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The A-Team Blu-ray Review

The A-Team (2010) movie poster The A-Team

Theatrical Release: June 11, 2010 / Running Time: 117 Minutes (Theatrical), 134 Minutes (Unrated Extended Cut) / Rating: PG-13 (Theatrical), Unrated (Extended)

Director: Joe Carnahan / Writers: Joe Carnahan, Brian Bloom, Skip Woods (screenplay); Frank Lupo, Stephen J. Cannell (characters)

Cast: Liam Neeson (Colonel Hannibal Smith), Bradley Cooper (Lieutenant "Faceman" Peck), Jessica Biel (Charissa Sosa), Quinton "Rampage" Jackson (B.A. Baracus), Sharlto Copley (Captain H.M. Murdock), Patrick Wilson (Lynch), Gerald McRaney (General Russell Morrison), Henry Czerny (Director McCready), Yul Vazquez (General Javier Tuco), Brian Bloom (Brock Pike), Maury Sterling (Gammons), Terry Chen (Ravech), Omari Hardwick (Chopshop Jay), David Hugghins (Oskar Shunt), Jacob Blair (Agent Blair), Rad Daly (Agent Daly), Kyle Riefsnyder (Agent Kyle), Corey Burton (Narrator), Dirk Benedict (Pensacola Prisoner Milt), Dwight Schultz (German Doctor #1), Jon Hamm (Lynch - uncredited)

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By Kelvin Cedeno

Turning a television series into a feature film is a tricky affair. There are different demands for the two mediums, and what works in one doesn't always work in the other. This becomes an even greater concern when you're dealing with an older series that requires a new film cast. While some of these types of adaptations have been successful (such as 1991's The Addams Family and 2000's Charlie's Angels),
others haven't been quite so lucky (1998's Lost in Space, 2005's Bewitched). The 2010 movie The A-Team falls into the latter group.

It's hard to say why the film wasn't the smash hit Fox had been hoping for. It had a built-in fanbase, recognizable actors, and the type of over-the-top action that summer moviegoers flock to in droves. I can come up with several reasons that don't seem like much individually, but taken as a whole probably contributed to the film's tepid reception at the box office. For one thing, while it had a popular source, fans of the original 1980s TV series probably felt this was too far removed from what they'd want out of an A-Team film. Secondly, it just so happened to open the same day as the similarly rebooted, out-of-left-field hit The Karate Kid. Perhaps the biggest reason why The A-Team didn't do better, though, is because audiences didn't see anything special or enticing in the ad campaigns. I wish I could say it's a case of poor advertising, but unfortunately, I found little noteworthy about the film itself.

Face (Bradley Cooper), Murdock (Sharlto Copley), Hannibal (Liam Neeson), and B.A. (Quinton "Rampage" Jackson) make sure their plan comes together.

The A-Team takes a concept merely hinted at in the TV show's opening and turns it into a full-fledged origin story. We're introduced to our four leads in self-contained prologue. John "Hannibal" Smith (Liam Neeson) and Templeton "Face" Peck (Bradley Cooper) are part of a special operations force of the army. During this initial adventure, the two friends enlist the help of the surly B.A. Baracus (Quinton "Rampage" Jackson) and the eccentric H.M. Murdock (District 9's Sharlto Copley). Despite their extreme differences, the four establish a bond.

Fast-forward eight years, and we rejoin the group in the present day. CIA Agent Lynch (Patrick Wilson) seeks help from Hannibal in recovering U.S. treasury plates that have been stolen in Iraq. While General Morrison (Gerald McRaney) warns Hannibal not to carry out this mission, the group sets out to do so anyway. They recover the plates and the counterfeit money produced. Immediately upon returning to base, however, the team finds Brock Pike (Brian Bloom) from the Black Forest division setting off explosives on all the goods. What's worse, Morrison is killed in the process. Unable to locate Lynch or Pike, the team is convicted and imprisoned now that the only other witness to the mission is dead. However, this doesn't stop them from breaking out and searching for Pike in an effort to clear their name. Captain Charissa Sosa (Jessica Biel) is hot on their trail during all of this, which complicates matters because she is Face's ex-lover.

The above synopsis is merely scratching the surface of what happens. The plot is rather convoluted, and I still don't think I fully understand every plot point even after seeing this three times. That should be a good thing in some respects as big summer action films are notorious for having threadbare plots. Perhaps the best thing I can say for The A-Team is that it's at least creative. The story takes all sorts of twists and turns and shows more of a thought process than usual. The action sequences aren't straightforward, either. Each is made up of a series of insane plans that cause a domino effect with one another. Critics have felt these aspects are far too over-the-top, but they didn't bother me at all. The film even acknowledges how preposterous its schemes are and doesn't try to sell them as anything else.

