Poking at Awards: The Early History of the Hugo and Nebula Awards
Friday Five: 5 Wicked Women of Comics

Films of High Adventure: Bill and Ted's Excellent Adventure

Welcome… to Films of High Adventure!

Some of you may recall that Jesse Bullington and I used to do these columns pretty frequently on our blogs and Fantasy Magazine, back (as the kids say) in "the day." The idea was that we’d re-watch films that one or both of us saw as youths, and compare our remembered reactions then to our feelings as adults. Some withstood the test of time pretty well—say, Barbarella. Others… not so much. Hey—The Craft? I’m looking at you.

The initial inspiration for the column was me not having seen a lot of iconic genre films from the 70s and 80s, or from the 90s for that matter, as a child. For whatever reason, while I have seen nearly every Disney film, Hitchcock entry, or movie featuring Fred Astaire dancing, I never saw Robocop, Willow, Predator, The Abominable Dr. Phibes… you get the idea. After Jesse showed me Conan the Barbarian when I was perhaps 27, and enjoyed watching my reactions as much as the film, we decided to blog about the experience, with each showing the other unfamiliar films, or settling in for a simultaneous return to childhood. For good or for awesome we’ve slogged through many a turkey (Dungeons Ampersand Dragons, anyone?) and many a surprising delight. Like, uh… Vampire Hunter D. I… guess.

Anyways, after a several-year hiatus, Jesse and I are back in the saddle, for realsies this time. We’ll be here at Pornokitch once a month, talking smack and offering up praise when either (or both) are warranted.

Don’t call it a comeback. We’ve been here for years!

Bill and TedBill and Ted’s Excellent Adventure (1989)

Responsibility Roundup: Directed by the most triumphant Stephen Herek (Critters, Don’t Tell Mom the Babysitter’s Dead). Written by Ed Solomon and Christ Matheson, who also co-wrote Bill and Ted’s Bogus Journey, the animated Bill and Ted’s Excellent Adventures, and Mom and Dad Save the World. While Solomon later worked on blockbusters like Men in Black and Charlie’s Angels, Matheson’s solo career peaked with 1994’s A Goofy Movie, though word on the backlot is he’s writing a made-for-TV reboot of The Greatest American Hero. The supporting cast is a who’s-who of who’s-that character actors, including Amy Stock-Poynton (Summer School), Bernie Casey (In the Mouth of Madness), Dan Shor (TRON), Terry Camilleri (The Cars That Ate Paris), Hal Landon Jr. (Eraserhead, The Artist), and Jane Wiedlin of the Go-Go’s as Noah’s wife. Hauntingly sincere performances by leads Keanu Reeves (pretty much everything) and Alex Winter (pretty much nothing), and, of course, George Carlin (duh).

Quote: “Strange things are afoot at the Circle K.”

Alternate quote: “It seems to me the only thing you've learned is that Caesar is a ‘salad dressing dude.’”

Alternate alternate quote: “Gentlemen [puts on sunglasses]... we're history”

First viewing by Jesse: I can’t recall, exactly. With many of the entries in this series I have distinct memories of the point of exposure, when my life was forever changed by the experience, but Bill and Ted have simply always been a colorful square in the patchwork quilt of memories that composes my childhood. That’s always the way with time travelers, though, isn’t it? By virtue of their intrusion into your past they fundamentally alter the timeline in such a way that you have no memory of when one possible reality shifted into another. But doing the math the movie came out when I was seven, so I must have seen it on home video by the time I was ten.

First viewing by Molly: College. I never saw it as a youth. Newbies! Unclutch thy pearls. As I said in the intro, I had a weird childhood. I mean, I never saw The Goonies until college, either. 

Most recent viewing by both: Last week.

Impact on Jesse’s childhood development: I was going to say not that strong, at least not for the original Bill and Ted, but considering I’ve made a career out of rewriting history to include modern slang, dirtbag protagonists, anachronistic gags, and copious heavy metal references, I suppose that debt may be slightly higher than originally assumed. Woah.

Impact on Molly’s childhood development: Nonexistent. I think I was vaguely aware of Bill S. Preston, Esq. and Ted “Theodore” Logan, because I did live during the late 80s/early 90s, even if I didn’t watch many blockbusters-for-tots. I do remember being underwhelmed by the film as a college student, but I was significantly more uptight then.

Random YouTube clip that hasn’t been taken down for copyright infringement:


Jesse’s thoughts prior to re-watching: Cautiously optimistic. I don’t think I’ve revisited the franchise since Small Times, and so was amenable to hopping in the phone booth for a trip back to my early adolescence. Painfully dated time travel movies are the best time travel movies. Plus, I definitely want to rewatch Bogus Journey, but I figured the only way that was happening was if we started with the first one.

