The A-Team Review

The following film review is taken from Kevin Gilvear's The A-Team Cinema Review which conveniently reflects my own opinion of the film exactly.

They’re Back! Foley, Doyle, Tiger, The Jewellery Man: Wanted for a crime they didn’t commit, and now surviving as soldiers of fortune. If you have a problem and if no one else can help, and if you can find them (how did people find them?), maybe you can hire The A-Team. Ratta-tata-tatata - explosions, jeeps flipping, baddies flying all over the place.

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In actual fact this isn’t so much about the members of the “Alpha Team” helping out others from the kindness of their own hearts, but more themselves as they attempt to clear their names after being charged and sentenced over the death of their General (Gerald McRaney), the disappearance of counterfeit plates and the destruction of billions of dollars worth of false currency that they were charged to protect. And for the start of what should hopefully follow some sequels in which they can then go onto rescuing kidnapped daughters, putting blackmailers in their place, or protecting land from greedy ranchers, it certainly kicks off promisingly enough.

And let’s face it, it would be pretty difficult to balls up an A-Team feature film now wouldn’t it? It’s not like the series was ever highly regarded for its storytelling. Joe Carnahan’s big budget update, which now uproots early events to Iraq, works its shtick of convoluted twists and turns involving several parties stabbing each other in the back, while the A-Team try to keep one step ahead of the game. It retains familiar supporting names from the series, which is bound to please fans, while the throwing in of some new faces, such as Jessica Biel’s disgruntled pursuer/love interest, seems to be a way to appeal to a larger demographic. At two hours in length it does run slightly long on account of the set-up, and the narrative subsequently employing so many familiar plot devices that it’s not too difficult to see the way in which the signposts have been planted.

However, it’s functional as an aid to the undeniably marvellous visuals and the commendable performances based on beloved characters whom it would seem impossible to replicate. That’s undoubtedly where the main feeling of trepidation came from upon the film’s announcement - whether or not 20th Century Fox could assemble a quartet that could match the idiosyncratic personalities of the original series’ heroes, without resorting to all out parody. Here our team seems to revel in its destructiveness - evidenced in the frequent jovial death-defying antics and humorous banter amidst gun fights and explosions - yet despite a few wry smiles and winks to the camera there’s also an inherent respect for what the characters stand for. In a slight departure to the television series, Liam Neeson’s no-nonsense Hannibal Smith and Bradley Cooper’s smooth-talking Face take most of the screen time, being set up early on as the main founders of Alpha Team, while B.A. and Howling Mad Murdoch are drafted in moments later to flesh out its origins. It’s the latter two players who surprise the most. Copley, exhibiting a deft touch for manic comedy which is suitably tailored for the part of an ace pilot who happens to have suicidal/fearless tendencies, has some absolutely cracking lines (including a delightful one which I hope is a deliberate dig at 3-D cinema), while Quinton “Rampage” Jackson has the toughest role in taking on the franchise’s most iconic character. Admirably, despite mimicking some of Mr. T’s most famous catchphrases, Jackson does enough to make the role of B.A. his own, not just on account of his tough as nails exterior, but also in bringing out a touch of humanity and restraint as his character goes through bouts of self-doubt and realization. And, like the series, it’s the overall dynamic of our four leads that keeps our interest afloat.

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In bringing The A-Team to a new audience there are some differences; the action is a tad more violent, with an overall cartoon-ish quality. Everything is cranked up to eleven, with dizzying displays of hand-to-hand combat - slightly marred by some choppy editing - and extravagant set-pieces which, naturally, the TV show could barely muster. Yet throughout all of this carnage Carnahan finds time to throw in several nods toward the original series, subsequently injecting some much-needed lighter moments. Sure enough all of the expected traits are here, from Murdoch being busted out of hospital, to B.A. being unwittingly thrown on a plane, and the team putting together some fancy gadgets with limited resources. Alan Silvestri also has the decency to work in Mike Post’s classic theme tune (which would have been criminal not to really) to ensure that those who grew up in the eighties watching the show can come away satisfied knowing that justice has been served.

“Overkill is underrated” utters Hannibal during one of his latest schemes, and that’s about all you need in summarising the entire feature. He’s right, even if it’s considered for better or worse. The action is tremendously epic, dare I say even original at times (come on, a flying tank?!?) and the comedy is quick and sharp, but so too does it feel slightly overlong. Thankfully the cast is well equipped to take on the roles, doing enough to keep us smiling all the way through and crossing our fingers for a sequel.

Explosive Extended Edition

Included exclusively for the Blu-ray release is an Extended Cut of The A-Team which runs about fifteen minutes longer than the already over-long Theatrical Cut and is mostly padded out by extended scenes and a few additional scenes here and there. For a full rundown the good people over at Movie-Censorship.com have done a detailed breakdown here.