Faceman (Bradley Cooper) remains defiant, despite his imprisonment in a stack of tires. Jessica Biel portrays Charissa Sosa, whose pursuit of the A-Team (including her ex, Face) has unexpected consequences.

Yet even with a fairly complex storyline and action sequences that think outside the box, I still come away from The A-Team with a "so what?" attitude. There's nothing that the film does notably wrong. The cast is up to the task. Every actor gives his character a distinguishable personality without coming across as an imitation of the original series performers. Sharlto Copley in particular surprises in how he steals virtually scene he's in. The visual effects on the whole get the job done, though the amount of green screen work is obvious. I just can't help but feel that there should be more of a spark with all of the talent involved.

For all intents and purposes, there have been five ensemble action films this year. Of those five, The A-Team sits squarely in the middle for me.
I had more fun with The Losers and Red, but I was definitely more engaged here than by the bland Predators or the dumb exploits of The Expendables. The first two had a sense of freestyle mischief that The A-Team tries to capture but can't because it's bogged down by an overly complicated plot.

In the end, while the film technically shows more promise than others of its kin, it still feels ordinary. It's not a bad way to spend a couple of hours, but as soon as it's over, it's forgotten. That may be fine for some, but it left me wanting more.

Note that The A-Team's Blu-ray includes both the theatrical cut and an unrated extended cut that adds 17 minutes' worth of footage. The amount of footage varies throughout. Some scenes have literally one new shot added, other times it's the entire scene. Among the more noteworthy additions are a scene in which four privates are hired to pose as the A-Team during their absence, more scenes with Sosa trying to track down the team, Murdock showing his imperviousness to electroshock therapy, and two scuffles with Face that paint him in a more aggressive light. Also worth mentioning is that two end-credit codas with original "A-Team" cast members have been reinserted into their original context. A few F-bombs are thrown in for good measure, but oddly, the two instances from the theatrical cut where profanity is drowned out by loud sounds remain that way here. Overall, while the additions aren't vital, they do make the film feel a bit more complete, and benefit the characters of Face and Sosa.

The A-Team Blu-ray Disc cover art -- click to buy from Amazon.com Blu-ray Details

2.35:1 Widescreen
DTS-HD 5.1 (English), Dolby Digital 5.1 (Spanish, French)
Subtitles: English SDH, Spanish
Not Closed Captioned; Extras Not Subtitled or Captioned
Release Date: December 14, 2010
Suggested Retail Price: $39.99
Two single-sided discs (1 BD-50 & 1 DVD-5 DVD-ROM)
Eco-Friendly Blue Keepcase in Cardboard Slipcover
Also available on DVD ($29.98 SRP)

VIDEO and AUDIO

The A-Team retains its widescreen theatrical aspect ratio of 2.35:1. It's becoming more and more difficult to write about Blu-ray transfers for big budget products such as this when the results are so strong on such a regular basis. This one's no exception. Sharpness and detail are exquisitely rendered throughout, showing a nice level of fine film grain. Color timing leans on the warmer side of things for the most part, resulting in everyone looking exceptionally tan. That look is intentional and replicated well here without any of the potential problems of it. No digital or print artifacts are to be found here. No one should have any problems with this handsome presentation.

The DTS-HD 5.1 soundtrack is even better. Make no mistake about it: this is a loud film. Every scene is filled with an onslaught of effects that are mixed dynamically to take full advantage of the surround sound field. Even in scenes where gunfire and explosions aren't taking center stage, simple sound effects like phone ringers and table items moved around have a heightened quality to them. Ambience is notable throughout, particularly during a busy airport sequence. Almost miraculously, dialogue manages to make itself heard clearly in the midst of all this and manages to show some directionality against the filling score. Anyone looking for a new title to show off their home entertainment system will be pleased with what's here.

Director/co-writer Joe Carnahan reviews a scene with Liam Neeson on the set of "The A-Team."

BONUS FEATURES, MENUS and PACKAGING

The Blu-ray's supplements begin with the exclusive "The Devil's in the Details: Inside the Action with Joe Carnahan." The foundation of this special viewing mode is an audio commentary by the director/co-writer. When he's not doing that, he talks about everything else, including mapping out the complicated story elements, working with the actors, achieving certain stunts and visual effects, and how this new film compares to the original series.
His comments manage to toggle back and forth between entertainment and information, satisfying both ways.

Every once in a while, we'll cut to Carnahan himself recording the commentary while the film still plays on a projected wall behind him. During these points, a pop-up window will appear in the foreground displaying behind-the-scenes footage that complements his comments. Also throughout playback, the user has the option to select certain weapons to learn more about them. Finally, the five crazy plans executed throughout the film are broken down step by step as they unfold so that we know who's executing what part and how many steps they have left. The experience as a whole is fairly interesting, though the branching segments with Carnahan don't appear as often as they could.

