Hey Dudes, What's the Scoop This Time?
Bill and Ted are coming back. Need America fear for its children? And what about Ingmar Bergman?
by Karen Schoemer
Two years ago, Bill and Ted were just a couple of regular high school dudes living in Southern California. They dressed in typical teen-age style: jeans, baggy shorts, high-top sneakers, Van Halen T-shirts, inside-out sweatshirts with ink stains on the front. They liked to do normal teen-age things: play guitar, go to the mall, dream of being famous rock stars.
As with a lot of teenagers, Bill and Ted really weren't too interested in school, especially history class. In fact, they were, as Bill said, "in danger of flunking most heinously." Then one day a guy from the future delivered them a time machine in the shape of a phone booth, so they could go back in history and meet the people they were being tested on. Bill and Ted stood in amazement as the phone booth touched down in the parking lot of a local convenience store. "Whoa," they said in unison. "Whoa!"
Today, Bill and Ted are on their way to being cultural icons. Bill and Ted's Excellent Adventure, released by Orion Pictures in 1989, was a $9 million sleeper that grossed more than $40 million at the boxoffice and went on to become a success on video. Bill and Ted also have their own Saturday morning cartoon show, in which the pair flit back and forth in time to solve personal crises, like how to get to the store to buy the new Iron Maiden CD. They have their own breakfast cereal, Bill and Ted's Excellent Cereal -- A Most Awesome Breakfast Adventure, which comes with a free Dial-a-Dude card for listing phone numbers. The Fox network will launch a Bill and Ted live-action adventure series, starring Evan Richards and Christopher Kennedy in the fall.
And in Bill and Ted's Bogus Journey, the Orion sequel that opens on Friday, the pair visit heaven and hell and attempt to answer the question "What is the meaning of life?"
Bill and Ted's ascension from B-movie buffoons to multimedia phenomena has truly been most triumphant.
In light of their recent successes, four members of the Bill and Ted film team -- Alex Winter, who portrays Bill S. Preston, Esq.; Keanu Reeves, who plays Ted (Theodore) Logan; Scott Kroopf, who produced both Excellent Adventure and Bogus Journey, and Peter Hewitt, the director of the sequel -- endeavored to explain some of the zeitgeist, history and incredibly stupid humor behind these two most excellent dudes.
ARE BILL AND TED OUTCASTS OR CUDDLY TYPES?
"When we first were casting Bill and Ted, we made a choice," says Mr. Kroopf. "You could play Bill and Ted as long-haired outcast types, or you could play them as accessible cuddly types. When we got Alex and Keanu, we said, 'Let's give the audience a chance to really relate to these guys.' Everyone felt that Bill and Ted were their friends, as opposed to those weird guys over there."
Mr. Reeves says: "In the sequel, Bill and Ted are pretty deadbeat. Their band isn't going anywhere, they're out of high school, they work in a place called Pretzels 'n' Cheese, the girls won't kiss them. Everything's not quite happening."
WHY BOND TO THESE DUDES?
"I think kids connected with the movie because they didn't feel like it was making fun of teenage outcasts," says Mr. Kroopf. "It was really saying, 'Hey, these are two guys who go on this outrageous adventure and have thus always refreshing, unpredictable response to everything.' The most epic things, they're totally cool about; the most mundane things, they get all worked up about. So just watching them react to anything is great fun."
ARE BILL AND TED FUNNY OR JUST STUPID?
"As much as there's some really broad, light, silly stuff, there's a second level of humor that is very hip and sophisticated," says Mr. Kroopf, adding that the scriptwriters, Chris Matheson and Ed Solomon, "wrote with a very serious mind. They didn't set out to write a silly slapstick comedy, they set out to write something with two endearing characters in the tradition of Abbott and Costello and Laurel and Hardy. There's a level of literary jokes running through the first one, and philosophical jokes through the new one. It's that feeling of having something that can operate on several levels at once -- a good, fun ride in terms of a comic adventure, and then satiric or parody-style humor as an undercurrent."
WHO ARE BILL AND TED'S COMEDIC INFLUENCES?
