Bill and Ted’s Excellent Adventure
I watched two movies over the weekend that predominantly featured teenagers and was fascinated by how differently the writers approached the characters. In Hellworld, which I watched as part of my thank-God-its-over marathon of the Hellraiser saga, the teenagers are broody and full of themselves. This contrasts quite a lot to the happy-go-lucky Bill and Ted, of Bill and Ted’s Excellent Adventure. The two films could not be more different: one is a mid 2000s horror movie while the other is a 1989 genteel stoner-ish comedy. Yet all movies have similar goals, one of which is creating likable, relatable characters. It’s here where Bill and Ted’s Excellent Adventure succeeds. Bill S. Preston, Esq. (Alex Winter) and Ted “Theodore” Logan (Keanu Reeves) are likable, relatable, and memorable. Despite the kids in Hellworld having called each other by name with every line (a movie practice I truly despise), I couldn’t tell you any of the characters’ names, even 24 hours later. Yet Bill and Ted endure. Partly because I first watched this movie as a teenager, but also because the characters feel authentic and Winter and Reeves both sell Bill and Ted as likable guys you want to root for.
For a genteel 1989 comedy, there’s a lot to still like about Bill and Ted’s Excellent Adventure. For one thing, the future is a utopia. How many movies exist today where the future is a happy place? I can’t think of many. Of course, utopia is in danger. The foundation of this future society rests in the music of Wyld Stallions, lead by Bill and Ted. Unfortunately, in the present, Bill and Ted are on the verge of breaking up the band. Unless they pass their history report, Ted is getting shipped off to military school. No More Wyld Stallions. (Military school. Remember that plot device?)
Enter Rufus (George Carlin, playing the straight man for once). With the aid of a
TARDIS time machine, Rufus goes back in time to help Bill and Ted with their history report. Bill and Ted are given free use of the time machine to help them pass their report. “Help” in this case means “kidnapping historical figures and making them speak at the oral presentation.” These are logical moves for high school teenagers of the 80s, and really, it’s all in good fun. Most of the film’s humor comes from the historical figures getting used to life in the 1980s, with its malls, station wagons and corn dogs.
While the film never reaches Primer-levels of time-travel attention to detail, it doesn’t really need to. Bill and Ted’s Excellent Adventure is a fish-out-of-water comedy more than a time-travel movie. The gags come from high-school kids mistaking the medieval Iron Maiden as a good thing, or Napoleon having fun at a water-slide park called Waterloo. Bill and Ted also have unique mannerisms and ways of speaking, such as playing air guitar or using words like “bogus” or “heinous” in normal speech. Winter and Reeves sell this to great effect, and at no time do I feel like the writers were trying too hard to write how teenagers really talked.
As you may expect, the movie dos require a large suspension of disbelief. I remember exactly when I had to shut my brain off. Bill and Ted had dropped their historical figures off at the mall, and while the titular duo went in search of Napoleon, Billy the Kid, Socrates and the rest were left to their own devices. One of the historical figures, Genghis Khan, found a sporting-goods store, and the baseball bats they sold. During the scene, where Genghis Khan first tries to bite the bat to test its strength and then uses it to demolish the store, I remember thinking “How would the Mongol invasion been different if Genghis Khan had brought back aluminum baseball bats?”
I can guarantee you no one had given the idea much thought. The writers certainly didn’t. Bill and Ted aren’t the kind of time-travelers who cover their tracks. These two slackers walk right up to any historical figure and say “Come with us; we’re from the future.” What’s crazy is that the historical figures accept time travel without question. But what’s going to happen once the history report is over and everyone returns to their own times? Would Beethoven incorporate heavy metal melodies into his odes? Would Joan of Arc train her forces in aerobics? To what effect? How would Sigmund Freud take his rejection of 80s valley girls and use that in his practice?
Best not to think about such things. Best not to wonder if talking to a bunch of 80s high school students is the best use of Abraham Lincoln’s time. Bet just to watch and enjoy the movie.
Quick summary: Unless they pass their history report, Bill and Ted will never realize their dream of forming a band. Enter Rufus, who gives them a time machine and lets them experience history first hand.
Too many writers? Two seems about right for this type of genteel humor.
Recommended if you like: Encino Man, not fretting over time-travel paradoxes.
Better than I expected? Now that I’m an adult I finally get it when Bill says to Sigmund Freud “I just have a minor Oedipal complex.”
Worse than I hoped? I really had to turn off my brain to enjoy this movie, otherwise the time-travel plot holes would have ruined it for me.
Would it work better in a different medium? Between this and the not-unwatchable equal, I’m satisfied with Bill and Ted’s world.
Verdict: It’s fun to watch a movie where George Carlin was the serious one and Keanu Reeves was the silly one, instead of the other way round.
Related Reading: Wiki article