A and A's Movie A Day

Watching movies until we run out.

Movie 186 – Bill & Ted’s Excellent Adventure

Bill & Ted’s Excellent Adventure – September 2nd, 2010

Happy birthday to Ted Theodore Logan! AKA Keanu Reeves. We wanted to watch one of his movies for his birthday, so I looked through our list. We’ve got something planned for this weekend, so the Matrix movies were out. Point Break and Constantine are both too long for one of my late shift nights, and we’re saving Johnny Mnemonic for something special. Really special. But we didn’t have anything planned for tomorrow and this movie’s only 90 minutes. Perfect!

I’m not sure when I first saw this, but I know I didn’t see it at home. I suspect I saw it with a friend of mine whose parents were far more relaxed about what she rented from the video store. It feels like the kind of movie we watched together and the time it came out is pretty spot on for when we were alternating sleepovers at each others’ houses every weekend. My family doesn’t often go in for cheese like this, but I do. It’s ridiculous in ever so many ways, but clearly knows just how ridiculous it is. Language barriers only matter when the movie feels like making them matter. Time travel is used to solve minor problems in ridiculous ways. There are paradoxes and characters taken out of time and never returned. But the whole movie is based on Bill and Ted, two slackers from 1988 California, being given a time machine so they can pass their history final and stick together to form a band that will eventually bring about world peace and an end to pollution. Yeah, serious is not a word to describe this movie.

So okay, after being informed that flunking out of high school will result in Ted (Keanu Reeves) being sent to a military school in Alaska leaving Bill (Alex Winter) band-mate-less, our heroes encounter Rufus (George Carlin), a dude from the future who’s been sent to make sure that doesn’t happen. So right off the bat we’ve got this whole circular time loop thing going on. Presumably if the people in the future don’t interfere, the future doesn’t happen in a way that allows for them to interfere, so they have to interfere so they’ll be able to interfere. Yeah. Whee, time paradox! He gives them a time traveling phone booth – not any bigger in the inside than it looks, leading to everyone riding in it like a canoe later on – and sends them on their way. Apparently giving them the phone booth is enough meddling. After accidentally nabbing Napoleon on their first trip, they decide to go on a historical kidnapping spree! Because nothing says ‘easy A’ better than bringing Genghis Khan to school!

Let’s go through who they grab: Napoleon first, whom they leave with Ted’s little brother, Deacon. Deacon and his friends take Napoleon for ice cream and then out bowling, and then they ditch him cause he’s a dick. Not surprising. Meanwhile Bill and Ted grab Billy the Kid (after a bar brawl), Socrates (somehow communicating Kansas’ Dust in the Wind to him), then they get hung up in medieval times when they meet a couple of princesses and almost get beheaded. After a quick stop in the future where everyone plays air guitar for them they grab Freud, Beethoven, Joan of Arc, Genghis Khan and Abraham Lincoln. You know, for extra credit. They show them the mall, and then leave them in the food court with a tray of slushees while they go find Napoleon.

Now, the assignment for the history report they’re ostensibly doing all this kidnapping for is that they’re supposed to talk about how people from various points in history would react to San Dimas in modern times (the 1980s, in this case). So where the beginning of the movie is mostly built on Bill and Ted going ‘woah!’ and ‘excellent!’ and being Valley Dudes in the Old West and whatnot, the latter part of the movie is about the historical figures they’ve grabbed going wild in the San Dimas mall. After their rampage they’re all locked up, leading to a paradox-laden rescue from Bill and Ted and then they do their report performance! Which, um. They totally had time to practice and set up! Apparently after the report was given they went back in time and hired someone to do their lighting and set construction in time for the report.

Like I said, it’s an absolutely ridiculous movie. When it suits the movie to have the non-English speaking characters be incomprehensible or not understand the people around them, then of course that’s how it goes. But how did they get Genghis Khan to do his demo moves on stage? What about Beethoven? How do they get everyone to help with Bill’s chores? Who knows? Who cares! What about the princesses and the problem with taking them out of their proper place in time? Never mind them! And all those paradoxes! But those don’t matter! They put on a totally rockin’ show! It’s a silly movie with a silly premise, but that’s the whole damn point. It’s made a definite cultural impact. Keanu Reeves will probably never not have people saying ‘woah!’ to him and there are several lines that are eminently quotable, not to mention some scenes and moments that will forever be burned into my memory (Napoleon finishing off the Ziggy Pig, for one). The plot may be about as sturdy as a house of cards in a hurricane, and there may be a lot of dated slang that makes me want to listen to Frank Zappa’s Valley Girl, but somehow that makes the movie that much more fun to watch.

