Wednesday, September 29, 2010

Bill & Ted's (not so) Excellent Video Game Adventure

The NES era of games can be described by either using the opening line of a Tale of Two Cities, or perhaps by the ending line of the nursery rhyme about the girl with just one curl. What I mean is, there are some really great games on this system, and there are also absolutely terrible ones. Since the internet didn't exist in the 1980s there were two ways for you to get information about a game before you played it - gaming magazines, mostly Nintendo Power, or through word of mouth via your friends. Nintendo Power wanted you to buy their games, so you weren't going to find a bad review in its pages. There were so many games out there chances are your friends hadn't played them yet. So really you just went to the video store to rent, or maybe you were really lucky and got to buy one, and you hoped for the best.

At the video store, all of the games were lacking boxes with descriptions and most of them didn't include the manuals. So you looked at the sticker on the cartridge and the words and art posted there were all you had to go by. If the game was based on a movie, tv show, or cartoon you liked, chances are you were going to want to rent it. I imagine the kids with more spending money than I also took the leap and purchased these games for similar reasons. Video game companies realized this and jumped on the chance to purchase these licenses and create games off them. Unfortunately, most often the majority of the game's budget was spent on purchasing the license and not on actually developing a good game. These days we get awful licensed games because they are often rushed to release date to coincide with movie releases. In the eighties a lot of times this wasn't really an issue as the game would often come out long after the movie. Bill & Ted's Excellent Video Game Adventure for the NES was released two and a half years after the movie came out, so there's really no excuse beyond LJN wanting to cash in on the movie's popularity with minimal effort. LJN was notorious for doing this. Scanning the list on this page, I can only find one game I liked out of their entire catalog.

My experience with this game in my youth mirrors a lot of other bad games we rented from this period. Pick it out, bring it home, load it into the console. Watch the intro then attempt to start playing the game with the very little information provided. Attempt to get used to the controls while also trying to figure out what you're supposed to do. End up dying a lot and making no progress until we eventually see the game over screen. At this point we would either 1)Search our Nintendo Power issues for any possible clues to the game, 2)Try again, often with mostly the same results, 3)Go to Dad and tell him we need to bring this one back and get another one. Option 3 rarely worked and mostly resulted in going back to Option 2 and trying to make the most of it for the rest of the weekend, or just flat out giving up and playing something else.

Pretty good for 8 bit, no?

The intro of the game sets up the basic premise, with Rufus telling both Ted and Bill (in separate phone booths) that rebels have misplaced various historical figures in the wrong time periods and it is now up to you to put them back in the right place. That's a decent enough set up for the game. Trying to actually recreate the movie probably would have resulted in you just grabbing historical figures from their own time period, so this little twist helps to make it a little more interesting.

I'm ashamed I can't tell you where in the movie this pic is from.
Whenever they talk, you get these cute images taken directly from the movie next to their speech bubbles.

I'm pretty sure this is from the final report though.
Though they don't always make the most sense..

I'm pretty sure this is Bill smiling after Lincoln name drops him in his speech.
Bill's sprite looks NOTHING like him at all.

I'm not sure again.  Fail.
But at least he talks like him.

Rufus' sprite has a face, but the two main characters do not. I've had nightmares about things like that.

The items at your disposal are pudding cups, firecrackers, a textbook, and a cassette tape. While the firecracker is completely out of left field, the others all make sense. You travel through time by dialing a number for the time period, and once you do you'll go to a screen where you travel through the circuits of time to reach your destination.

The problem with this game is all in the execution. After the intro, you'll be brought to the phone book which lets you flip through the pages. Each page contains a different historical figure and their phone number.

Apparently Al Capone lives in Hell. Type his number on a calculator if you don't know what I'm talking about.

At first you might think you can just pick one and dial, but you actually need to flip all the way through to find the one that has a second number in red flashing underneath it. This number is the area they are currently displaced in. You'll need to go there first to find the person.

Trust me when I tell you it's actually flashing in the game.
The place you need to go will always be the same number for each level. But you have to flip through the book anyway because it'll help you to know who you're looking for.

The phonebooth is a pay phone, so if you dial the wrong number you've just wasted some of the few precious coins you're allowed in the game. Inside the circuits of time you'll see the numbers laid out along the path. You also get a red circle that you can move, but there's no kind of instruction whatsoever as to what you are supposed to do with it.

Attempting to select a number or the phone booth by themselves doesn't do anything. You'll just watch the phone booth move from number to number until you eventually reach the last digit and it brings you to your destination. Apparently you can select the phone booth while it's over a number and somehow fling it forward ahead in the numbers, thereby saving you some coins. But if there's a way to control the phone booth's direction when you do this, I couldn't figure it out.

At this point you learn you are playing as Ted. You're in a medieval setting and there's a lot of peasants all around you. Some are standing still, others are walking around peacefully, and still others are running with their arms out. The ones standing will give you some kind of vague hint or an item. After you finish talking to them, they will turn into the walking peasant. The walking peasants are mad that you bumped into them and so they will demand one of your coins. Once you run out of coins, they send you to jail. The running types are already in pissed off mode and out to get you, and if they catch up to you or you accidentally run into them, they will also put you in jail. You're given skeleton keys at the beginning of the level and once you run out of keys to let yourself out of jail with, it's game over. Basically, going to jail is the equivalent of losing a life in this game.

You're probably cursing at this point.
You will see this screen A LOT.

The problem with those standing peasants turning into walking peasants is that logic is going to make you stand in front of them to talk to them and chances are you're not going to move out of the way before they start walking. Logic is also going to make you press B or A to talk to them the first time, but in fact in this game you just bump into them to do so. If you hit A you jump, and if you hit B you will throw an item which will result in the person running away from you. When you jump in this game, 9 times out of 10 you fall on your butt. You then have to watch the character shake his head a few times before he will stand up and you can move again. For the life of me I can't figure out why this happens except to be really annoying. Of course when you're stuck like that, you've got a pretty good chance that the walking or angry peasants are going to run into you and most likely throw you in jail.

This is the second most common sight you will see, with just the background changing.

After no doubt running out of coins and getting thrown in jail at least a few times, you've now figured out that you should approach the standing peasants from behind or the side in order to speak to them. You may have also been lucky enough to figure out what the items do. When you throw the pudding cup the peasants run after it because who doesn't love pudding. When you throw the firecracker, they all run away from it to avoid the explosion. Throwing the textbook will make everyone on screen disappear and throwing the cassette tape will make everyone stop and dance for a short while. Basically, the items are there to try to help you avoid the walking and angry peasants and get to your destination.

You might think that would be a huge help, but the movement controls are not very responsive and it makes it really hard to dodge and weave. On top of that, sometimes it's ok to walk on the grass and sometimes it's not. I found myself jumping frequently just to get Ted to move at all. It's maddening.

