Josh went no-holds-barred this week and brought us one of the great classics from my high-school days – Bill and Ted’s Excellent Adventure. It was directed by Stephen Herek, who I had not heard of and who I assumed was a one-hit wonder. I guess not. Herek wenton to direct a block of solid (if not amazing) late-’80s to mid-’90s films: Don’t Tell Mom The Babysitter’s Dead, The Mighty Ducks, The Three Musketeers, Mr Holland’s Opus, and Disney’s live action 101 Dalmatians. Sure, no best-picture winners there, but it’s not as if he suddenly went to directing made-for-TV movies like I suspected.
I had a perfect short all queued up for the evening, but Josh had a wee bit of difficulty with digital rights protection on the iTunes copy of Bill and Ted’s, and when he finally got an Amazon version to work, we just let it go and passed on the short. But since it was so perfect – tying together both the day’s opening game in the 2014 World Cup and a minor star of the day’s film (Socrates, to be specific) I’ve decided to bring it to you web-only: From Monty Python’s Live At The Hollywood Bowl (via one of the lost German episodes) I bring you…Philosophers’ World Cup.
Epic. But now, on to the feature film.
I was a bit uncomfortable above referring to Bill and Ted’s as a “classic” – I kept thinking about the irony that someone born in the ’20s might have said that “Casablanca” was a classic from their high-school days. But let’s be honest. The high school kids weren’t going to see Casablanca every weekend at the pictures, they were going to see the Three Stooges or something. And it’s not like there weren’t good movies made while I was in high school (The Silence Of The Lambs will be watched until the apocalypse), so the fact that my friends and I watched Bill and Ted’s on VHS like 50 times doesn’t actually worry me. It was a classic, we loved it, and it has its place in film history, even if it’s not The Silence Of The Lambs. I’ve made my peace with that. So on to the film!
Meet Bill (left) and Ted (right). They’re high-school losers who have very little going for themselves outside of a “band” called Wyld Stallyns (definitely the answer to a pub trivia question). They have a dilemma, in that they can’t get Eddie Van Halen for their band without making a killer video, but hey can’t make a killer video without Eddie Van Halen. Of course, their true dilemma is that they don’t know how to play. Their other dilemma is that they are about to fail their San Dimas High history class, and as a result Ted’s father – the chief of police no less – is going to send his son to a military academy. In Alaska.
But there’s a twist – it turns out that Wyld Stallyns’ music eventually turns out to be so great that it singlehandedly brings about a future worldwide utopia – an end of war, poverty, and other bad stuff, all replaced with people listening to bodacious music, being excellent to each other, and partying on. Who’d have thunk? But of course, the future dudes can’t countenance the thought that Wyld Stallyns might be broken up before they truly start their musical revolution, so when it becomes apparent that they might fail history, the future dudes send back their bro Rufus in a phone-booth time machine to assist them with their final history report.
Yes, I know. The whole time-travel thing is not exactly cleanly dealt with in this movie. Future dudes are going back in time to change a past they don’t have to change. But, you know what? We’ll ignore that because this is not a time travel movie. It’s an excellent adventure which coincidentally involves time travel, and that’s a very different thing. None of this changes the fact that in the script, a phone booth time machine shows up outside of the Circle K.
At any rate, Bill and Ted meet themselves and reassure themselves that Rufus and his phone booth are legit. Rufus shows the boys how to operate the time machine and brings them back to early 19th century France so that they can witness one of Napoleon’s battles. Things get a bit hot and they high-tail it out of there, and through an accident that Rufus appears to be unaware of, the Little Emperor himself gets dragged along through the tubes of time with the phone booth. Rufus leaves Bill and Ted to use the time machine for educational purposes, but when they discover Napoleon stuck up in their tree, they have a different idea. They leave Napoleon in the custody of Ted’s little brother and head off to collect some historical personages for their oral report.
Their first stop is the Wild West, where after getting a beer (without being carded!) they get into a bit of a spot with Billy the Kid, who is cheating at cards. They escape with him in the phone booth and find themselves in ancient Greece.
They do some philosophizing with Socrates (whom they insist on calling “Soh-Craits”), and despite the language barrier, they are able to convey to each other the greatest wisdom of our day, from Kansas lyrics to the Days of Our Lives opening. Socrates, impressed, comes along with them.
Their next stop is medieval England. Here they meet some bodacious princesses who are totally into them, but unfortunately are scheduled to get married to some ugly old dudes the next day. Their father (implied to be one of the King Henrys – there is some speculation that Henry VII might have been intended but the chronologies from the films don’t quite work) captures Bill and Ted and is going to have them beheaded – but fortunately the executioners have been replaced by Mr. The Kid and Socrates, and the four escape (without the princesses).
After their close scrape, Bill and Ted gather up several more historical personages, including Joan of Arc (to Ted’s surprise she is not Noah’s wife) and Genghis Khan.
And for good measure, Ludwig van Beethoven and Sigmund Freud and Abraham Lincoln. After a bit of a glitch with the time machine, they stop by the Circle K to say hi to themselves then introduce their new friends to the acme of ’80s society – The Mall!! – before heading off to collect Napoleon.
It turns out that Ted’s little brother Deacon has ditched Napoleon in the meantime because, and I quote, “he was a dick”. A fair point. Bill and Ted put their heads together and realize that if they were Napoleon and were stranded in San Dimas they would obviously go to…Waterloo! (A water slide park based on Raging Waters, which is actually located in San Dimas.)
Meanwhile at the mall the unaccompanied charges start out having a good time, but can’t seem to stop from getting themselves in trouble. Freud, Billy the Kid and Socrates go about hitting on teenage girls, Joan of Arc takes over a Jazzercise course, and Beethoven starts playing some pretty epic guitar music (Extreme’s “Play With Me”) on…an organ…(suspension of disbelief accomplished via montage).
Normally that would be trouble enough, but Genghis Khan, having discovered that an aluminum bat is an upgrade for his favorite club, absolutely starts ravaging a sporting goods store. The police show up to the mall and arrest all of our historical personages. This means that Bill and Ted have to bust their history presentation out of jail, which they are able to accomplish because they are able to dupe Ted’s chief-of-police dad (and through clever use of the time machine).
And so they rush off to their history presentation, which they arrive at just in time. The presentation goes off beautifully (though I’m not sure when they got the time to choreograph all the spotlight work) and with the best oral presentation in the history of San Dimas High (my conjecture, not actually asserted in the film) they pass, and Wyld Stallyns lives to play another day.
In fact, Rufus shows up later (with the princesses in tow – they’re the other members of Wyld Stallyns) and jams with the band. “They do get better”, he says, and the movie ends.
The question going into the movie, of course, was whether it would hold up. I probably have not seen Bill and Ted’s in 20 years, and as Hilary would say, “Things change. People change. Hairstyles change.” Maybe it wouldn’t be the film I remembered it to be, maybe the jokes would be stale, maybe it would just look sad and dated. Lots of mid-’80s films don’t look so good today, no matter how much we loved them at the time.
It was great. It totally holds up. Goofy, yes, but fun with good jokes and hammy teenage loser acting – I don’t know why I don’t own this movie on DVD. I could probably get it for five bucks, and it’s worth so much more than that. Thanks, Josh, for bringing this one back.