PopMatters is moving to WordPress. We will publish a few essays daily while we develop the new site. We hope the beta will be up sometime late next week.
Film

Bill & Ted's 30th Anniversary: Still Most Triumphant

Keanu Reeves, Dan Shor, Tony Steedman, Alex Winter (© 1989 Metro-Goldwyn-Mayer Studios Inc. All Rights Reserved.) (IMDB)

Bill and Ted's relentless enthusiasm, openness, and goodwill toward all they meet are infectious and, quite frankly, rather inspiring, even (or perhaps especially) in the face of the apathy, prejudice, and animosity that surrounds us today.

Bill & Ted’s Excellent Adventure [30th Anniversary Edition Steelbook]
Stephen Herek

Shout! Factory

09 May 2018

Other

Other than the fancy metal case, it's not altogether clear exactly why Shout! Factory felt the need to release this stand-alone "steelbook" only two years after releasing the similar but more robust Bill & Ted's Most Excellent Collection box set. While the 30th anniversary of Bill S. Preston, Esquire and Ted "Theodore" Logan's introduction to the world is certainly a momentous occasion that totally warrants commemoration, this "special" edition is all about repackaging with no new content to offer. Whereas the three-disc collection included both Excellent Adventure and Bogus Journey as well as four audio commentaries and two behind-the-scenes documentaries that had not previously been released, the special features on this one-disc Blu-ray simply lifts the relevant half of those bonuses and calls it good.

That said, the documentary looking back at the making of the iconic film is substantial, both in length and in content; it features interviews with almost every living member of the large ensemble cast, as well as observations from essential members of the crew, including writers Chris Matheson and Ed Solomon and producer Scott Kroopf. Insights into how the concept came into being (in a college improv class), evolved into the screenplay (ditching the time-traveling van in favor of a "less conspicuous" phone booth the wake of Back to the Future success), and navigated roadblock after roadblock just to be seen.

Despite the little hope they had the film would ever see the light of day, the cast and crew embraced the opportunities afforded to such an "underdog" and "homegrown" production; the general consensus is that the atmosphere on set was genuinely friendly, fun, and free-spirited -- like "kids on a playground". Director Stephen Herek seems to have struck a delicate balance in maintaining a structured yet relaxed environment, working with limited resources and production constraints without curbing the creativity of his performers. Indeed, the easygoing mood of the film is a direct reflection the natural on-set chemistry and improvisational banter between cast-mates, infusing the film with the personality we still know, love, and remember 30 years later.

Alex Winter and Keanu Reeves (IMDB)

Excellent Ensemble

The off-camera relationships undoubtedly helped produce a most outstanding on-screen outcome, in no small part due to the quality casting. The motley crew assembled in this adventure through time is comprised of historical figures the writers simply thought would be most interesting and ridiculous to juxtapose, including Napoleon (Terry Camilleri), Billy the Kid (Dan Shor), Socrates (Tony Steedman), Freud (Rod Loomis, Genghis Khan (Al Leong), Joan of Arc (Jane Wiedlin), Lincoln, (Robert V. Barron), and Beethoven (Clifford Davis).

The members of this ensemble each maintain clear definition as the personages they are intended to portray while also avoiding becoming one-dimensional or hackneyed representations by giving them new quirks, flaws, and curiosities. Even brief asides, minor details, and actions in the background serve to flesh out these characters, especially as a response to their encounters with different eras throughout history. For example, Napoleon shows a particular affinity for ice cream, sunscreen, and water slides, paired with completely believable unsportsmanlike tendencies, while the Billy the Kid emerges as a fatherly, protective figure for the rest of the group, even teaching the almost childlike, timid Socrates (or So-Crates) how to play catch - with a nerf ball.

Resplendent Rapport

But of course, it just wouldn't be quite as excellent an adventure if it weren't for Bill (Alex Winter) and Ted (Keanu Reeves), and by all accounts, Winter and Reeves were just as much the dynamic duo on set as they were on screen. Writers Chris Matheson and Ed Solomon recalled spotting the pair out on the street before filming began without realizing who they were, and they remarked how the demeanor and interactions of the two perfectly fit what they had envisioned for their leads. Like Bill S. Preston, Esquire and Ted "Theodore" Logan, Winter and Reeves had an easygoing rapport and natural chemistry that led them to be almost inseparable, even spending their evenings jamming (poorly) on their bass guitars and venturing out to explore the desert together on their rare days off.

One of the most popular topics of discussion in the bonus features is, of course, the central characters of Bill and Ted, but more so their relationship than the individuals -- who they are together rather than who they are apart. Despite insistent studio pressure to differentiate the two leads, the end result is a testament to the way the duo was originally conceived: as two halves of the same brain, completely content to be "endlessly entertained by each other". The one small concession made to the studio was to assert that if they truly are to be two sides of the same persona, then Bill must be the "head", while Ted is the "heart" -- a distinction that is surprisingly apt given its post hoc formulation, and it consistently holds true throughout the trajectory of the narrative, whether by design or by fate.

