Fantazia No. 16 (UK), 1991
To Hell and back with Bill and Ted
Bill and Ted, moviedom's most awesome, excellent and outstanding dudes are back. In their new film Bill and Ted's Bogus Journey, the San Dimas duo are whisked to Hell, Heaven and beyond as they attempt to outwit their twisted alter egos, regain their lives, save their princess babes, protect future generations from the forces of evil and, of course, win the Battle of the Bands. Along the way they confront such phantasmagorical heinous forces as The Grim Reaper, God, The Devil, two Martians, the Easter Bunny, Albert Einstein and Bill's 88-year-old Granny Preston.
Starring Keanu Reeves and Alex Winter, the film co-stars William Sadler as The Grim Reaper, Joss Ackland as evil rebel leader De Nombus [sic], with George Carlin once again playing the time travelling dude Rufus. The film is directed by Peter Hewitt, produced by Scott Kroopf, with the screenplay by Chris Matheson and Ed Soloman [sic], who wrote the original screenplay for Bill and Ted’s Excellent Adventure.
On a musical note, the film features songs from bands such as Slaughter, Faith No More, Megadeth and Primus. There are also special guest appearances by Faith No More’s Jim Martin as the world’s greatest guitarist, and San Francisco-based rockers Primus as Bill and Ted’s competition in the climactic Battle of the Bands contest.
A top notch technical team was assembled to bring to life the unique landscapes of Heaven and Hell and the array of weird creatures that Bill and Ted encounter. Supervising the special effects was Oscar nominee Richard Yuricich who worked on Close Encounters of the Third Kind and Blade Runner. Creating the special make-up effects and creatures was Kevin Yagher, who designed and created the mechanical Chucky doll in the Child’s Play films and designed Freddy Krueger's make-up in three of the five Nightmare on Elm Street films. In addition, the effects company Video Image (Die Hard 2, Terminator 2 & Darkman) executed a variety of effects including state-of-the-art computer generated graphics used in creating the afterlife sequences.
The original idea for the characters of Bill and Ted, two suburban teenagers who just want everyone to ‘be excellent to each other,’ came to writers Matheson and Soloman [sic] in 1983 when improvising comedy with a group of fellow UCLA students. Enjoying the imaginary pair so much, they began concocting elaborate routines and histories for them, never intending Bill and Ted to be filmed. A year later, when they found themselves writing letters to each other as the characters, they began to feel they might be on to something. So entrenched were they in the characters identities, that it took a little more than a week to come up with the original script for Bill and Ted’s Excellent Adventure.
It took more than four years to get the film made and released but it was to become a sleeper hit. Audiences couldn’t resist the characters, whose penchant for using terms like ‘excellent’ and ‘dude’ and strumming imaginary air guitars, quickly became part of American culture. "The thing about Bill and Ted" observed Matheson, "is that they treat everyone the same, whether it’s God, the Grim Reaper, a teacher or an ordinary person on the street."
British-born director Peter Hewitt who was chosen over 50 other directors to create a new, exciting epic adventure that would stand apart from the original time travel film, was inspired by the friendship between the two characters. While some might see Bill and Ted as quintessentially American, he found them to be more in the tradition of any popular comic pairing; "Bill and Ted are a latter day Laurel and Hardy," explained Hewitt. "We’ve all had friends we can simply look at and without saying anything, know exactly what they’re thinking. They have that kind of relationship.
"Bill and Ted are the ultimate version of that, one person in two bodies."
Keanu Reeves and Alex Winter remember going through a series of long, rigorous auditions four years ago before landing their roles in Bill and Ted’s Excellent Adventure. Now off-screen friends, they both contribute story ideas and work together to mold various nuances of behavior. Even the writers readily admit that their own ideas for the characters are taken to totally different extremes once the actors get hold of them. "I think Bill and Ted are lovable, but you know, they are also frustrated, like everyone else. They want to let loose with this rock band and yet it’s something they can’t accomplish. They were given this incredible legacy the last time around that they were going to do amazing things and yet none of it has happened yet.
"That creative frustration we all can feel is sort of the essence of their characters for me right now, and it helps send them on this mythic sort of journey. Yet they still maintain that innocence they had before. They haven’t become jaded people. They still have the same spirit. I think we’re doing what Sam Raimi did with with Evil Dead 2, where the sequel improved on the original. The first film was small but successful, so on the second film we have the budget to make the film that we wanted to make the first time."
