Lone Wolf Sullivan is a writer, songwriter, and studio musician.

Sunday, July 12, 2009

Bill & Ted's Excellent Adventure (1989) * * ½

(first lines)
Rufus: Hi, welcome to the future. San Dimas California 2688. And I'm telling you it's great here. The air is clean, the water's clean, even the dirt, it's clean. Bowling averages are way up, mini-golf scores are way down. And we have more excellent water slides than any other planet we communicate with. I'm telling you this place is great! But it almost wasn't. You see, 700 years ago, the two great ones, ran into a few problems. So now I have to travel back in time to help them out. If I should fail to keep these two on the correct path, the basis of our society will be in danger. Don't worry, it'll all make sense. I'm a professional.

The film opens in the future San Dimas, California, with agent Rufus (George Carlin) preparing to use a time-traveling phone booth to go back 700 years to 1988 to make sure that Bill S. Preston (Alex Winter) and Ted "Theodore" Logan (Keanu Reeves) remain together in the band "Wyld Stallyns", as their music is the core of the future's utopian society. There's only one problem: they can't play their instruments. Rufus finds that Bill and Ted are on the verge of failing their high school history class. Their hard nosed history teacher tells them that if they don't pass their oral history report, they will flunk out of school. This oral report involves imagining what historical characters would've thought of the present day and the local environment.

Ted: What are you doin' home, dad?
Capt. Logan: I'm looking for my keys.
Ted: Oh!
Capt. Logan: You haven't done anything with them, have ya?
Ted: No, sir.
Capt. Logan: I spoke to your principal today, Ted. He said you're failing history.
Ted: Me and Bill...
Capt. Logan: He also said that if fail history, you flunk out of school. You know what that would mean, don't ya, Ted?
Ted: That I would have to go to Oats' military acadamy, sir.
Capt. Logan: Uh huh. I spoke to Colonel Oats this morning. He's anxious to meet you, Ted. You pack your bags, Ted.
Ted: What?
Capt. Logan: You're going to military school, Ted.
Ted: But, dad...
Capt. Logan: No, I don't wanna hear it, Ted.
Ted: But...
Capt. Logan: Ted! You go home and pack your bags now.

If Ted fails, his father police Captain Logan (Hal Langdon) will ship him off to an Alaskan military academy, effectively ending the pair's rock band. As the two try to write a history report by asking customers at a local Circle K, Rufus introduces himself to them. Though Bill and Ted are skeptical of Rufus' claims, they are convinced when future versions of themselves land nearby and explain the situation to them. Rufus shows Bill and Ted how the time machine works by taking them back to see Napoleon Bonaparte (Terry Camilleri) preparing for battle. Rufus returns to the present and leaves the two with the time machine. After Rufus leaves, they discover that Napoleon was dragged with them back to the present, and they get an idea. To pass their history exam, they will go back in time and kidnap other historical figures and have them explain what they think of the San Dimas of the present. Bill and Ted leave Napoleon with Ted's younger brother Deacon (Frazier Bain) while they travel back to the past.

Bill: Okay, wait, if we were one of Europe's greatest leaders, and we were stranded in San Dimas for one day, where would we go?
Bill and Ted: Waterloo!
Ted: (after Napoleon explains his new waterslide war strategy) I don't think it's gonna work.
Napoleon: Non? (he slams his pointer down on a map) Triomphe Napoleon!

Bill and Ted first collect Billy the Kid (Dan Shor) and Socrates (Tony Steedman), who are both confused but eager to help the pair. When they travel to medieval Europe, they become smitten with Princesses Elizabeth (Kimberley Kates) and Joanna (Diane Franklin), but fall into trouble with their father the King. They manage to escape with the help of Billy and Socrates and continue traveling through time. Soon, they have collected Sigmund Freud (Rod Loomis), Ludwig van Beethoven (Clifford David), Genghis Khan (Al Leong), Joan of Arc (Jane Wiedlin), and Abraham Lincoln (Robert V. Barron). The passengers encounter brief technical difficulties, and when attempting to return to the present, end up returning on the previous day outside the Circle K with Rufus introducing himself to their past selves. Bill and Ted recount their experience to their past selves, and learn how to properly return to the present from Rufus in order to give their history report on time.

Bill and Ted: Hows it goin' ladies?
Princess Elizabeth: You're the ones we saw in front of the castle.
Ted: I am Ted of San Dimas, and, uh, I bring to you a message of love.
Princess Elizabeth: (giggles) From who?
Ted: From... from myself.
Princess Elizabeth: And what is this message you speak of?
Ted: Uh...
Bill: Lyrics dude, recite them some lyrics.
Ted: Oh, you beautiful babes from England, for whom we have traveled through time... will you go to the prom with us in San Dimas? We will have a most triumphant time!

