by Alicia Glass, contributing writer
They are two of perhaps the most beloved and best-known time-traveling comedy movies ever. Back to the Future made us question the paradoxes of inter-family breeding, while Bill and Ted showed us that all you need to pass school is a time machine and George Carlin! How do they stack up against each other?
Back to the Future came out when I was quite young, and it’s always been a family favorite. Christopher Lloyd was already established as a very fine crazy comedic actor by the time he starred as Dr. Emmet Brown, a misunderstood and under-appreciated inventor who thinks that DeLorean cars have a sense of style.
And of course, Michael J. Fox was already known for several television series, the best-known being Family Ties, where he took the straight-man role to a whole different level. So when Marty McFly decides to help his friend Doc Brown, who’s on the run from Libyan terrorists while testing his Flux Capacitor and the time machine car he stuck it in, there’s a lightning strike and next thing you know, Marty’s off to 1955!
But that’s only the beginning. Marty discovers his teenage peeping tom of a father about to get hit by a car and now we have issues with Marty’s own mother in heat! If we don’t want our hero to get erased from existence — love those time travel paradoxes — Marty has to ensure his parents get together by whatever means necessary, so he can get back to the future!
Whew! There are tons of genuinely funny moments in Back to the Future, most of which come from Doc Brown himself. The demonstration of how the time machine and the clock tower is supposed to work, with the burning car, immediately comes to mind. Marty’s mother calling him Calvin, because it says Calvin Klein all over his underwear, is another. And yes, there is even a scene where Marty finally gets to live out his dream of playing guitar live onstage for an admiring audience. Perhaps a little too enthusiastically.
Bill and Ted’s Excellent Adventure came out only a few years after Back to the Future, but quickly became accepted as a classic time-traveling romp! Bill S. Preston, Esquire, and Ted ‘Theodore’ Logan are a pair of would-be bandmates about to flunk high school entirely thanks to a single history class and a report that they have to ace, or fail most heinously.
But it turns out military school in Alaska isn’t the biggest threat to Wyld Stallyns, so the future people have sent out one Rufus in an awesomely magical time traveling telephone booth to save our heroes!
Bill and Ted, proving that they are far from typical moronic high schoolers, use the booth to travel all over time and snag historical figures to give the best history report San Dimas High School ever had! The hitchhiker from their first booth flight, Napoleon, finds himself ditched by Ted’s younger brother, so he wanders San Dimas before finally ending up at their famous waterpark, Waterloo!
While Bill and Ted play cards with Billy the Kid, philosophize with Socrates, and even find romance in medieval England, time in real-world San Dimas is running out and they still have to gather everyone for their report! Joining their cast comes Joan of Arc, Genghis Khan, Sigmund Freud, Beethoven, and yes, Abraham Lincoln.
After many snags, both back in time and here in the present, will Bill and Ted make their report in time? Of course they will, and it will be, say it with me, excellent!
So how do these movies stack up against each other? Personally, I’m actually more a fan of Bill and Ted. Both movies have a pair of male friends who create great comedy off each other, but while BTTF doesn’t have the wisecracking Doc Brown in half the movie to play off Marty’s straight man routine, B&TEA has the buddy-comedy routine going throughout the entire movie. That’s one of the main themes: Bill and Ted cannot be separated.
Both movies have potential time travelling consequences, but Future’s bleak paradoxical future erasure is such a downer, whereas Adventure has potential future destruction, but they’re much more light-hearted about it.
Both movies have fantastic soundtracks, but Future is much more geared toward the hip rock-n-roll at the time, while Adventure has a roster of heavy metal greats that even includes a few ballads. Yes, I am a bit biased.
Both films have grand climax scenes where the day is saved on the stage, with Future having Dad finally grow some balls to the sounds of “Earth Angel,” and of course Bill and Ted’s history report with all the personages of historical significance performing onstage to the sounds of “Walk Away”!
It all depends on whether you like your comedy straight-up, don’t-let-this-time-machine-car-kill-me, black coffee, or buddy-duo, mostly-consequence-free, shaka-bra, fruit punch, maybe spiked with a hint of vodka! Who do you think wins best time-traveling comedy between our competitors? Sound off in the comments!