Review for Bill & Ted's Excellent Adventure
There are certain numbers that can scare a man. The number 25 is positively terrifying. You’d think that would be a handicap for someone whose house number is 25, but it’s really when a title shows up for review with the suffix 25th Anniversary Special Edition Blu-ray Steelbook that you have to pause and change your underwear. 25 years since Bill and Ted first graced our screens! 25 years since the word ‘Excellent’ was first used in combination with Air Guitar. A quarter of a century since a Melvin was first used in anger. That’s just so wrong. The only way I could deal with that gap, is if I had skipped the intervening years and got here in a time travelling phone-booth. Alas, I’ve actually had to live through the last 25 years, and have the grey hairs to prove it. The incipient and soul-crippling depression at the thought of this reality was only averted by me actually sitting down and watching the Blu-ray of Bill and Ted’s Excellent Adventure, after which I was feeling most non-heinous.
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’s Excellent Adventure gets a 2.35:1 widescreen presentation at 1080p resolution presented on a BD50. Some of the dark detail can be a little obscured (notably in the foreground blacksmith’s shop when Bill and Ted first enter the Wild West town), the difference in quality when it comes to the Napoleonic stock footage is even more apparent, some of the frames have faded a little at the edges (Beethoven’s recital in the past), and it’s apparently sourced from the same print as the DVD, judging by the same blobs of dirt on the print during the bubblegum scene.
Nitpicker’s whinges out of the way, Bill and Ted’s Excellent Adventure looks, well excellent on Blu-ray. Detail levels are high (the darkness detail isn’t really an issue in such a brightly lit and vivid film); there’s enough grain to remind you that you are watching a movie, and the image has depth and dimension. The proof of the pudding with Blu-ray for me is how much you actually see for the first time, and I was noticing little touches that I had missed before all through the film. There’s no problem with compression or aliasing, and the film gets a decent transfer, even if the original elements could have done with a bit of a clean.
You have the choice between DTS-HD MA 5.1 Surround English, and PCM 2.0 Stereo English, with optional subtitles. I went with the surround track, and found it to be really just a stereo track opened up a little more. While there is a bit more going on in the soundstage when it comes to ambience, and audio placement, it’s still very much a front-focussed affair. Since Bill and Ted isn’t really that action-oriented, keeping it closer to the original intentions is preferable. The dialogue is clear through-out, and the all important music comes across with clarity and impact. One thing I did notice about the Blu-ray is that looped scenes are a lot more obvious.
Steelbook? We don’t need no steenkin’ Steelbook. That’s the snide observation of a reviewer who only got a check-disc to look at, or an obsessive collector who has long since run out of shelf, and floor-space when it comes to fancy packaging. I do have to wonder at the Steelbook fad, as it’s just a shinier box to keep your round silver things in. Now for this to be a real collector’s edition, Studiocanal should have licensed the soundtrack and put the CD in here as well. That’s one air-guitar-tastic CD!
However, this Blu-ray certainly makes up for the last DVD release of the film, adding a whole lot of on-disc extras. Taking a closer look, most of them are in SD, and are date stamped 2005, which makes me think they were taken from a previous, US DVD Special Edition release.
The disc boots up with an animated menu.
The Original Bill and Ted: In Conversation with Chris and Ed lasts 20 minutes, and writers Christ Matheson and Ed Solomon talk about the creation of the characters and the film.
Score! An Interview with Guitarist Steve Vai lasts 13 minutes, 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 minutes.
The Hysterical Personages of Bill & Ted lasts 15½ minutes 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 minutes.
The Linguistic Stylings of Bill and Ted is basically a Bill and Ted to English dictionary illustrated with scenes from both films. I have the written version of this in an inlay for the God Gave Rock and Roll to You cassette single. This lasts 4 minutes
You get 3 minutes of radio spots advertising the film.
The Stills Gallery is a 7 minute HD slideshow of images from the production of the film.
From Scribble to Script is an SD slideshow offering a glimpse of the evolution of the film from outline to final script. This lasts 12 minutes.
25 years on, and 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 their 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. It looks as good as it’s going to get on Blu-ray without a full restoration, and you get some really decent extras this time. Finally, I get a Blu-ray which lets me retire the DVD to the circular file!