‘Bill & Ted’s Excellent Collection’ is the perfect package for a pair of perfect classics

[rating=3]Starring: Keanu Reeves, Alex Winters, George Carlin, William Sadler
Director(s): Stephen Herek (Excellent Adventure), Peter Hewitt (Bogus Journey)
Writer(s): Chris Matheson & Ed Solomon

Ted (Keanu Reeves) and Bill (Alex Winters) with George Carlin in 'Bill & Ted's Excellent Adventure'
Ted (Keanu Reeves) and Bill (Alex Winters) with George Carlin in ‘Bill & Ted’s Excellent Adventure’

If ever there was a pair of movies that deserved better treatment than a simple throw away onto DVD, it’s Bill & Ted’s Excellent Adventure, and to a lesser degree, Bill & Ted’s Bogus Journey. And finally they are getting it today in a special 3-disc set.

This new box-set includes both movies in their original DVD release packages, along with a third disc filled with… well, “excellent” bonus material. This third disc provides a behind the scenes look at the making of both films, as well as a few featurettes about the art of the air guitar and more.

But for me the highlight was getting to watch these two movies again. Bill & Ted’s Excellent Adventure is goofy, but fun. Bill & Ted’s Bogus Journey isn’t nearly as good, but has a few good qualities and manages to make you laugh from time to time.

The first film introduces us to Bill S. Preston, Esq. (Alex Winter), and Ted Theodore Logan (KeanuReeves). The two slackers are clearly not the sharpest knives in the set, and are in danger of flunking their history class if they don’t get an A on their final report. In that report, they must detail what famous historical figures would think of the present day (which in this case is San Dimas, California, 1988).

However, these two goofballs will someday form a band that will change the world, leading to an ultra-peaceful society hundreds of years later. In order to preserve that society, Rufus (George Carlin), is sent back in a time machine that looks like a phone booth to help Bill and Ted pass their class. If they fail, Ted will be shipped off to military school, and the future will be completely destroyed.

Armed with the time machine, Bill and Ted decide to gather up as many historical figures as possible, including Socrates, Billy the Kid, Abraham Lincoln and Napoleon, and expose them to modern day life. But things go wrong when these famous people get caught up in today’s society and basically go nuts. Bill and Ted must then round them up and race against time to get their report done on time.

Is it silly? Yes. Does the time traveling concepts explored in the film make sense? No. But Bill & Ted’s Excellent Adventure is still funny. You can’t help but like Bill and Ted’s innocence and charm, and how they interact with all the historically famous people they encounter. Sadly, this film did give us Keanu Reeves, but I think it’s also the role that has forever defined, him because no matter what movie he’s in, he still sounds like Ted.

My favorite moment in Excellent Adventure has always been the brief time when Bill and Ted go to the future. They emerge from the phone booth/time machine and are looked upon like gods. As people arrive to see them, the three leaders of this society begin playing air guitar. The music is terrific in that scene, and in a film that is largely silly, it’s this lovely moment that I always find touching.

Bill & Ted’s Bogus Journey is another story. This sequel lacked much of the innocence and fun that made the original so enjoyable. In this one, its five years after the original and Bill and Ted are living on their own. They’re struggling to get their band off the ground, and look to marry the two princesses they met during the first film.

The two have the opportunity to become famous at “The Battle of the Bands”, a televised event featuring all sorts of musical bands competing for a record contract. But Bill and Ted’s Wyld Stallyns aren’t exactly good. In fact, while the two princesses can actually play, Bill and Ted never really learned.

But it is during this event that Bill and Ted change the world, and an evil time traveler from the future wants to stop them and remake the future in his own, dark image. As such, he sends two evil robots back in time to kill Bill and Ted. The robots succeed, and the two slackers take a wild trip through the afterlife, facing off against the Grim Reaper, the Devil, and even God in order to get back to the living and save their band, the princesses, and the humanity’s future.

Obviously the story takes a much darker turn that the original’s light-hearted romp through time. And while I think the story is interesting in that it doesn’t simply rehash the original, the difference in tone really makes the movie less enjoyable. There’s no sense of fun in Bogus Journey. Sure there are funny moments, but the story is more twisted than goofy, and the laughs are few and far between.

Visually, Bill & Ted’s Bogus Journey is unique. Some of the visuals are more stylized than the original, and the art direction is clearly more impressionistic. And while I liked some of the designs, I thought the futuristic outfits — such as the garbs they put Rufus in — were pretty stupid.

It’s not so much that Bogus Journey is a bad movie, just not as enjoyable as the first. It gets kudos for being different, but I think it went a little farther than it should have with the tone.

The bonus disc in this three-disc box set is filled with some cool stuff. “The Original Bill & Ted: In Conversation with Screenwriters Chris Matheson & Ed Solomon” is pretty cool in that it details the evolution of the script and the two characters. It’s amazingly revealing, but does go on a bit too long. “The Most Triumphant Making-of” Documentary is also great, and is a little more honest about the second film than you normally get in these kinds of featurettes.

Those are the two main extras, and there are several other smaller ones that are also fun. “Hysterical Personages” discusses the different famous historical people featured in Bill & Ted’s Excellent Adventure; an interview with guitarist Steve Vai; and a lesson in air guitar by Bjorn Turoque & The Rockness Monster, along with a few other things. The first episode of the Bill & Ted cartoon series is also included, but is kind of goofy.

This was a DVD collection that I was really excited about, because I hadn’t seen either film in years. I think it could be argued that without Bill & Ted, movies such as Dude, Where’s My Car? and Harold and Kumar go to White Castle would not have existed. I’ll leave it up to you to decide whether or not that’s a good thing, but it would be wrong to not acknowledge that legacy.

There is talk of a sequel in the behind the scenes documentary, but I’m not sure how real that’ll be. Honestly, I find it hard to believe that Reeves would step back into a role that he’s been trying to escape for more than a decade. But I would still line up to see it, should they decide to make Bill & Ted 3.

Bill & Ted’s Excellent Adventure
Rated: PG
Run Time: 1 hr., 30 mins.

Bill & Ted’s Bogus Journey
Rated: PG
Run Time: 1 hr., 33 mins.

Michael Sheridan

Michael Sheridan has written, directed and produced more than a dozen short films under the banner of Maynard Films, and has worked as a writer for more than a decade for websites, magazines and newspapers.

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