I’ve been unable to stop thinking about Avengers: Endgame ever since its release 15 months ago, and bizarrely, that isn’t a good thing. It has good elements, and the final act is more or less flawless, but the issues that I have with Endgame really do over-shadow the whole film. One of the most glaring issues, to me, was its failure to understand the concept and execution of time travel, which is difficult to explain and only infuriates me the more I think about it. As much as I’d like to tell you that it works in the context of the film, they make the fatal mistake of having characters compare it to actual time travel movies which include both Terminator and Back to the Future. However the film I chose to re-watch upon its mention was Bill and Teds Excellent Adventure, and I am pleased to report that my worries about Avengers: Endgame melted away as I, once again, got suck into the world of San Dimas, CA, 1988.
We follow Bill S. Preston Esquire and “Ted” Theodore Logan as they travel through time collecting people of historical significance for their oral history report, which they must pass if they wish to remain at school. It seems to be a fairly simple premise, but this is an intricate tale with many elements that must be just right if the overall story is to succeed. The first of these is the relationship between Bill and Ted themselves. Portrayed with enthusiastic buffoonery by Alex Winters and Keanu Reeves respectively, they bounce off of each other wonderfully. They are consistently finishing each others sentences, and verbally sparring with each other in such a genuine way that it’s difficult to not get sucked into caring about them. On top of this, they each have their own personal issues; whether its Bill’s father’s marriage to a much younger woman on Ted’s over-bearing father threatening to send him to a Military Academy in Alaska. These are issues that they can confide in each other with because they have such a close friendship, and that camaraderie never changes. The old “friends split up” cliche doesn’t occur here, and I’d go so far as to say that it simply would not work with these two.
The time travel element is also important, and perhaps the most important sub-element of that is where the boys travel to and who they collect. Our first jaunt is to 1805 where they accidentally procure Napoleon Bonaparte during his invasion of Austria. Unlike in Time Bandits, Napoleon only ever speaks his native French, although much like in Time Bandits he is portrayed with a bit of a temper. Next is 1879, where they end up befriending Billy the Kid who is portrayed as a bit of a whimp. There seems to be this image of him in real life as a notorious bandit so this is a nice subversion of expectation. Third is the philosopher Socrates in 410BC who, once again, speaks his native language of Greek. After a pit-stop in the early 1400s, where Bill and Ted become enamoured by a couple of princesses, we get a really fun montage of them kidnapping more historical figures. Sigmund Freud (1901), Ludwig Van Beethoven (1810), Genghis Khan (1209), Joan of Arc (1429) and Abraham Lincoln (1863) are all taken to San Dimas (1988). It’s a fascinating mix of people from a variety of time periods and cultures which leads to another entertaining scene of them acclimatising to the current time whilst still being themselves. Inevitably, this leads to utter chaos and their mass arrest, which seems a tad unfair given that Beethoven was just having a good time on some keyboards. The great thing about these portrayals is that none of them really feel like portrayals. As far as I can tell, each of them has been represented with a high degree of historical accuracy.
Perhaps one of the most important elements is the history report. It is this report which sets the plot into motion, because the future depends upon Bill and Ted succeeding. It also provides a finishing point for the film as well as a deadline for the boys to work against. They may be travelling in time, but the clock in San Dimas is always running. Time travel with the possibility of not returning home in time is a fascinating concept and one that works well (Endgame does something similar but botches it). It’s also a really fun framing device, because it is a fantastical solution to a fairly mundane problem. They could just study, but they choose to kidnap key figures from history. Using such a boring frame like a history report to kickstart such an exciting adventure is a stroke of genius.
As always, the secret weapon in any movie’s arsenal is the music, and Bill and Teds Excellent Adventure has plenty. There is no original score here, instead we are treated to the musical stylings of every 1980s band that the studio could get their hands on. The official soundtrack has 10 songs, but there are 5 other songs included in the film, which takes our total to 15. Every single one of them is unapologetically of their time, and every single one is an absolute bop. It leads to a fairly short album at just 40 minutes, but it’s one that I don’t mind putting on repeat. These songs are now synonymous with their use in the film, and I can visualise the scenes they accompany whenever I hear them. Finally, we come to the CGI, which was still a fairly young technology at the time, with its first use being in 1973s Waterworld. Bill and Teds Excellent Adventure is a proper test of what this technology is capable of, though, of course, it isn’t the first or last to push those boundaries. The circuits of time are perhaps this film’s biggest CG achievement and they hold up remarkably well. I’m writing this piece based on the standard DVD release so the CGI has the added advantage of fitting the 80s quality of the rest of the footage. The film was remastered for its release on Blu-Ray and will be upgraded even further with its 4K UltraHD release, but I couldn’t imagine getting rid of this version. There’s every chance that I buy a remastered disc, but the grainy film quality of the standard version has this charisma and charm to it that continues to make me adore the film-making process. I’m all for updating graphics as technology ages, but this standard version is a moment in cinematic history and is the version that I grew up loving. Even after 31 years, Bill and Teds Excellent Adventure continues to be most bodacious.
Be Excellent To Each Other…