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Featured Blu-ray / DVD Review: A-Team

December 25th, 2010

A-Team - Buy from Amazon: DVD or Blu-ray / Digital Copy Combo Pack

The A-Team is a show that a lot of children of the 80s grew up on. These same kids are probably the right age to be making major decisions at studios, so it should come as no surprise that it was adapted into a movie. A-Team should have been a sure hit this this past summer, but it never really caught on with audiences here, finishing with just over $75 million on a $110 million budget. It performed only marginally better internationally, while it will need strong home market numbers to break even. Does it deserve to find an audience on the home market? And is the Blu-ray worth picking up over just renting?

The Movie

The film starts in Mexico with John "Hannibal" Smith and Templeton "Face" Peck working together to take down a rogue general. The mission isn't going quite as planned, as Face decided it was a good idea to have sex with the general's wife. The general has decided to express his displeasure by lighting Face on fire. Hannibal needs to get to him ASAP and he tries to carjack the van owned by one Bosco Albert "B.A." Baracus. At first B.A. is unwilling to help, and even getting shot by Hannibal isn't enough to make him give up his van. However, when he learns Hannibal and Face are Rangers (he was a Ranger as well) he quickly changes his mind. After a quick rescue, they are still stuck south of the border and in need of a pilot to fly them back to the United States. That's where Captain H.M. "Howling Mad" Murdock comes in. The "Howling Mad" part is not an overstatement. He does manage to get them to the States safely, but in the process B.A. Is left dangling from the chopper, hence his fear of flying.

Flash forward many years and dozens of missions later, and the four of them comprise Alpha Team, or A-Team, and they are the best covert ops team the military has. They are in Iraq helping General Morrison with various missions. The latest involves a printing press that Iraqi insurgents are using to print billions of dollars of counterfeit money. Officially, Brock Pike and his Black Forest mercenaries are supposed to complete the mission, something Captain Charissa Sosa is quick to tell the A-Team. (In the past, she and Face were in a relationship and it didn't end well.) Despite this, Morrison gives his unofficial blessing to the team to take the first crack at it, and they are successful. However, when they get back to base, Morrison's hummer is destroyed and the plates are stolen by Pike and his men. Since their mission was unofficial, there's no paperwork to prove they were acting under orders, so they are locked up for ten years in separate prisons.

Six months later and an agent "Lynch" visits Hannibal in prison and explains that Pike has been seen in Germany with an unknown Arab, who appears to be Pike's backer, or at least the one interested in buying the plates. Hannibal then explains that not only does he already know this, he's got a better picture of Pike with his backer / buyer. He then makes a deal with Lynch: in exchange for clean record and reinstatement for the four of them, they will capture Pike and get the plates back. It's agreed, but first they have to break out of prison, and once they do, they will still be fugitives with Sosa and her team hunting them down.

That's enough of the plot. So how is the movie? Is it a successful adaptation? Is it a success in its own right? In both cases, the answer is yes and no. The show obviously takes many of its cues from the show, including character quirks (B.A.'s fear of flying) and plot format structure (building montage). If you were a fan of the original show, seeing the origins of the group from the time they met untill the adventure that left them outlaws is great. However, the group doesn't quite have the right chemistry. This doesn't have a real effect on the action scenes, but some of the more dramatic moments don't have the same impact they would otherwise have. Perhaps if the film was a huge hit, and there was a sequel, the cast would have gelled better as a group the second time around, but we will likely never know now.

As a stand-alone movie, it is a fun action ride with a few moments that will either be highlights or lowlights, depending on your point of view. For example, there's the, spoiler alert, tank flying scene that reminded me a lot of the fridge nuking scene in Indiana Jones and the Kingdom of the Crystal Skulls. Watching that scene, you could say, "Okay, it's going to be one of those movies." and either get into the logic defying action, or walk away. It depends on your personal taste. I was willing to get into it. On the other hand, I did have a problem with some of the twists. For instance, and this is a major, major spoiler, during his jail visit, Lynch shows Hannibal a blurry picture of Pike with his "Arab" buyer, then Hannibal shows him a much clearer version of the same picture. As soon as I saw that picture, I thought to myself, "He's not Arabic-- It's Morrison. It's Morrison and he Pike, and Lynch are all working together." Kind of takes the sting out of the big reveal.

Overall I would call it a effective summer blockbuster. In other words, it's a fun popcorn flick that you can watch and enjoy, as long as you don't get bogged down in some of the less plausible moments. And there are more than a few of those.

The Extras

I only have the Blu-ray, but it appears Fox is living by the philosophy, "the DVD is for renting, the Blu-ray is for buying." There are almost no extras on the DVD.

Extras on the Blu-ray start with a Picture-in-Picture track with the director, Joe Carnahan. It also keeps track of the various plans and who is doing what, as well as weapons and vehicles. Finally, there are frequent breaks from the movie to check in with the behind-the-scenes action. It's a very nice feature, unfortunately, it is only available on the theatrical cut and not the unrated extended edition. On a side note, "Unrated" is pure marketing and outside a couple F-bombs, there's nothing here that would make it an R-rated film.

Next up are nine minutes of deleted and extended scenes, mostly extended scenes. There are a couple with 20 seconds of additional footage in a two-minute scene, but it is better to have the context. There are seven minutes of outtakes with the usual flubbed lines and goofing around on set. There's a 90-second montage set to the show's theme song, which is rather useless. On the other hand, the 30-minute making of featurette is quite in-depth. There are 23 minutes of character profiles, which has most of the main cast talking about their characters. Several special effect shots are given a before and after look, with audio commentary.

That's a good selection of mostly worthwhile extras.

As for the film's technical presentation, it's very solid. Given its $100 million production budget, expectations are high, and they are met, mostly. There's some minor issues with grain and some scenes that are a little soft on the details, but I'm not 100% sure if that's an issue with the transfer or a stylistic choice. Otherwise, the colors are good, as are the black levels, and in most scenes the details are very sharp. The audio is loud with a solid bass component, while your surround sound speakers will get a workout.

The Blu-ray costs 33%, at least according to the list price, but right now on it's just $13, which is significantly cheaper than the DVD. Even 33% more is a bargain, given all the added features.

The Verdict

Exploding cannon balls made from biscuits and gunpowder. In the original show, there was an episode where The A-Team made exploding cannon balls by mixing biscuit dough and gunpowder then baking it in an oven. Anyone who thinks this movie isn't realistic enough was probably never a fan of the original show.

Yes, A-Team does stretch bounds of reason on occasion, but if you understand that going in, it is mostly a very fun ride and for fans of summer action flicks, it is definitely worth checking out. The DVD is nearly featureless and is only worth a rental. On the other hand, the Blu-ray / Digital Copy Combo Pack is worth picking up, especially if you get it as part of the Boxing Day week sales.

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Filed under: Video Review, The A-Team