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Bill & Ted's Excellent Adventure Blu-ray Review

Bill & Ted's Excellent Adventure (1989) movie poster Bill & Ted's Excellent Adventure

Theatrical Release: February 17, 1989 / Running Time: 90 Minutes / Rating: PG / Songs List

Director: Stephen Herek / Writers: Chris Matheson, Ed Solomon

Cast: Keanu Reeves (Ted Theodore Logan), Alex Winter (Bill S. Preston, Esq.), George Carlin (Rufus), Terry Camilleri (Napoleon), Dan Shor (Billy the Kid), Tony Steedman (Socrates), Rod Loomis (Dr. Sigmund Freud), Al Leong (Genghis Khan), Jane Wiedlin (Joan of Arc), Robert V. Barron (Abraham Lincoln), Clifford David (Ludwig van Beethoven), Hal Landon Jr. (Captain Logan), Bernie Casey (Mr. Ryan), Amy Stock-Poynton (Missy/Mom), J. Patrick McNamara (Mr. Preston), Frazier Bain (Deacon Logan), Diane Franklin (Princess Joanna), Kimberley Kates (Princess Elizabeth), William Robbins (Ox Robbins); Clarence Clemons, Martha Davis, Fee Waybill (The Three Most Important People in the World)

Buy Bill & Ted's Excellent Adventure from Amazon.com: Blu-ray DVD 3-DVD 2-Movie Collection Instant Video

Ten years before The Matrix and five before Speed, Keanu Reeves was a young actor trying to make it in Hollywood. By his early twenties, he had some notable credits to his name,
including the award-winning indie drama River's Edge, the hockey drama Youngblood, and the NBC TV movie Babes in Toyland starring Drew Barrymore. But Reeves was not above making a film called Bill & Ted's Excellent Adventure. Nor should he have been.

The modestly budgeted time travel comedy would become the first big hit of his career. Had Reeves not managed to parlay his limited acting skills into movie stardom with the aforementioned action blockbusters, Bill & Ted might have been all he was known for. There would be the embarrassment of not furthering his career and being solely associated with a movie that is, as the title and your perceptions suggest, so thoroughly a product of its time. But Reeves could still take pride in knowing that this little movie stands as one of the better regarded films of its era, a fun, clever, memorable and quotable piece of 1980s entertainment.

"Bill & Ted's Excellent Adventure" stars Alex Winter and Keanu Reeves as dim-witted teenagers picked to travel through time in preparation for their History oral report.

Reeves plays Ted Theodore Logan and Alex Winter (whose has lived out Reeves' alternate career scenario) is his best friend Bill S. Preston, Esquire (not a real lawyer). The two San Dimas, California residents are fairly typical as far as PG-rated 1980s movie teens go. They dig babes, worship Van Halen, and have a garage band, though not the skills to warrant one. Bill and Ted are also airheads, especially when it comes to school and History in particular. The two buds are in danger of failing the class, both needing to get an A+ on the final oral report to pass. For Ted, such failure comes with the prospect of his police captain father enrolling him in military academy, which is anything but gnarly.

Luckily for Bill and Ted, they've got important people looking out for them. Specifically, a cool dude from the future named Rufus (pre-"Shining Time Station" George Carlin, the film's only other famous cast member) drops in at the parking lot of a Circle K gas station. Rufus warns them about the severity of the situation and gives them carte blanche access to his time-traveling telephone booth, which he hopes will give them the hands-on history lessons they need to put together a killer presentation and keep them on a course of excellence. Bill and Ted travel to the times of an assortment of significant historical figures they have been (or are supposed to be) learning about in class.

The first stop is the French Revolution, where general Napoleon Bonaparte (Terry Camilleri) is accidentally sucked along for the ride. Then it's off to the Wild West, where they team up with notorious outlaw Billy the Kid (Dan Shor). In Ancient Greece, they pick up the great philosopher Socrates (an excellent Tony Steedman), which they pronounce "So-crates." Other destinations include Mongolia for the warrior Genghis Khan (Al Leong), France for Joan of Arc (Jane Wiedlin of The Go-Go's), Austria for Ludwig van Beethoven (Clifford David), Germany for psychoanalyst Sigmund Freud (Rod Loomis), and the White House in the 1860s for President Abraham Lincoln (Robert Barron). All of these accomplished individuals squeeze into the transportational phone booth (it's turned on its side) and brought back to present-day San Dimas to deliver a show-stopping presentation in the school auditorium.

Cool future guy Rufus (George Carlin) helps Bill and Ted navigate the space-time continuum. Billy the Kid (Dan Shor) takes a shortcut in doing Bill's chores for him.

