When I was kid, we had a birthday tradition specific to a family that liked to watch movies: the birthday boy (or girl) got to pick the movie that night. My wife and I reintroduced this tradition – at least for me – after we got married. In the past years we’ve watched classics like Aliens, films I wanted to give another chance like Temple of Doom (still didn’t like it, by the way), and some that I wanted to see again as an adult like E.T. This year’s film, Bill and Ted’s Excellent Adventure, is none of those. I’d call it a guilty pleasure, but after watching it again I now consider it just a pleasure.
It’s always interesting to see something as an adult but remember seeing it as a kid. The jokes in Bill and Ted mostly hold up – Napoleon screaming “merde!” over and over as the subtitles repeat “SHIT!” is still funny – and there are a few grown up jokes I definitely missed the first time around. I especially love Bill and Ted’s mangling of historic names (Beeth-Oven, apparently an ad lib) as well as Beethoven’s list of favorite composers: Mozart, Handel, and Bon Jovi. And the ending, cheesy as it is, is still totally entertaining. It’s not for nothing that I tried to persuade a friend who was valedictorian of a military strategy graduate program we were in to give his speech a la Bill and Ted (“And now, the greatest military thinker who ever lived, Carl von Clausewitz!” – cue a local actor riding in on a horse). Needless to say, he politely declined my offer to help write it.
After spending too much time on Wikipedia reading about time travel paradoxes after seeing Looper, Bill and Ted’s take on time travel was refreshing. It’s basically an infinite source of deus ex machina plot points (“Trash can, remember the trash can!”) that gets our heroes out of literally every bind, and it quickly becomes a satire of so many overwrought time travel tropes. That and some other touches, like the fact Lincoln’s “four score and seven minutes ago” speech actually comes at about the 87 minute mark, make me feel Bill and Ted is actually a lot smarter than it looks.
But aside from finding the film still generally amusing and cleverer than people assume, I was surprised how watchable it was. Bill and Ted was made for only $10 million ($20 million in today’s dollars), but it still crams in a location shoot in Rome, solid camera work throughout, and special effects considered decent by most 1980s standards. And this was a movie that was in limbo for so long its stars didn’t even realize it had been released and was a hit (apparently Alex Winters was in Texas on another project and couldn’t figure out why he was being mobbed at a diner).
I was thinking about ending this post with some stupid Bill and Ted homage (“It was a most triumphant birthday!”), but then remembered that I tried that the Monday after seeing the movie for the first time – somehow, my friend Tony Garcia and I made it all the way to third-period gym before a teacher finally sent us to the principal’s office. So instead, I recommend you check out Winter’s AMAs on Reddit. Aside from being a total film nerd (his favorite part about being in The Lost Boys was working with the DP who shot Raging Bull for god’s sake), he’s got a lot of great advice on movies and documentaries in particular. Plus he shares a killer story about walking into a Halloween parade recently with Keanu Reeves (they’re still close) and having someone refer to “two old fat dudes trying to look like Bill and Ted.”