Reviewed by Colin Jacobson

Title: Bill and Ted's Excellent Adventure (1989)
Studio Line: MGM

A trio of interplanetary rulers dispatch a cool hipster from the 27th century to send two teenage boys, who should have been studying history instead of playing rock music, on a trip through time.

Director: Stephen Herek
Cast: Keanu Reeves, Alex Winter, George Carlin, Terry Camilleri, Dan Shor, Tony Steedman, Rod Loomis, Al Leong, Jane Wiedlin, Robert V. Barron, Clifford David
DVD: Widescreen 2.35:1/16X9; audio English Dolby Digital 5.1; subtitles English, French, Spanish; closed-captioned; single sided - double layered; rated PG; 90 min.; $14.95; 12/4/01.
Supplements: Trailer.
Purchase: DVD | Music soundtrack - Various Artists

Picture/Sound/Extras: B-/B-/D-

With Bill and Tedís Excellent Adventure, we go back 13 years to a time when Keanu Reeves wasnít a megastar. Before Speed, before The Matrix, before pretty much anything - with some exceptions such as The Riverís Edge and Dangerous Liaisons - we find Keanu as the virtual blank slate. Itís amusing to consider his status at the time, as the combined effects of Adventure and Edge created an image of Reeves as a stoner dude with limited mental abilities.

How odd it is to consider a time when we viewed Reeves as a limited performer who works best with non-dimensional characters and who sticks with fairly bland, generic representations ofÖ oh wait. Scratch that last train of thought.

Okay, so Keanu hasnít developed much as an actor over the years. Heís still a reasonably likable presence, and he seems generally solid as the brainless Ted ďTheodoreĒ Logan, part of a metal-loving pair with Wyld Stallyns bandmate Bill S. Preston, esquire (Alex Winter). At the start of the film, we find that their bandís going nowhere, mostly because they canít play their guitars worth a darn. (As far as I could tell, they had no other band members either, though additional instruments appear in their garage.)

Not only do the Stallyns suffer from a lack of focus, but also Bill and Ted may flunk out of high school. If they donít score an ďA+Ē on their history project, theyíll fail the class and apparently will be booted from school. With only a couple of brain cells between them, it looks likely that Bill and Ted will soon flunk again, and this will have grievous results; Tedís hardass father (Hal Landon) promises to ship him to military school in Alaska if he doesnít pass.

As we quickly learn, this separation would have a terrible effect on the future, so time-traveling missionary Rufus (George Carlin) comes through the years to assist them. He provides them with a phone booth that will let Bill and Ted flit through time and succeed in their project. What they do with their adventures is up to them, but Rufus gives them the tools to score high in school.

Of course, the plotís badly flawed from the start. If Rufusí future society was created based on the work of Wyld Stallyns, why does he need to go back in time to make sure this happens? Clearly it did occur, and we see no evidence of any external event to threaten it. Sure, Tedís dad wants to send him to military school, but obviously things worked out fine or Rufus wouldnít have been there in the first place. This wasnít like Terminator or Terminator 2: Judgment Day, in which someone went from the future to try to change the past. No future threat appeared, so Rufus went to fix something that seemed to already be in place.

However, any time spent questioning the viability of the time-travel format of Adventure is time wasted, for it never attempts to be a clear and lucid exploration of those elements. At its heart, Adventure is nothing more than loose, nonsensical fun, and the movie generally works fairly well within its milieu. Without question, itís a great premise. Take some morons and send them through time to mangle history and interact with famous figures and itís hard not to have some fun. At its best, Adventure provides some witty and entertaining moments, a lot of which come through via the loose and endearing performances of its leads. I donít know what it says about Keanu that he seems most effective when he plays idiots or stoners, but some of his nicest work results from those sorts of roles.

Probably the biggest problem with Adventure stems from its exceedingly Eighties nature. The movie hasnít aged particularly well, and not just because of its fashions. The whole project screams its era, and it can come across as terribly dated through its look, attitude, and sense of humor. It uses the same form of extremely broad wackiness found in other flicks like Revenge of the Nerds. Well, it seemed really funny at the time, but more than a decade later, the results arenít quite so charming.

