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Bill and Ted's Excellent Anniversary: How two guitar-wielding airheads conquered comedy 30 years ago

Ed Power looks back ant the pathologically silly, and surprisingly influential, cult comedy that introduced Keanu Reeves to the world

There are movies that in hindsight were always destined for greatness. And then there is Bill and Ted’s Excellent Adventure, a time-travel comedy and celebration of lovable goofing / improvised air guitar that to this day feels like a miracle of happenstance. Bill and Ted is so strange that it shouldn’t really exist, let alone bask in ever-lasting acclaim. Yet, on its 30th anniversary this month, it is absolutely beloved. 

“It is a weird movie – it could just as easily could have been a disaster,” was how star Alex Winter (Bill) looked back on the 1989 comedy about two high-school rejects who hopscotch across the centuries collecting historical figures such as Napoleon, Freud and Socrates (pronounced So-krates obviously) in a desperate attempt to graduate from their history class.

“It’s about idiot savants, leaning on the idiot bit,” agreed Chris Matheson, Bill and Ted’s co-writer. “I remember thinking that this movie is either going to do nothing or people are going to discover and love it,” added its director Stephen Herek, interviewed for behind-the-scenes film The Most Triumphant Making of Documentary

Three decades since William S Preston Esquire (Winter) and Ted “Theodore” Logan (Keanu Reeves) first hatched their scheme to ace their history exam by bringing Napoleon and company to class, Bill and Ted remains a joyous anomaly. The humour is pathologically silly, the performances broader than one of the surf boards Reeves would subsequently pose beside in Point Break. And scenes in which Bill and Ted travel by phone-booth along the time-lines – rendered as CGI phone cables – are creaky even for a low-budget action-comedy in 1989. 

Nonetheless, it is universally acclaimed. Surprisingly influential, too. Bill and Ted’s exaggerated surfer dude speak – every second word is “woaaah”, “bogus” or “bodacious” – clearly impacted on Michael Myer’s higher profile, far less funny Wayne’s World (though Myers original Saturday Night Live sketch actually predated Bill and Ted by two years). And, of course, it introduced audiences to Keanu Reeves, who gave us the matinee idol as an eternally confused puppy.
 

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'Bill & Ted' at 30: Keanu Reeves, Alex Winter on How 'Excellent Adventure' Nearly Fell Apart
by David Weiner

From courting Eddie Van Halen and Sean Connery to reshooting the ending and having the film shelved, the stars and director Stephen Herek recall their crazy adventures shooting the comedy classic.

Whoa, dude! Can you believe it’s been three decades since Bill & Ted’s Excellent Adventure first rocked audiences with their most triumphant time-traveling phone booth journey on the big screen? Well then, this may just blow your mind: if you think about it, we’re like in the future now, even though people call it the present. Right? Mind time travel. Bodacious.

“Time goes by quickly,” Keanu Reeves, aka Ted, tells The Hollywood Reporter. “Over the years it's been really nice to connect with people who love those characters and those films, and it's been fun to hear from fans who have become parents who have shown it to their kids. The ebullient spirit of [Bill and Ted], and the humor of the characters in the film, and the adventure they go on — I think it's still funny.”

The film survived the bankruptcy of its production company, a major role remaining uncast with just weeks left in shooting, and an original ending that was so inadequate that it had to be totally changed. But when Excellent Adventure opened on Feb. 17, 1989, it went on to earn more than $40 million (about $81 million today) and became a cultural touchstone, thanks to the chemistry between Reeves and Alex Winter (aka Bill).

 

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by Bilge Ebiri

The Matrix literally transformed the industry,” says Chad Stahelski, who was Keanu Reeves’s stunt double in the film and went on to become one of the busiest stunt choreographers in the industry. Nowadays, he’s best known for directing the John Wick films, also starring Reeves. (Stahelski directed the first John Wick with fellow stunt veteran David Leitch, and has helmed the subsequent sequels by himself.) But he’d be the first to admit that those movies, not to mention most of the others he’s worked on, would never exist without The Matrix. “Back in the day,” he recalls, “fight scenes were secondary to car chases and horse chases and helicopter chases and motorboat chases.” And what fights there were focused on “single-gun battle stuff or Arnold Schwarzenegger pummeling you to death with his hands.”

But The Matrix showed that a fight sequence could be graceful and surprising, as well as tell a story. Even the nascent superhero-movie genre, which would soon become dominant, took a big page out of the Wachowskis’ playbook. Think of Spider-Man learning to use his powers, or Black Widow speedily dispatching a roomful of villains while still tied to a chair, or Wolverine slicing his way through armies of thugs. “Now,” Stahelski says, “action movies want their big sequences designed around the fights. Think of any action movie in the past decade or so that doesn’t have a bitchin’ fight scene. The Matrix said, ‘Look what you can do with your heroes.’” The director and stunt legend recently took a break from a busy schedule finishing John Wick: Chapter 3 — Parabellum to talk with me about how The Matrix changed movies — and his life — forever.

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