" 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).
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).
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: http://fasmatodea.blogspot.co.nz/2013/12/stardust-memories.html), 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.