On paper, the premise must sound didactic and kind of hokey, but this film keeps a great distance from both of those qualities. It helps to have Bill and Ted as our protagonists and representatives. Their personalities, somewhere between Jeff Spicoli and Wayne & Garth, are the perfect antidote to these revered humans. Put them together and you get an air of inspired and amusing irreverence. A little slow out of the gates, the film hits its stride around the one-hour mark when it lets this historical dream team loose in a shopping mall. It's the perfect site for delightful culture shock
and yields such gags as Beethoven wowing a crowd with his in-store electric keyboard demonstration, Genghis Khan tearing a sporting goods store to shreds, and Socrates and Mr. The Kid hitting on girls in the food court.

It's kind of turn-off-your-brain comedy. At the same time, to impressionable school-aged viewers, it's turn-on-your-brain comedy, making these figures exciting and accessible in ways that young adult biographies and textbooks generally do not. While no kid will leave this movie an expert on all these time travelers, there are things to be learned and remembered from Bill and Ted's climactic report. Every historical figure featured here gets a little boost in recognition, their life's work made a tad more meaningful. But that is merely a nice side benefit to an utterly entertaining comedy.

The second film directed by Critters' Stephen Herek, a man who would go on to helm some of the bigger Disney family films of the 1990s (The Mighty Ducks, The Three Musketeers, 101 Dalmatians), Excellent Adventure could be a bit sharper in places. For instance, a shot of one of Napoleon's joyous trips down a water park's long slide could easily be shortened by like ten seconds for greater impact. Time travel raises paradoxes and questions in other movies, but this one is downright messy when you scrutinize it some or try to wrap your head around some of the tricks it plays. But the movie is really just fine as it is.

The feature debut of writers Chris Matheson and Ed Solomon, who would separately go on to contribute to A Goofy Movie (Matheson), Men in Black and Charlie's Angels (Solomon), the Excellent Adventure script is loaded with wit. Though too racy for a PG rating by today's standards (Napoleon's profane subtitle-translated bowling alley proclamation would be enough to draw a PG-13), the film is fairly winsome and wholesome, without being uncool. It may look like Dumb and Dumber from a distance and it would probably welcome the comparison, but this film is a little more sophisticated in its comedy, its creative design slyly sneaking in positive lessons.

Opening in theaters February 1989, two years after the cameras began rolling (a result of production company De Laurentiis Entertainment Group's bankruptcy troubles) and two months after Reeves could be seen in the Oscar-winning costume drama Dangerous Liaisons, Bill & Ted grossed an excellent $40.5 million on a reported $10 M budget, easily becoming the year's biggest hit for distributor Orion Pictures. Reeves, Winter, and Carlin would reprise their roles, first for the 1990 CBS Saturday morning cartoon "Bill & Ted's Excellent Adventures" (a Hanna-Barbera production on CBS in its first season, a DiC joint on Fox Kids in its second), and then for the 1991 sequel Bill & Ted's Bogus Journey, which grossed slightly less on twice the budget but still provided profit for Orion, a few years before they went bankrupt. A second "Bill & Ted's Excellent Adventures" series premiered in 1992, this one a single-camera live-action Fox sitcom, which aired seven episodes Sunday nights over the summer before it was cancelled.

For no obvious reason beyond the fact that it remains popular with a demographic that should have some cash to spend, the original film made its Blu-ray debut this week from Orion library inheritor MGM and their home video partner 20th Century Fox.

Bill & Ted's Excellent Adventure Blu-ray Disc cover art -- click to buy from Amazon.com Blu-ray Disc Details

2.35:1 Widescreen
5.1 DTS-HD MA (English), Dolby Mono 1.0 (Spanish)
Subtitles: English for Hearing Impaired, Spanish, French
Not Closed Captioned; Extras Not Subtitled
Release Date: November 13, 2012
Suggested Retail Price: $19.99
Single-sided, single-layered disc (BD-25)
Blue Eco-Friendly Keepcase
Still available as DVD ($14.98 SRP; December 4, 2001), 3-Disc Most Excellent Collection DVD with Bill & Ted's Bogus Journey ($29.98 SRP; July 12, 2005) and Amazon Instant Video

VIDEO and AUDIO

Though you wouldn't expect it, Bill & Ted's Excellent Adventure appears in the wider 2.35:1 widescreen aspect ratio. Its Blu-ray transfer looks quite good, in spite of the age the film's content makes clear. The picture is generally sharp, colorful, and well-defined. Even effects shots and those with burned-in subtitles are untroubled. The worst I could spot was one scene with two fixed black specks and a few with out-of-focus portions (which may be part of the film). Oh and the clearly borrowed Revolutionary war scene shots (taken from 1956's War and Peace starring Audrey Hepburn and Henry Fonda) are grainier than their surroundings.

The disc's 5.1 DTS-HD master audio is also good. It doesn't offer much in the way of immersive surround sound, but the music, effects, and dialogue come through clearly and consistently.