Eventually the standing peasants will tell you what direction to find your historical figure in. They will also tell you that "something strange" can be found in a certain direction. Chances are on first run through you're going to try to make it to the historical figure, right? Who cares about the other items, I'm trying to win the game here. Unfortunately, the historical figure is not going to come with you unless you find a specific item that serves as bait to convince them. These can actually be quite funny.. Sitting Bull needs a lawn chair, for instance. But first you have to find the stuff.

There are some buildings you can enter and there will be people inside. You talk to them and you're given usually two or three choices to respond to them. Say something too rude, and they'll throw you in jail. Say something just wrong, and they'll tell you to go away. Hit the lucky string of answers and they'll give you a clue just like the random standing guys outside. Logically you would think you would scroll through your answer choices by either moving the D pad (possibly up and down or left and right) or maybe even pushing select. But no, you scroll through the choices with A and select one with B. If you didn't notice the little tiny 1 next to your first answer, you might not realize you even have a choice in what to say at all.

The peasants kept telling me I could find something strange "in a tree near the stable," "at the last fence," "at the crossroads," "at the four rocks," and even once "nearby." The problem is there's no marker at all for these objects, and all you literally do is walk around and hope you'll stumble on them. You can't use any of the buttons to search, you just have to hope you hit the right pixel marker eventually.

This poor horse looks really bored, doesn't he?
Ok, there's a horse here, is this the stable? I tried touching that tree plus a couple more slightly above it, but didn't find anything.

You can also ride the horse, but it's so hard to control you'll get knocked off him almost immediately.

Just looking at this image makes me groan.
Someone told me to find the rock by the end of the river. For the longest time, I couldn't find the river. When I finally stumbled upon a body of water, I couldn't walk. So I had to keep clumsily jumping to try to go down as far as I could. If you end up jumping into the water, it will take you all the way back to the start. It turns out I found the wrong end of the river. I painfully jumped through at least 6 screens of river just to find out I was supposed to find the opposite end first, jump into a canoe, and I'm guessing I would have to collide with the right rock in the river and THEN I could finally get the item. Well, after jumping all the way down the very long river, I accidentally jumped over the canoe and it brought me all the way back down to the end.

So, that's it. I did as much as my sanity could take. But I couldn't find a single object and I couldn't find Rembrandt.

Luckily these days there is and I was able to get the password to the second level. This one is located in the old west, and you get to play as Bill.

Where does Bill keep those items without the backpack?
Look, it's different!

I don't want to know what that crate's for.
Oh, wait. No it's not.

So that's as far as I got. Perhaps with a larger amount of time, I could have gotten further, and had I used save states via a ROM I could have tried and tried again and reduced some of my frustration. But I wanted to recreate the experience you would have originally had playing this game back then. I wasn't completely authentic because I did check a walkthrough to help gain some extra knowledge. A huge shout out to Wilson Lau for compiling this walkthrough 9 years ago because I wouldn't have been able to do as much as I did without it. If you're crazy enough to want to give the game a try yourself, I highly recommend consulting that to help you with talking to the people in the houses and knowing what bait you need for each historical figure.

Another small note: The music in the game is ok, even if it's not the power metal you hear in the movie. The strange thing is it doesn't loop. It will play for a set time, then leave you to do the rest of the level in silence. I'm not really sure what that's all about.

Shut up, Rufus.

There were also B&T games for the Gameboy, Atari Lynx, and the PC. The gameboy game seems to be actually loosely based on Bogus Journey (and I do mean loosely) because it mentions DeNomolos as the main villain. Apparently the object is to collect orbs on a screen while dodging enemies, so sort of like the original Mario Bros game, I guess. The Lynx game seems to be very similar in set up to the NES one, except that you collect music notes and for some strange reason the plot is that Death has kidnapped the princesses. The PC game actually followed the plot of Excellent Adventure and required you to locate the historical figures in their own time periods. Since I don't have access to these games, I can't review them. If you have any experience with them, please share it in the comments.

Next up: I'll be reviewing the live action TV series and I'll also touch on the cereal. No, I'm not going to eat any, don't worry.

Monday, September 27, 2010

Bill & Ted's Excellent Adventures Season 2

When I first got the idea to do this marathon, I thought it would be a lot of fun to talk about and go over the various B&T appearances. I enjoyed the movies as much as I always have, and I'm excited about going over the comics as I imagine that's an area that most people definitely don't remember or have never seen. What I didn't bargain on is that there's also a bad side to this as well.

Between seasons 1 and 2 of the animated series, Fox purchased the rights to make a live action Bill & Ted TV series. The deal apparently also included the rights to the animated show. They used their versions of Bill & Ted to do the voices and created 8 episodes.

Apparently, traveling throughout all of history and even possibly into the future was just not enough of a storytelling engine for them. They felt the need to change it up a bit. In the second episode Rufus shows up to give them the new phone directory which allows them to travel into movies, books, video games, and etc. Literally, ETC. is a separate category. It apparently includes the ability to shrink down to mini size to enter a guy's body. Here's the show's new intro which shows this new change, along with the new voices for the characters, new theme song, and the slightly different animation style.

I can't decide which song is more annoying.

The problem with this is that they mainly choose to enter TV shows, and without the rights to them, we get parodies like "Leave it to Badger" and "Mr. Radish's Condominium" the latter of which is a stand in for Mr. Roger's Neighborhood. They really should have gone with more books, seeing as how many of the classics are old enough to be public domain. I guess they thought kids don't read enough to get it.

You would think with only 8 episodes, it would have been easy for me to make it through this. The fact is I just couldn't, and generally halfway through an episode, I had really had enough. I'm starting to wonder how many other cartoon shows I watched as a kid that were this awful and I just didn't have the maturity yet to realize it.

The voices don't sound anything like the original movie cast. I don't care for the art style changes, which add colored collars to both their outfits for no reason and overall just look a little more cutesy. The situations they get into are very similar to the ones from the first season, and they still included a lot of their trademark speech and even some quotes straight from the movie. But without using Alex, Keanu and Carlin, it loses its charm rather quickly. Add to it that each episode is trying to instill some kind of lesson and it gets really old really quickly. There's also no continuity here from the previous season, as the former "don't interfere in your own lives" rule is completely ignored as they go and babysit themselves one episode.

I really can't recommend this to anyone unless you just have a strong curiosity for how bad it could be. This is definitely one of those shows that deserved its very short run.

Next up: The NES game. It was made by LJN. If that doesn't mean anything to you yet, you'll see.

Friday, September 24, 2010

Bill & Ted's Bogus Journey - the Novel and the Comic Book

These two adaptations are getting lumped together because they are both based off the original movie script and will therefore have some similarities. I figured this should hopefully save me from repeating myself.

