Review for Bill & Ted's Excellent Adventure
This is the year of Bill and Ted. As I write, the long-awaited third movie is actually playing in some cinemas, and can be seen online as well. It seems that was the only impetus required for the original movies to be revisited, and given the 4k re-master treatment, although at the time of writing, Bill and Ted’s Bogus Journey can only be seen in its polished 4k form in some featurettes or promotional footage. It’s yet to see a release anywhere, streaming or otherwise, and indeed is still only available on DVD in the UK. Studiocanal last released Bill and Ted’s Excellent Adventure however on a feature packed Blu-ray in 2014. That was a pretty decent disc, but with a film that I like this much, it didn’t take long for me to place an order for the new Blu-ray. There is a UHD release as well, which takes advantage of all that 4k goodness, but the new Blu-ray created from that 4k restoration is no slouch either.
Note: HMV have now announced a collector’s edition trilogy Blu-ray for all three Bill and Ted Films at the end of 2020.
In the world of San Dimas, California in the year 2688, people live in an idyllic utopia, and it’s all down to the music of one band, Wyld Stallyns. But the future is in danger of unravelling because the band members, Bill S. Preston Esquire and Ted “Theodore” Logan are in danger of flunking their history course, being separated and never forming this world changing band. In an attempt to keep history on track, Rufus arrives from the future with a time machine to help Bill and Ted pass their history test. Seeing an opportunity to really impress their history teacher, Bill and Ted decide to travel to different periods of history and collect ‘personages of historical significance’ to appear in their history test to comment on their perceptions of present day San Dimas. On their way they collect Napoleon, Billy the Kid, Socrates, Beethoven, Sigmund Freud, Genghis Khan, Joan of Arc and Abraham Lincoln. As well as getting into many historical adventures, more mayhem ensues when the historical figures are let loose on an unsuspecting 20th Century California.
Bill and Ted Excellent Adventure gets a 2.35:1 widescreen 1080p transfer on this disc, with the choice between DTS-HD MA 2.0 English, German, and French with subtitles in these languages. Having recently seen the Flash Gordon 4k restoration on Blu-ray, I had some qualms about the whole HDR overcompensation thing, and went into it expecting the same kind of red push that Flash Gordon got. Thankfully that’s not an issue here, although colours are certainly richer and more intense. I don’t think Missy has ever been more bubblegum pink than in this transfer, but the balance in the colours is good, and nothing seems to stand out. The image is clear, sharp, and indeed colourful, and the film certainly looks cleaner, although it does still suffer from a few frames with faded edges, and that scene in the prehistoric past with the bubblegum, where there are great blobs of black on the screen. Bill and Ted looks properly filmic on this disc though. It sounds just as good too, and it begins by ditching that superfluous up-mix from the previous release. You’ll have to hold onto that disc if 5.1 sounds better to you, but seriously, given the prologic treatment, you’ll be hard pressed to tell the difference from the stereo track on this disc. The dialogue is still infinitely quotable and I still rock to that amazing music soundtrack.
Here are some comparison shots between the new release and the old Blu-ray. New disc at the top.
You get one disc in a BD Amaray case which repeats the sleeve art on an o-card slipcover. Place the disc in the player and you have the choice between English, German and French silent animated menus, although you have to put up with a ‘snowflake’ warning beforehand, reporting that a 31 year old film might contain some outdated attitudes.
There are new extras with this release, apparently taken from a 2016 Shout Factory US Blu-ray.
You get two bodacious commentaries now, one with star Alex Winter and producer Scott Kroopf, and one with the writers Chris Matheson and Ed Solomon, and both will devour your time before you even realise.
Time Flies When You’re Having Fun! – A Look Back at a Most “Excellent” Adventure lasts 61:11 and is a detailed retrospective with input from the cast and the crew.
The rest of the extras are repeated from the previous release.
The Original Bill and Ted lasts 20:13, and writers Chris Matheson and Ed Solomon talk about the creation of the characters and the film.
Score! An Interview with Guitarist Steve Vai lasts 12:44, although this is more focused on his score for the sequel, Bogus Journey.
You get an Air Guitar Tutorial with Bjorn Turoque and the Rockness Monster for 13:13.
The Hysterical Personages of Bill & Ted lasts 15:26 and has a comedy voiceover supplying some dry facts about the characters from history featured on this disc. You may scratch your head at the presence of Confucius until...
...One Sweet and Sour Chinese Adventure to Go. This is an episode of the Saturday morning Bill and Ted cartoon, which sees the time travelling duo head back to ancient China to replace a broken vase. This lasts 23:04.
The Linguistic Stylings of Bill and Ted is basically a Bill and Ted to English dictionary illustrated with scenes from both films. This lasts 3:42
You get 2:40 of radio spots advertising the film.
The Stills Gallery is a click through affair this time.
From Scribble to Script is also a click through affair, ditching the slideshow format on the previous disc, and offering a glimpse of the evolution of the film from outline to final script.
Bill and Ted’s Excellent Adventure is still my go-to feel-good movie. It’s fun, perfectly paced, with great characters, and wholly entertaining. It’s deliciously funny, comes completely from left-field, and it’s unique for a comedy in that it doesn’t have a malicious intention in its entire runtime. This comedy doesn’t belittle, make fun, gets crass or offend in anyway. In fact the closest it might cut to the bone is Ted’s disingenuous teasing of Bill when it comes to his step-mother Missy. Otherwise it might just be the most warm-hearted and genuine film comedy I have.
It all comes from a richly daft premise, that two, unlikely slackers wind up becoming the messiahs that shape a future utopia, that where all other religions and prophets have failed, these two, with their simple message of ‘Be excellent to each other, and party on dudes’ succeed in uniting humanity, and bringing peace to the cosmos. And there’s still enough of my inner teen left to appreciate a story where Rock and Roll can save the world.
And all of that will fall apart if they don’t pass their history test. The premise established, the dire fate awaiting our heroes revealed, it falls to them to save the future in the most unlikely way, time travelling to help pass their history test. You get twice the culture shock here, as first Bill and Ted venture into the past, and encounter various historical luminaries. Their open-minded and somewhat ignorant approach helps them both fit in to their surroundings and stand out at the same time. They don’t have the frame of reference to be blown away by time travel and stand there gawping at the differences, but their refusal to conform to local norms makes for some interesting confrontations, both in the Wild West and in Mediaeval England.
Then, when they get back to San Dimas 1988, you get the added entertainment of Napoleon’s attack on an ice cream, and discovery of waterslides, while the exploration of a mall by Genghis Khan, Billy the Kid, Joan of Arc, and the others always raises a smile.
I love this film. The dialogue, the characterisations, especially Bill and Ted themselves, the music, the comedy, and most importantly the film’s heart still stands strong today. Bill and Ted’s Excellent Adventure has slipped free of the grasp of its eighties origins and obtained timeless classic status. Last time I said that the film looked as good as it was going to get on Blu-ray without a full restoration. Well this time it got the restoration, and the upgrade is really a treat. It is well worth the double dip, as a film like Bill and Ted really deserves to be seen at its best.