Red Letter Media’s retrospective on Bill & Ted’s Excellent Adventure and its sequel, occasioned by the recent release of the series’ long-awaited third film, put me in a mood to revisit the first movie.
If you want a case study in how much Hollywood has changed in the last thirty years, you couldn’t ask for a better example than the original Bill & Ted flick. The phrase is so shopworn these days as to be a cliché, but this is exactly the kind of movie you could never get made today.
The first strike against Bill & Ted is that it’s a strictly mid-list teen comedy romp of the kind made popular in the 70s and that peaked in the 80s. What’s more, it has no pretensions of being anything else. Such middle market projects automatically run afoul of current Hollywood economics which dictate that movies either go for blockbuster status or go home.
Strike two is what most readers probably thought of immediately, viz. historical content now deemed heretical by the Death Cult. It’s problematic enough that the film focuses exclusively on Western history. The American, French, Greek, and German historical figures’ onscreen portrayal as American, French, Greek, and German would be a bridge too far for today’s guardians of public morality.
That’s leaving aside the multiple portrayals of Christian characters praying. It’s startling to think that such scenes were included as a matter of course as recently as 1989, whereas today they’re so rare as to stand out. The past truly is a different country.
That brings us to strike three. The first Bill & Ted movie takes traditional--dare I say even pulp moral themes--for granted, especially regarding love and romance. There is an unequivocal repudiation of homosexuality so blatant that I cannot believe it hasn’t been censored. In the pulp tradition, Bill and Ted’s love interests are a pair of princesses who must be rescued from odious arranged marriages.
The movie even bucks the trend of contemporary teen movies by not even giving so much as nudge and wink hints that our heroes commit fornication with their royal sweethearts.
In fact, Bill & Ted’s Excellent Adventure flies in the face of so much conventional screenwriting wisdom that its status as a minor classic refutes every writers’ workshop curriculum. There is not one main protagonist but two coequal deuteragonists. Both main characters have flat arcs. The plot follows no identifiable structure. That’s not to mention the total lack of any main antagonist.
But the undeniable fact remains that the movie works. Because it’s as packed with fun as 1950s phone booths were packed with college students.
Due credit for Bill & Ted’s uncanny success goes to screenwriters Ed Solomon and Chris Matheson, son of legendary author Richard Matheson. It’s probably significant that both writers hail from Generation Jones. They wrote the movie while they were still in their twenties and could better relate to how Gen Xers like the title characters interacted with the High 80s world of their high school days.
Astute viewers will note the utter, blessed absence of Beatles references.
Anyway, RLM’s review of the first two movies is worth a watch. Mike Stoklasa’s burning of incense to the rainbow gang is illustrative of how quickly society has degenerated since 1989, if nothing else.
Originally published here