I remember having the novel version of the movie back in the day. I guess I traded it in at the used book store eventually, because it's gone now, but I was able to pick up a copy very cheaply on Amazon marketplace. This is definitely a "young adults" book. It's 201 pages with medium sized text and written in a style that's geared toward adolescents. Perhaps the most interesting and kind of cute choice is that the narrator speaks like Bill & Ted. The first sentences of Chapter 1 are as follows:

"The future is a foreign country. They do things most triumphantly there."

As a kid I probably would have found this amusing and possibly even cool. I know that I had no memory of it being like this until I read it again, so it obviously didn't annoy me at all. Maybe since I was watching the movie everyday I was totally already talking and thinking in their mode of speak anyway. I can tell you for certain that since I've been doing this marathon the words "totally" and "most _____" are creeping into my thought patterns. It's kind of scary. Anyway, the point is as I started reading this time I found this a bit annoying, but as I got farther into it I guess I just got used to it. However I think it's safe to say this would probably prevent the normal adult to get into this book without severely rolling their eyes at all times.

The book follows the plot of the movie but the scenes that hit the cutting room floor as still included, and there's a couple differences to be found. There's also a little bit of extra dialogue here and there. One extra line I found particularly fun, and I found this cute enough that it stuck out in my mind even over the many years since I first read it, is when Bill & Ted are in their own personal hell. In the movie they emerge from the Colonel Oats hell and Bill simply says "Let's split up!" In the book it goes like this:

"You know how in the movies, like Friday the 13th and Night of the Living Dead, you know how someone always says, 'Let's split up' and we're in the audience going totally, 'No, no, dudes, don't split up, how can you be so totally stupid to split up like that?'"
"I got an idea."
"Let's split up!"

I don't know if that was the script or the writer, but it's a fun jab regardless.

The biggest deleted scene and the most well known is the rock breaking scene. After their seemingly never ending fall into hell and the landing on the rock, originally a rather scary looking demon guy appeared and handed them sledgehammers, forcing them to break up rocks. Ted discovers that he's quite good at it and enjoys it immensely, but would prefer to do it as a hobby rather than for the rest of eternity. They try to ask the demon to let them go, but his only response is to pull a rat out of his mouth. They're both impressed and Ted mentions that they knew a guy who found one in his bucket of chicken once. This scene is also depicted in the graphic novel, and clips of it are included with lots of others during The Reaper Rap full song playing over the movie's end credits once "God Gave Rock N Roll To You II" finishes.

There's an additional deleted scene between their time at the hardware/electronic store and before they get to the concert. DeNomolos also constructed versions of Colonel Oats, Granny S Preston and the Easter Bunny. The evil robots send these three after them, and it's up to Bill & Ted to conquer their fears: Bill must kiss his grandma, Ted must call Deacon and apologize for stealing the Easter basket, and they kill Colonel Oats with kindness.

Another thing you'll hear a piece of in the Reaper Rap is the very different ending. Instead of the good robot B&T being controlled by controllers, they have minds of their own, and once out of the van they head off in the opposite direction and Station, now split in two again, follows them. Bill & Ted figure they've got to go it alone and go in without them. They get killed again, but since they beat Death in four games, they've got two more free lives and come back. They manage to defeat the evil robots on their own, popping off their heads. The good robots show up, crashing through the back wall in time to save the princesses from falling to their deaths from the rafters. DeNomolos appears in the time machine, but B&T hit the self destruct buttons on the evil robots heads and toss them at DeNomolos, blowing him up to nothing more than a pile of ash. They then give a different "inspirational" speech that includes lines like "Kiss your fears, dudes.. and maybe they'll get smaller or even go away" and "Never let yourself get programmed by anybody but yourself." Beyond fixing this terrible nonsensical mess, my guess is this was changed so that Bill & Ted did not become flat out killers.

A variation on a scene occurs when Bill & Ted meet Station in heaven. Rather than playing charades, they're running around in circles then jumping high in the air and landing flat on their heads. Bill and Ted join them in this game in order to win their friendship. Once again, Ted is very good at the game and enjoys it. Honestly, if this was in the original script I'd be really surprised. You can't film that. But I do think it creates a nice juxtaposition between these supposed geniuses and the way they act, on top of the speaking only one word problem.

The other main difference is Death. This Death is no where near as funny as the movie version. He's an indifferent jerk to them up until the van ride, where he suddenly becomes a sad sack desperately seeking their approval. He seeks their approval in the movie as well, but there's no comedic element about it in the novel. He's also at first really shy about going on stage, though he does eventually come to enjoy it. His rap is also much longer.

I love Rufus in the UPC box down there.

This comic book adaptation was done by Marvel Comics rather than DC. Unlike the other one, this one is a full 80 pages, though that does include ads. As such there's no trimming down like Excellent Adventure's comic, and in fact it includes all the deleted scenes mentioned above along with the alternate ending, though Station is just standing around in heaven in this one.

The absolute highlight of this comic is the artwork which was done by Evan Dorkin. He also did the writing, though once again he was mostly just pulling lines straight from the script. Evan Dorkin is perhaps most well known for his comic book Milk and Cheese, though he's apparently also done some writing for Adult Swim which fits in perfectly with the same sense of humor. I've personally never read any Milk and Cheese, but I remember them making frequent appearances in Wizard magazine back when I was heavy into collecting. While this is a good adaptation, Dorkin's style still clearly shines through. The art is more stylized than accurate likeness, but given the extremely cartoonish style of the movie I think it fits in just fine.

Because the book is so thick, I sadly can't provide you with any scans. I suppose I technically could, but I'm too much of a comic book geek to bend the spine while putting it on the scanner. I will allow you to make fun of me all you like for this. I think the cover does a good job of showing you the style anyway.

As you can see, Death is an actual skeleton in here. It's clear that either the full cast for the movie wasn't set or no one informed him what the actors looked like, because Ms. Wardroe is a young white girl and Colonel Oats looks nothing like he does in the movie. Little Bill and Little Ted are reversed, being juniors rather than named after their respective best friends as the movie suggests. One thing I do wish I could show you is the few written in jokes in the backgrounds of the comic. However, Evan Dorkin also wrote and drew Bill & Ted's Excellent Comic Book, and there will be plenty there for me to show you later. Before we can get to that, however, I've got a few more "unsavory" Bill & Ted adaptations to tell you about.

Next up: Season 2 of the animated series"

Thursday, September 23, 2010

Retro Gaming

Yesterday, my FC Twin arrived in the mail. I purposely chose the one that was silver with purple accents because it had the closest color scheme to the original SNES. Normally I'm not one to pay $10 more for the sake of a color, but I had gift certificates that shut up my frugal side enough to allow me to splurge.

