Bill and Ted’s Excellent Adventure [retro review]

rbillted“Be excellent to each other… and… party on, dudes!”

The Scoop: 1989 PG, directed by Stephen Herek and starring Keanu Reeves, Alex Winter & George Carlin

Tagline: History is about to be rewritten by two guys who can’t spell

Summary Capsule: Two slackers travel through time in order to save their failing history grades

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Justin’s Rating: Keanu finds his niche

Justin’s Review: I have one of those deep, personal confessions to make that will make you all shift uncomfortably in your respective computer chairs: my first love was in this movie. Pause. Okay, it’s definitely not Ted (Keanu Reeves) or Bill (Alex Winters), so take a breather. I first saw Bill and Ted’s Excellent Adventure at a church lock-in, and had to instantly see it three more times that night… for Joan of Arc. Who could see this film and not fall in love with the mostly silent medieval vixen who wielded a sword of steel and had eyes of glimmering moondrops? Not, I; I am made of flesh, my friends. Still, to this day, I get a little twinge in the ol’ heart muscle when I revisit the land of Bill and Ted.

Bill and Ted are two quite dumb-yet-funky dudes who carry on the grand tradition of slacker buddy films (see Wayne’s World and the like). Unable to get their band off the ground (perhaps due to the fact that they can’t play guitar) and failing their history class, the two represent the biggest crisis… for the future!

You see, in typical 80’s “making the plot up as we eat these magic mushrooms” fashion, Bill and Ted will become responsible for bringing peace and prosperity to earth with their music — as long as they don’t fail history! So the future sends back Rufus (George Carlin) to give them a time machine and one meager day to create the best history report ever made. Take the freakiest spirit of the eighties, travel to historical lands, collide with figures like Abe Lincoln and Sigmund Freud, and you get one of the sweetest films EVER.

Time travel never made as little sense as it does here; after all, our heroes use a phone booth with a Circuits of Time Directory to guide them to wherever they want to go. However, the time travel aspect really isn’t too complicated and doesn’t take away from the plot at all. For example, early on the heroes end up bumping into… themselves! While it could’ve been quite confusing, the filmmakers tie up any loose ends with stretchy logic. In any case, it’s all just a large comedic excuse to get these 80’s dudes into the Wild West, Old Greece, and even the future. Later in the movie it’s an excuse to have historical futures in the (past) present. Now that I think of it, I really wished I had one of these phone booth thingies. I miss the eighties. I bet you all want me to shut up talking about how great of a decade it was. Tough luck.

I suppose I should briefly do a character study. Keanu Reeves has never been more at home than in Bill and Ted; you can see the lingering effects even in The Matrix, where he says “Whoa!”. Keanu is the drunk Spock to Alex Winter’s masochistic Kirk. The beauty of slacker friends in films is that they’re nearly invincible. No evil beings can outsmart them, since they don’t have smarts to start with. No situation can overcome them, because a quick “Bogus!” and an inane plan later, they’re kings of the world.

I know how standard it is to have the downtrodden heroes to come out on top at the end, but I still get chills from the truly outrageous ending, which presents the all-time best high school history presentation (nevermind that no school would ever turn out in its entirety for history reports). I get a minor buzz from the sweet pre-Windows computer graphics and animation. The lingo, unashamed and cheesy, is still relevant for many conversations (“Party on, Mr. President”). But it really all comes down to a little French warrior chick who stole my heart at a very tender age. This movie made me a man. Not a very grown up man, but a man all the same.

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Lissa’s Rating: I suppose “excellent!” is a really dumb joke these days.

Lissa’s Review: There are two versions of this review, I’m sure. There’s the objective version, which deals with plot and acting and dialogue and cinematic merit. Then there’s the who-the-heck-cares-about-the-objective version, which says it doesn’t matter about plot and acting and dialogue and cinematic merit, because this is a fun movie and I really don’t care about all that stuff. It shouldn’t take a rocket scientist to figure out which version this is already.

For those of you under 20 or so, the objective version would explain that Bill and Ted’s Excellent Adventure is my generation’s Dude, Where’s My Car? And the objective review is probably right in that assessment — especially since I wrote it and I like thinking I’m right. Ha! But in short, it’s a fun movie that requires no brain power and makes you laugh a lot, and hey — that’s a good enough reason for me to watch it right there.

