Bill and Ted’s Excellent Adventure (1989)

Posted: January 18, 2015 in Movie Review
Tags: , , , , , , , , , , , , , ,

Bill and Ted's Excellent Adventure (1989)

Director: Stephen Herek

Starring: Keanu Reeves, Alex Winter, George Carlin

If you had a time machine, and could therefore travel into the future to see what you make of yourself, what does that mean for the course of the timeline? Would your foreknowledge cause you to irrevocably alter its path, or were you always meant to know your own destiny? I would think that simply being surrounded by a future world which is completely foreign in its appearance would be more than enough to test a normal person’s sanity. To know… not just believe, but know… that you’re supposed to be the savior of an entire culture, you’d have to be walking on egg shells for the rest of your life, hoping that every move you make does nothing to screw up life as it is meant to be. Of course, if you’re the sort who goes through life believing that Julius Caesar is a “salad dressing dude,” then maybe it’ll all just seem like a fun ride.

Bill S. Preston, Esq. (Alex Winter) and Ted “Theodore” Logan (Keanu Reeves) are two teenage friends living in San Dimas, California. Each is dumb as a post but well-meaning. Bill and Ted have musical aspirations, and have formed a band they call Wyld Stallyns, despite the fact that they don’t even know how to play their own guitars. What these two don’t know is that their band is destined one day to create music that will unite the planet. Right now, they can’t even pass their high school history course, a fact which threatens to break up the band before it even has a chance to begin. Ted’s father, a San Dimas Police Captain who has no faith in his son’s music dreams or in his choice of friends, means to ship Ted off to an Alaskan military school.

Traveling to our time from the year 2688, Rufus (George Carlin) is tasked with making sure the two Great Ones (as they are known in the 2600’s) remain on their path. Rufus intercepts the architects of Earth’s utopian future at a Circle K convenient store, where Bill and Ted are foolishly trying to wring historical information out of the employees. Arriving in his telephone-booth time machine, Rufus is in the middle of making his pitch when a second booth arrives, carrying with it a second Bill and Ted (and what looks to be a few other people). The second Bill and Ted convince their startled counterparts that they are who they appear to be, and to implicitly trust Rufus. Congratulations, boys, you’ve just participated in your first temporal paradox! After Bill and Ted #2 leave, Rufus takes Bill and Ted #1 on a trip to 1805 Austria, where they witness a French invasion led by Napoleon Bonaparte. Inadvertently pulling Napoleon through the time circuits back to 1988 San Dimas, the boys get the idea to collect more historical figures, the idea being that they can get them to speak at their history report. Eventually, this group will grow to include Billy the Kid, Socrates, Sigmund Freud, Ludwig van Beethoven, Genghis Khan, Joan of Arc and Abraham Lincoln.

Beyond the boys new famous friends, I think my favorite supporting character in the movie is the history teacher, Mr. Ryan, played by Bernie Casey. Mr. Ryan appears to be the kind of teacher who has been at his profession long enough to know how to relate to his students, but not long enough to have run out of patience. Bill and Ted have flunked every section of his class. Mr. Ryan knows these kids well enough to know that it’s not because they aren’t trying, but perhaps they lack the proper motivation. Taking the gentle but firm approach, he explains that he doesn’t want to have to flunk them, but won’t have any choice left if they get anything less than an A+ on their report.

“Bill and Ted” sure does take an interesting approach to the time travel angle. Originally, the mode of temporal transportation was to have been an automobile, but the highly successful “Back to the Future” had already been there and done that only four short years earlier, so a telephone booth was substituted instead. Who could’ve known that telephone booths would become obsolete within the next 15-20 years. You’d need a time machine to have guessed that. Hmm…

The rules of time travel in this movie do not appear entirely consistent throughout, changing as needed to serve the plot. One long sequence at the police station which requires that Bill and Ted have predetermined distractions set up by and for them is contrived at best, and outright confusing if you try to analyze it too much. Napoleon’s story arc, which eventually sees him stranded on his own in a foreign land/time is highly amusing, yet avoidable once you consider that the reason it happens at all is because Bill and Ted left him behind with Ted’s little brother, instead of dragging him along as they do with all of the other famous characters. Speaking of the others, it’s an incredible turn of luck that their removal from their time periods and subsequent return do nothing to change history. I’m also not sure exactly how much time they spend with Bill and Ted to “get to know them.” Everyone seems like buddies by the end, but I don’t know that they’re familiar enough with each other to even be able to understand what each other is saying. But I think the one thing that really bugs me is the notion that the clock in Bill and Ted’s present day is “always running.” If they have a time machine, what does that even matter? It shouldn’t, but the movie needs a certain amount of drama/suspense to it, otherwise we’re just “marking time” until the inevitable history report, which is presented appropriately like a rock concert. The best thing to do is just ignore all of this and just enjoy the ride.

As important to “Bill and Ted’s Excellent Adventure” as its comedic and sci-fi elements is the music. For a movie which is all about time travel, the rock n’ roll soundtrack places it firmly within the 1980’s. Because a lot of the music of the time was about having fun, it’s impossible not to comply when you hear songs like Big Pig’s “I Can’t Break Away,” Vital Signs’ “The Boys and Girls Are Doing It,” Shark Island’s “Father Time,” Power Tool’s “Two Heads Are Better Than One,” and my personal favorite, “In Time” by Robbie Robb. It doesn’t hurt that I saw this movie in its original theatrical release, even if I wasn’t old enough to catch all the jokes back then. “In Time” does more to recall those feelings of seeing this “Excellent Adventure” for the first time than anything else.

  1. Sylvia Williams says:

    Excellent, Dude! Yes, the best part is remembering how much we enjoyed it the first time we saw it!

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