Bill and Ted: A Look Back
What is it about stupidity that makes us love it so? Is it the feeling of superiority we get when we watch others, obviously less intelligent than ourselves, do moronic and stupid things? Is it the misadventures and comedy of errors stupid people get drawn into that makes us laugh for our own amusement? Maybe it's like a car crash we can't wait to see happen.
No, I think it's because we all know we're pretty stupid at some point. We all do stupid things, get laughed at, and as a result, when it comes to stupid characters, we actually relate to them. This is no better depicted in 1989, and subsequently in 1992, with the characters of Bill and Ted in Bill and Ted's Excellent Adventure and Bill and Ted's Bogus Journey.
Bill S. Preston Esquire and Ted "Theodore" Logan are dumb. They're failing school, can't get dates, do nothing but pretend their band Wyld Stallyns, will be the greatest rock band of all time. Right up there with Van Halen, although according to Bill, Wyld Stallyns won't achieve success until they get Mr. Van Halen to play for them. But Ted says they won't get get him until they make a triumphant video. Bill retorts, adding they need descent instruments, with Ted following suit saying they should maybe learn how to play first. It all makes sense as Bill says none of that matters if they get Eddie Van Halen.
It's not so much their ignorance or idiocy, though, as much as it is their childlike demeanor. Their naivity and flat-out innocence is what endears us to them. Plus, who didn't want to be in a rock band when they were kids? Bill and Ted were living the dream, or at least trying to.
The Bill and Ted movies are products of their time, and were perfect fodder for kids my age to look up to and say "I want to be like them." Sure, those two guys are not doing so great now, but look what they will become. It's destiny and the idea of doing very little and your dreams still come true was pretty appealing. Bill and Ted themselves were pretty relateable as well. They loved rock music and girls, hated school and pretty pissed they have to do a presentation to the entire class body of San Dimas High just to graduate. They were as we were, right down to the clothing and slang. You know the "Bogus"es and "Excellent"s of the world.
While it's appealing to those that grew up during that time, and at the same time ludicrous so you can have fun, the Bill and Ted movies, moreso the first that the second, were pretty smart and well-done films for what they were. They brought in everything of time travel theory, taught us about historical figures and events, showed that hell is more psychological than fire and brimstone and that just being laid back and cool, passive-aggressive people lets everything work out in the end.
There's been numerous comedy duos, but not since Bill and Ted were they dumb teenage slacker duos and this new concept, the way it was marketed and how they act and achieve their goals has been copied over and over again. Wayne and Garth (who themselves used the "party on" line coined by Bill and Ted). Beavis and Butthead. All the way to today with movies like Dude Where's my Car and Superbad. I'd throw Dumb and Dumber in there, but even Bill and Ted weren't that stupid, they were far easier to relate to.
It's easy to look back at both movies and just write them off. But like a lot of products of their time, the movies appealed to its generation more than teenagers and kids today. I guess that's why I felt the need to look back to them and show my affection and appreciation for this little overlooked piece of nostalgia.
A Brief History of Bill and Ted
-In the mid 1980s, comedians Chris Matheson (son of author Richard Matheson) and Ed Solomon created the characters Bill and Ted for their improvisational comedy act. Bill and Ted are more or less caricatures of them and their friendship. A similar act to Chris and Ed's original is put on each year at Universal Studios during the Halloween Haunts and has been since 1992.
-During auditions, 22 year old Alex Winter auditioned for Ted while 23 year old Keanu Reeves auditioned for Bill. Both received the roles, but for the other character they didn't audition for. George Carlin was cast as Rufus, Bill and Ted's mentor of sorts, and his career gained new popularity as a result. Director Stephen Harek, like Matheson and Solomon, was relatively inexperienced having only directed the film Critters but had success. He would later go on to direct The Mighty Ducks, The Three Musketeers and Mr. Holland's Opus.The project was originally in development at Warner Brothers but dropped around 1986. The company DEG picked it up.