Reeves likens the characters to people he’s seen in his own life, whose friendship carries them through a variety of situations. He particularly finds the often imitated Bill and Ted-speak (excellent, bogus, bodacious) indicative of a lot of close relationships he’s seen. "For a lot of my friends, I know that kind of thing is true. These two guys I know can rap to each other and I don’t understand what they’re saying. It’s like a whole other thing. Bill and Ted are an example of just really good friends who’ve developed a way of speaking to express how they feel and what they’re doing."
Producer Scott Kroopf hired Matheson and Soloman [sic] to create an all-new adventure that would take the duo to a more fantastic world unlike any that they explored in their previous outing. He successfully lured back Winter and Reeves, whose careers had been taking off since the last film, with the idea that the characters would mature (as the actors had) without losing their humour. Other original cast members, such as George Carlin as their mentor Rufus were also bought back as a familiar counterpoint to the new characters the duo face.
"Their (Reeves and Winter) careers have moved on," said Kroopf. "They’ve grown up, so they were concerned not to still be playing these teenage characters."
"This movie is a mini-mythic comedy, we see Bill and Ted travel through Heaven and Hell and it’s played as if what is going on is absolutely real and happening. The joy comes from pitting these epic concepts against Bill and Ted’s unpredictable reactions and playing it straight-faced."
The film has a much broader scope from its predecessor, allowing for far more character development and for Bill and Ted to grow as real people, instead of being typecast as eternal teenagers. The script is set roughly five years after the first film. After graduating from high school, they have moved into an apartment together but they are still frustrated musicians. Their situation is not improved when they are killed by robot duplicates who take their place in order to sabotage their performance in the Battle of the Bands competition - the presumed event that will set them on the path to the legendary status they enjoy in the future.
Kroopf insisted that the film had a unique look and theme, although there was some initial hesitation to go with the writers’ idea of exploring the afterlife. However the producer quickly saw that the comic possibilities of Bill and Ted ‘hanging out’ with The Grim Reaper were endless, the choice of a director who could convey this kind of humour was vital. Says Kroopf: ‘We wanted a director to whom this film would be his most important work to date. Pete (Hewitt) was hired because he had the best cinematic version of the script. I felt we had to have an extraordinary visual stylist, along the lines of Terry Gilliam or Tim Burton and we felt we found that in Pete."
Hewitt, an inveterate comic book fan was instantly excited by the opportunity; "I saw a lot of possibilities in the script. I was given a chance to do a future, a Hell, Heaven and to deal with death, subjects which have all been done many times in previous movies but to be able to do them my way, using all these great mechanical toys."
Because so many familiar and mythic places were created such as Heaven, Hell and the future, the sets were built to be recognisable enough so as not to take away from the story but different enough for audiences to still be visually intrigued.
Though no two sets were exactly alike, Hewitt decided to create a subliminal feeling of circular shapes to tie them together. The future is presented in an array of bright, vibrant colours contained in a domed classroom; Hell is taken to dark and fiery extremes in a series of round boulders linked by chains to an enormous rocky sphere; Heaven is a collection of dazzlingly white and gleaming cities built on an enormous disc filling an infinite void.
In addition, Bill and Ted’s nightmares are seen through an array of wide lenses that create odd perspectives of already strange looking settings where such characters as the Easter Bunny and Bill’s wraithlike 88-year-old Granny Preston reside. Effects creator Kevin Yagher likened his Bill and Ted design experience to "Working on a more twisted version of Alice in Wonderland." As well as designing prosthetics for Alex Winter to wear, doubling as his own grandmother, he also conjured up an interpretation of the Easter Bunny. By far his most popular creations were the two short, stout hairy ‘Martian’ from Heaven called Stations.
"Our creature approach is a little on the cartoonish side," Yagher joked. "Peter (Hewitt) wanted the Stations to be funny so, I came upon these large butts in a suit that are hairy, naked and have no genitalia."
While the special effects play an important part, the characters and comedy are the main concern. As Hewitt states; "The bottom line was that this is a comedy and it has to be funny. So I was always aware that the technology we were using shouldn’t dampen Bill and Ted’s humour. If I had to choose between a take that was better for the camera or one that was funnier, I’d use the funnier one every time."