Bill: (approaching Socrates) How's it going? I'm Bill, this is Ted. We're from the future.
Socrates: Socrates.
Ted: (whispering to Bill) Now what?
Bill: I dunno. Philosophize with him!
Ted: "All we are is dust in the wind," dude. (Socrates gives them a blank stare)
Bill: (scoops up a pile of dust lets it run out of his hand) Dust. (he blows the remainder away)
Bill: Wind.
Ted: (points at Socrates) Dude. (Socrates gasps)
Billy the Kid: Not bad, eh, Socrates? Where are we, dude?
Bill: England, 15th century.

Sigmund Freud: Hello. I'm Dr. Freud, but you may call me Siggy. What is a geek?
Bill: (responding to Freud's invitation to examine him) Nah. Just got a minor Oedipal complex.
Sigmund Freud: This must be a dream. You both seem to be suffering from a mild form of hysteria.

Abraham Lincoln: Fourscore and... (looks at his pocket watch) Seven minutes ago... we, your forefathers, were brought forth upon a most excellent adventure conceived by our new friends, Bill... and Ted. These two great gentlemen are dedicated to a proposition which was true in my time, just as it's true today. Be excellent to each other. And... party on dudes!

Bill: Dude, you gotta have a poker face, like me. (Ted stops grinning at his cards, Bill looks at his own cards)
Bill: Whoa, three aces!
Bearded Cowboy: What the hell's going on here, Billy?
Old West Ugly Dude: Are you a-cheatin' us kid?
Billy the Kid: Cheating? Me? (leaps up, flips table over screaming) Aah!

While trying to get the other historical figures accustomed to life in San Dimas by dropping them off at the local shopping mall, Ted learns that Deacon abandoned Napoleon at a bowling alley the night before. Bill and Ted go off to search for him, finding him enjoying himself at a local water park, "Waterloo". When they return to the mall, they find the other historical figures have been arrested by Ted's father due to the chaos they caused. The two try to figure out how to rescue them when they realize they can use the time machine to go back in time and plant elements, such as the cell keys, at the police station for their escape plan. They successfully free the historical figures and make it to the school on time for their report. The report is an outstanding success, and the two pass their course.

Bill: It is indeed a pleasure to introduce to you a gentleman we picked up in medieval Mongolia in the year 1269.
Ted: Please welcome, the very excellent barbarian...
Ted and Bill: ...Mr. Genghis Khan! (All the students applaud wildly for Khan)
Ted: This is a dude who, 700 years ago, totally ravaged China, and who, we were told, 2 hours ago, totally ravaged Oshman's Sporting Goods.

These two guys don't actually have to do anything to be funny. You laugh at them even if they're just standing there. It turns out they can be quite resourceful. Like a lot of teenagers, they just need motivation. It's hard not to like them, since they're about as good-natured kids as you're likely to find. Bill has the initiative, willing to take risks without hesitation because he doesn't have a clue of what he's getting into. Ted is a born romantic, a sweet-faced kid who all the girls think is really cute. Any time he sees a good-looking girl his heart leaps into his throat and stars flicker in his eyes.

At the end of the film, Rufus joins Bill and Ted as they practice and congratulates them on their report. Rufus brings in Princesses Elizabeth and Joanna, whom he rescued from their father, and explains that he's introduced them to the modern century, and that they too are destined to be part of Wyld Stallyns. As the four begin to play a cacophony of music, Rufus speaks the film's last lines: "They do get better."

BILL & TED'S EXCELLENT ADVENTURE is a combination comedy and science fiction/fantasy that presents the viewer with an interesting premise: What if the actions and words of a pair of southern California teenagers are actually important to the survival of the world? This idea seems doomed to failure when we meet Bill and Ted for the first time. The two teens are nice enough guys but apparently are real airheads when it comes to academics. It works as a film because it provides us with humor on a number of levels. The film is actually great family fare because it doesn't contain a lot of profanity, gratuitous violence or sexual activity and provides audiences of all ages with a pleasant time. It is clearly an important influence on humor of the 1990s when you think of subsequent projects like WAYNE'S WORLD (1992).

