After watching “Bill & Ted’s Excellent Adventure,” I racked my brain trying to think of another stoner film that didn’t have drugs in it—not even drug references—and I’ve been coming up empty. In fact, the closest this G-rated fantasy-comedy gets to drugs is an appearance by the late George Carlin, whose character is sent by another planetary race to help buddies Bill (Alex Winter) and Ted (Keanu Reeves) with a nail-or-fail school history project.
Maybe you’d have call them the male equivalent of Valley girls, because they have their own little California language, and they’re most definitely airheads, they have a one track mind that involves their own social status—that is, imagining themselves rock stars and arguing over a chicken-and-egg issue of which needs to happen first: making a demo record or getting Van Halen to join the group. Of course, there is no group, as the only thing these guys play is air guitar, with accompanying gestures and sounds.
Yet, as vapid as these guys are, they seem to have no trouble comprehending how exact doubles of themselves appear later in the film, courtesy of a time-machine phone booth that Carlin’s character, Rufus, dumps on their doorstep.
Then, of course, one of their dad’s has to be the head of police in their suburban community, whose threat of sending his son to military school should he fail hangs over not just both of them, but, hard to believe, another civilization.
In the absence of drugs, that’s the far-out part, and the adventure comes when the guys hop in the booth and dial up different periods in history, thinking that there’s no better way to present a report about what a historical figure would think of their little San Dimas community than to actually go back and “grab” important people from the past and use them as visual aids. So the guys nab Napoleon Terry Camilleri), and make the mistake of leaving him with Ted’s junior-high age brother (Frazier Bain) before they blast off again to get more “famous dudes.” They return with Socrates (whom they amusingly call “Sew-crates”), Beethoven (Clifford David), Genghis Khan (Al Leong), Abraham Lincoln (Robert V. Baron), and one female, a Ms. Joan of Arc (Jane Wiedlin).
Along the way they run afoul of a medieval king when they lust after his daughters (Kimberly Kates, Diane Franklin), and they have a close call in Neanderthal times when the time machine breaks down and the guys need to repair it (THESE guys?), then hustle back in time to claim Napoleon and head for the auditorium with the others to make their “most excellent” presentation.
Though there are some laugh-out-loud moments, the humor is light and more Bill and Ted’s speed than anything really witty or clever. When, for example, Napoleon wanders off and the guys have to take all of their historical figures to the mall to look for him, you might find yourself having flashbacks to the TV sitcom “Bewitched,” because the anachronistic humor is about on the same level.
But I can see why this little film became a cult classic and spawned a sequel (“Bill & Ted’s Bogus Journey”) and two TV series—one live-action and one animated. And I can understand why Marvel got into the act with a Bill and Ted’s Excellent Comic Book. It’s a fluffy but fun fantasy that, if you watch it when you’re of junior high or high school age, could easily make enough of an impression to where you’d want to return to it 24 years later. The interesting thing will be to see what your future “double” now thinks of it. My guess is that it’ll still tickle your funny bone.
For a 1989 film it looks almost excellent on video, with variant softness and occasional pockets of grain the only distractions. I saw no problems with the AVC/MPEG-4 transfer to a 25-gig disc, and while you couldn’t say that the colors were vibrant they weren’t washed-out or undersaturated, either. It’s a really nice visual look for a catalog title of almost 25 years old, presented in 2.35:1 aspect ratio.
The audio is the standard English DTS-HD MA 5.1, with an option of Spanish Dolby Digital Mono and subtitles in English SDH, Spanish, and French. While the bass doesn’t have much rumble, it has a presence, and the film excels in directional sound, with noises constantly moving realistically across the sound field. Dialogue is crisp, and the rear speakers get plenty of action for a catalog title. When the music kicks in, so do all the speakers, and the sound is full enough to satisfy most fans.
The bonus features are not terribly excellent. One of them, “The Original Bill & Ted: In Conversation with Chris & Ed,” features writers Chris Matheson and Ed Solomon talking about the film and their desire to just make the other laugh. It’s light but essential viewing for fans of the film. The other things are more on the fringe: an “Air Guitar Tutorial with Bjorn Turoque & The Rockness Monster” (13 min.), in which a 2004 champion and runner-up offer air guitar tips, and an episode from the animated series, “One Sweet and Sour Chinese Adventure to Go” (23 min.). Thrown in are a few radio spots (3 min.) and the original theatrical trailer in high def.
If you’re already a fan, you’ll appreciate this HD upgrade, and if you’re new to “Bill & Ted’s Excellent Adventure” you’ll walk away thinking there were worse ways to spend an evening. But the humor is light (and light-headed)—so much so that you’d have to say it’s a stoner movie with no pot.