Equally frequent are the loving homages to and fond recollections of the comedian and actor who almost didn't get cast as Rufus, the somewhat enigmatic and uncommonly cool guide sent back in time to keep the "Great Ones" -- and the future -- on the right path. There was anxiety about who would play this pivotal if curiously hands-off mentor, and in hindsight, the relief felt when George Carlin signed on to the project (weeks into production) is now compounded by the indisputable perfection of his performance, combining dry humor, a calming presence, and straightforward wisdom.

George Carlin, Alex Winter and Keanu Reeves (© 1989 Metro-Goldwyn-Mayer Studios Inc. All Rights Reserved.) (IMDB)

Legendary Lingo

The language of Bill and Ted plays a pivotal role, a kind of central character itself in that it unifies these separate individuals into essentially one protagonist -- just in two bodies. In fact, Bill & Ted-isms -- whether coined or simply popularized by the duo -- have infused our lexicon with such great depth and breadth that the characteristic dialogue of Excellent Adventure has held up impressively well, even after three decades. While the dialect would stand out as especially affected today, words like "stellar", "righteous", and "bodacious" are not only understandable but also not altogether unfamiliar in contemporary vernacular.

What's even more striking about the unique linguistic style that is so pervasive and fundamental to the Bill & Ted brand is how it blends the underachieving high schoolers' juvenile simplicity with a remarkable degree of sophistication. Paralleling their pursuit of education throughout the film, Bill and Ted ultimately become the teachers, both in their final history report but also for their viewers, especially introducing younger audiences to the thrill and power of a robust vocabulary, using such vivid words as "resplendent", "egregious", and "heinous" to enhance their singular style of self-expression.

(IMDB)

Righteous References

Even the pop culture references retain enduring relevance because they consistently draw from the things that boys with Bill and Ted's interests would enjoy; it seems like such an obvious concept yet somehow still so rare to see, especially in such a timeless way. For example, after hiding inside actual suits of armor in a medieval English castle, the duo takes an almost too predictable but equally satisfying detour: an awkward light-saber duel, complete with vocalized sound effects, in which "Luke Bill" insists that "Darth Ted" is not his father.

Moreover, the minds behind the production made a conscious effort to infuse the film with the joy and love of music that so drives its two protagonists, both with references to popular artists that are so important to the fledgling band, Wyld Stallyns, as well as through the casting of the supporting characters. Joan of Arc, for example, is given a rather fresh, youthful depiction by Jane Wiedlin of the Go-Go's, and the Three Supreme Beings of the Future (Clarence Clemons, Martha Davis, and Fee Waybill) each have prominent musical backgrounds in their own rights (E Street Band, The Motels, and The Tubes, respectively).

Triumphant Tone

Bill & Ted's Excellent Adventure approaches the unattainable: it is pure, optimistic, and family-friendly while also being downright funny to audiences of all ages, both consistently throughout the film and enduringly to today. The humor is anything but crude, sexual, or profane -- despite some brief lapses that those involved have since spoken out about and the writers readily acknowledge, and which they mostly blame on their inexperience and ignorance as young writers. It is admittedly a very male-centric script that certainly would not pass the Bechdel test; their cursory and trite treatment of the "Princesses". Joanna (Diane Franklin) and Elizabeth (Kimberley LaBelle) -- names only given to them via the film's end credits -- is especially problematic, but they did not shy away from the issues in their audio commentary, vowing to redeem themselves if and when the long-rumored third installment comes to fruition.

Possibly the most durable legacy left by the "Great Ones" is their utterly hopeful and pure vision for the future, where Rufus assures "the air is clean, the water's clean, even the dirt is clean; bowling scores are way up, mini-golf scores are way down, and we have more excellent water slides than any other planet we communicate with." While they may not be "school smart", these two high schoolers with dreams of rock stardom planted the seeds of this future utopia through a genuine quest to educate themselves about the world. While the catalyst may have been a more immediate adolescent threat -- failing history class, getting sent to military school, and splitting up the band -- Bill and Ted's relentless enthusiasm, openness, and goodwill toward all they meet are infectious and, quite frankly, rather inspiring, even (or perhaps especially) in the face of the apathy, prejudice, and animosity that surrounds us today.

While Winter's career shifted more behind-the-scenes and Reeves went on to primarily straight-faced action-adventure parts, even now, 30 years after the world first met Bill and Ted, there's no denying that the combination of these two performers in these particular roles created something magical. Indeed, I would argue that Ted "Theodore" Logan may have been the best performance of Reeves's career, engaging and relating to audiences with more emotional range and depth than many of his roles since. With the wave of recent announcements about Bill & Ted 3, confirming that Reeves and Winter are on-board, filming is scheduled to start early next year, and the writers are already hard at work on details of the script, at risk of jumping on the reboot bandwagon for the sake of just giving it a shot, if there is any chance that the magical spark of hope, curiosity, kindness, and good, simple fun can be revived, then I say, "Party On, Dudes!"

