Bill & Ted’s Most Excellent Collection
December 2, 2005
Before The Matrix movies transformed Keanu Reeves into an international movie star, his biggest contribution to the popular culture zeitgeist was Bill and Ted’s Excellent Adventure (1989). It is a charming little movie about two surfer dudes who travel through time in order to pass their history class. Reeves nailed the role so well and the film was so popular that it took him years to shake it (even today the film is still invoked by his detractors) even after a carefully cultivated and diverse body of work (from My Own Private Idaho to Bram Stoker’s Dracula).
Bill S. Preston, Esq. (Winter) and Ted “Theodore” Logan (Reeves) are two clueless but well-meaning teenagers who live in San Dimas, California. They dream of making it as rock stars with their band, The Wild Stallyns. Sadly, they suck as musicians but hope of one day convincing Eddie Van Halen to be their guitarist. However, they feel that they need to make a music video in order to do so. As a result of spending so much time on their band they have neglected their studies and are flunking History (they refer to Napoleon as “a short, dead dude,” and Joan of Arc “as Noah’s wife”). Unless they get an A+ on tomorrow’s oral presentation they will flunk the class “most heinously” and this will split up the band as Ted’s father will send his son off to military school in Alaska (?!).
Fortunately, Rufus (Carlin), a man from a future where Bill and Ted have had a profound influence on society, arrives to help the boys out by letting them use a time machine disguised as a phone booth (a sly reference to Doctor Who) so that they can bounce around various periods of history collecting (a.k.a. kidnapping) famous historical figures (like Billy the Kid, Socrates and Abraham Lincoln) for their presentation.
Capitalizing on the success of Back to the Future (1985), Bill & Ted’s Excellent Adventure takes that film’s basic premise and runs with it. Most of the film’s humour is derived from these two surfer dudes interacting with famous people in history. The film works well because of the chemistry between Keanu Reeves and Alex Winter. They play well off each other – Reeves is the goofy one while Winter is the…not as goofy one. Their characters may be idiots but when it counts they get it together and actually demonstrate a modicum of intelligence. There’s a goofy, good-natured charm to this movie that evokes a more innocent time.
After the surprising commercial success of the first Bill & Ted movie a sequel was inevitable. Bill & Ted’s Bogus Journey (1991) sees our heroes now living in their own pad. They are still going out with princess babes from the first movie and have clinched a spot on the upcoming Battle of the Bands contest. Unfortunately, they’re killed by their evil robot twins from the future, are sent to Hell where they have to outwit the Grim Reaper (Sadler) in a battle of wits (that is a pretty funny goof on The Seventh Seal as they play games like Twister and Battleship) and stop their robotic alter egos from altering history.
The problem with this movie is that by this point Reeves and Winter were looking a little too old to still be in high school. The screenplay doesn’t quite have the same snap and quick pacing that made Excellent Adventure work so well. Too much time is spent setting things up when they should’ve got right into it. Bogus Journey is much darker in tone and this betrays the goofy, irrepressible charm of the first movie.
The Bill & Ted movies have left their mark on the cultural zeitgeist, inspiring films like Dude, Where’s My Car? (2000) and Harold and Kumar Go To White Castle (2004). Maybe it’s looking at the Bill & Ted films through the rosy-coloured glasses of nostalgia but they seem much more innocent and…well, smarter than these recent films, which are more preoccupied with being raunchy than anything else. Plus, there is something fun about watching Keanu Reeves early on in his career during simpler times. Party on, dudes.
On the Excellent Adventure DVD is a theatrical trailer.
The Bogus Journey DVD features a “Behind-the-Scenes Featurette” done during the time it was made. Reeves and Winter look like they’re having a blast making the movie as they crack jokes with each other and goof around.
Also included is a teaser and theatrical trailer.
The bulk of the extras, made especially for this box set are found on a third DVD. “The Original Bill & Ted” is a 20 minute conversation between the films’ screenwriters, Chris Matheson and Ed Solomon. They were friends in their 20s doing a lot of goofy things to make each other laugh. They talk about the genesis of the Bill and Ted characters and recount several anecdotes about how they developed them over the years before it became a movie.
“The Most Triumphant Making-Of Documentary” examines how the two movies got made. Winter talks about the first film’s timeless appeal and how he and Reeves bonded during the audition process. The filmmakers saw this and cast them in the roles of Bill and Ted. This is a nice, retrospective look at these movies but sadly George Carlin and Keanu Reeves are absent from this featurette.
“Score!” is an interview with guitarist Steve Vai. He talks about the joys of playing air guitar and his first film scoring experience (on Walter Hill’s Crossroads). Vai also briefly touches upon how he approached scoring Bogus Journey.
“Air Guitar Tutorial,” even by Bill & Ted’s standards, is a pretty frivolous extra. Bjorn Turoque (who claims to be the second best in the world) and the Rockness Monster (2004 West Coast Air Guitar Champ) dish on the finer points of rockin’ out with the air guitar. One of them even says, without a hint of irony, “I’m constantly practicing.” I liked these guys the first time when it was called School of Rock (2003).
“The Hysterical Personages of Bill & Ted” is a bizarre featurette that gives a brief rundown of ten historical figures, some featured in the movie, like Genghis Khan, and some not, like Confucious, with a brief of biography on each.
“One Sweet and Sour Chinese Adventure To Go” is an episode of the animated series that tries to re-capture the essence of the first film with Reeves, Winter, George Carlin and Bernie Casey all reprising their roles. Even the late, great Phil Hartman does a voice. Hopefully, this is a sign that the powers that be will release the rest on DVD some day.
“The Linguistic Stylings of Bill & Ted” gives one a crash course on Bill & Ted speak for the uninitiated. Cute.
“From Scribble to Script” allows one to view some of the screenwriters’ barely legible, early notes (circa 1984) to the first typed screenplay for Excellent Adventure.
Finally, there are several radio spots for the movie.