-The film was shot and scheduled to be released in 1987. However the release was delayed due to the bankruptcy of its distributer. It was finally released by Orion theatrical on February 17, 1989. All references to 1987 were changed to 1988.
-The film was shot in and around Phoenix Arizona, although San Dimas is a real city in California. The waterpark, the mall, the bowling alley, the high school (which is more near Scottsdale) and even the Circle K are actual locations in the area.
-Bill and Ted's Bogus Journey was greenilt almost immediately after the success of the first, which made nearly 40 million dollars on a budget of 10 million. Bogus Journey wasn't quite as successful with double the budget and only making a little less than 40 million. It was written by Matheson and Solomon again, however this time directed by Peter Hewitt.
-All major players returned to their roles. The show was stolen, however, by newcomer William Sadler who portrayed the Grim Reaper. Sadler would go on to a very lucrative and successful film and television career.
-Various products emerged for Bill and Ted. Cereal, toys, videogames, even a cartoon series, Bill and Ted's Excellent Adventures, that ran for 21 episodes in 1991 and featured the voices of Winter, Reeves and Carlin.
-To this day, Bill and Ted still have a cult following. Notably the previously mentioned Universal Studios shows in both Florida and California and this website which is dedicated to the duo.
Top 10 Bill and Ted Moments/Lessons I Learned from Bill and Ted
The Bill and Ted have many life lessons and truths to tell us. Below are the top ten of them, which also happen to be the best scenes from the films.
10: Hardware Stores Have Everything (as do malls)
Two scenes from both movies are some of the best. They're both fish-out-of-water scenarios. In the first film, we have a large group of historical figures going to their very first mall. Here they pound on keyboards, drink slushees, dismantle sporting good stores and fail at ice skating.The movie depicts them like children run amok, but if you think about it, if you were transported to the future and there were all these cool new things, wouldn't you be out playing with them also?
The second is our good friend Death being dragged along to the builder's emporium. Here, it's obvious he is completely lost and has no clue what to do as Bill, Ted and the aliens they acquired stock up on parts to build mechanical robots. The bored, expressionless face is classic, yet even he finds some potential goodies.
The Lesson: One, we sure do like our shopping. There was a time when nobody could fathom going to one place and get everything. usually if you ran out of food, you had to barter at the market 50 miles from your home, go out and kill something or just simply die. Two, there was time when you had to go to dozens of places in a town to get everything, now all is convenient located in one area and in many of those stores there are towering shelves with a billion different things. We have it pretty easy.
9: Junk Food food is Universal
While traveling through time to gather historical figures, all shown in classic 1980s montage style, Bill and Ted make a stop to Mongolia to pick up Bob "Genghis" Kahn. Knowing the man was a hedonist, they entice him with something he never saw before. No, not a beautiful woman or gold, well, it's golden, I should say. But a Twinky. Genghis then throws aside his wench for the amazing deliciousness that is the Twinky.
The Lesson: Twinkies, Cookies, Candy, Cupcakes, potato chips, Soda, ice cream.... It's a known fact that if it's bad for you, it's really really delicious. It doesn't matter what time or place you come from. Something sugary and sweet or full of fake flavors like "Fried Chicken and Green Onion Sauce" or "Gold Pekking Duck" Doritos will have people turn over to their gluttonous side any day.
8: Step Moms should not be Three Years Older Than Their Children
"It's your mom, dude." That line is mentioned in both films by both Bill and Ted (Missy got around, let's just say). On numerous occasions Bill and Ted are shown gawking at Missy Preston (later Missy Logan) who is not only a hot 21 year old that went to high school with them, but loves showing the goods at any given moment. "Your step mom is cute, though. Remember when I asked her to the prom?"
The Lesson: This one speaks for itself. Sure, it may be great for the dad to rail a 21 year old every night (and apparently in his son's room) but think about the children, I say! It's just awkward and uncomfortable. It's only a matter of time before she's sleeping with the boy she went to high school (who had a crush on her apparently). Sure, she may act like it's accidental, but when you wear loose shirts while bending over or tight stretch pants that leave little to the imagination, people are going to look, including your step-son.
