The Bill and Ted Trilogy
“Be excellent to each other.”
I first saw Bill and Ted’s Excellent Adventure after its 1989 release on VHS rental. This means it was in 4:3 aspect ratio with pan and scan (aka full screen) on my ~17” CRT TV in glorious mono sound. I watched it quite a few times, but I haven’t seen it since then.
This time around I was watching the now trilogy of Bill and Ted films on my old 47” LCD TV, with real stereo sound from a real sound system, and presented in the correct ‘widescreen’ aspect ratio, all from Bluray! Truly I am living in the future.
Bill and Ted’s Excellent Adventure
First a quick synopsis here for those who have somehow missed this. Bill and Ted are best friends, and two incredibly lovable-but-dim characters who manage to accidentally come out on top all the time because they’re so oblivious to the real world. They’re facing flunking their history course, which will result in a future where their band - Wyld Stallyns - never make it big, and thus never usher in an era of universal understanding and peace. However, more immediately it will result in Ted being sent to military school. Into this, Rufus comes from the future in a public payphone box (remember those?) and show our heroes how they can travel through time to educate themselves and pass their final history presentation. What they decide to do is to bring some of history’s heavy hitters to their home town of San Dimas and get their impressions of late 20th century California.
There are so many obvious and subtle ongoing motifs - the word play, the air guitars, the music references, all the way to Missy and her relationships which continue through all three films. This first entry still holds up in my opinion, the historical figures still work, and I still laughed at the “Want a Twinkie, Genghis Khan?” line. Ghengis Khan is definitely my favourite historical figure for some reason.
It’s also worth mentioning the huge number of excellent character actors, from the late Bernie Casey as the history teacher Mr. Ryan, (and ‘I’m Gonna Git You Sucka’), to Al Leong (from ‘Big Trouble in Little China’) as the aforementioned Ghengis Khan - there’s a lot of people in this we maybe didn’t know then, but we know now were ‘that character’ in a lot of smaller and B-movies from the 1980s and 1990s. Also, the late, great George Carlin as Rufus.
It’s a film which kept it simple, coming in around 90mins, kept the SFX to where needed, and looked pretty good for it considering it wasn’t an SFX film by nature. The plot is kept quite tight, the script keeps on with the now famous repetitions of ‘excellent’ and constant rock references again and again. I also liked the abuse of the time travel formula where they arrange to leave help for themselves after they win, like keys (which is foreshadowed nicely), tape recorders and rubbish bins. Excellent. It’s well constructed and edited as a film to the point you don’t notice just how well the shopping mall is scripted and timed - it’s really tight.
If you haven’t seen it for a while, definitely go back and give it a watch.
Bill and Ted’s Bogus Journey
I think I first saw this in the cinema, and I’m not sure if I’ve seen it on the small screen since. It’s a decent follow-up since it doesn’t repeat the original formula, nor does it try to go too big as many sequels do. It does play with the future time frame, where a criminal sends evil robot versions of Bill and Ted back to present day San Dimas to kill the originals and destroy their lives. Whilst this is going on the now deceased Bill and Ted meet William Sadler’s iconic Death character and go through hell and then heaven before a triumphant return to their timeline to destroy the robots and win a battle of the bands.
The scenes of the pair battling Death at battleships and then Twister are some of the funniest moments in the trilogy, and Willian Sadler’s fantastic ‘European’ accented death, and his Ingmar Bergman look as the grim reaper is a perfect foil for the hapless Bill and Ted.
I vaguely remembered not liking the ending, and on the rewatch I remembered why - once they get to Heaven the whole thing seems to slow down with the introduction of the ‘Station’ alien, and yet the battle with the evil robots is over in seconds. Coincidentally, a feature interview on the BD filmed in 2016 for the 25-year edition explains that the ending was changed and several pages of the script were never filmed which covered what happened at the Battle of the Bands. That somewhat makes me feel better that I wasn’t imagining the weird pacing and focus in the last twenty minutes. Unfortunately, I didn’t like the Station alien as it seems like a character for the sake of a couple of lines and some SFX. Why not have the wives create the good robots? That would have actually given them something to do! Sorry station, I just didn’t think you were worth it for a butt joke and trying to make ‘station!’ the new ‘excellent’.
That all said, it’s a fair sequel, it has a lot of solid scenes and breaks new direction, but again, it’s Death which really steals the film from his introduction onwards, and that they didn’t do another historical figures ensemble again was a good decision.
Definitely still worth a watch, but for me on second viewing that ending seems even more abrupt than the first time.
Bill and Ted Face the Music
The latest film was made in 2020, and the only one I hadn’t seen before. Unlike Bogus Journey, this one really does increase the character count, if only as (like many sequels and remakes now) it tries to bridge generational lines. This time it’s Bill and Ted as washed up rockers, trying desperately to write the song that is destined to unify the universe and consistently failing before a deadline when their failure will result in the end of everything. They even try some really avante guard Mongolian throat singing accompanied by a theremin at a wedding, which I actually liked a lot and in fact the back-to-basics aspect of the film really helps the plot as they time travel forwards to see if they write the song in the future, only to be greeted by older and often more hilariously bitter versions of themselves. It does make for a great Dave Grohl cameo too.
Aside from all this, their daughters from the end of Bogus Journey are all grown up and decide to help by collecting musicians from all over time and space. Tragically no Beethoven, but they do get a fair selection. The ending I suspect is more like what the Bogus ending was going to be like. I have to say though for the daughter characters it was difficult to know to what extent they were trying to do updated Bill and Ted impressions rather being their own characters, despite supposedly being musical savants themselves. I couldn’t actually describe much about their characters after the film had finished. Once again the ‘princess babes’ as the wives aren’t given much to do, though at least more than in the previous two films. I’ve found that to be the oddest decision in these films, to not make more use of these characters.
Ultimately it’s not bad, perhaps up to the Bogus level, but like all multi-generational films, you can’t help wondering if this was more for marketing appeal at the cost of story. Like all the B&T films though, it’s well made, kept to around 90mins and keeps things moving along.
As a 3-film pack it was great to watch the development through each film, even if the third one was far, far later than the first two. Do you have to watch this on a big home screen with a Bluray? Nah, these films probably would be as much fun on that old 17” CRT. And that’s a good thing.
Worth a watch.
Party on, dudes.