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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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