"You can go all the way back to cartoons that have a little bit of satire and parody," says Mr. Kroopf. "That's one of the things that has made cartoons work. If you run Wile E. Coyote off the cliff or drop a ton of bricks on him, the kids will think that's funny. But Chuck Jones can't resist doing a satire on commercialism by labeling everything. Rocky and Bullwinkle always had political satire running underneath something that a 5-year-old can get as simple physical comedy."
ARE BILL AND TED JUST RIP-OFFS OF THE SEAN PENN CHARACTER, SPICOLI, IN FAST TIMES AT RIDGEMONT HIGH?
"No, not at all," says Mr. Winter. "Bill and Ted are not surfer dudes. They're not part of that culture. Spicoli's comedy was drawn from the hazy cloud that he lives in, the fact that you're looking at a human being whois only about 15 per cent aware of what he's doing from moment to moment. Bill and Ted's comedy comes from very different things. They're much more physical comedians; they're clowns. Another thing that separates us from Spicoli is that these characters are trying to tackle real feelings and real emotions. They are struggling to work within the parameters of the real world. What they want is very real -- they want to be great rock-and-roll musicians, and that's a very tangible thing. Their only problem is that they're too stupid to be able to achieve it."
IS THE SEQUEL GOING TO BE LAME?
"It's not as innocent and easy as the other one," says Mr. Reeves. "It's more complicated, and it's got some trippy images in it. It's not violent, really -- we're not swearing, and it's not that dark -- but there is some weird stuff. We die."
Mr. Kroopf says: "We wanted to try to set this in a different arena. We wanted to give Alex and Keanu some acting challenges, so it wasn't like we just run them through the movie and they say 'excellent' and 'party on' every other word. So we bagged the idea of doing another time-travel movie, and the first idea we came up with was having Bill and Ted go through heaven and hell."
WHAT DOES INGMAR BERGMAN HAVE TO DO WITH ALL THIS?
"The biggest set piece in the movie is that in order to get back to life, Bill and Ted have to play Death in games," says Mr. Kroopf. "And the games they play are Battleship, Clue, Twister. So your life is on the line -- you're playing with Death, but you're playing games that Bill and ted know how to play. This is a clear parody of Bergman."
WHAT DO BILL AND TED SAY TO GOD?
"They're just trying to get back to earth, so they're real straightforward with Him," says Mr. Winter. "He's really nice to them, so they kind of treat Him like a pal."
WHAT HAPPENED TO THE ORIGINAL TITLE, BILL AND TED GO TO HELL?
"The problem was -- and it was a real one -- we couldn't advertise on TV until after 9 o'clock," says Mr. Kroopf.
WOULD BILL AND TED MAKE SENSE TO A MARTIAN?
"I was given the second script before I'd seen the first film," says Mr. Hewitt. "So my introduction to Bill and Ted was through the second film. The opening page of the script was a bunch of students from the future discussing what 'excellent' and 'triumphant' and 'outstanding' meant. Without the benefit of a California inflection, it read as, 'What does excellent mean? Well, excellent means really good. What does triumphant mean? That means really excellent.' I thought, what is this?"
ARE BILL AND TED CORRUPTING OUR YOUTH?
"One time when we were filming out in L.A., these two kids came up," says Mr. Reeves. "And one guy was short, and his friend was tall. One was wearing a hat; the other wasn't. He goes, 'Hey, man, yeah, we're starting our own band. We really dig it.' It was amazing. They were total Bill and Ted people."
Mr. Winter says: "That way of life has spread like a disease across the world. All you have to do is hang out at the Sherman Oaks Galleria Mall for half an hour to get a handful of them. You go to Paris, kids are skating around in brightly colored clothes and saying, 'Bon soir, dude.' I'm not saying it's because of Bill and Ted; it's just the way the world is evolving."
PHOTOS: one of "Evil Ted and Evil Bill" wearing shades and smiling in the phone booth, captioned "Keanu Reeves and Alex Winter in Bill and Ted's Bogus Journey' opening Friday -- Does anyone want to go through hell with them?" Very nice photo of Keanu! The other Photo is from the first B&T, with Bill, Ted and Socrates looking panicked as they look through the door of the phone booth.