Wyld Stallyns Rule!

(© 1989 Metro-Goldwyn-Mayer Studios Inc. All Rights Reserved.) (IMDB)

9

Please Donate to Help Save PopMatters

PopMatters have been informed by our current technology and hosting provider that we have less than a month, until November 6, to move PopMatters off their service or we will be shut down. We are moving to WordPress and a new host, but we really need your help to save the site.


Music

Books

Film

Recent
Music

Peter Frampton Asks "Do You Feel Like I Do?" in Rock-Solid Book on Storied Career

British rocker Peter Frampton grew up fast before reaching meteoric heights with Frampton Comes Alive! Now the 70-year-old Grammy-winning artist facing a degenerative muscle condition looks back on his life in his new memoir and this revealing interview.

Books

Bishakh Som's 'Spellbound' Is an Innovative Take on the Graphic Memoir

Bishakh's Som's graphic memoir, Spellbound, serves as a reminder that trans memoirs need not hinge on transition narratives, or at least not on the ones we are used to seeing.

Music

Gamblers' Michael McManus Discusses Religion, Addiction, and the Importance of Writing Open-Ended Songs

Seductively approachable, Gamblers' sunny sound masks the tragedy and despair that populate the band's debut album.

Books

Peter Guralnick's 'Looking to Get Lost' Is an Ode to the Pleasures of Writing About Music

Peter Guralnick's homage to writing about music, 'Looking to Get Lost', shows how good music writing gets the music into the readers' head.

Film

In Praise of the Artifice in George Cukor's 'Sylvia Scarlett'

George Cukor's gender-bending Sylvia Scarlett proposes a heroine who learns nothing from her cross-gendered ordeal.

Music

The Cure: Ranking the Albums From 13 to 1

Just about every Cure album is worth picking up, and even those ranked lowest boast worthwhile moments. Here are their albums, spanning 29 years, presented from worst to best.

Television

The 20 Best Episodes of 'Star Trek: The Original Series'

This is a timeless list of 20 thrilling Star Trek episodes that delight, excite, and entertain, all the while exploring the deepest aspects of the human condition and questioning our place in the universe.

Music

The 20 Best Tom Petty Songs

With today's release of Tom Petty's Wildflowers & All the Rest (Deluxe Edition), we're revisiting Petty's 20 best songs.

Joshua M. Miller
Music

The 11 Greatest Hits From "Greatest Hits" Compilations

It's one of the strangest pop microcosms in history: singles released exclusively from Greatest Hits compilations. We rounded 'em up and ranked 'em to find out what is truly the greatest Greatest Hit of all.

Music

When Punk Got the Funk

As punks were looking for some potential pathways out of the cul-de-sacs of their limited soundscapes, they saw in funk a way to expand the punk palette without sacrificing either their ethos or idea(l)s.

Music

20 Hits of the '80s You Might Not Have Known Are Covers

There were many hit cover versions in the '80s, some of well-known originals, and some that fans may be surprised are covers.

Music

The Reign of Kindo Discuss Why We're Truly "Better Off Together"

The Reign of Kindo's Joseph Secchiaroli delves deep into their latest single and future plans, as well as how COVID-19 has affected not only the band but America as a whole.

Books

Tommy Siegel's Comic 'I Hope This Helps' Pokes at Social Media Addiction

Jukebox the Ghost's Tommy Siegel discusses his "500 Comics in 500 Days" project, which is now a new book, I Hope This Helps.

Music

Kimm Rogers' "Lie" Is an Unapologetically Political Tune (premiere)

San Diego's Kimm Rogers taps into frustration with truth-masking on "Lie". "What I found most frustrating was that no one would utter the word 'lie'."

Music

50 Years Ago B.B. King's 'Indianola Mississippi Seeds' Retooled R&B

B.B. King's passion for bringing the blues to a wider audience is in full flower on the landmark album, Indianola Mississippi Seeds.

Film

Filmmaker Marlon Riggs Knew That Silence = Death

In turning the camera on himself, even in his most vulnerable moments as a sick and dying man, filmmaker and activist Marlon Riggs demonstrated the futility of divorcing the personal from the political. These films are available now on OVID TV.

Film

The Human Animal in Natural Labitat: A Brief Study of the Outcast

The secluded island trope in films such as Cast Away and television shows such as Lost gives culture a chance to examine and explain the human animal in pristine, lab like, habitat conditions. Here is what we discover about Homo sapiens.

Music

Bad Wires Release a Monster of a Debut with 'Politics of Attraction'

Power trio Bad Wires' debut Politics of Attraction is a mix of punk attitude, 1990s New York City noise, and more than a dollop of metal.


Reviews
Collapse Expand Reviews



Features
Collapse Expand Features

PM Picks
Collapse Expand Pm Picks

© 1999-2020 PopMatters.com. All rights reserved.
PopMatters is wholly independent, women-owned and operated.