Musings from Mars

Muse's "Knights of Cydonia" remains the wildest cinematic music video of all time

Fifteen years ago, Muse’s first major American release, Black Holes and Revelations, was released. The album went to #9 on the US charts, thanks to the release of two moderately successful singles, “Supermassive Black Hole” and “Starlight.”

The third single however, was accompanied by one of the zaniest music videos of all time.

“Knights of Cydonia” remains my favorite of all Muse songs due to its intense guitar riffs, heavy sound, and epic arrangements. Yet somehow, the six minute video manages to eclipse even the song in its epicness.

One thing to know about the video going into it is the fact that Cydonia refers to the famous desert on Mars where a “face” was seen. At least, until we sent better cameras to Mars and learn that it was just shadows and not an actual face. However, that face plays heavily into the video due to the video’s scenery and location.

The video, presumably set on Mars in Cydonia, has a little bit of everything:

  • Cowboys on horses;

  • A bar scene;

  • Sex;

  • Holograms;

  • An evil sheriff suppressing the people;

  • A robot in knight’s armor;

  • Laser pistols;

  • Dirtbikes;

  • An attempted execution;

  • A heroic rescue;

  • A unicorn;

  • A laser gunfight;

  • The band playing their instruments in a ridiculous over-the-top manner.

All of it feeds nicely into the thematic genre of the video, which is that of a modern-ish spaghetti western. But on Mars.

My favorite part of this video (other than the song) is the fact that the video is and of itself a six-minute mini-movie. It follows the Eric Bischoff SARSA formula for creating drama and interest (Story, Action, Reality, Suspense, Anticipation). And, despite its compact nature and satisfying ending, it leaves me wanting more.

How did they get to Mars?

Why is the Sheriff the way he is and who put him in charge?

How did the protagonist learn his martial arts?

What’s up with the robot?

It’s rare because music videos started as just mechanisms for trying to encourage you to buy the record. Sure, there were epic music videos. But they did not engage in this level of storytelling. “Thriller” was great and all. “Scream” was expensive. “Jeremy” was compelling storytelling. But they all were wrapped up in nice, compact packages. None of them wanted me to see a full length movie like this one did.

(A movie based on a song is not a new phenomenon. It’s happened before. Alice’s Restaurant, Convoy, Copacabana and The Christmas Shoes all become movies. For better or for worse)

Probably the only video that has come close to equaling “Knights of Cydonia” in the unusual and compelling way to bring in the viewer was Interpol’s “The Heinrich Maneuver” which came out the very next year.

Ironically, Muse and Interpol were making videos at the very tail end of the MTV years. MTV kept showing fewer and fewer videos every year and now, I’m not sure MTV shows music videos at any point. Not that it stops them from hosting the Video Music Awards.

Oddly, “Knights of Cydonia” wasn’t even nominated for a Video Music Award in 2006. At least the winning band, Panic! At The Disco, also engaged in a weird storytelling video.

Ironically, they were nominated for “Uprising” in 2010, a video which was not nearly as interesting.

YouTube, which if course I used extensively in this piece, has actually allowed for the rebirth of the Music Video genre. Sure, music videos of television are practically dead. But the genre has new life thanks to YouTube, the monetization of YouTube, the ability for people to watch videos on demand, and the ability to share them with friends via text, social media, etc. It’s no wonder why videos take on an added importance as the video presentation allows artists and directors to draw the audience in to get them hooked on the song. The best recent example of that has been The Weeknd, who has had several videos with stories involved in them, going all the way back to 2016’s “Starboy”.

From the After Hours album, The Weeknd has developed a new persona that has been included not just in his famous video for “Blinding Lights”, but also for “Save Your Tears.”

The idea of continuing a story or theme across multiple videos is not new, believe it or not. Another storytelling video series involved The Moody Blues back in the mid-1980’s with “Your Wildest Dreams” and then following it up with “I Know You’re Out There Somewhere.”

While the rest of these videos are good, none of them match the entertainment, storytelling, and epicness of “Knights of Cydonia.” A wild, six-minute ride from beginning to end. And if Muse ever decides to make the full-length movie, I’ll be first in line to see it.