All that said, you’ve got to admit that the plot of Bill and Ted’s Excellent Adventure is definitely creative. Two boys, destined to change the world quite literally (how their music aligns the planets is beyond me, but really, why go there?), are flunking history, and a helpful time traveler from the future gives them a telephone booth to get them to pass their history test, because if they fail their test they will be separated forever and the culture will no longer be based in the rapturous melodies that they create. Got it? Why not, aside from the fact that was a pretty amazing run-on sentence? It makes complete sense, in a bizarre sort of way. And besides, how many other movies have two kids collecting historical figures for their history report? (Historical figures who are remarkably calm about traveling through time and facing the present day?) It’s one of those plots that are so simplistic and so bizarre that it goes around the curve to be immensely entertaining. And besides, Bill and Ted’s Excellent Adventure boasts what is by far the best use of time travel ever in a movie. Consequences? Alternate realities? Of what relevance are they to this plot? Absolutely none, and so time travel is just used as it should be — pure fantasy and fun.

While a discussion of acting seems rather irrelevant, I do have to say this was one of Keanu Reeve’s best roles ever, and I have always had a hard time separating him from Ted. I know I’m not the only one, either, and I kind of think he never did fully break away from Ted until he played Neo in The Matrix. Alex Winter has pretty much joined That-Guy-From-Wham!-That’s-Not-George-Michael in Celebrity Anonimity, but he certainly worked well as Bill. And I always got a major kick out of the guy playing So-Crates (Tony Steedman, and come on, you can’t actually call him Socrates when discussing Bill and Ted). Seriously, he barely said a word (I think he says his name twice), but he’s still a riot. And Billy the Kid was pretty cute.

I’m really not sure what more to say about Bill and Ted, but I needed to hand in a review soon and I’ve seen this on TV several times, and I never get tired of it. From the abduction of each historical figure to the ludicrous logic to the final history report, this one never ceases to entertain me. High-brow film it may not be, but it’s actually rewatchable and fun, and that’s all that matters sometimes.

And this, boys and girls, is why the 80's will never be topped

And this, boys and girls, is why the 80's will never be topped

Intermission!

  • Whatever happened to those funky guitars?
  • How could nine people fit in a phone booth?
  • Chewing gum and fruit cans – your basic repair essentials
  • Bill & Ted introduce Rufus to themselves – Rufus never tells them his name.
  • The rescue scene of Bill and Ted (their comrades pretending to be executioners and escaping on a horse-drawn carriage) is the same way that D’Artagnan is rescued in The Three Musketeers, which was also directed by Stephen Herek.
  • When Bill reads the assignment to Ted, he says, “Express to the class how an important historical figure from each of your time periods would view the world of San Dimas, 1988.” His lips are actually saying, “San Dimas, 1987″ and the “1988” was dubbed later because of a delay in the movie’s release.
  • The Three Most Important People In The World are played by Clarence Clemons, Fee Waybill, and Martha Davis. Joan of Arc was played by Jane Wiedlin, guitarist for the Go-Gos. And Stevie Salas provides the fingering for Rufus during the jam session at the end of the movie.
  • The footage for Napoleon’s battle in Austria was taken from the movie War and Peace
  • Every scene shot during the section of the film at the San Dimas mall, including the ice rink, were all filmed on location at the MetroCenter Mall in Phoenix, Arizona.
  • Originally, Alex Winter auditioned for the role of Ted and Keanu Reeves auditioned for the role of Bill.
  • In the original script, the time machine was a 1969 Chevy Van, but the filmmakers thought that it would be a rip-off of Back to the Future. So, they changed it to a phone booth (apparently unconcerned that “Doctor Who” uses a police telephone box as its time machine). Also, when they used the van, Bill and Ted picked up more historical figures than they did in the final film.
  • Principal photography was completed in 1987, but the film’s release was delayed because the film’s original distributor, DEG, went bankrupt before it could be released. Finally, Orion Pictures and Nelson Entertainment bought the rights to the movie in 1988, and it was released in 1989.
  • John F. wrote in: “I should point you to ‘Bill & Ted’s Excellent Comic Book’, possibly one of the best conversions of a movie into print. It featured the boys, their wives, their kids, their attempt to create a band, and all sorts of fun things. What brought it to mind is that Missy, who’s Bill’s stepmother in the movies, actually divorces Bill’s father and marries Ted’s father, which leaves Bill’s father a depressed wreck through much of the series. It was drawn and written by Evan Dworkin, who’s also known for ‘Milk & Cheese’, ‘Dork!’ and other really cool books.”

