Bill and Ted’s Excellent Adventure (1989)
It’s my 100th film review! To celebrate, let’s have some fun with an old favourite…it will be most excellent.
SYNOPSIS: Bill S. Preston Esquire and Ted “Theodore” Logan are trying to get their most bodacious band “Wyld Stallions” to get noticed, but they seem to have a number of problems, one of them being that they can’t actually play their instruments. Much more bogus problems are afoot though, as the two are about to fail history unless they can deliver an A+ on their final history report, and Ted’s father will send him to an Alaskan military school. Fortunately, help arrives from the future in the form of Rufus, and a telephone box that can travel anywhere in time. All they have to do is travel back in time, grab a few famous historical figures, and bring them back to present day California to deliver their history report and save their band…
THOUGHTS/ANALYSIS: Bill and Ted’s Excellent Adventure is a 1989 film that everybody has to have seen at least once. It is a mixture of science-fiction and teenage comedy mixed with some ear pleasing glam rock. The story centres on two teenage would-be-rockstar slackers Bill and Ted who have to travel back in time to collect important figures from history to pass their history report, otherwise the tranquility of the future will be destroyed. Yes, it’s a pretty ridiculous plot, but this whole film is ridiculous (in a good way) and really allows itself to have some fun with the concept of time travel by throwing the gates open and letting itself run wild with some of the most famous figures in history and how they would react to the world of 1980’s California. You could probably do an entire film with just one of the historical characters, so having eight of them really is cramming a lot into those eighty minutes. The film always feels neatly paced, and one hilarious situation after another with lots of variety between them means the film never slows down or gets stuck in a lull: It’s just good fun.
The film is primarily a comedy, with the science-fiction element thrown in to create a bizarre situation in which humour develops. Bill and Ted are absent-minded, stereotypical teenagers and most of the humour is derived from their aloofness to what is going on around them. The jokes are not complex or overly witty; it’s simple, but it’s effective, and never pretends to be anything more complex than that. Sure, it’s not intellectually stimulating, and all the jokes stem from the two characters being a little bit slack and nonchalant about what goes on around them, but the film also paints them as characters that always have the best intentions at heart, and can always step up to the plate when they need to, regardless of what any figure of authority thinks. In short, they come off as clumsy, but altogether charming and perhaps misunderstood, which as the target audience for this film would be teens as well, it’s sure to help it succeed. It also manages to reference other sci-fi works, with the telephone box time machine as a reference to Doctor Who, and the utopian future the pair visit could be from any number of 70s/80s, and satirises such visions of the future if you think that it comes from the “philosophy” of two teenagers starting a band in their garage. But the humour isn’t out of date either, it can still get some laughs today if you’re willing to just get sucked in and enjoy it. Coming off the back of the Back to the Future trilogy, which gave mainstream audiences a taste of time travel, Bill and Ted’s Excellent Adventure really has some fun with the space-time continuum, rather than the happenstance mess that time travel seems to be in the Back to the Future trilogy.
Despite all the daft fun that’s going on in the film, there is a lot of clever devices at work which tie up the film nicely. Time travel of course is a tricky film device to work with, as it can lose people quite quickly (and for a film such as this, you don’t want anything too complex that will detract from the comedy), but this film keeps things easy to understand while surprisingly taking a lot of twists and turns and some of the scenes are quite clever, such as the one where Bill and Ted meet their future selves, and you experience the same scene again later from the perspective of the future Bill and Ted. Such a scene is a clever use of time-travel mechanics, and also presented in a way which is clear, allows for hilarious consequences. production-wise, the film does a lot with what it has, and has a lot of fun locations, some decent effects, and of course that fantastic 80s glam rock soundtrack which is one of the many highlights of the film. Overall, I’m not sure why Bill and Ted’s Excellent Adventure works: there is so much going on it should be difficult to keep track of all the characters in all the time zones, and the humour is a little childish…but still, it just works brilliantly. Bill and Ted are loveable characters from the offset and while they are always misunderstood, they never do know harm to anyone and just want to make excellent music, which as it turns out is what makes the world a better place (and it makes a surprisingly amazing feel-good movie). I think I would put Bill and Ted’s Excellent Adventure near the top of my favourite films, as it is fantastic fun, and an excellent adventure that always manages to hit the right notes.