You know when you get the sudden urge to just watch a film? This wasn’t one of those situations. For week’s now all sorts of crappy crap has been going on with people harassing anyone that dares to be a woman, or even stand up for what a woman dares to say on the internet, and it all got me quite fed up. I just don’t understand harassing someone over the internet, or at all. All I keep thinking about is how they must have missed seeing Bill & Ted’s Excellent Adventure in their youth. I say this because the film contains possibly the greatest and most beautifully simple piece of philosophy of modern times. A simple idea with which we should carry ourselves in order to not be crappy people. That being “be excellent to each other, and party on dudes”. It’s so simple it should be written on money or something. Anyway, let’s talk about how good Bill & Ted’s Excellent Adventure actually is. Click the link.
Bill & Ted (Alex Winter and Keanu Reeves respectively) are a pair San Dimas natives that dream of being a huge rock band someday. Other than needing Van Halen to complete this task, they must also pass their history report or else Ted will be shipped off to an Alaskan military academy which would certainly ruin their most bodacious of musical plans. Lucky for them, in the year 2688 their band “Wild Stallyns” are worshipped as the leading reason for mankind’s prosperity and centuries of piece. A time traveller by the name of Rufus (George Carlin) is sent back in time to ensure that Bill & Ted pass their history report by giving them free reign to travel through time and pick up all the most excellent historical dudes and dudettes that they can. This may be one of the greatest plots ever conceived.
There’s something gloriously 80s, and yet, perfectly timeless about this plot. On the one hand we have a pair of not particularly bright leads desperate to make good. They don’t understand the world at large but mean no harm. They’re in a tough situation and must find their way out through use of extraordinary and creative measures that only they could perform. They’re Abbott and Costello, The Marx Brothers, The Three Stooges… except for there being two of them. Coupled with this is the 80s trope of the stoner type character, although that is never implicitly inferred they are clearly in that mould, as would be Wayne and Garth of Wayne’s World. Their main plot device involves a science fiction element, the 80s being a period where genre mashing really started to happen, such as with the recently reviewed Monster Squad. It’s a losers make good story with a hint of Dr Who and 80s metal.
I grew up with this film, watched it, and its sequel, a countless number of times. So maybe a little bias has entered into this review. But as I’ve stated many a time before, reviews are, like, your opinion, man. We are nothing if we are not the collected result of all our influences and experiences. To show favour to a film I watched as a youth is merely to show that I enjoyed the hell out of it then and still do now. Also, that I had awesome taste as a kid and if you didn’t like Bill & Ted’s Excellent Adventure then you should reconsider your views about everything ever because, in my opinion, I am objectively right. Also, you’re totally bogus and some such.
The film has held up so well over the last 25+ years. There’s a few shaky composite effects. The dialogue is obviously very much of the times. The music even more so. The plot is slight on character development, yet, rich with character. Even with the odd visual flaw the film looks fantastic. The future setting may be just one room but is room that looks like it comes from a Yes album cover. All angular lines and abstract shapes, made more so by the time travelling phone booths natural golden octagonal tube like presence in the opening scene. The past scenes, particularly the medieval times, are crafted with the sort of attention you’d expect from a film set entirely in those settings. There’s the clear short cuts, such as stock footage of a war re-enactment for the battle of Waterloo, but short cuts like that are merely the means to an end.
One thing I’ve always loved is the tiny little details. The mirroring of an early scene in which Bill & Ted of the future come to talk to their past selves, in process reminding of something they forgot… forgetting that they had been reminded by their future selves earlier that evening and, yet, still forgot. In that scene you can see the blurry visage of some of the historical figures they’d be picking up later. After Napoleon falls through the time portal left by the phone booth his feet can be seen dangling from the tree long before he’s due to fall. Later Napoleon is describing a “waterslide” based attack during the finale history report presentation. Bill thinks it is not going to work, Napoleon flips his lid. The attack on the board is showing Napoleon’s planned invasion of Russia which was considered his greatest defeat. I love when films that appear overtly stupid display little tiny examples of the sort of care and attention you wouldn’t expect of such works. This shows that the people making it cared, believed, and were fully invested in the work. These details just enrich what the film is. You may not notice it, but your brain does, and it all adds up to creating a better experience.
I would end this review by wondering if younger folk today love this film. I don’t have to though. I’ve known a bunch of people many years younger than me who have had quite the obsession with the two Bill & Ted films. There’s something simple, honest, and timeless about these features that seems to connect with anyone. It’s a product of it’s time but with the sort of fun adventure that can cross generations. I have serious doubts that any modern films aimed for the rough approximation of the current generation would hold the same appeal 25 years later. What would those films be today? 21 Jump Street? Superbad? I’m not entirely sure there is a true modern parallel, maybe that’s why Bill & Ted, like other films of the era, persist so well. It is part of the modern lexicon in the same way as the original Super Mario Bros game, Nirvana’s Nevermind and the Rubik’s Cube are. Something that just feels right, no matter how far you are removed from the point of origin. If nothing else Bill & Ted’s Excellent Adventure leaves you with the simple notion of being excellent to each other. Really, that’s the best lesson anyone could ever take with them through life and share with future generations.