Screenwriter Ed Solomon chats with Chris Matheson, at times even consulting their original notes. Dan "Bjorn Turoque" Crane is quite serious about the art of air guitar.

BONUS FEATURES, MENUS, and PACKAGING

Kicking off the disc's all-recycled, all-standard definition extras slate, "The Original Bill & Ted: In Conversation with Chris & Ed" (20:13) presents a substantial 2005 fireside chat between screenwriters Chris Matheson and Ed Solomon. They reflect on the script's origins, speedy writing, development, discarded and tweaked ideas, and journey to be made.

Lighter and less essential, also from 2005, is an "Air Guitar Tutorial with Bjorn Turoque & The Rockness Monster" (13:14). Those two champion competitive air guitarists (also known as Dan Crane and Fatima Hoang) discuss their craft and give you tips for success while footage shows them in action. It feels like a joke, but these two guys are completely serious.

Bill and Ted journey to ancient China in the premiere episode of the 1990 animated television series "Bill & Ted's Excellent Adventures." This neat publicity still of Bill, Ted, and their historic time traveling companions appears on screen for one of the five radio spots.

Next up is "One Sweet and Sour Chinese Adventure -- To Go" (23:08), which the case and menu somehow neglect to mention is the first episode (originally aired September 15, 1990) of the Hanna-Barbera-produced, CBS-aired first season of the Saturday Morning cartoon series "Bill & Ted's Excellent Adventures."

Faithful to the movie (with original actors supplying the voices) and about what you would expect, it's the kind of show that would be tough to watch at any length. A single episode, however, is the perfect inclusion here. This one sends Bill and Ted back to ancient China to replace Bill's young stepmom's antique vase.

The extras conclude with original marketing materials. Five good 30-second radio spots (2:51), complete with some viewer testimonials, play over HD promotional and film stills. They're followed by the original theatrical trailer (1:55) that includes a few deleted shots.

That's a decent collection of bonus features for a film like this, but it pales considerably next to the Bill & Ted's Most Excellent Collection box set that MGM released back in 2005. That three-disc set included a number of extras that do not resurface here: a half-hour "The Most Triumphant Making-Of" documentary, nine "Hysterical Personages" bios, an interview with guitarist Steve Vai, a gallery titled "From Scribble to Script", and the video dictionary "The Linguistic Stylings of Bill & Ted." If I were producing this Blu-ray, I'd have held on to all that content and tried to clear the premiere episode of the live-action TV series. Seems like that would have made this the definitive release and encouraged more purchases and repurchases. But I don't produce discs, I only review them, so what would I know?

Like a number of other MGM catalog Blu-rays, this one forgoes a dedicated menu, employing simple pop-up bars and looping the movie ad infinitum. The lesser effort extends to the authoring, which doesn't resume playback after your powering down or support placing bookmarks. The eco-friendly Blu-ray case, whose cover doesn't do the most graceful job of Photoshopping updates of the poster art, isn't enlivened with any insert or slipcover.

Bill and Ted journey through time in a telephone booth full of historic figures, including Abraham Lincoln, Socrates, Beethoven, and Sigmund Freud.

CLOSING THOUGHTS

Bill & Ted's Excellent Adventure may not be a movie that screams "gotta have it on Blu-ray" for you, but MGM and Fox have put together a decent disc for it all the same. The feature presentation is very good and clearly takes advantage of high definition's gains. Most of the bonus features that make the cut are very good too, but it's confusing and frustrating that rather than add to the existing DVD extras, this disc has subtracted from them.

Though reasonably priced, the disc isn't cheap enough to overlook those unfortunate shortcomings. Still, the movie is fun enough to recommend owning. This Blu-ray is a clear-cut improvement over the film's lightweight standalone DVD that you are more likely to own. And many collectors would probably rather get the original movie in HD with a few less extras than paying twice as much for the 3-disc, 2-movie DVD set with all the extras.

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Bill & Ted's Excellent Adventure Songs List (in order of use): Big Pig - "I Can't Break Away", Robbie Robb - "In Time", Tora Tora - "Dancing with a Gypsy", Shark Island - "Dangerous", Range War - "No Right to Do Me Wrong", Glen Burtnick - "Not So Far Away", Vital Signs - "The Boys and Girls Are Doing It", Rori - "Party Up", Bricklin - "Walk Away", Shark Island - "Father Time", Extreme - "Play With Me", Stevie "No Wonder" Salas - "Bad Guitar"

Buy the Bill & Ted's Excellent Adventure Soundtrack CD at Amazon.com

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Reviewed November 14, 2012.



Text copyright 2012 DVDizzy.com. Images copyright 1989 Orion Pictures, Nelson Entertainment, Interscope Communications, Soisson/Murphey Productions
and 2012 Metro-Goldwyn-Mayer and 20th Century Fox Home Entertainment. Unauthorized reproduction prohibited.