Monday, March 07, 2011

Underrated Movie #110: Bill and Ted's Bogus Journey

More Sadler, more creatures from the afterlife...
Title: Bill and Ted’s Bogus Journey
Year: 1991
Director: Peter Hewitt
Writers: Chris Matheson & Ed Solomon
Stars: Keanu Reeves, Alex Winter, William Sadler, Joss Ackland, Pam Grier, George Carlin

The Story: The happy-go-lucky time-travelling slackers return, but this time they explore heaven and hell, challenging death to a series of games, including Battleship, Clue and Twister. Only by making death their thrall can they get back in time to win the Battle the Bands that will make them the greatest prophets of human history.

How it Came to be Underrated: People love to complain about Hollywood’s franchise addiction today, but they forget about how much more ubiquitous sequels were 20 years ago, when every minor hit automatically got one. According to the old rules, we would now be seeing Wedding Crashers 6 and Mean Girls 3. The vast majority of those sequels were truly terrible…

Why It’s Cheesy Fun:

  1. …but something strange happened in the summer of 1991, as the sequel era was dwindling. Some lame comedies from previous years got unnecessary sequels that turned out to be much better, weirder, and more subversive than the originals. Directors were learning to take advantage of the laissez-faire approach studios took to sequels and use that freedom to make truly bizarre personal visions. Bill and Ted’s Excellent Adventure is unwatchable today, but its sequel is shockingly fun and beautifully absurd..
  2. Reeves and Winter are affably fun, but their characters are hindered by having indistinguishable personalities. What gives this movie its bite is Sadler’s absolutely daffy send-up of Bergman’s version of “Death” from The Seventh Seal, which he plays here as a hapless Swedish sad-sack deity. What on earth happened to Sadler’s career? He had a great run for a few years, then disappeared into minor TV roles shortly after his best-remembered role in Shawshank Redemption. At the very least he should be carrying his own CSI vehicle by now... and this role proves that he could have done anything.
  3. This is a great example of how even the zaniest movies need to tap into real emotions, against all odds—the movie couldn’t be more archly tongue-in-cheek, but the visions of hell Bill and Ted are confronted with nevertheless tap into very real, unique-but-universal anxieties.
  4. Re-watching this, I realized how dearly I miss the pre-CGI world. This movie has a super-low budget, but it still gamely swings for the rafters with wildly ambitious art direction that take us all the way through the full limits of human imagination, not constructed out of airless, hollow pixels, but out of actual sets, tangible props and practical effects that have weight and heft and shadows, allowing the actors to really interact with them in unexpected ways. It’s so much more fun to watch the movie knowing that, for one crazy month, all of this stuff actually existed!
  5. For instance, they make it clear in the featurette that this effect was achieved by actually blue-ing up their skin, hair and clothes. Isn’t that fun?

If You Like This, You Should Also Check Out: Two other better-than-the-original sequels that I liked in 1991 were Addams Family Values and Hot Shots Part Deux (Bi-Winning!)

How Available Is It?: It’s on a bare-bones DVD with a fun little contemporary featurette.

Today’s Post Was Brought To You By: Death Picks the Beauty Queen!


Cassandra Mortmain said...

I have traditionally been a huge supporter of this blog, but dude: you CANNOT CALL Bill and Ted's Excellent Adventure unwatchable. IT'S STILL AMAZING, I promise! Dave Beethoven! Joan of Arc leading aerobics! Gengis Khan destroying a sporting goods store! NAPOLEON WINNING THE ZIGGY PIGGY! COME ON! It's such a great movie!


Bill and Ted's Bogus Journey doesn't get enough credit for being excellent, though. There we agree.

NigelAtTheMovies said...

I have to agree with Cassandra, Excellent Adventure is so much better than Bogus Journey.

Anonymous said...

In the past year or two I’m noticing I’ve grown fonder of sequels than the originals, I guess because like you said with a sequel directors are given free reign and the originals have the unfortunate task of setting everything up. Sequels just have to focus on being entertaining, and trying to be different (obviously there are way too many sequels that just rehash the original like Ghostbusters 2)