An important piece of cinema

Wayne and Garth smile.

Party on Wayne, party on Garth.
Picture: Primordial

Watching Wayne’s World in 2022 it’s like ride a time machine which goes backwards and forwards at the same time. In a way, it’s a perfect snapshot of the early 1990s. The music, the clothes, the references, the attitude, it’s all as 1992 as you can imagine. And yet, looking the other way, it’s ahead of its time in ways audiences couldn’t understand at the time. He’s so self-aware, so well-versed in film and pop culture as a whole, that he feels like a precursor to self-referential films like Scream Where dead Pool which will appear years later. Then, on top of all that, it remains as hilarious and funny as ever.

Released February 14, 1992, Wayne’s World turns 30 this month and to celebrate Paramount released (and sent io9) a brand new limited edition Blu-ray Steelbook. The Steelbook is nice, although extra features are scarce, so the real gem is starting to appreciate Wayne’s World in a whole new way. I first saw it when it was initially released, and at 12 I loved it on a very basic level. Funny jokes, cute girls, goofy guys, cool rock music, it was Wayne’s World. It was my introduction to Queen and product placement as a joke, and an extension of my growing love for comedy, Saturday Night Live, and the actors who were there. It was a film for the times at the time, and those times were transitional.

Only now do I see how director Penelope Spheeris and her team have done Wayne’s World a window on culture of the 1990s. Take the opening of the film. The movie doesn’t open with Wayne and Garth like the SNL sketches do. It opens with two iconic 1980s stars (Rob Lowe of Brat Pack fame and Ione Skye of say anything) watching TV filled with commercials with products totally from the 90s: a Chia Pet, the Clapper and video game rooms. Those 80s the stars literally surf the canals through the 90s and that’s where they reunite with Wayne Campbell (Mike Myers) and Garth Algar (Dana Carvey).

Wayne and Garth on a car hood.

The car scenes are some of the most serious in the film.
Picture: Primordial

We never know exactly how old Wayne and Garth are, but we guess they’re around 25, which means they were born in the late 1960s, so it makes sense that their references aren’t from the 90s – they are from ’60 and 70sand the film is full of them: Laverne and Shirley, star trekLed Zeppelin, Queen, Mission: Impossible, The Omen, Bewitched, etc Wayne and Garth use the pop culture of their youth as their window to the modern world, which ends up being a great way to cement the film in this era. Never before or after will there be characters that look and sound exactly like that, talk about those specific things. It’s here now and then it’s gone. They are young adults from the 90ss. The beginning of a generation whose entire existence was enveloped in the pop culture they consumed: video games, the internet, etc. This is their start. Wayne and Garth are our origin story.

What happened in the end? You get movies like Scream, Swingers, Pulp Fiction, Deadpool. Movies made by people who love movies, talk about movies, and require a wealth of prior knowledge to it’s up to you to take full advantage of it. Heck, it can even extend to something like the marvel cinematic universewhere elaborate comic book connections justify illogical teams like three actors all playing Spider-Man at the same time, or a three-one hour film which is a sequel of 20 movies before him. Such storylines only work if the audience is incredibly cinema-savvy, and few characters until 1992 were as cinema-savvy as Wayne and Garth. Add to that the film’s multiple musical interludes, the continuous and sometimes very elaborate breaking of the fourth wall, and the characters clear awareness of all this, and Wayne’s World is a movie about movies that knows it’s a movie.

Wayne and Casandra in the music store.

No “staircase”. Refuse!
Picture: Primordial

Which doesn’t mean Wayne’s World invented it all. Filmmakers have been ripping off filmmakers since the dawn of cinema. Films about films have always existed, like breaking the fourth wall. (Mel Brooks comes to mind as a good example of all of these things.) But the way Wayne’s World not only these things, but when it made them, as a generation of filmmakers and fans who are now asserting themselves as the artists use much of the same techniques, feel important. It’s formative. It’s something I never expected to get from a movie I’ve seen so many times that I can basically quote it line by line.

Because there’s no way Myers, Spheeris and everyone else wanted the movie to read like this. It’s just a hilarious movie with a few jabs at corporate America wanting to push the envelope in unexpected ways. That’s why you get some of the darker humor, some of the more current references (like Robert Patrick in his Terminator 2 role), and the funny, ambiguous triple ending. There’s even a mid-credits and post-credits scene. It’s kind of experimental, very quirky, and really the mark of something really special.

Like wine, great things like Wayne’s World only gets better with age. The film has an exuberant confidence that allows it to do almost anything and still be completely logical. He has a distinct point of view without borders and it is only now, through 30 years of nostalgia, that we realize that this point of view was not only of the past and the present. It was from the future too.

New Wayne’s World Blu-ray is now available.

Wayne Garth and Benjamin.

I have many thoughts about Benjamin.
Picture: Primordial

Random thoughts

  • Although Wayne’s World is very 1992 in some of its stereotypes and objectifications, I was honestly surprised at how well it dealt with these issues for its time. For example, at first glance, it may seem offensive that the second thing the Chinese woman does in the film is described as “kung fu fighting.” But Cassandra, played by Tia Carrere, rises above that. She’s a leader. A model. An independent woman who is just chasing her dreams. She is the object of Wayne’s affections but never an object herself. Another example is that there are a few deliberately awkward moments where the male characters seem put off by another man saying “I love you”. Are these “gay jokes?” Yes. Do they feel dated and weird? Yes. Does the movie finally acknowledge them by admitting to being clumsy and fake? Yes. Thirty years hasn’t left the film culturally unscathed, but it’s better than many others.
  • Even to this day, the film’s central storyline doesn’t sit well with me, I like it as best I can. It’s mostly that Rob Lowe’s character, Benjamin, feels too important to care about any of this. You’re supposed to think of it as a child of the 80s poster yuppie greed. But this stereotype is rarely hard-hitting. So seeing him exploit two seemingly random guys with a cable access show to gain controlthe action of a local arcade chain owner just doesn’t count. Is Noah’s Arcade really that important? It is obviously a big advertiser but only the Chicago area. It seems like such a short time. But then again, local advertising was surely more common in 1992 and the whole thing had to be relatively short to involve two cable access hosts. Maybe that’s right Lowe’s looks and performance that don’t match. Speaking of what…
  • After reviewing, Benjamin isn’t quite the villain the movie makes him out to be. I admit, maybe it’s me who’s 42 talking when it was done for me who’s 12, but Wayne and Garth were totally taken in. Everything Benjamin does to them (except for trying to steal Wayne’s daughter, and even that’s done pretty peacefully) is in the contracts. The contracts the pair signs without reading them carefully. Later, they walk on set, oblivious to everything that’s going on. All of this makes it seem like even a few minutes of research would have given them a better perspective on everything. Again, that is of course the point. They are innocent. But it’s kind of scary that old age has made me see things more clearly on the bad guy’s side.

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About Michael Sauers

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