Release Date(s)1989 (August 10, 2020)
Studio(s)Interscope/Nelson Entertainment/Orion Pictures/De Laurentis (StudioCanal)
- Film/Program Grade: B+
- Video Grade: C+
- Audio Grade: B-
- Extras Grade: B+
[Editor’s Note: Like all 4K Ultra HD releases, this UK disc has no region coding. However, the regular Blu-ray included in the packaging is Region B only.]
Bill S. Preston, Esq. and Ted “Theodore” Logan (Alex Winter and Keanu Reeves) are two righteous young dudes living large in San Dimas, CA, circa 1988. They’ve got big dreams for their garage band, Wyld Stallyns, but can’t yet play their instruments. Hell, they can’t even pass high school history. Little does the pair know, however, their future is bright indeed. It turns out, Wyld Stallyns will one day write a song that will unite the world and save all of space and time... but only if they pass history, which means they need to get an A+ on their final report. To ensure this, an excellent due named Rufus (played by the late George Carlin) arrives from the future to give “The Great Ones” a little much-needed help. He leaves them a time machine with which they can travel through history to learn everything they need to know to ace the report. Instead, Bill & Ted decide kidnap a who-who of “historical personages” that includes Napoleon, Billy the Kid, Socrates, Sigmund Freud, Genghis Khan, Joan of Arc, Beethoven, and Abraham Lincoln, bringing them back to 1988 to do the talking for them. What could possibly go wrong?
Conceived by writers Chris Matheson and Ed Solomon, Bill & Ted’s Excellent Adventure actually reminds me a lot of Galaxy Quest (1999) in that both films are good-hearted, remarkably clever, and came seemingly out of the blue. Director Stephen Herek (Critters, Mr. Holland’s Opus) went for a Monty Python-style approach to the history plot here, keeping the proceedings goofy and fast moving. The film’s strength lies in its casting, with Reeves the breakout star. But he and Winters (previously known for a small role in Joel Schumacher’s The Lost Boys) have great chemistry. Scoring Carlin to play Rufus was a coup, and he’s supported by a terrific batch of mostly unknown character actors in the roles of the “historical personages” (Terry Camilleri in particular steals scene after scene as Napoleon). The film also offers cameos by 80s music notables, including Jane Wiedlin (of the Go-Go’s), Clarence Clemons (of Bruce Springsteen’s E Street Band), Martha Davis (of The Motels), and Fee Waybill (of The Tubes). The score by David Newman delivers credible rock/pop tones, with songs by the likes of Big Pig, Extreme, and Warrant added for good measure. Honestly, about the only thing that doesn’t hold up here is an ill-timed gay joke (the writers actually address this in their audio commentary on the disc, noting that it’s definitely not a choice they would make today). While the moment is certainly wince-inducing, the film quickly recovers and moves on. But given that it was made just 31 years ago, it’s also evidence of how far society has come in respecting LGBTQ issues since (and long may that progress continue).
Bill & Ted was originally shot on 35 mm photochemical film using Panavision cameras and anamorphic lenses. It was finished on film at the 2.39:1 aspect ratio for its theatrical release. For this new Ultra HD presentation, the film (presumably the original camera negative) has been scanned in 4K to create a new digital intermediate. StudioCanal’s UHD presentation includes an HDR10 high dynamic range grade. Unfortunately, there’s good news and bad news. The good news is that the added resolution does offer a notable increase in fine detail and texturing, though how much of an increase varies from shot to shot (some have soft focus, while optically composited shots are a little softer too). The bad news is, this is a remarkably lackluster HDR grade. Many shots are washed out looking (the tree canopy when Bill & Ted arrive in medieval Europe, for example, as well as the wide shots of Socrates addressing his audience) and the color isn’t nearly as rich and nuanced as one might hope. The presentation also has a slight teal push. Honestly, it looks like nobody who actually knew and worked on the film was involved in grading this. Compared to the 2016 Shout! Factory Blu-ray release (reviewed on The Bits here), it’s kind of shocking—the Shout! SDR grade is much better. Interestingly, Bill & Ted’s Excellent Adventure is also now available Digitally in 4K on Vudu, iTunes, and elsewhere without HDR. Comparing that image to this, the SDR grade is again more pleasing and accurate, exhibiting none of the contrast issues, nor the slight teal push. I’m not sure what happened here, but it’s very disappointing.
That disappointment continues to the audio as well. StudioCanal’s 4K release includes lossless 2.0 DTS-HD Master Audio in English, German, and French. The 2.0 mix preserves the original theatrical experience and is of fine quality. But the Shout! Factory Blu-ray also included a new (and superior) 5.1 DTS-HD MA mix that’s missing here. (It’s worth noting that the digital 4K offerings include the 5.1 audio as well.) Dialogue is clean, while music and sound effects are well mixed. There’s modest but natural low end. Again, the 2.0 isn’t bad. But it’s hard to figure why the 5.1 wasn’t included when it’s clearly available elsewhere. Note that optional subtitles are available in English SDH, German, and French.
StudioCanal’s 4K disc includes the following special features:
- Audio Commentary with star Alex Winter and producer Scott Kroopf
- Audio Commentary with writers Chris Matheson and Ed Solomon
The package also includes the film in 1080p on Blu-ray (coded for Region B and also mastered from the same 4K restoration, which means it has the same color and contrast issues), a disc that includes the two commentaries and adds the following:
- Time Flies When You’re Having Fun!: A Look Back at a Most “Excellent Adventure” (HD – 61:11)
- Score! An Interview with Guitarist Steve Vai (SD – 12:44)
- The Original Bill & Ted: In Conversation with Chris & Ed (SD – 20:13)
- Air Guitar Tutorial with Bjorn Turoque & The Rockness Monster (SD – 13:13)
- From Scribble to Script (HD gallery – 119 images)
- Linguistic Stylings of Bill & Ted (SD – 3:42)
- Hysterical Personages of Bill & Ted (SD – 15:26)
- Bill & Ted’s Excellent Adventures animated series episode (SD – 23:04)
- Radio Spots (HD – 4 spots – 2:40 in all)
- Stills & Artwork (HD gallery – 66 images)
Most of these extras are carried over from the Shout! Blu-ray and previous DVD releases of the film. The highlights are the two commentaries and the Time Flies documentary, but From Scribble to Script is good too. This (along with the other image gallery) appears to be exclusive to the StudioCanal release. It’s essentially a look at the handwritten original draft story/script for the film. All in all, this is a nice package of disc-based bonus content. All that’s missing from previously available extras are the 30-minute original “making of” documentary in SD and the film’s trailer. The StudioCanal release does add a paper insert promoting the new sequel, Bill & Ted Face the Music, as well as a booklet with liner notes by Hadley Freeman of The Guardian and the film’s original production notes. There is no Digital code.
Bill & Ted’s Excellent Adventure is a fun, good-hearted comedy that holds up surprising well (the aforementioned moment aside). Unfortunately, if you want to see it in 4K, you’re better served buying it digitally on iTunes or Vudu instead. You might also consider picking up Shout! Factory’s Bill & Ted’s Most Excellent Collection Blu-ray—which is returning to stores soon (click here)—as it includes the Bill & Ted’s Bogus Journey sequel film. Here’s hoping that Shout! might have the rights to release the complete trilogy in 4K at some point too (and with proper HDR grading). In any case, while this movie is most decidedly non-heinous, StudioCanal’s 4K A/V issues are just a little too bogus for my taste.
- Bill Hunt