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.

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