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Bill and Ted’s Excellent Adventure may be one of the best time travel movies ever.
It’s a fun 80s comedy about two loveable idiots who travel through time in a phone booth, kidnapping historical figures for their history report so they can keep their band together. It’s quirky, it’s hilarious, it’s quotable, it doesn’t take itself too seriously, and it mixes in just enough historical fact to suspend our disbelief while still having fun with these characters.
You could say it goes deeper, offering hope that our future will be better thanks to these two and their music (which gets better, we promise). But it’s kind of a stretch to believe that even the most bodacious rock band could align the planets, let us talk to household pets, and lead to an increase in excellent waterslides. It’s just a fun, goofy movie. Or is it?
Think about it…
The historical figures in this film did great things, but their lives weren’t so great. Napoleon Bonaparte was defeated, dethroned, and exiled. Billy the Kid was caught and gunned down by the law two years after his time-traveling exploits. Socrates was condemned as a menace to Greek society and sentenced to drink poisonous hemlock. Sigmund Freud died of cancer from smoking too many of his iconic cigars. Ludwig van Beethoven was already losing his hearing when Bill and Ted picked him up, and he eventually went deaf. Joan of Arc was tried on a trumped-up charge of heresy and burned at the stake. We don’t know for sure how Genghis Khan died, but it may have been the lingering effects of injury or infection, and he never saw his empire reach the peak of its glory. Abraham Lincoln was assassinated after a long and cruel war.
All these people were destined to suffer tragedy in their own personal futures. They would never see the results of their efforts, never know what all the hard times were for. Or would they?
Suddenly, Bill S. Preston Esq. and Ted Theodore Logan drop into their lives and took them to a far distant time. Napoleon got to experience the child-like joys of Neapolitan ice cream and waterslides. Billy the Kid got one last grand adventure, one he never would have thought possible. Joan of Arc saw a world where women were equals, where they could join together in their own army of sorts, even if only for aerobics. With his last vestiges of hearing, Beethoven heard the future of music. Socrates, accused of corrupting the minds of youth, got to meet the teens yet to be born who would learn his wisdom thousands of years after his execution. And Abraham Lincoln witnessed his Union, still intact and stronger than ever.
All these people got a brief glimpse of a world they had only dreamed of. Some marveled over wondrous experiences and technologies, while others saw the future of their work and knew their work was not in vain. And when they met their tragic fates, perhaps their minds flashed back (or forward) to a place and time that was full of promise, a world they helped to create.
At the end of the movie, Ted tells Bill that their time travel adventures haven’t changed them. “Look at us. Nothing’s different.” Maybe not, but your new historical friends are definitely different. They have hope. And that, my friends, is indeed most excellent. *insert guitar riff*
Bill and Ted’s Excellent Adventure is owned by Orion Pictures.