September 2, 2010 Posted by | daily reviews | , , , , , | Leave a comment

Bill & Ted’s Excellent Adventure

September 2, 2010

Bill & Ted’s Excellent Adventure

For Keanu Reeves’ birthday we embark upon an excellent adventure today. Because for all his accomplishments and success the poor dude will never be anybody but Ted “Theodore” Logan in my mind.

When this movie first came out I didn’t give it a chance. I was (and am) a raving Doctor Who fan and the idea that an American comedy was based on the notion of people travelling through time in a phone booth seemed insulting and derivative. As a result I didn’t see this in its original theatrical run. Eventually, however, I did see it on VHS and of course I was charmed and thrilled by the movie’s peculiar wit.

The plot is fairly simple. A traveller from a future where everything is pleasant and wonderful comes to 1988 to help a pair of dufuses pass their final oral report in history class. If Bill and Ted don’t get an A on their report then they’ll flunk out of school, and Ted’s father will send him to a military school in Alaska. Which means that they’ll never form the influential super-group Wyld Stallyns. Which in turn means that the idyllic future of peace and harmony will never come to be. So right from the start of the movie the stakes are made clear: the fate of all civilization relies on these two idiots doing a stellar job on their history report.

The means that Rufus, the traveller from the future, uses to help the two out is the aforementioned time-traveling phone booth. Bill and Ted use the phone booth to abduct figures from history to research what they would think of modern day San Dimas California. In what might be a nod to Time Bandits their first stop is with Napoleon (abducted from a bunch of footage from the 1956 Audry Hepbern version War and Peace.) They also kidnap Billy the Kid, Joan of Arc, Sigmund Freud, Socrates, Gengis Kahn, Ludwig Beethoven, and Abraham Lincoln. How they all fit inside the phone booth is never really explained.

You know, this movie is far more entertaining than it has any right to be. It’s stupid and crazy, but it’s just so much fun. Seeing all the transplanted historical figures wreaking havoc in a mall, or watching that climactic history report – these are bits of pure escapist goofyness. The whole movie is fairly tongue in cheek, which is helped by George Carlin’s deadpan performance as Rufus. Carlin does a great job of being both reverential and slightly dismissive of the boys’ antics. There’s one particular eye-roll he does when Bill and Ted meet each-other outside the Circle K which captures his charm so perfectly. He needs these boys to succeed for the sake of his entire world, but he also seems to understand what idiots they are.

As I mentioned before Keanu Reeves has never, in my mind at least, stepped out of the shadow of this first performance. He and Alex Winter are pretty much playing Sean Penn’s character Jeff Spicoli from Fast Times at Ridgemont High. They’re wasted empty-headed dudes who just want to form their band (even though they can’t play instruments and don’t have a righteous music video.) It doesn’t help that Keanu seems to have made “Woah!” his action catch phrase – in the vein of Schwarzenegger’s “I’ll be back.”

I will say that I think the writing for this movie is pretty clever. I particularly enjoy the closed-loop time travel portrayed. It’s one of my favorite devices when time travel causes no paradoxes because it’s already going to have happened the way it does. Such as, in this movie, the way that Ted’s father spends so much time searching for his missing keys because, as it turns out, Ted is going to have stolen them two days ago at the end of the movie. The scene where Bill and Ted meet themselves is another favorite – since we get to see it twice from different perspectives, even though it’s the same scene both times. “Sixty-nine, dudes!”

This is a most excellent movie, and one I always enjoy watching again. Furthermore, I wholeheartedly support the philosophy at it’s core: “Be excellent to each-other, and… party on, dudes!”

September 2, 2010 Posted by | daily reviews | , , , , | 2 Comments