This slacker comedy provides some good low-brow laughs. One of the silliest movies of all time, the humor is juvenile, and the teenage protagonists seem almost completely vacant-minded. The film aggravated some educators with its frivolous treatment of academia but brought praise from others for making history fun and palatable. It also stamped words like "bogus" and "gnarley" firmly into the 1990s slang lexicon. George Carlin's appearance as the time-traveler Rufus adds a little comedic legitimacy to this little film, which essentially boils down to engaging and well-paced silly, mindless fun with a fairly well-written script. The legacy of Bill and Ted can be traced to the slacker comedies of Adam Sandler.

Keanu Reeves and Alex Winter make a great comedy team and their valley dude act and vocabulary becomes very humorous in the context of all of the historical figures we see. Could you imagine greeting Genghis Khan or Napoleon with the line "How's it goin', dude?" Another premise that works very well is the whole idea that the vacuous valley talk like "party on" and "be excellent" or heavy metal music from a teenage garage band actually becomes the mantras of a future society. Finally a lot of humor is made from taking famous historical figures and inserting them into contemporary American suburban society. When we see Napoleon downing a huge sundae at an ice cream store, or delighting to the tidal wave at a water theme park, Beethoven jamming on modern music synthesizers at a shopping mall, Billy the Kid and Socrates learning to play Nerf ball, and Joan of Arc getting into aerobic dance, it becomes an interesting commentary on our society and what the impact of common things we take for granted will have on the future. It provides us with the more subtle idea that maybe the perceptions and attitudes of this generation will have some importance in our future, and that the teenagers of today eventually may amount to something in our culture.

The cast also includes: Bernie Casey (Mr. Ryan), Amy Stock-Poynton (Missy Preston), J. Patrick McNamara (Mr. Preston), William Robbins (Ox Robbins), Steve Shepherd (Randolf Shepherd), Anne Machette (Buffy), (Traci Dawn Davis), (Jody Davis), Duncan McLeod (Old West Bartender), John Clure (Tattooed Cowboy), Jim Cody Williams (Bearded Cowboy), Dusty O'Dee (Old West Ugly Dude), Heather Pittman (Kerry), Ruth Pittman (Daphne), Richard Alexander (Bowling Alley Manager), James Bowbitch (John the Serf), John Karlsen (Evil Duke), Jeanne Hermine Herek (Mother at Waterslides), Jonathan Bond (Waterslide Attendant), Jeff S. Goodrich (Music Store Salesman), Lisa Rubin (Girl at Mall), Marjean Holden (Student Speaker), Claudia Templeton (Aerobic Saleswoman), Carol Gossler (Aerobic Instructor), J. Donovan Nelson (Mall Photographer), Marcia Darroch (Store Clerk), Steven Rotblatt (Police Psychiatrist), Ed Solomon (Stupid Waiter), Chris Matheson (Ugly Waiter), Mark Ogden (Neanderthal 1), Tom Dugan (Neanderthal 2), Ron Althoff (Security Guard), Clarence Clemons (The Three Most Important People in the World), Martha Davis (The Three Most Important People in the World), Fee Waybill (The Three Most Important People in the World), Phillip V. Caruso (Dance Photographer), Lee Hollingsworth (Student), Tricia Porter (Bowling Score Keeper), and Golan Ramras (Kid at Waterloo). David Newman composed the original music. Chris Matheson and Ed Solomon wrote the screenplay. Stephen Herek directed.

The film was shot in the Phoenix, Arizona, metropolitan area, mostly in and around Coronado High School in Scottsdale, Arizona in 1987. This movie was actually made and planned for release in 1987, but due to the bankruptcy of the film's original distributor, the De Laurentiis Entertainment Group, the project was not released theatrically until February 17, 1989. As a partial result of the delay, certain dates in the movie originally scripted as "1987" had to be redubbed as "1988". The copyright date of this movie is 1988 and the same date appears on the DVD cover.

Originally, the time machine was to be a 1969 Chevrolet van, but the idea was nixed as being too close in concept to the De Lorean used in the BACK TO THE FUTURE trilogy. Instead, the time machine was styled after a 1960s American telephone booth. Its similarity to the time-traveling British police box-shaped TARDIS of the BBC's television programme DOCTOR WHO is reflected in the "Cracked" parody in which the Doctor threatens to sue Rufus. However, the Bill & Ted telephone booth lacked the huge interior spaces of the Doctor's TARDIS.