I've spoken on here before how the NES & SNES era of gaming is definitely the most important to me. I managed to lose both those consoles to circumstances beyond my control. The NES was in my mother's apartment to give us something to do when we would visit her every other weekend as pre-adolescents. Unfortunately she eventually got an asshole for a boyfriend who tossed out anything he decided wasn't important, like our NES and its games, as well as my Smurf and Strawberry Shortcake miniatures. This wasn't out of malice toward me and my brother.. I never even met the guy. I'll admit I had just left them behind there and as an adult they weren't on my mind until I was informed that nearly everything in the apartment had been thrown away, and I realized I would never see them again. My SNES and its games I foolishly brought to a friend's house. Foolish because I didn't see the possibility of having a falling out with that friend. That friend eventually went to jail (don't ask) and all his belongings transferred to the house of some other former friends I wasn't on speaking terms with at the time. Their house got flooded to the roof in the aftermath of Katrina. Just like that, no more SNES, no more Final Fantasy III, no more Mario RPG, no more Spiderman and the X-men. Sigh.

Neither of those stories are probably that interesting, but along with the trials and tribulations I once went through in an attempt to get a keyboard back, they stick out in my memory of things I really wanted and lost. Sure, I know ROMs have been available for ages now. You can play every game you had then, plus all the others you couldn't afford or weren't available at the rental store to your heart's content without it ever costing you a penny. I'm guessing if I searched hard enough on the internet these days I'd probably find someone selling USB computer joysticks that resemble NES or SNES controllers, but I know all I've ever had to use on my computer were more generic controllers, and the feel just wasn't the same. I also spend too much time on a computer these days thanks to work so I'd much rather be gaming on a TV.

Virtual console was so exciting when it first came out. The Wiimote is built to resemble an NES controller, and the classic controller is essentially a SNES controller with analog sticks. My current Wii Menu plays host to a large number of Mario and Link titles, along with some lesser known classics like The Adventures of Lolo. I was able to play both Zelda: A Link to the Past (which I never owned but rented many many times) and Super Mario RPG this way again. However, Nintendo has slowly but surely given up on releasing titles on there on a regular basis, and the titles they do release are sometimes highly questionable.

While doing my Bill & Ted research, I was reminded of the NES game. Most people sell it for only $5. After looking through the inventory of one of those sellers, I realized a vast majority of other NES titles were available for the same, and SNES ranged in the area of $10. So much better than the $50 - $60 you have to pay for modern games, and thanks to the internet we know which titles stink and which are great. Of course, rarer titles will raise in price. Sadly, I doubt I'll ever be getting a copy of Earthbound unless I hit a windfall of cash I don't mind splurging.

This past Saturday my boyfriend and I made a trip to the local used game store and picked out a total of 3 games: IronSword (which has Fabio on the cover!), Air Fortress, and Final Fantasy: Mystic Quest. That last choice was mine. I rented that game so many times as a kid I really should have just paid for it outright. This weekend we'll be making a stop at the store's other location nearby to see how their selection differs. I'm sure I'll end up selecting some from ebay eventually too. We also have his entire NES and SNES collection to go through since he was fortunate enough to keep his games.

I fired up all of the games last night to make sure they and the system worked. I'll be honest, the FC Twin is made out of some seriously flimsy plastic. You know how you get all frustrated at a game and you grip the controller in your fury? You probably shouldn't do that with this console. It might snap. It's a nice feature to have a top loader for NES games, thereby eliminating the need to jiggle like you had to do with your original NES, but I had trouble getting the games to actually sit in there. I found I had to open the little sliding doors, look down, then insert the cartridges in the magic spot to make contact. They really should have just made the opening tighter so you wouldn't have that problem. Beyond that it ran great and the A/V hookups made the 8bit and 16bit graphics look as well as they could on my HDTV. Of course the moment you go to play you're going to realize just how great those wireless controllers are on the modern systems. I haven't had to sit that close to the TV to play a game in a while. I wonder if they sell extenders for those controllers like I have for my Gamecube and PS2?

I imagine it's only a matter of time before you see reviews of some of these older games here on this blog. What were your favorite NES & SNES games? Got some lesser known gems to recommend to us? Please share!

Wednesday, September 22, 2010

Bill & Ted's Bogus Journey

I think, and I could be wrong, that Bogus Journey is not as well loved as Excellent Adventure. This is most likely due to the fact that it's much zanier than the original. I'll start with the premise and you'll easily see why.

DeNomolos lives in the 27th century and he really hates Bill & Ted and their philosophy on life. He's apparently also supersmart, because he creates evil robot copies of Bill & Ted to send them back to 1991, kill them off and take over their lives for them. They will help make DeNomolos the ruler of the world instead. They succeed in killing off B&T but that's ok, because after some stops as ghosts on Earth, in hell, and in heaven, B&T are brought back and with the aid of the Grim Reaper and an alien from Mars by the name of Station, they create good robot versions of themselves to beat the evil ones and prevent DeNomolos from succeeding. They also fulfill their destiny of becoming known world round and loved by all.

I know those are spoilers, but when it comes to comedy you don't really expect anything else, right?

Bill & Ted are still the doofuses we know and love from five years ago. They managed to make it out of high school but clearly didn't go to college and are still working a fast food job. They also have apparently not learned much guitar at all, though the princesses have managed to learn their instruments competently. They approach the various aspects of the afterlife with the same innocence and wonder as they did the past and time travel. The continuity also remains consistent with the previous film, as we now get to meet Colonel Oats, Missy is still attracted to much older men, and the guys once again play with the timeline and prepare things after they happen so that they can succeed. If you go looking for logic in this movie though, your head is going to hurt.

Death is probably, in my opinion, the best character in the movie. William Adler manages to play both creepy/ominous and downright silly. Don't fear the reaper, indeed.

The movie as a whole is overly silly and ridiculous, but I think that's a large part of its charm. I can understand why it might not be everyone's cup of tea though.

On to the nitpicks:
  • As DeNomolos reveals his plan in the beginning, this exchange occurs:

    Rufus: You won't get away with it.
    DeNomolos: Time will tell.
    Rufus: Time has told.

    Because all this stuff already happened to Bill & Ted, Rufus already knows DeNomolos' plans and how he'll fail. He probably already knows his part in it too. The evil robot B&T use the term "station" long before we ever meet the alien(s), and no one in the future could possibly know about Station unless B&T died, retrieved it/them from heaven, then brought them back to earth. Bill & Ted would not have rocketed to fame so quickly if DeNomolos had not tuned every TV in the world to see the Battle of the Bands. This is the same kind of time travel reasoning so prevalent in the Terminator series.. attempts in the future to change the past only guarantee that the future will happen. You would think in a way the best thing DeNomolos could do would be to not try at all. But then of course we wouldn't have a movie.
  • Fashion really jumps forward fast in the future. The outfits at Bill & Ted University are nothing like the shiny stuff they wore in 2688.
  • They guess B3 then J7, which manages to sink Death's battleship. That means they had already hit that ship before and yet didn't keep guessing until he said "you've sunk my ____". They shouldn't be able to win like that. Also, everyone knows you don't play Clue two player, as you either give out all the cards and win too easily, or put some cards aside and have to check to see who won sometimes as early as the first guess.
  • Rufus arrives in the present long before Evil B&T do, despite hitching a ride with them.
  • How did they manage to time the rope breaks for the sandbag and cage? How could they slip the key in DeNomolos' pocket? How could they make a gun appear in his hand??

