Back to the Future with Bill and Ted
In the new sequel, those time-trippin’ teens share an adventure in hell!
by Frank T. Cosentino
The year is 2691 A.D. Students at a university in San Dimas, California are being instructed by a man named Rufus. What are they being taught? These potentially excellent students are learning the totally excellent teachings of Bill and Ted, that is, until the evil Denomolos takes it upon himself to rid the world of any inkling of the two. He has the ultimate secret weapon – the evil robot twins of Bill and Ted, which are sent back in time to take over the lives of the real Bill and Ted and discredit them, thereby changing the course of history. Most non-triumphant!!
Just when you thought it was safe to get back into your time machine, those air guitar-playing, heavy metal-loving heroes of time travel are back in Bill and Ted’s Excellent Adventure II. Alex Winter and Keanu Reeves reprise their title roles as Bill and Ted in a comic odyssey that takes them to heaven, hell and beyond to protect the world from evil, save the women they love and, oh yes, win the local Battle of the Bands contest.
If you thought the supporting characters in the 1989 original, which included Abraham Lincoln, Joan of Arc and Socrates, were a rather odd and eccentric bunch, well – you haven’t seen anything yet. This sequel boasts God, Satan, the Grim Reaper, two Martians, the Easter Bunny and an array of other formidable forces as its supporting cast. Recreating their roles from the original are comic great George Carlin (Rufus), Hal Landon, Jr. (Capt. Logan), and former Star Search spokesmodel and Dallas regular, Amy Stock-Poynton as Bill’s stepmom, Missy – the center of his "minor Oedipal complex." What about the "excellent" babes Bill and Ted rescued in their first adventure? They’re back, too – only this time they are being portrayed by Sarah Trigger and Annette Azcuy. Seated at the helm of this roller coaster ride through the annals of time is director Pete Hewitt, in his feature film debut.
Twenty-eight year old Hewitt, a graduate of England’s prestigious National Film School, won the British equivalent of the Academy Award in 1989 for his original 30 minute short film, The Candy Show. He was chosen over 50 other directors to create a visually intriguing new film that would stand on its own.
There was little doubt that there would be a sequel to Bill and Ted’s Excellent Adventure The film was the sleeper hit of 1989, and the enormously popular of Bill and Ted were even spun off into a Saturday morning cartoon series. Hewitt was ready to rise to the challenge and wasn’t concerned about comparisons that may be drawn between the two pictures. "I think it used to be the case where sequels were sort of slapped together based on the success of the original film. I don’t think that’s the case anymore. I think it’s perfectly acceptable. I thought a lot about whether it was a good idea to do a sequel and I think it doesn’t really matter if it’s a sequel. What it boils down to is whether it’s a good script or not," says Hewitt.
In putting together the new Bill and Ted film, producer Scott Kroopf, who also produced the original, as well as Outrageous Fortune, and the recent hit Class Action, was determined to round up as much of the talent responsible for the success of the first film and then let them go in a new and different direction. He hired writers Chris Matheson and Ed Solomon, who created the characters and penned the original screenplay for Bill and Ted’s Excellent Adventure, to come up with a new script that would take the pair to previously unexplored and more elaborate territories.
The creation of the "Bill and Ted" characters came about in 1983 when writers Matheson and Solomon were improvising comedy within a group of fellow UCLA students. They invented histories and acted out routines for the seemingly witless pair, who always appeared to be out of sync with the rest of the world, but perfectly tuned into each other. Hewitt feels that it is the special relationship which Bill and Ted share that is responsible for the success of the first film and the immense popularity of the characters. "Everybody at some point in their life has had a friend they could just turn around to and nod or wink, or not even say anything at all, and still be completely understood," the director says. He also credits stars Reeves and Winter. "They’re just so perfectly cast and so charming," Hewitt adds. "The two of them are really good friends and it shows, it really shows."
Although fantasy and science fiction propel the plot, the most important aspect of this film, according to Hewitt, "is definitely the comedy; the comedy from the relationship between the two characters and also how they interact with what’s around them. One thing I’ve been very careful to keep my eye on is that the places they go to don’t overwhelm them. The important thing is that it’s Bill and Ted in hell, and that we get to see hell . . . it’s more important that we go in and almost look over the shoulders of Bill and Ted and see how they react to these situations."
The accent may be on comedy, but the sequel’s fantasy element is still substantial. A top notch technical team has been hired to help Hewitt create the mythical yet familiar places and creatures which Bill and Ted encounter on their journey.
Richard Yuricich, an Oscar nominee for his amazing work in the science fiction greats Close Encounters of the Third Kind and Blade Runner, is supervising special effects and serving as second unit director. Creating special make-up effects is Kevin Yagher, best known as the mastermind behind the "Chucky" doll in Child’s Play and Child’s Play II. Yagher also designed and applied the make-up in three of the five Nightmare on Elm Street films.
Visual design became extremely important in the making of this film. The idea was to keep the audience intrigued but not overwhelmed by what they saw, so as not to take away from the story. Working with production designer David L. Snyder, Hewitt used 25 sets built on three soundstages and other outside locales. Although no two sets are alike, a subliminal feeling of circular shapes was used to tie them together. Heaven is an assortment of white, gleaming cities built on an enormous disc; classrooms of the future are domed and multi-colored.
As far as effects and design go, hell posed the biggest challenge. "I wanted it to look hellish," says Hewitt. "I wanted it to look like a conventional, stereotypical image of hell in so much as it was fiery, red rock and furnace-like, but at the same time, be something you haven’t seen before." To that end, many computer-generated special effects were used, as well as split screen and a variety of wide lenses that create odd perspectives of the strange, new worlds Bill and Ted must venture through.
Special attention was also paid to the music, as Bill and Ted are loyal rock and roll fans who have their own band, Wyld Stallions (sic). A number of rock artists are used for acting roles in the film, including Jim Martin, guitarist for the Grammy-nominated hard rock group Faith No More. Martin is featured throughout as a visitor in the future. In addition, a string of local bands perform in the climactic Battle of the Bands concert scenes.
With the Bill and Ted sequel in release the multi-talented Hewitt plans to direct a feature length version of his acclaimed short film, The Candy Show, using a script he co-wrote. His advice to anyone attempting to break into the movie industry is simple: "Trust your instincts. Get some money, get some film, and just do it."
Does the future hold another excellent adventure for Bill and Ted? Hewitt claims that, box-office pending, there is no talk of another sequel at this point in time. Whether these best buddies return in a third screen outing or not, you can be sure their motto will never tarnish: "Be excellent to each other" and party on, dudes!