As is often the case with movie soundtracks with rock music in them, the songs are arranged in a different order than they are heard in the movie. The sequence of the songs in the movie is as follows:

6. I Can't Break Away (Big Pig)
4. Dancing with a Gypsy (Tora Tora)
5. Father Time (Shark Island)
7. Dangerous (Shark Island)
9. In Time (Robbi Robb)
10. Two Heads Are Better Than One (Power Tool)
2. Boys and Girls Are Doing It (Vital Signs)
1. Play With Me (Extreme)
8. Walk Away (Bricklin)
3. Not So Far Away (Glen Burtnik)
10. Two Heads Are Better Than One (reprise) (Power Tool)

Two spin-off TV series were produced as BILL & TED'S EXCELLENT ADVENTURES. The first, an animated series, featured the voices of Carlin, Winter, and Reeves, ran for 21 episodes in 1990 and 1991. A later live-action series, featuring none of the cast from the movie, included Evan Richards as Bill and Christopher Kennedy as Ted, and lasted seven episodes in 1992 on FOX. Video games from Game Boy, NES and Atari Lynx were released, very loosely based on the film's plot. A PC title and nearly identical Amiga and Commodore 64 port were made in 1991 by Off the Wall Productions and IntraCorp, Inc. under contract by Capstone Software and followed the original movie very closely.

BILL & TED'S EXCELLENT ADVENTURE was followed in 1991 by the sequel BILL & TED'S BOGUS JOURNEY. Like the first film, it stars Keanu Reeves as "Ted" Theodore Logan and Alex Winter as Bill S. Preston Esq. The film's working title was "Bill & Ted Go To Hell" and it is slightly better than the original.

The movie opens in the future, where Chuck De Nomolos (Joss Ackland) steals a time traveling phone booth, and then sends robotic duplicates of Bill (Alex Winter) and Ted (Keanu Reeves) back to the past to prevent their band "Wyld Stallyns" from winning the Fourth Annual San Dimas Battle of the Bands, thereby removing their influence on history. Rufus (George Carlin) attempts to stop De Nomolos' plan but ends up lost in time. In the present, Bill and Ted struggle with their band Wyld Stallyns. While former 15th-century princesses and current fiancées Elizabeth (Annette Azcuy) and Joanna (Sarah Trigger) have become skilled on their instruments, Bill and Ted are still inept. De Nomolos' clones capture Bill and Ted, and kill the pair by throwing them over a cliff, then take over their lives, including ruining their relationships with the princesses.

The real Bill and Ted find themselves facing Death (William Sadler), the Grim Reaper, who challenges them to a game for their souls. They realize they have no chance of defeating him, and instead give Death a "melvin" and flee. Bill and Ted try to find someone who can help them in their ethereal state, first by possessing Ted's father, Captain Logan (Hal Landon Jr.). He says, "I totally possessed my Dad!" He possesses another police officer, and then tries to call out at a séance held by Ted's stepmother Missy (Amy Stock-Poynton). However, at the séance, they are mistaken for evil spirits and cast down into Hell. The two are sentenced by Satan (Frank Welker) and forced to live their own personal versions of Hell. The two realize their only means of escape is to play the Reaper in a game for their souls.

The Reaper brings them out of Hell, and lets them decide which game to play. The pair select several games, including Battleship, Clue, electric football, and Twister, each time winning and requiring the Reaper to insist on a rematch. Eventually the Reaper acquiesces and lets the pair command him. Bill and Ted realize that the only way to face their robotic counterparts and get to the Battle of the Bands is to find the smartest being alive to build them a more powerful set of robots. The Reaper takes them to Heaven and introduces him to Station (Frank Welker), an alien that is able to split itself into two smaller versions of itself. The group returns to present-day Earth, and gather the necessary parts for Station at the local hardware store. As they race to the Battle of the Bands, Station completes powerful robotic versions of Bill and Ted. Station's robots are able to defeat De Nomolos' clones before Wyld Stallyns are due to take the stage. De Nomolos arrives from the future in the time machine, intent on defeating the band himself over a worldwide television broadcast, but Bill and Ted are able to get the upper hand with their friends' help. Rufus, who was able to return to the future and then travel to the present, helps to secure De Nomolos while encouraging Bill and Ted to get on stage and play.

As Bill and Ted reunite with their fiancées and prepare to play, they realize that their musical skills still are lacking, and the four of them disappear briefly in the time machine, reappearing moments later but aged several months. During this time, they have not only learned how to skillfully play their instruments but both couples have married and have offspring. Wyld Stallyns, joined by both the Reaper and Station, play their world-changing music to a global television audience thanks to De Nomolos' interference. During the end credits, fictional newspaper and magazine articles describe the worldwide impact of the Stallyns' music towards the utopian future.

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