The long-awaited third instalment of the Bill & Ted series is on the horizon, so it’s natural that the first and probably best (so far), Bill & Ted’s Excellent Adventure, will get the remastered special edition treatment. Bill & Ted are very much a pair that fills the gap between Cheech & Chong and Kevin Smith’s later creation of Jay & Silent Bob, although Bill & Ted were always more kid-friendly—they even got a Saturday morning cartoon! Unlike the previous two comedic duos, Bill & Ted don’t explicitly partake in the herb, but given how they are total space cadets, they have been adopted as stoner icons.
If you haven’t seen Bill & Ted’s Excellent Adventure, it’s a wild, surreal, goofy as hell but very good-natured film: at the end of the day, the entire message of the film is “be excellent to each other.” The title characters, played by Alex Winter (Bill) and Keanu Reeves (Ted), are a pair of doofus teenagers from the Valley who just hang out, practice with their awful rock band “Wyld Stallyns” and listen to far too much Van Halen. One day, they are about to fail their history class, and Ted’s dad is threatening to send him off to military school. While hanging out at their local Circle K convenience store trying to figure out what they are going to do about this history class, Rufus (George Carlin) shows up after being sent from the future (in the future, a Utopian society is based on the teachings of Bill & Ted). A time-travel machine in the guise of a phone booth appears with their future selfs. which convinces them that Rufus is to be trusted. It helps that he also guessed what number they are thinking of… it’s 69, of course. And then Bill & Ted go on time travel adventures to scoop up Napoleon Bonaparte, Billy the Kid, Socrates, Sigmund Freud, Ludwig van Beethoven, Genghis Khan, Joan of Arc and Abraham Lincoln and bring them to late ’80s San Dimas to help with their history class presentation.
The set-up is basically “what if Cheech & Chong were the kid in Time Bandits?” Initially, the time travel device was a van, but due to Back to the Future the filmmakers nixed that idea for the now very dated idea for the phone booth—remember those?
Bill & Ted’s Excellent Adventure is one of those films that may not be a total laugh riot, but it will give the viewer a permanent smile for the film’s wonderfully brisk 89-minute running time. Winter and Reeves bonded very quickly in the casting process over a mutual love of bass guitar and motorcycles, so they have a nature comradery that’s incredibly rare in cinema. Carlin, who was probably the greatest stand-up comedian who ever lived, gave his most memorable performances in film as Rufus here and in the sequel, Bill & Ted’s Bogus Journey. Carlin had some nice bit parts later on in Kevin Smith films. And I can give a special shout-out to The Go-Gos’ Jane Wiedlin, who is at the height of her short-lived acting career here as Joan of Arc who develops a fondness for aerobics
Overall you could do a lot worse than a first-time viewing of Bill & Ted—or your 20th viewing. It’s always enjoyable: also, remember to be excellent to each other. Before you get to the disc menu you’ll see the warning “Please note that this film reflects historical attitudes which audiences may find outdated or offensive.” Attaching these warnings is an increasingly commonplace for older films that may not reach the standards of 21st century “wokeness,” but before I rewatched I was curious what could be so offensive about such a generally good-natured film such as Bill & Ted. Was it the depiction of the murderous Mongolian tyrant Genghis Khan? No, it’s presumably because in the medieval segment Bill and Ted hug each other and then, after getting too cuddly, they jokingly refer to each other as “fags.” Sure, it’s mildly offensive, but Bill & Ted are such doofuses. It really baffles me that somebody at Studiocanal would be so offended by it that they decided to add such a warning, especially given the film’s overall message.
The extras include all the featurettes from the 25th Anniversary Blu-Ray, plus an episode of the cartoon for all the stoner viewers to watch while having that fifth bowl of cereal in 8 in the morning after a “session.” The hour-long documentary from the US Shout Factory Blu-Ray set has been added, along with the commentary tracks from the writers Chris Matheson and Ed Solomon, and another with Alex Winter and producer Scott Kroopf. It’s a real shame that Bogus Journey isn’t included or given its own separate release, but MGM has the rights to that in the UK.