Groovy Quotes

Ted: This is a dude who, 700 years ago, totally ravaged China, and who, we were told, 2 hours ago, totally ravaged Oshman’s Sporting Goods.

Ox: San Dimas High School football rules!

Bill: OK Ted, George Washington. One: the father of our country.
Ted: Two: born on President’s Day.
Bill: Three: the dollar bill guy.
Ted: Bill, did you ever made a mushroom out of his head?
Bill: Ted?
Ted: What?
Bill: Alaska.
Ted: OK. Um…
[thinks for a moment]
Ted: Had wooden teeth, chased Moby Dick.
Bill: That’s Captain Ahab, dude.

Bill: I’m Bill S. Preston, Esquire.
Ted: And I’m Ted “Theodore” Logan.
Bill, Ted: And together, we’re WYLD STALLYNS.

Mr. Ryan: It seems to me the only thing you’ve learned is that Caesar is a “salad dressing dude.”

Ted: Your stepmom is cute.
Bill: Shut up, Ted.
Ted: Remember when she was a senior and we were freshmen?
Bill: Shut up, Ted!

Bill: Be excellent to each other.
Ted: Party on, dudes.

Bill: Come on, this is a history report, not a babe report.
Ted: But, Bill, those are historical babes.

Bill: You killed Ted, you medieval dickweed!

Ted: [to Socrates] All we are is dust in the wind, dude.

Bill: Billy, you are dealing with the oddity of time travel with the greatest of ease.

Ted: Now your dad’s actually going for it in your room.
Bill: Shut up, Ted.
Ted: Your step-mom is cute, though.
Bill: Shut up, Ted.
Ted: Remember when I asked her to the prom?
Bill: Shut up, Ted.

Evil Duke: Put them in the iron maiden.
Ted: Iron Maiden?
Bill, Ted: Excellent! [air guitar]
Evil Duke: Execute them.
Bill, Ted: Bogus!

Ted: Strange things are afoot at the Circle-K.

Ted: OK wait. If you guys are really us, what number are we thinking of?
Bill, Ted: 69, dudes.
Bill, Ted: Whoa.

Bill, Ted: Catch you later, Bill and Ted.
Bill: That conversation made more sense this time.

Police Psychiatrist: I don’t know why you claim to be Sigmund Freud.
Sigmund Freud: Why do you claim I’m not Sigmund Freud?
Police Psychiatrist: Why do you keep asking me these questions?
Sigmund Freud: Tell me about your mother.

Ted: As you can see, Genghis greatly enjoys Twinkies because of the excellent sugar rush.

Abraham Lincoln: Fourscore and… seven minutes ago, we, your forefathers, were brought forth upon a most excellent adventure concieved by our new friends, Bill and Ted. These two great gentlemen are dedicated to proposition which was true in my time, just as it’s true today. Be excellent to each other. And… PARTY ON, DUDES!

Rufus: They do get better.

Socrates: [In Greek] Like sands through the hour glass, so are the days of our lives.

Ted: [to Missy] Uh, Ms. Preston. We’d like you to meet some of our… friends.
Bill: Yeah. This is Dave Beeth Oven. And, uh, Maxine of Arc, Missy. Herman the Kid.
Ted: Bob “Genghis” Khan. So-crates Johnson. Dennis Frood. And uh, uh… Abraham Lincoln.

Rufus: Hi, and welcome to the future. San Dimas, California, 2688. And I’m telling you, everything is great. The air is clean. The water is clean. Even the dirt… is clean. Bowling averages are way up. Mini-golf scores are way down. And we have more waterslides than any other planet we communicate with. I’m telling you, it’s great. But it almost wasn’t. You see, 700 years ago the Two Great Ones ran into a few problems. So now I must travel back in time to help them out. If I should fail to keep these two on the correct path, the basis of our society will be in danger. Don’t worry. It’ll make sense. I’m a professional.

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7 Comments

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