7: Hell is Not a Place for Cool Place
After totally getting killed by the evil future robot Bill and Teds, Bill and Ted are sent to the internal depths of Hell. Here we see an endless series of hallways, short ceilings and walls for the claustrophobic, and door after door down the halls. Behind each door is a personal Hell for Bill and Ted playing off their own fears, past and present. Guilt for Ted, kissing Grandma for Bill and bootcamp from Ted's father give us glimpses, albeit brief, that this is definitely not a place you want to stay for eternity. It's visually striking, as though Hell was designed by Tim Burton.
The Lesson: At the age of 11 when I saw Bogus Journey, hell was just something talked about. I had never seen a movie that had ever depicted it. This is when I figured it out: Hell is personal. It's not some guy with a pitchfork and lots of fire around, it's psychological. It's your worst fears become reality. That, my friends, is most certainly bogus.
6: French People are Not Good Bowlers (but they do like waterslides)
After being dragged accidentally to the present by Bill and Ted's phonebooth, Napoleon Bonaparte is left behind as our heroes set out to gather more historical figures. Ted's little brother, Deacon, is given the task to watch after the little Frenchman that could, and one place they go to is the local bowling alley. This is when the literal Shit-storm occurs, as Napoleon, pissed and angry, lays in the middle of the lane, pounds the ground, and yells out "shit" about a dozen or so times. Deacon abandons the poor guy, but Napoleon soon finds the perfect fit for even military geniuses: waterslides.
The Lesson: Bowling is weird, and outside the United States and the UK, its popularity minor. It really is the sport with the least amount of effort needed. You barely move, only needing to swing a ball, and the only skill necessary is to hit the pins correctly. In other words, it's like the sideshow game where you knock down milkbottles with a ball. Other peoples just don't quite get it, and it's not surprising to see why. Waterslides, however, are universally loved and don't need explanations.
5: The Meaning of Life can be Found in Rock Lyrics (and occasionally soap operas)
When visiting Ancient Greece, Bill and Ted agree to "philosphise" with Socrates. Naturally, they can only think of the lyrics of a Kansas song, which Socrates apparently mistakes for the opening narration to Days of Our Lives as well.
Let us not neglect Bogus Journey here as well. At the pearly gates of Heaven, Bill and Ted are asked the meaning of life. Who would have thought it would be the lyrics to Poison's "Every Rose Has its Thorn?"
The Lesson: Music can have a deep meaning, even if it appears as shallow as a Soap Opera on the surface. It, like any art, can be interpreted in numerous ways, and maybe we learn something about ourselves, history, the world or life itself in the process. It could be found in the works of Mozart's Requiem, Handel's Messiah or Jon Bon Jovi's Slippery When Wet.
4: You Gotta Have a Poker Face
When Bill and Ted first step into the phonebooth, and after having a slight run-in with Napoleon, they soon find themselves in the old west. To see two guys like this, dressed in quintessential 1980s garb, swing open the saloon doors is a scene that writes itself. Eventually, they sit down to play a game of poker. As Ted is shuffling through his cards, Bill says to him "Dude, you gotta have a poker face like me." Unfortunately soon thereafter Bill neglects his own advice (see number 2 on this) and screams out "Whoa...three aces!" As a result, the whole act is ruined and a brawl ensues.
The Lesson: If you can't save face, then you're screwed. You have to act the part if you want to be the part. It doesn't matter if you're good at what you do as long as you 'act' like you know what you're doing. This lesson is important in a million places: at work, flirting, on the phone. It's all about on confidence, even if its fake.
