If history has proven anything, it's that movie franchises generally deteriorate with each new installment (Jaws, Psycho, Halloween and Friday the 13th, just for starters). While the glory days of Bill S. Preston, Esquire and Ted "Theodore" Logan only lasted for two feature-length films, one animated series and the obligatory avalanche of shameless merchandising, it's tough to find anyone alive during the late 1980s who hasn't heard of Bill & Ted. Our heroes aren't exactly rocket scientists, but these lovable slackers from San Dimas, California have big dreams: specifically, to one day rule the music industry as…"Wyld Stallyns!!!"
Bill & Ted's Excellent Adventure (1988, 4.5 stars) is the classic film that got the ball rolling. Along the way, we meet Bill (Alex Winter) and Ted (Keanu Reeves), see their town and learn about their nigh-unreachable dreams of superstardom. Besides for their apparent lack of musical talent, there's another roadblock in their path: it's called "history class", and they're both in danger of flunking it. To make matters worse, Ted's dad has threatened to send him to military school if the grades don't come up, so they've got to hit the books or else. Their adventures along the road of education take a detour when they meet Rufus (George Carlin), a "future dude" who's been sent back to help out. He serves as Bill & Ted's tour guide through time, leading them on a series of historical stops to learn more about the subject (and pick up souvenirs for their final project).
It's not even close to believable and often goes for the cheap laughs, but you'll have a hard time finding a goofier film that actually makes sense. This project was played to absolute perfection in nearly every department, from the creative history-hopping concept to the terrific leading performances by Winter and Reeves. Carlin also turns in a memorable performance, adding a much-needed blend of charisma, humor, and yes, even wisdom to the role of Rufus, creating a solid foundation for one of the decade's most memorable comedies (and believe me, there were a lot of 'em). It even holds up well today, especially since it never takes itself too seriously. From start to finish, Excellent Adventure is still an entertaining ride that ends much too quickly.
The sequel, Bill & Ted's Bogus Journey (1991, 3.5 stars), proved to be a different beast entirely. Many fans don't consider it on the same level as Excellent Adventure, but it's still an interesting film that, if anything else, tries a different formula. Here's more good news: though it's a bit darker than the original, Bogus Journey still has its share of fun supporting characters and interesting locations. Plotwise, it picks up where the first one left off: Bill & Ted are enjoying the good life---at least by 1990s standards---while preparing for the upcoming Battle of the Bands. Unfortunately, they're iced by evil robot twins and sent to the afterlife, so they've got to figure out a way back home.
Sure, there's a few factors that work against Bogus Journey right from the start. For starters, we're already familiar with the characters---and, since they're decidedly one-dimensional (and God bless 'em for it), the story doesn't feel as fresh. Despite the darker tone, it thankfully still doesn't take itself too seriously, but it's obvious the carefree pace of the original isn't running at full speed here. Bogus Journey also roots itself more firmly in the present---again, at least by 1990s standards---so it doesn't always have the "timeless feel" of Excellent Adventure (pun intended).
Still, it does a number of things right. The most notable new supporting character is the Grim Reaper himself (played by William Sadler), a brooding spirit who reluctantly joins our heroes after losing an endless series of popular board games (eat your heart out, Bergman). Sure, a few one-liners haven't aged very well, but Death manages to steal many a scene along the way. Compared to the varied but generally straight-laced supporting characters found in Excellent Adventure (with the exception of Rufus), the presence of another strong third party helps Bogus Journey chug along nicely. Even though the scope of the original film is never quite reached, the journey through Hell, Heaven and back makes for an interesting ride that most fans of the original should enjoy.
Long-time fans of Bill & Ted undoubtedly shared mixed emotions when both films were released separately on DVD a few years back. Both original discs looked and sounded fairly decent (with an obvious edge going to Bogus Journey), though the included bonus features were largely non-existent. MGM has thankfully improved upon the latter issue with Bill & Ted's Most Excellent Collection, a new 3-disc collection containing both films and a bonus disc full of "non-bogus" extras (NOTE: the first two discs remain identical to their original counterparts). It may not be an improvement all around, but it's an improvement nonetheless. Let's take a closer look, shall we?
