100 Film Favorites – #89: Bill & Ted’s Bogus Journey
(Peter Hewitt, 1991)
“You might be a king, or a little street-sweeper,
But sooner or later you dance with the reaper.”
Bill & Ted’s Bogus Journey is the sequel to the 1989 film Bill & Ted’s Excellent Adventure…which scored a much higher spot on this list. As far as sequels go, Bogus Journey is no Godfather Part II. It’s undeniably inferior to the previous film, but the return of Bill S. Preston, Esq. and Ted “Theodore” Logan nevertheless has enough new ideas and funny moments to warrant inclusion in the Countdown.
After the events of their excellent adventure, slacker duo Bill & Ted are poised to begin their ascent to Rock & Roll superstardom as “Wyld Stallyns,” the band destined to unite the world with their music. But not if DeNomolos, a villain dissatisfied with the Stallyns-based utopia of the future, has anything to say about it. DeNomolos constructs robot duplicates of Bill & Ted, then journeys back in time to stop the two from winning their local Battle of the Bands, putting an end to their music career…and their lives. DeNomolos sends the Bill & Ted robots to chase their human counterparts out into the desert and murder them.
After traveling around briefly as ghosts, Bill & Ted wind up in Hell. The two flee, pursued by the denizens of their own personal Hells, until they run into the Grim Reaper, with whom they make a deal: If Bill & Ted can beat Death in a game of skill, the Reaper will return them to their lives on Earth. Bill & Ted promptly trounce Death at a series of games ranging from Battleship to Twister and electronic football. Embarrassed, the Reaper is now bound to serve the dimension-hopping duo.
Seeking someone wise enough to help them defeat De Nomolos and the robots, Bill, Ted, and Death travel to Heaven. Here, they meet Albert Einstein, as well as an alien scientist said to be the most intelligent being in the universe (“What, you really think the greatest mind in all the universe would be from Earth?”). Bill & Ted, Death, and the alien scientist return to Earth and construct fighting robots of their own. With these robots and their knowledge of time-travel, Bill & Ted are able to outsmart DeNomolos and overpower his goons. The film ends with them taking the stage triumphantly, with Death and the alien now a part of the band. As the credits roll, a spinning-newspaper montage indicates their music has set in motion the worldwide unity which had been foretold.
There are two primary reasons I like Bogus Journey enough to include it here. First, the film makes extensive references to Ingmar Bergman’s classic 1957 film The Seventh Seal. Bergman’s masterpiece tells the story of a knight traveling across plague-ridden Europe in the 1300s, challenging Death to a chess game, the outcome of which will determine whether he lives or dies. The Swedish film is iconic, but not the kind of reference one might expect in what is basically an 80s stoner comedy. All the same, there it is: The “Bogus Journey” incarnation of Death is straight out of Bergman’s film – a dark-eyed man in white face paint, dressed in a black robe and cowl. As with the chess game in “Seventh Seal,” Death offers Bill and Ted the chance to best him in a competition to win their lives…but since they’re allowed to choose their contest, the two pick modern games and quickly win.
Second, “De Nomolos”, the villain, is simply the name of the film’s writer, Ed Solomon, spelled backwards. I’d love to sneak the same kind of reference into a film someday…but I fear De Nomolos is a little less conspicuous than Nairb Llirret.
I also found it funny how throughout the film, De Nomolos is repeatedly referred to as the “old teacher” of Rufus (George Carlin), Bill & Ted’s time-traveling mentor from the first film. The implication is that De Nomolos instructed Rufus in becoming a powerful time-mentor guy, a la Jedi training. The end of the film, however, reveals that De Nomolos was merely a former gym teacher of Rufus’…still technically “my old teacher.”
Finally, though it wasn’t perfect (with the bizarre “personal Hells” scene a particularly confusing moment), Bill & Ted’s Bogus Journey does a reasonably good job of continuing the story of the first film. All the major cast returns, and the plot of Bogus Journey admirably fills the gap between the close of Excellent Adventure, which has the boys banging away amateurishly on their instruments, and the utopian future we’ve been told is honed by the music they are destined to create. Ultimately, regardless of the film’s flaws, it’s good fun to join the Stallyns in another journey through time and space. But as Bill & Ted tell us, in their own re-wording of Dorothy’s “No Place like Home” sentiment,
“We’ve been to the past. We’ve been to the future. We’ve been all around the Afterlife. And you know, the best place to be is here. And the best time to be is now.
Now all we can say, is ‘Let’s Rock!'”
And so, until I post again: Be excellent to each other, and party on, dudes!