3: Death is a Cheater
Finally escaping Hell, the boys are confronted by the Grim Reaper (who they escaped from earlier). Death lays it out that if they can defeat him in a game, he will do as they ask and send their souls back to earth. While Ingmar Bergman might have had his protagonist play chess with Death in his film, The Seventh Seal, Bill and Ted choose Battleship. "I totally knew he put in the Js, dude!" exclaims Ted. Yet Death is not amused. "Best two out of three!" he says. After going through the likes of Clue, Electric Football, Death changing the terms each time to "Best of Five" or "Best of Seven." He finally admits defeat after a tough game of twister.
The Lesson: While many people try to cheat Death, Death, too, is a cheater. Death is unfair and fickle. He isn't going to give up until he gets his way, like a crying kid upset his mother won't buy him the new videogame.
2: Listen to Yourself When You're Trying to Give Advice
After hours of traveling through time, Bill and Ted meet their biggest challenge: themselves. Early in the film we see Bill and Ted meet themselves. We wonder how this is or what's going on, but later in the movie we see how it all plays out. Bill and Ted accidentally show up at the same Ciricle K they were at earlier, only now on the other end of the spectrum. Finally, now, we understand. Both Bill and Ted try to tell themselves, the other "us's" as they say, how to act, what to do, to listen to Rufus and to wind your damn watch. Well, they at least listen to the first three.
The Lesson: How often do we hear people make comments, give suggestions and explain how to do things without really taking their own suggestions or listening to their own advice? If you're going to tell someone to do something, make sure you follow the same creed as well (as Ted finds out as he didn't listen to the other him before and now his watch is off and they're running out of time). This cool little bit taught me that when someone tells you something, listen, and when that someone is you, you better make sure you do it.
1: Destiny is Found in the Strangest of Places (or should I say it was always there ?)
This is the same scene as the last entry, but not. Instead, this is the first Circle K encounter, rather than the second time Bill and Ted come around. In this first encounter we are introduced to everything. Bill and Ted meet Rufus, themselves, are told they will go great things and become heroes. All with a big "whoah" that was apparently such a big "Whoah" that Keanu Reeves still utters it to this day. This scene is Bill and Ted's most notorious. It's simple, has you scratching your head with how it screws with your head a bit, and gives us great lines of dialogue like the infamous "69 Dudes!"
The Lesson: While the full lesson isn't completed until they turn back around to do the second entry on this list, Bill and Ted from the future along with Rufus lay it all out on the line. Don't screw it up, dudes. Now we can go on the theory of time traveling, paradoxes, whether or not Bill and Ted have control to begin with (if they're going to step into that phonebooth, that's already determined, and they've been having this same self-encounter for infinite times and that will never change). Destiny is about the path you're on, not the one you've decided to take. Bill and Ted, like Back to the Future, tells us we can't change anything. Everything that happens has already happen...or will already happen...whatever. This and the adventures of Marty McFly got my little mind thinking on what it means to fulfill your destiny: everything, from you not winding your watch to accidentally dialing the wrong number, are the defining moments in your path of life, even if you think you have control over it, you don't.
There's a lot of depth to Excellent Adventure's approach to Time Travel, such as going back and time and setting up "helps" for the two along the way (or not helping, as Ted apparently has been reminding himself for eternity to wind his watch and the other Ted never listens). I know looking into Bill and Ted movies more than just what they are is pretty dumb, but the movies themselves are pretty smart, it's the heroes that are pretty dumb. Bill and Ted reminded adults of their childhood and teen years, growing up without a care, and for the younger agegroup it showed what everyone wanted to be and do: not grow up. Do just enough to get by and party on. Now, as an adult myself, I've viewed Bill and Ted from both demographics and can appreciate from either.
Bill and Ted showed us that's it's okay to not be the sharpest tools in the shed, as long as you're a likable person. As Bill read from his book while hanging out in Ancient Greece, "The only true wisdom consists of knowing, that you know nothing."
"That's us, dude!" exclaimed Ted. Sure, that might be what we like about Bill and Ted, as I said we are all pretty dumb at some point, but I think we like them for the real universal truth that couldn't be added to the Lesson list because it permeates throughout both films:
Be Excellent to each other.