dismissal of Georgio Moroder’s Metropolis. I’ve seen various versions of this amazing film (including a very lengthy recent restoration) and I have to conclude that Moroder’s is by far the most fun. It made Metropolis palatable to an audience which might have never previously considered sitting through a silent, black and white science fiction film. And as for Mercury’s Love Kills, well, I’ve owned the soundtrack since this restoration was first released, and love the ‘machine gun’ instrumentals on that track, although admittedly there is better to be found on the album. Of course, it’s now almost as much a time capsule of a distant era as the film itself is.
      Given this and the Radio Ga-ga video, perhaps Queen’s association with Metropolis deserves a post all on it’s own…