And now for trivia:
  • The original title of the movie was "Bill & Ted Go to Hell." I think it was a wise choice to change it.
  • The Star Trek episode Bill & Ted watch after being dumped is "Arena." They show it because the cliff the guys will shortly be shoved off of is the same location.
  • The spell Missy chants is "Ed and Chris will rule the world" backwards. The writers, Chris Matheson and Ed Solomon make their cameo appearance in the same scene, once again being credited as stupid and ugly.
  • Granny S Preston Esquire is played by Alex Winter himself.
  • The air guitar and score for the final show down between the various Bill & Teds is played by Steve Vai.
  • The English father is also William Adler, sans makeup and bald cap.
  • Both Alex Winter and Keanu Reeves were bass players, which explains why they can't fake chords to save their life. Keanu does a slightly better job.

By the way, in this age of imdb and wikipedia, I realize it would be really easy to just copy/paste things from over there. But everything I list I figured out before the internet existed on my own. No cheating allowed on this blog.

The Soundtrack

Honestly, beyond the Steve Vai moments, there isn't a whole lot to say. I have a strong memory of almost purchasing the cassette of this in 1991 and ultimately putting it back on the shelf. The only songs that strongly play into the movie are "Battle Stations" by Winger when Station is building the good robots, and "God Gave Rock N Roll To You II" by KISS which Wyld Stallyns play at the end. The rest of the soundtrack is full of bands that you at least know the name of, like Slaughter, Megadeth, Primus, and Faith No More, but they're not exactly the most memorable of songs. This was slightly before bands made it a habit to put exclusive tracks on soundtracks, so I'm willing to bet you can find them all elsewhere if you're a fan.

Next up: Both the novel and graphic novel adaptations of this movie.

Monday, September 20, 2010

Bill & Ted's Excellent Adventures Season 1

The above is the theme song for season one of the animated series. The first time I heard it, I found it amusing. It got stuck in my head. By the time I got to episode 10, I started fast forwarding through the opening credits because I just couldn't take it anymore. There seems to be some kind of rule with cartoons that you have to create an earworm of a song for the theme. I guess they figure its subliminal messaging for kids to make them come back and watch the show.

The first episode of this animated series is available as a bonus feature if you purchase Bill & Ted's Most Excellent Collection. I remember watching that episode and wanting to see more. As far as cartoon adaptations of 80s movies go, this one is actually pretty good. In my memory, I would put "The Real Ghostbusters" higher on the list than B&T but I also haven't watched that one since I was young. This one ranks higher than The Super Mario Bros Supershow, and gets more credit than the Back to the Future cartoon and Little Shop for actually sticking to the movie's plot for the most part.

The cartoon seems to exist almost in an alternate reality from the movies. Bill & Ted are still in high school. I always figured that the final report B&T give in Excellent Adventure was at the end of their senior year of high school. Maybe I'm wrong, but regardless in the cartoon Bill & Ted are still in school. Mr. Ryan is now the vice principal, and there's really no determination of when in the school year it is, or what level for that matter. I suppose they dreamed that this would go on for many seasons in that magic cartoon place where no real time passes. Their outfits are pretty close to the movie, Rufus still drops in from time to time to give them advice, and they frequently hang out at the Kozy Korner, which replaces the Circle K. It's kind of a strange name for a convenience store.. I've certainly never considered one to be very cozy.

The time travel rules are incredibly inconsistent. In some episodes, they have to hurry back in time in order to do something, in others it seems like they have all the time in the world. In two instances they are told they cannot directly effect their own pasts.. something that seems particularly ridiculous when you consider that both movies involve them using their time machine to set things up for them in order to succeed. In another episode the great ones tell Rufus not to let Bill & Ted know that their decision will effect the future, even though in the movie he tells them that not passing the report will change everything. On top of this, there's no rhyme or reason when it comes to dealing with historical figures. Sometimes they radically change the time line, such as when they prevent Caesar's assassination, and in others they are the ones that supposedly cause things to happen. Basically, jokes always win over logic here. There's also barely any educational value to their adventures. You could learn how Samuel Clemens chose the name Mark Twain, but the rest of his appearance isn't accurate or useful. Of course the movie wasn't 100% accurate either so I guess that's no surprise.

Ted's brother Deacon has been de-aged considerably, and he turns into the generic annoying wise cracking pipsqueak so common in these cartoons.

The biggest value that this season of the cartoon provides is that they were able to get Alex Winter, Keanu Reeves, and George Carlin to reprise their roles. There aren't too many other cartoons I can think of that did the same. Even Mr. Ryan is played by the same actor. The rest of the cast is rounded out by many voice acting stand bys of that era. I heard the voice of Danny Goldman (who will forever be Brainy Smurf) in one episode. The other nice touch is that the writers seem to have actually watched the movie and knew it well. Bill says "Ted, you and I have witnessed many things, but nothing as ______ as what just happened" in two different episodes, with different adjectives to fit the situation. Whenever Bill & Ted do air guitar, we hear true guitar sound effects, something that will later appear in Bogus Journey (in Excellent Adventure, B&T mimic the guitar themselves).

Probably not surprisingly, this cartoon is really cheaply made. There are occasional coloring errors or editing inconsistencies. The absolute worse is that at least three times they had Bill's words coming out of Ted's mouth and vice versa. Sometimes they will talk without any mouth movements, and once Bill's mouth kept moving with no dialogue. It's really quite sloppy and kind of surprising given their attention to detail in other matters.

If taken in small doses, this is a cartoon you can probably enjoy and not cringe through nearly as much as some of the others of its time. However I don't recommend rushing through all 13 episodes as I did for the sake of doing this review. It can become quite torturous.

Next up: Bill & Ted's Bogus Journey, along with its soundtrack.

Friday, September 17, 2010

Bill & Ted's Excellent Adventure - The Comic Book

the cover

I won't be reviewing the story for this comic, as it's pretty much exactly the story of the movie. As you can see, the cover is even a copy of the original movie poster. It was also released as a cross promotion with the video release of the movie, which says to me it was only after the movie was a hit that they decided this was worth doing. It was published by DC Comics in 1989.

