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In the 1989 time-hopping fantasy Bill & Ted’s Excellent Adventure, two wannabe rockstars go to great lengths to pass their history class. With a little help from a futuristic phone booth, Bill (Alex Winter) and Ted (Keanu Reeves) soar through history. They meet Socrates, Billy the Kid, Joan of Arc — or rather “So-Crates,” “Mr. The Kid,” and “Ms. of Arc.”
From the first time they read the screenplay by Chris Matheson and Ed Solomon, Reeves and Winter knew they’d found something special.
“Teen comedy scripts, they never had any kind of depth to the language,” recalls Winter.
“This one seemed to be such an assault on that,” says Reeves. “How do you not laugh at ‘Beeth-Oven’ and ‘Noah’s wife’? ‘Non-heinous.’ That’s funny!”
In Excellent Adventure, the history presentation is a great success. But in its original conception, the Adventure was decidedly non-non-heinous. EW recently reunited Reeves and Winter with Chris Matheson and Ed Solomon for the Untold Stories Issue, and the creative team recalled roads not taken in the first film — and the wondrously strange sequel, Bill & Ted’s Bogus Journey.
“The original impulse,” explains Matheson, “Was that they were going to be responsible for everything bad that ever happened in human history. Like, they caused the Civil War. They caused World War I. They caused the Titanic to sink.”
Solomon actually still has the original notes from their brainstorming sessions. On top of the first page is the original title for the film: Bill & Ted’s Time Van. The original list of possible locations, settings, and big names is long: Revolutionary France, Egypt, Medieval England, Pirates, Magna Carta, Arthurian Legend, Charlemagne, Columbus, Hitler, Russian Revolution, Richard Nixon…
“One of the popular kids in the school ended up friends with Hitler for some reason,” Solomon says.
“This tells you how ostracized we felt by the popular kids,” jokes Matheson.
Excellent Adventure turned into a much more optimistic depiction of time travel, ending on the promise that Bill and Ted’s band, the Wild Stallyns, would create music so powerful it would transform the world into a utopia. Excellent Adventure ends on a climactic history presentation in an auditorium, a kind of arena-rock educational concert full of showcase moments for all the major historical figures. “They all get their own spotlight,” says Reeves. “They’re in their element doing their thing, imparting their knowledge.”
But the ending was initially much different. Recalls Winter, “We just bring the historical figures back to our classroom. And Keanu just sat on the desk, and watched them kind of talk about who they were. Then we’d go to the prom, and that’s the end. Even while we were shooting it, we were kind of depressed.”
The ending was reshot into its current form — establishing an unusual trend for the Bill & Ted franchise.
When it came time to work on a sequel, Matheson and Solomon boldly ditched the possibility of another time-travel adventure. Instead, Bogus Journey sends the titular pair on a wild ride through life and death, complete with a funny-freaky trip to Hell full of their greatest fears: A horrifying Easter Bunny doll, old crone Granny Preston (played by Winter), and military man Colonel Oats (Chelcie Ross.)
In the original conception, Matheson notes, those horrific entities would have returned in the climax. “In Act III, those fears came back, and were terrorizing them,” the writer explains. “The Easter Bunny clawing through the van, trying to get in.” (Actually, at one point, the writers discussed the possibility that Bill and Ted would return from heaven with biblical figures. “Moses was going to part a bunch of cars and things like that,” Matheson says. The idea was explored but quickly abandoned, seeming too similar to all the historical icons of the first film.)
“It was sort of being, you know, worked out on the fly,” is how Winter recalls the ending of Bogus Journey. “On a screenplay, when you cut scenes, you get new drafts. And the scene that are gone just say ‘omit,’ right? Normally, as you get towards the end of a movie, you start to get quite a few of those, because you realize you’ve written too much stuff. But in this case, it was just: omit, omit, omit, omit, omit, omit, omit, omit, omit, omit, omit, omit.”
According to Reeves, the actors came up with a title for the original ending: “Bill & Ted’s Omitted Adventure.” And according to Solomon and Matheson, the lengthy rewrites on Bogus Journey ultimately led to the creation of one of the more unusual characters in movie history.
“It was super late, and we were super punch drunk,” says Solomon. “We deleted this whole sequence, but it began with ‘Interior–Police Station.’ But I guess I didn’t get everything out of the computer, so it just said ‘Station.'”
“It was, like, three in the morning,” says Matheson. “We’re wiped out. We’ve been working hard. We just, for an hour, all we’d say is the word ‘station.’ ‘Station!'”
“Station!” echoes Solomon. “We vowed to not not have it in.”
“‘We’re gonna have a Martian named Station.’ And by God, we did,” laughs Matheson. “Now, was that a wise decision? That’s unclear.”
Check back on EW.com later for more from the Bill & Ted reunion, including an in-depth update on the proposed third film, Bill & Ted Face the Music.