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Party Hard: Bill & Ted's Excellent Adventure on Blu-ray

  Back in the late nineteen-eighties, Bill & Ted's Excellent Adventure almost wasn't released at all, for shortly after it was made in 1987, its production company, run by Dino De Laurentiis, went bankrupt and the film languished on the shelf for a couple of years until Nelson Entertainment got hold of it and released it to a waiting world. Well, nobody was really waiting for another teen comedy flick in the eighties, they just sort of happened, most of them inspired by Animal House of 1978 and running in a line from the likes of Porky's to Revenge of the Nerds all the way to Heathers at the end of the decade. But Bill and Ted were different characters: those other teen movies had a mean streak.

Not so with our heroes here, Bill played by Alex Winter and Ted by Keanu Reeves, then both unknowns, for this pair of specimens didn't have a mean bone in their bodies, and while some would call them stupid, others would recognise their benevolent nature set them apart from the time they emerged from. In the eighties, getting one over on someone was the way to get ahead, like Ronald Reagan told you and all those yuppies to, yet Bill and Ted were content not to bother anyone and were at their happiest when playing music with the two-man heavy metal band they had decided were going to take over the world in mass popularity, which was one of the jokes.

Yet the biggest joke was on those who doubted it, because they are visited by legendary comedian George Carlin from the far future who informs them, guess what, they were absolutely correct, and now their philosophy of being excellent to one another has taken over Planet Earth and improved it immeasurably. If this had been made in the sixties, they would have been depicted as hippies (some found it suspiciously telling the film omitted any scene of them smoking pot), but in the eighties, this point of view was highly novel. And what was even nicer was that it took over the comedy landscape of the nineties and beyond, far more successfully than the cult original ever would.

Nevertheless, after Excellent Adventure enjoyed moderate success in theatres, it truly took off on home video, where it was watched and rewatched by Generation X with such enthusiasm that the writers Ed Solomon and Chris Matheson (son of another legend, science fiction and horror author Richard Matheson) were happy to write a sequel, Bill & Ted's Bogus Journey, released in 1991. That cemented the characters as beloved of those who had come of age in the eighties and into the nineties (there was even a shortlived cartoon series for the kids), and eventually led to Solomon and Matheson penning a very belated sequel, Bill & Ted Face the Music, for 2020's audiences.

Whether Generation Z actually had the same fondness for them that their parents did was a moot point, but if you had grown up with Keanu Reeves as a movie star, and maybe had appreciated Alex Winter's pop culture presence as a director as well as an in front of the camera celebrity, you would be fully invested in seeing them return. But it was that source material which had provided the trigger for that affection because a certain type of audience will always want to see nice guys finish first for a change, and while they may think the Biblical Noah was the husband of Joan of Arc, this lack of general knowledge and academic ability didn't stop them dreaming and being decent.

And besides, Bill & Ted's Excellent Adventure was really funny, gloriously daft in a way that was infectiously irreverent, treating important characters from history much like Monty Python's Flying Circus did on television, another touchstone for the generation who were writing comedy in that era. When Carlin's Rufus appears in his telephone booth from the future and tells them to use it to present their final coursework for history class, it's the cue for some of the most entertaining uses of the past imaginable, as the boys pick up a collection of surprisingly willing figures (were they flattered to be invited?) who assist them in securing the wellbeing of the planet - even Genghis Khan.

And Khan was played by cult stuntman Al Leong, which made it even better; Dan Shor was Billy the Kid, Jane Wiedlin of The Go-Go's was Joan of Arc, and Terry Camilleri was a standout as the petulant Napoleon Bonaparte. The point of the speech Bill and Ted must deliver is to explain what the historical personages would think of their hometown of San Dimas; if they flunk it, so does our society. But while the duo would inspire the humour of anyone from Wayne's World to Shaun of the Dead, it is perhaps instructive to compare them to another cult, sci-fi comedy: Idiocracy. In that film, the world is dumbed down to moronic degrees and we're supposed to laugh and lament at it, but in Bill & Ted's Excellent Adventure the future acknowledged that while those two were good for nothings in some eyes, in others they had achieved a Zen level of being through just wanting to get through life having a good time and doing no harm. Is that really so bad?

[Bill & Ted's Excellent Adventure is released, fully restored on 4K UHD, Blu-ray and DVD with these features:

Audio Commentary with Writers Chris Matheson and Ed Solomon
Time Flies When You're Having Fun! - A Look Back at a Most "Excellent Adventure"
Score! An Interview with Guitarist Steve Vai
The Original Bill & Ted
Air Guitar Tutorial with Bjorn Turoque
From Scribble to Script
Linguistic Stylings of Bill & Ted
Hysterical Personages of Bill & Ted
Episode from Bill & Ted's Excellent Adventures animated television series
Radio Spots
Stills and Artwork.]

Author: Graeme Clark.


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