The book is 32 pages, which is slightly longer than your average monthly issue that is generally 24 when you don't include ads. Of course this is essentially one giant ad for the movie, so there are no ad pages in the book except for those on the opposite side of the cover, and it's all for Bill & Ted related merchandise. Thirty two pages is really not that long to tell a story, particularly one that took 93 minutes on screen so what we get here are lines and pictures taken directly from the movie but cut for brevity. This has its positives and negatives.

page 2
Click the picture to see a larger version, if you need to.

As you can see, the dialogue is extremely close to the movie. This fun exchange between the two of them is handled very well, though it's an odd choice to remove the word "decent" from Bill's last line in the first panel when you can clearly see him holding a guitar.

That Bill expression in the last panel is particularly spot on

While the likenesses are by no means perfect, I think Angelo Torres did a decent job of making them recognizable, and he definitely shines at showing their expressions. Bill and Ted are very expressive characters, and if they had picked an artist incapable of showing their range of emotions, this comic would have been completely lifeless.

The lack of space means that we lose a couple scenes here and there - Napoleon eating the ice cream and while in medieval times the boys make their way to the princesses immediately without putting on the armor or running into the guard. Not really essential parts of the film, but it's interesting that they also leave out the "clock in San Dimas is always running" angle along with Ted's reminder to wind his watch. Maybe it didn't make any sense to them either. One thing that was not in the movie but included in the comic was this:

Sadly, we don't get to see them crash into the girl's dressing room after this.
It's a cute choice and goes along with their "I am the Earl of Preston/Duke of Ted" names later on.

One of the ways it uses the comic book format most effectively is during the montage scenes, such as their mall antics pictured above. Doing the chores around the house is presented in a similar fashion.

My first impression was that the printing quality of this comic was really cheaply done, but I was forgetting how much comic books have leaped forward in technology over the last 20 years. If you think about it, at this point if you were printing out images from your computer at home, they were probably just ASCII pictures on your dot matrix printer with it's ribbon ink, and you had to tear the punch hole edges off when you were done. Compared to that it looks pretty good, doesn't it?

Gotta love the sound effect.
I think they kind of squandered their chances to improve the look of the circuits of time though.

Overall I think it's a fairly solid adaptation. It's also fairly easy to locate on ebay, usually paired with the Bogus Journey adaptation if you're interested. If you're not an extreme B&T fan or comics collector there's obviously no reason to do so, but I hope you enjoyed this look inside.

Next up: Season 1 of the animated Bill & Ted's Excellent Adventures

Thursday, September 16, 2010

Bill & Ted's Excellent Adventure

In case you somehow missed out on seeing this film and don't know what it's about, allow me to explain. Bill & Ted are two ignorant but lovable doofuses who are destined to one day change the world with the music of their band, Wyld Stallyns. At the time we join them, however, they don't know how to play their instruments and are in serious danger of flunking out of high school, which will result in them being separated as Ted will be shipped off to military academy in Alaska, a far ways away from their native San Dimas, Ca. Luckily, we've discovered time travel by 2688 and the leaders of..something.. are sending back Rufus to give the boys a time machine that will aid them in giving the history report that will make or break their grades. They travel through time to pick up various historical figures and bring them back for their report. Hilarity ensues. (Any good comedy should end with that in its summary.)

I just realized while writing that it's never really established what the leaders lead. The planet? Or perhaps the entire universe? Supposedly Wyld Stallyns' music creates universal harmony, so I suppose it's possible.

As a goofball comedy, this movie has all the right elements in place. Great casting, oddball situations, and likable characters. Whoever put George Carlin in place as Rufus was genius. I remember being initially surprised to find out how subversive his comedy routines were after growing up with these films, but it's also not entirely a wild direction for him either. He brings a lot of humor into the character that I'm not sure others could have pulled off. Keanu Reeves gets a lot of flack for his acting ability, and former infatuation or not, I'm fully willing to admit that much of it is deserved. However, Ted "Theodore" Logan is the role he was born to play. I am convinced that Alex Winter chose his career path post B&T, and that it was not a lack of opportunities which has kept him mostly behind the camera since then. He shows a lot more range here than one might expect for this kind of film, and he deserves a lot of credit. He ranks up there with the likes of Jim Carrey when it comes to an uncanny ability to make cartoonish expressions. I may have been in love with Ted back then, but my respect for Alex Winter at this point is so strong that I've used his portrayal of Bill as an influence for one of the characters in my comic.

Bill and Ted as characters are ignorant, but it's important that they are not willfully ignorant. It's clear that the reason they haven't learned anything in class is because they simply had better things on their mind. How else could someone know such large words as "unprecedented" and "heinous" without having some kind of intelligence? Granted, this is all done for humor's sake, but it's also important to the story and our feelings about it. When we see a football jock giving his report toward the end of the film and all he has to say is "things are more.. moderner.. than before," ending his presentation abruptly with a cry of "San Dimas High School football rules!" we're laughing at him because he's a complete dumbass. I always figure that kid got an F or at least he should have. But when Ted guesses that Joan of Arc is Noah's wife, we laugh with him for at least trying. Their enthusiasm for life and kindness is infectious, and a large part of what moves the story forward. Someone like Socrates should be scared out of his wits to deal with all the experience, from the clothing, the English language, and the technology that surrounds him but thanks to the help of some Kansas lyrics and Bill & Ted's smiling faces, he comes along for the ride and even makes friends with a rowdy cowboy. While highly improbable that a band could ever truly change the world/universe so completely, it's easy to take the jump and pretend it could happen. Think about it, if everyone lived by the two principles of "be excellent to each other" and "party on, dudes" life wouldn't really be too bad, would it?

