Blu-Ray Review: Bill & Ted’s Excellent Adventure

'Bill & Ted started out as a time travel movie. Now it’s a period piece.'

Fred Topelby Fred Topel

It’s weird watching Bill & Ted’s Excellent Adventure on Blu-ray. I saw it in theaters but my predominant memory of the film is watching it over and over again on VHS, pan and scanned. I know I’d seen it widescreen on DVD but the Blu-ray surely looks better than even my 1988 theatrical experience could have been. It must have been at least 10 years since I’ve watched this movie, so I was excited to revisit it. I hoped I would get more of the jokes now that I know a little bit more about history, but I didn’t. It’s pretty straight forward, and loses a lot of novelty in retrospect, but it’s still fun.

The big hook in 1988 was seeing these heavy metal guys say “Whoa” and “dude” in front of historical figures. These days that isn’t as shocking. I still say Mike Myers totally bogarted Bill and Ted when he did “Wayne’s World,” but it’s not just the evolution of slacker dudes. Bill & Ted started out as a time travel movie. Now it’s a period piece. It’s mainly set in the ‘80s and represents ‘80s values and ideas. A Bill & Ted movie now would have to travel back to 1988 and laugh at the flamboyant fashion and retro language.

Bill (Alex Winter) and Ted (Keanu Reeves) are high school headbangers whose music in the future will create peace in not only the world, but the universe. Right now they’re about to fail history, so Rufus (George Carlin) brings them a time traveling phone booth to help them pass their final report.

The pace of Bill &Ted remains brisk as they bounce from historical era to historical era picking up famous historical figures. They spend a bit of time acclimating Billy the Kid, Joan of Arc and Socrates to modern day San Dimas, and deliver their report to pass history. The film is most fun when Bill and Ted play with time, giving their past selves advice and reaping the benefits of actions they haven’t performed yet. The potential paradox of returning Abraham Lincoln and Napoleon to their time having witnessed the 1980s is joyfully ignored.

The jokes of Bill & Ted weren’t as funny this time around. The slang is old hat and the music references really dated. Iron Maiden was a band that sold records on cassette tape, so that’s why they think a medieval torture device of the same name is a good thing. Still, the characters’ spirit is infectious and well meaning, though it is unfortunate that they use a homophobic slur to break the tension of an emotional moment. This was before we knew better than to use the F-word. On the other hand, it’s nice that writer Ed Solomon envisioned a future where music united humanity, and presumably alien races too.

I never put Bill & Ted into the “so stupid it’s funny” category. I thought it was a genuinely clever take on time travel, and I still think so. It’s just more of its time now. I was always more of a Bogus Journey guy myself. I’m Franchise Fred, of course I like the sequel. Freud’s analysis of Ted is a little more poignant to me as a grown-up though.

This is the movie that made Reeves famous, and he’s also had to live it down ever since, but he seems cool about it. He’s never expressed anything but love for it, and if you think he seems perfect as the slack jawed dufus, that’s acting! Winter has had more success behind the scenes and I highly recommend his directorial debut Freaked, such a weird surreal comedy.

The Blu-ray looks fantastic. The widescreen frame remains sharp, except for Rufus’s introduction which is fuzzier. One or two shots have digital noise flare ups but I’m impressed Fox seems to have given Bill and Ted a serious transfer, one that’s consistent through the whole movie, not just hi-def in highlighted moments. You see a lot of detail in the phone booth and the historical sets, and the colors pop brightly.

Three extra features from a 2005 DVD collection have been held over: the featurette on writers Ed Solomon and Chris Matheson, air guitar tutorial and episode of the animated “Bill & Ted’s Excellent Adventures.” Those plus the radio spots and theatrical trailer, but other 2005 extras are missing. I can’t say I miss them. If there’s no new content, I trust the writers and the animated adaptation speak the most about the phenomenon of Bill & Ted.

I wouldn’t say Bill & Ted’s Excellent Adventure proves to be a timeless classic or a trip down memory lane, because the experience of watching it now is totally different. It’s a fabulous high tech preservation of a version of the movie that’s visually twice as big as the version I remember, and my 23 years of life lived affects it too. It is still relentlessly happy though, so I feel good after watching it.