Bill and Ted's Excellent Adventure

(1989) ** 1/2 Pg
90 min. Orion Pictures Corporation. Director: Stephen Herek. Cast: Keanu Reeves, Alex Winter, George Carlin.

/content/films/4437/1.jpgIn February of 1989, I was a fourteen-year-old avid reader of Starlog Magazine. And, as such, when I saw Bill & Ted's Excellent Adventure, I knew in my heart that I was cool for recognizing the film's phone-box time machine as a (less-cool) variant on Doctor Who's TARDIS. For my younger readers, let me clarify: I was so not cool. A lot has happened to me in the intervening twenty-three years, from dating women and seeing A Clockwork Orange to living long enough to see the nerds inherit the Earth and make Doctor Who an international hit show. But Bill & Ted's Excellent Adventure hasn't changed a bit: as written by Chris Matheson & Ed Solomon and directed by Stephen Herek, it's still a silly, humble paean to blissful ignorance and "baby steps" growth.

There's no dressing it up: San Dimas high-schoolers Bill S. Preston, Esq. (Alex Winter) and "Ted" Theodore Logan (Keanu Reeves) are blithering idiots. Total dolts. Nincompoops. And it's about to cost them dearly: should they get an "F" in history from Mr. Ryan (Bernie Casey), which seems likely, the best friends will be separated as Ted's police-chief father (Hal Langdon) ships his son off to military school. Worse, the dissolution of the boys' band "Wyld Stallions" would create ripples in history that would threaten a future civilization of peace and harmony. And so, an emissary named Rufus (George Carlin) has been sent from 2688 to 1988, in order to provide Bill and Ted with that phone-booth time machine and send them on a most excellent adventure through time. It's the perfect way for the dunderheaded duo to complete their all-important oral report on what great historical figures would think of present-day San Dimas, California: borrow the great men and women, bring them to the present, and allow them to romp around the mall and the local "Waterloo" water park.

As that last reference tips off, Napoleon (Terry Camilleri) stands (yea-)tall amongst the historical leaders, though he turns out to be a "dick." Bill and Ted also round up Billy the Kid (Dan Shor), Socrates (Tony Steedman), Sigmund Freud (Rod Loomis), Ludwig van Beethoven (Clifford David), Genghis Khan (Al Leong), Joan of Arc (Jane Wiedlin), and Abraham Lincoln (Robert V. Barron), who climactically urges everyone, "Party on, dudes!" Methinks Daniel Day-Lewis probably didn't include this moment in his own research to play Lincoln, but Bill & Ted's Excellent Adventure does have a grand old time making cheap but still funny jokes with these characters (my favorite: Freud enjoying a "Hot Dog on a Stick" corndog, which he allows to droop on cue). Kids will have their interest in history piqued and will love Bill and Ted (the picture has a PG rating-also an unfortunate gay slur), while high schoolers and up will feel rewarded for what they know of historical figures (now including Eddie Van Halen).

Another important part of the film's appeal comes in the lead characters' "dude"-speak and best-friend synchronization. The surfer-ish slang (primarily pitting "excellent" against "bogus"), mispronunciations ("Frood" for Freud, "So-crates" for Socrates), air guitar (often accompanied by a riff on the soundtrack), and energetic yet easygoing performances by Winter and the stardom-bound Reeves help make Bill and Ted, for better or worse, the precursors to Napoleon Dynamite: distinctive, imitable, and perhaps even recognizable character types. And while we're meant to love Bill and Ted in spite of their idiocy, they do respond to hands-on learning, which is something. And, ironically, they are de facto leaders, with a revolutionary and pretty-darn-good messianic message for all humanity: "Be excellent to each other." Out of the mouths of babehounds...

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Aspect ratios: 2.40:1

Number of discs: 1

Audio: DTS-HD Master Audio 5.1

Street date: 11/13/2012

Distributor: 20th Century Fox Home Entertainment

Fox (on behalf of MGM) sends home Bill & Ted's Excellent Adventure in a satisfying Blu-ray debut. The film looks better than ever in high-definition, and it comes without an oppressive digital sheen. The image is detailed, but retains its filmic look, with truer color than the disc's DVD forebearer. The lossless DTS-HD Master Audio 5.1 presentation can be considered definitive, maximizing the aging audio despite something less than modern standards of fidelity and immersion.

This disc doesn't include all of the relevant extras found on the 2005 DVD release, the two-movie Bill & Ted's Most Excellent Collection. That's largely because some of those missing extras address both films, and MGM inexplicably hasn't yet seen fit to issue the sequel, Bill & Ted's Bogus Journey, on Blu. That's too bad, but perhaps a future Bogus Journey disc—or (sigh) a future BD collection—will include those missing features in toto.

What's here is still quite good, and all to be found on the previous release. "The Original Bill & Ted: In Conversation with Chris & Ed" (20:13) is a terrific sit-down with screenwriters and old friends Chris Matheson and Ed Solomon, who discuss their friendship, their writing collaboration, the improv origins of the Bill & Ted characters, the progression of the script (including deleted concepts), and the production of the film. The "Air Guitar Tutorial With Bjorn Turoque & The Rockness Monster" (13:14) introduces us to air-guitar champs, who explain themselves and give air-guitar tips.

"One Sweet and Sour Chinese Adventure To Go" (20:13) is the 1990 premiere episode of the CBS Saturday morning animated series Bill & Ted's Excellent Adventures, featuring the voices of Keanu Reeves, Alex Winter, and George Carlin, and, while dopey, it's in the spirit of the films and further validated by the retention of the cast. Rounding out the disc and vintage "Radio Spots" (2:51) and the "Theatrical Trailer" (1:55).

Review gear:
Panasonic Viera TC-P55VT30 55" Plasma 1080p 3D HDTV
Oppo BDP-93 Universal Network 3D Blu-ray Disc Player
Denon AVR2112CI Integrated Network A/V Surround Receiver
Pioneer SP-BS41-LR Bookshelf Speaker (2)
Pioneer SP-C21 Center Speaker
Pioneer SW-8 Subwoofer

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