When you've seen the movie as many times as I have, it's easy to find little things that perhaps don't make much sense or don't quite work. Please don't misunderstand any of the following to be a form of complaining.. it's just things that have occurred to me after repeated viewings and I thought it would be fun to share.
  • Time Travel - Time travel is notoriously confusing and hard to pull off. I always considered the Back to the Future series as being the only one to get it perfect, though I recently heard some people talking about stuff that's a bit off in that as well. In Bill & Ted, the rules barely make sense. In 2688, the leaders tell Rufus that "their separation is imminent." Um, guys, it happened 700 years ago, and time has already told for you that it worked out fine. Was the time machine literally just invented or something? Seems to me that Rufus could have gone back to that date at any point to help them out. The other major flaw is the catch, the warning Rufus gives them that "the clock in San Dimas is always running." It's meant to give a sense of urgency to the film, and for that reason it works, but it doesn't really make sense either. When the boys accidentally go back to the day before, they end up at the original meeting at night. When they do return to the proper day, it's light out. It would seem to me that the system of having to dial one number higher for the next day would mean that you could travel to any date, but be stuck with whatever the current time was for you. It's not like the DeLorian which literally allows you to set the exact time of day. The only thing that does make sense in terms of their time travel is the idea that you can't actually change the past. Ted's dad's keys disappear because they stole them. The boys will pass their history report because in Rufus' present it has already happened.
  • At the beginning of the movie, they know virtually nothing about the historical figures. They spend the movie collecting and then losing them, and in the brief amount of time from when they drive from the police station to the auditorium, they've suddenly learned tons about these figures and now know how to pronounce their names correctly. These boys are serious crammers.
  • I'm pretty sure I only learned about Joan of Arc in religion class, not history. Bonus fact: I chose her as my confirmation saint because of my love for this movie.
  • Were watches that needed to be wound still that common in 1988? I've worn watches since I was very small and the only watch I had that needed to be wound was one of my mom's from the 1970s.
  • What kind of food is it that Missy brings them for a snack? It looks like unleavened cake or an extremely dry cookie cut up into slices. Bill and his dad were surely not eating well on a regular basis.
  • Why does Beethoven get arrested? The store clerk invited him to try the keyboards and gets pissed just because he's good at playing them. If this was a crime you'd see a lot of guys getting walked out of Guitar Center in handcuffs on a regular basis.
  • When they release the historical figures from the jail, you can make out other prisoners walking out their cells. When they escape out the window, they're gone. Did they politely go back in their cells or did they make a run for it?
The following aren't really nitpicks as much as they're just fun facts that some of you might have missed out on.
  • The waiters serving Napoleon, Deacon, and the twins (did you notice their double dates are twins?) ice cream are the writers of the movie who originally came up with Bill & Ted while doing improv shows. They identify themselves in the credits as "stupid" and "ugly" waiter.
  • Ted has a never ending supply of pudding cups and spoons in his napsack. Not only does he feed all the historical figures when they're stranded in pre-historic times, but you can see a large number of students eating them while Beethoven plays during the presentation.
  • The time machine was originally going to be a van but they changed it to a phonebooth to avoid similarity to Back to the Future. How they fit that many people into the phonebooth is one of the great subtle jokes of the film, so I'm glad they had to change it.
  • Speaking of subtle humor, when B&T give the historical figures slushies at the mall, Lincoln asks "but what do we eat?" as they walk away. It's so quick and hard to understand I get the feeling a lot of people miss that. Also, when Bill asks Missy to keep an eye on Napoleon, he's sitting in the backseat of the car. When they come back out he's moved to the front seat and leaning over to Missy, but jumps back as Bill leans in to ask Missy to bring the car around.
It's really hard for me to fully articulate why I love this movie so much. What I do know is that I still find the guys hopelessly adorable and there are plenty of moments that still make me laugh out loud. I'm hard pressed to find a reason why someone would dislike this film.

The Soundtrack

I figured that the soundtrack didn't necessarily deserve its own entry as this will probably be fairly brief (by my standards). The music is a mix of hair metal and 80s power ballads by relative unknowns. The one exception to that may be Extreme, but I think most would agree they are much better known for their later acoustic ballad "More Than Words" than for "Play With Me." Of course, the song did recently make it into one of the Guitar Hero games so I suppose that may change. The songs do a great job of amping up the action and humor within the movie, particularly "Play with Me," "Two Heads Are Better Than One," and "Boys and Girls Are Doing It." That last one features the line "Cindy told her momma and her momma told her dad. He looked in the book and the book said bad." It's so typical 80s hair metal lyrics and it just cracks me up every time I hear it. "In Time" by Robbie Robb is very reminiscent of U2's "With or Without You", so much so that for the longest time I was convinced that U2 performed the song. In general I would say the soundtrack would not be worth purchasing for anyone other than the most serious fan, but I do think the songs' placement within the movie are excellent.

Next up: I look at DC's comic book adaptation of the movie.

Wednesday, September 15, 2010

Bill & Ted Marathon: Intro

There are some movies that I know by heart. While I've never actually tried to think of nothing but the movie for 90-120 minutes, I could probably play back the entire thing if I wanted to. The movie that stands out particularly well in this category for me is Bill & Ted's Excellent Adventure.

I wish I could remember the exact date that I went to see Bill & Ted's Bogus Journey in the theaters. I know it was in October. According to Wikipedia the film was released in July that year, which means this must have been at the time when we were still seeing movies at the dollar show. See kids, before the internet was fast enough to allow you to download movies before they're even released in theaters, there was a much greater window from the time a movie was in theaters until it was out on VHS. During this longer time the movies would make it to theaters that only showed older movies at a greatly reduced price. I miss those theaters, though I have to admit being able to watch movies at home sooner is a nice trade off.

For whatever reason I didn't see Excellent Adventure in theaters nor had I seen it on video at that point but I still had an interest in seeing Bogus Journey. I emerged from the theater in love with a 17 yrs-my-senior man whose name I didn't even know how to pronounce. That very weekend we rented Excellent Adventure, and not too much later they played it on TV and I taped it. I then proceeded to watch it every single day until the release of the Bogus Journey VHS, and numerous times afterward. I remember having to watch in my parents' bedroom because that was where the second VCR was and my brother and mom were sick and tired of me watching the movie on the living room TV. I remember my brother once saying "I know this movie so well I know their facial expressions as well as the words." That's very true for me as well. I also know the soundtrack and score, and lots of bits of trivia that I've picked up along the way. This is all also true for Bogus Journey. My B&T obsession (and Keanu obsession) took up one full year of my life. It was eclipsed by the X-men after the cartoon series premiered, but that doesn't mean it was forgotten. I went to the comic book store looking for X-men and Batman books, but somehow ended up finding out about the Bill & Ted series as well. I also watched the cartoon series and the live action series (though the severe lack of Keanu in that one was disappointing to me at the time).

With the recent release of the animated series on Netflix streaming, I thought it might be fun to take a look at the movies, TV shows, comics, and a few other Bill & Ted related items. It seems like everyone remembers and loves Back to the Future (hey, I do too) but I think the other time traveling movie from the 80s deserves a little more love. I hope you enjoy it.

First up: Bill & Ted's Excellent Adventure the movie, with a nod to its soundtrack.

Friday, September 10, 2010

Hannibal Lector

I've had all of this week off of work and have partially been enjoying the time off by watching a lot of movies. One of those was Silence of the Lambs and after seeing it I immediately added Hannibal to the top of my queue as well. I had seen Red Dragon when it was in theaters, and probably at least once more since then, largely due to Edward Norton.