Molly’s thoughts prior to watching: Pretty stoked. Having only seen it the once, I was eager to experience the majesty, witness the miracle, etc. I had a strong suspicion that 2015 Molly, unlike 2002 Molly, would get a kick out of the The Maid of Orléans teaching aerobics and Beethoven playing synthesizers. I didn’t really “get” “humor” until later in life, okay?

Unlike Jesse, however, I really don’t want to re-watch Bogus Journey. I remember it too well. [Jesse sez: Molly just doesn't want to get into a conversation about her erotic Station/Station fanfic.] [Molly sez: What Jesse doesn't know is that I know that joke is ripped from his browser history.]

Jesse’s thoughts post-viewing: Hey, not bad! Bill and Ted is definitely watchable, at least by Films of High Adventure standards. It’s no Back to the Future, but as far as time travel films from this era, Excellent Adventure ranks right up there with classics like Waxwork II: Lost in Time and, um, Back to the Future III. Except dumber than either of those.

The enthusiasm of the cast combines with late eighties atmosphere to lend the film an undeniable charm… or if not undeniable, at least the kind of charm you feel bad about coming down on too hard. Like its leads, Bill and Ted is definitely boneheaded, but also good-natured and sincere. In a cynical era where time travel flicks are either darker than Agent Cooper’s coffee or would-be comedies that are as unpleasant as they are stupid (fuck you, Hot Tub Time Machine) there’s something refreshingly warm in watching Napoleon cheat a bunch of kids at a bowling alley.

This isn’t to say the movie doesn’t have its flaws, but on the whole it’s surprisingly positive entertainment. Take the princesses, for example: they don’t have as much to do in this movie as in the sequel, but even still these historical babes end up joining Bill and Ted’s band instead of being their groupies. That doesn’t sound like much today, granted [Molly sez: sadly... it does sound pretty decent, even by today's standards...] but in a willfully brainless 80s comedy it’s a slight but satisfying subversion of the male rock star wish fulfillment fantasy. And while at the end of the day Bill and Ted remain loveable morons, they’ve learned that even having a time traveling phone booth isn’t a substitute for practicing your instruments, and that an entire Utopian society can be built on the foundational mantra of “be excellent to each other.”

Oh, and we should probably address the theories that George Carlin is actually a Timelord, but to be perfectly honest I haven’t paid much attention to the franchise since the Tom Baker days so am ill-equipped to weigh in. That said, I could definitely see that particular Doctor hotboxing the TARDIS with Rufus and giving him shit for his choice in companions. 

Molly’s thoughts post-viewing: Welp. That’s a film! That I’ve watched! Twice! And I must say… it is most excellent. *plays air guitar*

I think what is so charming about Bill and Ted, in this jaded age, is their extreme innocence. I know I sound so old, but they’re adorable. Their slang, their hangdog expressions when life gets bogus, their bright, unfettered enthusiasm when things work out! I’m amazed that it was apparently such a critical failure, but I suppose no one had nostalgia for 1989… in 1989. If only future Bill and Ted had showed the movie to future critics, and somehow… never mind. Maybe this will be the premise of the alleged upcoming third film in the series?

Anyways, cruising the film’s Wiki, apparently The Washington Post said of the movie, “[the historical characters] exist as foils and nothing else, and the gags that are hung on them are far from first-rate.” And Variety, also staffed by total sticks in the mud, or maybe Ted’s dad, said, “Each encounter is so brief and utterly clichéd that history has little chance to contribute anything to this pic’s two dimensions.”

Most egregious. I mean, sure, it’s not exactly a documentary, but has anyone managed to so briefly sum up Napoleon’s career as Ted’s younger brother, Deacon, when he proclaims, “he was a dick”? Nay. I think not.

Sure, the film falls apart at times, most especially the sequence where Bill and Ted just try to remember… in the future… to do things… something? But I absolutely loved the scenes where historical figures run amok in the mall. I don’t care if it’s a shallow depiction of what historical figures might actually have done in a mall, or whatever those eggheads at The Washington Post and Variety apparently wanted from this film. It’s hilarious!

High Points: Sigmund Freud with a corndog. “Waterloo!!” The philosophy of Future Earth Society. “So-crates!” Also, apparently, there was a cereal? 

Low points: Bill and Ted hugging each other and saying, “fag.” As unamusing as it is historically accurate? Still, most inexcusable. Also, this movie is directly responsible for the cartoon show, which, well, the less we say about that the better.

Final Verdict: Wyld Stallyns! Wait, what was the question?

Next Time: Krull! Yeah, Krull. Which we will have seen on 35mm, thanks to Jason Heller’s Science Friction series at the Alamo Drafthouse. Bodacious!