Quality Control Department
Video & Audio Quality: 3.5 (Excellent Adventure) | 4.0 (Bogus Journey)
Those hoping for new transfers will be disappointed, but the overall image quality for both films is still quite good. Despite the varying aspect ratios (Excellent Adventure is presented in 2.35:1 widescreen, while Bogus Journey stands tall at 1.85:1), these anamorphic transfers display a reasonable amount of detail with only a touch of softness. The color palettes are accurate and well-defined, though notable amounts of dirt and grain keep the overall rating from being higher. Both films still look decent for their age, but it's a shame that MGM couldn't have shelled out for updated transfers.
History also repeats itself in the audio department---it's not bad, but there's still no improvement from the original discs. Each of the films has been presented with an English Dolby Digital 5.1 Surround mix (NOTE: the second film also contains French, Spanish and Portuguese Mono tracks), but it's worth noting that Excellent Adventure sounds pretty flat when compared to the sequel. Still, the dialogue is easy to understand and there's a moderate amount of surround use scattered throughout (once again, especially during Bogus Journey). Optional English, French, Spanish and Portuguese subtitles have been included for the deaf, hard of hearing and English impaired.
Menu Design & Presentation:
There's only a few minor changes in the overall presentation, but the identical menu designs (seen above) are still clean and simple enough to get the job done. Excellent Adventure (90 minutes) and Bogus Journey (94 minutes) are each divided into 16 chapters, while no obvious layer changes were detected during playback. Obviously, the addition of a third disc warranted a few packaging changes, so MGM has bundled the original two releases (packaged in single-width keepcases) together with the bonus disc (also in a single-width keepcase) inside a deluxe triple-width slipcase. No inserts have been included (though a chapter listing came with each film the first time around), but most everything's been spelled out on the packaging already. Overall, this is a nicely-packaged box for the price---and, quite possibly, the only one in your collection that looks like a phone booth.
Though the first two discs feature the same light extras as their original counterparts (a pair of Trailers and a vintage EPK-style Featurette), the third "non-bogus" disc really turns up the heat. First up is an interesting Conversation (20 minutes) with writers Ed Solomon and Chris Matheson (AKA "the real Bill & Ted", below left), where the two chat about their creation of Bill & Ted and the development of the original film. Next up, viewers are treated to a Most Triumphant Making-Of Documentary (30 minutes). This expands on the first interview a bit, covering both films and even touching on the brief 1990s-era animated series (more on that later). There's also a pair of music-related extras, including an Interview (12 minutes) with the legendary Steve Vai and a fun Air Guitar Tutorial (13 minutes) with "Bjorn Turoqe" and "The Rockness Monster" (yes, they're both officially-recognized air-guitar champions!).
Next up are a series of handy Video Biographies (16 minutes) from some of the films' more memorable characters, which can all be viewed at regular or double speed (8 minutes, for the math whizzes). Also on board is another nice bonus: the complete Premiere Episode from the aforementioned animated series (24 minutes, above right). The show didn't last long, but it was an interesting project that deserved a mention here. Winding down, there's also a Lingo Guide (4 minutes) to Bill & Ted's interesting vocabulary, an assortment of Radio Spots (4 minutes), and a collection of Writer's Notes (titled "From Scribble to Script") that gives fans a unique look at the character creation process. Overall, this bonus disc includes a fine set of bonus features overall---and outside of audio commentaries or participation from Reeves and Carlin, it covers all of the bases surprisingly well.
It would've been great to see an improvement in every department, but the bonus disc alone will easily sell this one for Bill & Ted enthusiasts. It's a nice mix of supplements that complements the films well, even without the presence of George Carlin or Keanu "I'm a serious actor now" Reeves. Those who don't own Excellent Adventure and/or Bogus Journey on DVD will most definitely want to pick this collection up, while those that do may still want to throw down the cash for this relatively inexpensive upgrade. It's not quite excellent, but this 3-disc set is anything but bogus. Recommended.
Randy Miller III is a most triumphant art instructor based in Harrisburg, PA. He also does freelance graphic design projects and works in an art gallery. When he's not doing that, he enjoys slacking off, general debauchery, and writing things in third person.