Next up are six deleted scenes (9:04) that didn't make it into the extended cut. Only one of these (a quiet moment of reflection between Hannibal and Face) is a complete scene. The others are either gags or lines of dialogue cut from existing scenes. Some of them still have green screen effects work left unfinished which might explain why they weren't reinserted into the new cut.

A gag reel (7:18) follows. It's exactly what you'd expect from this kind of movie. What makes it a little more interesting than usual is the quick wit and improvisation of the actors at some of the mishaps that occur. Still, it's more mildly amusing than downright hilarious.

"A-Team Theme Mash-Up Montage" (1:36) is a music video of different film shots edited to a lengthy version of the television show theme (rescored by Alan Silvestri). The abundant sound effects that go off during the clip don't allow much in the way of appreciation for the score, though.

"Plan of Attack" (28:39) is the disc's main behind-the-scenes featurette. There's no real structure to the piece as it hops from topic to topic. Among the discussions are how familiar each actor was with the series, the shaping of the screenplay, the staging of the elaborate action sequences, and just some of the random onset chaos that occurred. While some of the remarks merely express how fun everything is, quite a bit of information about the shoot is divulged. That along with abundant behind-the-scenes footage makes this a reasonably concise featurette.

Five smaller featurettes make up "Character Chronicles" (23:10). "Liam Neeson: When a Plan Comes Together" has the actor discussing his approach to the character and comparing the new and old A-Teams. "Bradley Cooper: Fully Automatic" looks at Cooper's weapon training and some of the stunts he pulled for the film. In "On Set with Rampage Jackson", we learn how much of a goofball the mixed martial arts fighter actually is and how much he learned during the shoot. For something more tongue-in-cheek, there's "On Set with Sharlto Copley", which shows Copley acting like a prima donna to unimpressed crew members. Finally, "The B-Team" focuses on Jessica Biel and the mischief she and the actors portraying the agents get into. The tidbits provided are pretty rudimentary, but the behind-the-scenes clips are fun to watch.

Visual effects supervisor James E. Price provides a commentary for "Visual Effects Before and After" (6:10). Here, several different shots are stripped down layer by layer as Price explains what's computer-generated, what's digitally erased, and what's simply composited. The visuals and brevity of the piece keep it from getting too dry, and this turns out to be a decent look at some of the more complicated effects shots.

Finally, the supplements wrap up with the theatrical trailer (2:25), something too many studios deny new releases.

The disc opens with promos for Digital Copy, Wall Street: Money Never Sleeps, FX, and Wild Target.

On DVD, both cuts of The A-Team are offered on one disc with seamless branching. The only additional bonus features are the audio from Carnahan's commentary, the "A-Team Theme Mash-Up Montage", and the trailer. It's another case of a studio making the Blu-ray more enticing by leaving off extras that could easily fit on the DVD.

The Blu-ray's main menu is designed just as other Fox titles. A montage of film clips plays in the background while the pop-up menu opens from the bottom up, displaying each submenu selection one at a time in a confined box. In an equally annoying move, the disc doesn't allow for easy access to either cut. At the start of the disc, you're given the option of selecting which cut you want, and the menu loads up for it. If you decide you wish to access the other version, doing so causes the menu to reload all over again even though the options are the same. It's clunky, and the options for both cuts should've just been integrated into a single menu.

As per most Fox new release Blu-rays, this one also includes a digital copy of the film on an otherwise empty DVD-ROM for portable devices.

Both discs come housed in an eco-friendly blue keepcase. This case slides in and out of a cardboard slipcover that has nothing noteworthy whatsoever; it's just the sleeve art printed on cardboard without any added effect. The only insert is the activation code for the digital copy.

Face (Bradley Cooper), Murdock (Sharlto Copley), Hannibal (Liam Neeson), and B.A. Baracus (Quinton "Rampage" Jackson) race into action as The A-Team.

CLOSING THOUGHTS

The A-Team has all the right elements to become something special: a solid cast, a story filled with twists and turns, and over-the-top-action delivering things we haven't seen before. Yet even with all of that, it doesn't come together to form any kind of dazzling experience. It's competent and moderately entertaining, but ultimately forgettable.

Fox's Blu-ray gives the film perfect video and audio that should make every home theater enthusiast ecstatic. The supplements are also pretty decent, highlighted by the special viewing mode and a slightly more satisfying extended cut. Those looking for a passable way to kill some time can rent this with expectations kept in check. Those looking for something similar but with more flair that's easier to digest would be better off checking out graphic novel adaptations The Losers or Red.

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Reviewed December 23, 2010.



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and Fox Home Entertainment. Unauthorized reproduction prohibited.