I don't have any good reason for taking so long to see Silence of the Lambs. Perhaps since it has become so iconic and regarded as a classic, I was afraid it wouldn't live up to the hype. I've always loved a good psychological thriller, and this one certainly didn't disappoint. It's not a movie I can really dissect in any way because it kept me too wrapped up on the edge of my seat to really stop and think. Jodie Foster does a great job portraying Clarice as both young and innocent as well as strong and determined. You feel for her throughout the movie, and you can also understand her fascination with Lector. Anthony Hopkins plays him perfectly. Chilling and disturbing, yet also somehow likable. He belongs on the list of iconic movie monsters along with Freddie and Jason, made all the more chilling by how real he could be.

I think that's why Hannibal feels a bit wrong to me. In both SotL and Red Dragon, Lector was intelligent and cunning, always a step or two ahead of the characters in the film, but in a believable way. You expect someone with such an intimate knowledge of psychology to be able to predict the motives of others the way he does. However in Hannibal, I felt like the suspension of disbelief was being stretched way too far. He always knows the motives of every character he needs to until it's necessary for him to be caught. It all runs a little too smoothly. At the end of SotL I was shocked and upset that Lector got free. At the end of Hannibal I expected it because he had gotten away with so much already, it wouldn't have made any sense for him to be caught.

Julian Moore does a good job of slipping into Clarice's shoes. She's not as sympathetic a character in this movie, but I think that's logical. Ten years have passed and we can't expect her to be the same character she once was.

I don't think there's a single Gary Oldman performance I've seen and disliked, so it's really no surprise I enjoyed his Mason Verger. The makeup was also fantastic, as I felt repulsed almost every time I saw his character on screen. I thought the man eating pigs were a bit much though. It felt like something a cheesy Bond villain would do. I also felt the idea of Lector convincing him to cut his face off was severely unbelievable, but I suppose the drug he gave him made him susceptible to suggestion.

Really, I could run down the entire list of actors and characters involved in this series, because they're all pretty fascinating. Serial killers and victims alike. Overall it leaves me with the impression that I need to read the Thomas Harris novels.

Anyone out there seen Hannibal Rising? I seem to recall the response being pretty negative and I'm not sure if I should give that one a shot. I figure I will see Manhunter eventually, though I know that one was a bit different.

Friday, September 3, 2010

Friday Distractions

I have upgraded my html skills and now know how to get links to open in a new window/tab. Yeah, it's a pretty basic command, but the last time I created a webpage tabs didn't exist yet. But you now no longer have to right click or do the back and forth game to visit these.

I know most of us are anxiously awaiting Labor Day Weekend, so let's get to it:

Collector's editions of games are generally regarded as wastes of money. Personally I still display the batarang I got with Batman: Arkham Asylum in my front room, and there's a large part of me that wants to add this Mickey figure to that collection.

I have a thing for beagles and beagle mixes. This particularly puppy is just too adorable and I want to steal him.

If you buy me a pair of the Robin shoes, you can get a Batman pair and we'll fight crime together.

Trying to identify all 100 of these movie characters should keep you busy for awhile.

A comparison of Hulu, Hulu Plus, and Netflix Streaming. Since it fully admits to being slightly out of date, here's some recent editions to Netflix Streaming. I'm most excited for Alfred Hitchcock Presents and Bill and Ted's Excellent Adventures. I watched an episode of the latter this morning. It's particularly fun to hear Keanu, Alex Winter, and George Carlin reprising their roles. It's also nice to know I don't have to buy all the dvd sets for Buffy anymore.

If you're into video game music, you need to check out the soundtrack for the Scott Pilgrim game. Listen to the whole album for free, then buy it.

Did you go fill out that survey about the Back to the Future game? They've released some details about what will be included in the game. Looks to be shaping up pretty good so far, though I'm waiting to hear a bit more. In other Telltale Game news, soon you will get to see Max, Strong Bad, Tycho, and TF2's Heavy play poker with each other. I'll most likely be getting that one.

Thursday, September 2, 2010

My Top 5 Disney Villains

The problem with Top 10 and Top 5 lists is that they are largely based on opinion. There are also so many ways to judge. After seeing a top 10 Disney villain list that I found to be particularly lackluster, I've assembled my essential top 5. I could stretch it out to 10, but I found that doing so added in a bunch of villains who were more funny than evil.

5. Si & Am
I'm usually not one for the cat is evil stereotype. It's an unfair association based on centuries old superstitions. But there's no denying that Si & Am are evil in that extremely fun way. They are selfish and greedy and love to cause trouble. They're also smart enough to know how to play innocent when their master is around and blame all their misdeeds on the dog.

4. Gaston
He's an asshole. I really don't think there's a better way to describe him, unless you want to exchange it for "pompous ass." He's handsome and strong and capable, but he ruins all that for you the moment he opens his mouth. While you'd never want to deal with him in real life, he's definitely one of those you love to hate. So cruel, so selfish, so arrogant he commands every scene he's in and you love to watch him do it.

3. Scar
Jeremy Irons' dry, sarcastic tone and Shakespearean acting talent bring a strong presence to Scar. You almost can't help but feel bad for him - he was born to a race where power is most important, and he's scrawny and smart instead. Of course then he goes and gets his brother killed and messes with his nephew's head just to take the throne. On top of it he does a spectacularly bad job as ruler. For someone who stresses his intelligence, shouldn't he know enough to make his followers be a bit less greedy in their hunting? Apparently his need for power eclipses his common sense. Still, doesn't "Be Prepared" make you want to join his side?

2. Ursula
After seeing The Little Mermaid, I wanted to be Ariel and skip all that stuff about becoming human, I'd take Sebastian's advice and stay under the sea forever. However, if you were to ask me who I wanted to be in a performance of The Little Mermaid, the answer would hands down be Ursula. Watching it as many times as I did, I remember wondering what Ursula meant by her "when I lived in the palace" comments. I imagined a time when perhaps she and her kin were welcomed into the kingdom. Maybe she was an advisor of sorts to the royal family. Sure she was a witch but Merlin used magic too and that didn't make him an outcast. Maybe she didn't start "rak[ing] them across the coals" until the merpeople community ostracized her so. Machinations aside, Ursula is a joy to watch. She's as power hungry as most villains, but it's her self confidence and joy at being herself that really makes you love her. She knows what she wants, she knows how to get it, and she goes for it.

1. Maleficent
Perhaps she's an obvious choice, but there's simply no denying it. Much like Scar and Ursula, she elicits a degree of sympathy - she hasn't been invited to the grand celebration for baby Aurora. We all know how much it hurts to feel slighted. Of course, her chosen gift for the child shows us clearly why she wasn't invited. She's cruel, wicked, and the mistress of all evil. Her voice has an oily quality to it, while also being cold enough to give you chills. She can be all sweet and charming or vicious and angry. Her powers of magic are so strong she can call upon the powers of hell and transform herself into a dragon. She's essentially a female version of Satan, and that's why I think she deserves to be at the top of the list.

Who are YOUR top 5 Disney Villains?
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