As such, Bill and Tedís Excellent Adventure gets different recommendations based on the audience. If you grew up in the Eighties and have a soft spot for the eraís goofy comedies, youíll likely enjoy the flick and will be happy to revisit it. Others with less affection for the era may also like it, but that seems much less certain. To be sure, Adventure has some witty moments and itís fun to see as the progenitor of a genre; would we have the Wayneís World flicks - which directly echo this effort, right down to the greetings of ďParty on!Ē - without it? Maybe, but its influence remains obvious. Ultimately, Adventure has some decent moments, but it wasnít quite as entertaining as I remembered.

The DVD:

Bill and Tedís Excellent Adventure appears in an aspect ratio of approximately 2.35:1 on this single-sided, double-layered DVD; the image has been enhanced for 16X9 televisions. Though erratic, Adventure generally offered a good picture that lost points due to some conspicuous problems.

Sharpness usually seemed positive, though exceptions occurred. Most of the movie presented a reasonably crisp and detailed picture, but wider shots tended to become moderately soft and fuzzy. The issue wasnít extreme, but it seemed noticeable and slightly distracting at times. A few jagged edges appeared, and I also saw some moderately annoying moirť effects at times, but I didnít discern any signs of edge enhancement.

Print flaws caused the majority of the DVDís concerns. Much of the film seemed rather grainy, and a mix of other defects also appeared. I saw a variety of speckles, grit, nicks and a little general debris at times. A fair amount of the movie looked clean and fresh, but many of the scenes displayed these problems.

Colors usually appeared nicely bright and vivid. During a few occasions - especially when we saw colored lighting - the hues came across as somewhat muddy and thick, but those instances were fairly rare. For the most part, the colors appeared quite vibrant and rich. Black levels came across as reasonably deep and dense, and shadow detail was generally acceptable, but a few low-light sequences came across as mildly heavy and thick. Based on its vintage, I found Bill and Tedís Excellent Adventure to offer a fairly good image; despite some obvious print concerns and a few other issues, it still seemed quite watchable and could be very attractive.

I also found the Dolby Digital 5.1 soundtrack of Bill and Tedís Excellent Adventure to provide an erratic but largely satisfying experience. Not surprisingly, the soundfield featured a fairly forward emphasis. From the front, the music displayed nice stereo presence and effects offered a positive general ambience. Some directional dialogue also ensued, but mainly the music dominated the speakers. At times the effects appeared somewhat ďspeaker specificĒ; audio moved acceptably well across the channels, but it didnít seem to blend especially smoothly. Still, it was a pretty solid presentation, especially given the age and budget of the project.

Surround usage seemed limited but decent. For the most part, the rear speakers did little more than add general reinforcement to the music and effects. Although a little unique information cropped up from the surrounds, this was usually minor, and I discerned no split-surround usage.

Audio quality was fair but a little flat. Dialogue consistently seemed reasonably warm and distinct, and I heard no problems related to intelligibility or edginess. However, quite a lot of looped speech occurred, and those lines often didnít integrate very well with the action. Effects sounded clean and reasonably accurate, but they lacked much oomph; they were clear and didnít display any significant distortion, but they failed to display noticeable depth. The same qualities affected the music, which showed nice bright highs but that didnít offer very warm or deep bass. This lack of low-end was the most prominent problem with the mix; while I didnít expect the track to rock my house, it should have been richer than this. Nonetheless, Bill and Tedís Excellent Adventure gave us a generally good soundtrack.

Unfortunately, the DVD includes virtually no extras. We find the movieís original theatrical trailer, and thatís it. However, the disc does list for only $14.95, which helps compensate for the absence of supplements; geez, titles like Play It Again, Sam include absolutely nothing but retail for twice as much money.

Overall, Bill and Tedís Excellent Adventure is a mixed bag across the board. The movie itself operates from a great premise, and it has some entertaining moments, but a lot of the humor falls flat, especially because the project seems terribly dated. The DVD provides flawed but fairly decent picture and sound but lacks any significant extras. Fans of the flick will be happy with this DVD, especially because many have never experienced anything other than a hacked pan and scan transfer; itís nice to see Adventure in all its widescreen glory, especially with a terrific $14.95 price point. However, the uninitiated will probably not be as entertained. They may want to rent it to have a look at the flick and see what they think.

Viewer Film Ratings: 3.375 Stars Number of Votes: 48
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