Personally I think the Extended Edition offers nothing over the original beyond the curiosity of seeing one or two of the deleted moments that Joe Carnahan describes in his audio commentary and having the cameos of Dirk Benedict and Dwight Schultz put back into the main film rather than as Easter Eggs after the end credits. It is simply too long, and respectful cameos aside it's extremely clear why these new scenes/shots were left on the cutting room floor- it takes almost fifty minutes for the A-Team's backstory to play out for god's sake!

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UK Censorship?

Fans may be familiar with the extremely minor audio changes Fox made to the UK Theatrical Release of The A-Team to ensure a 12A certificate was guaranteed. Basically in the original cut of the film, as shown in U.S. theatres, there are two points in the opening act when Face is taunting General Tuco after gaining the upper hand from the jaws of death: The first time is when he's just been rescued by the arrival of Hannibal and B.A in the van and he shouts "Adios Mother-fu...." before the van's engine cuts him off. The second time is when Hannibal reveals to Tuco that he's just entered U.S airspace and Face once again shouts "Adios Mother-fu...." over the radio, this time being cut off by the arrival of a fighter jet. For the U.K release Fox decided to play ridiculously safe and remove the fu..... part of what Face was saying, which I think all but the most anal of film fans would agree is a total case of non-censorship given Face never finishes his line anyway.

The problem is that this Blu-Ray release now of course contains an Explosive Extended Edition, which if Movie-Censorship are to be believed is supposed to re-instate the full F-bomb to Face's dialogue on both occasions, but it seems Fox has failed to do that for this UK release, so Face still only says the "Mother" part of his smarmy jibe. Again this is no great loss, but bizarrely the F-Bomb is dropped later on in the Extended Edition by another character and that has not been edited out of this release!

Presentation

For the most part this 1080p AVC presentation no doubt accurately reflects how the digital intermediate must look, but it has an Achilles Heel in that there's an Extended Edition and over one-hour's worth of 1080p extra features overloading this BD50 disc, resulting in an average bit rate of 18Mbps for the main feature which buckles under the pressure more times than I would have liked. Blocking and banding can be seen and is fairly prevalent in darker regions/sequences, but if you have your display's brightness calibrated accurately then hopefully you won't be distracted by much of this in regular motion. This one niggle aside The A-Team looks absolutely lush in HD, with a beautifully vivid colour scheme, sharp clarity and just a thin slither of grain throughout. Skintones look accurate, which basically means everyone looks sun-kissed courtesy of the British Columbia summer, and both brightness and contrast levels are nicely balanced; with strong black levels and solid shadow detail. It's just a shame they didn't split the two versions or extra features across two discs, or better yet drop the redundant Extended Edition all together!

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The film's original audio comes in the form of a English DTS-HD MA 5.1 track that can sound a little hard edged and inconsistent in switching from shot to shot at times, which I believe is down to the original sound recording rather than this lossless presentation, as otherwise it performs admirably well: Bass is forceful and deep, the sound field is broad and expressive and the fidelity of each element of the audio is very satisfying. The A-Team may not sound quite as aggressive or smooth as most big-budget contemporary popcorn films in HD but you won't find many complaints about this track that's for sure. Also present on the disc are the following lossy audio tracks: English Descriptive Audio Dolby Digital 5.1, Castellano DTS 5.1, Czech Dolby Digital 5.1, Hungarian Dolby Digital 5.1, and Turkish Dolby Digital 5.1.

Optional subtitles are provided in English (For the Deaf and Hard of Hearing), Castellano, Czech, Hungarian, and Turkish.

Triple Play Edition

Fox proudly proclaim that this edition of The A-Team "plays everywhere" and to ensure that they've included in this Blu-ray release not only the HD presentation on a single BD-50 disc, but also the retail R2uk DVD and a third disc containing a Digital Copy of the film (both of which contain the Theatrical Version only). Overkill? Maybe, but then Hannibal would tell you that "Overkill is under-rated" afterall, so that seems to be the philosophy Fox Home Entertainment have adopted here. Also included in this set are four sturdy character art cards that fit inside the slipcase alongside the plastic case.

As for the DVD it offers a strong enough 2.35:1 progressive standard-definition presentation of the film, with a pleasing colour scheme, accurate brightness and contrast levels and a solid level of detail and black levels; but right across the board it is simply inferior to the Blu-ray presentation: Colours look flatter, encoding niggles like mosquito noise are prevalent, and edge enhancement is noticeable throughout. There's an Englsh Dolby Digital 5.1 soundtrack that also sounds fine for a SD presentations, with a healthy amount of action across the entire sound field, solid bass and crisp, clear dialogue, but it too cannot match the range of the lossless HD counterpart.

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Extras

The list of extras on this Blu-ray release may not seem all that comprehensive given the effort gone into providing multiple formats for the main feature, but that's mostly because the primary extra feature: an audio + video commentary by Director: Joe Carnahan is described more as a look inside the action on the back of the box. There is in fact much more to this feature than that, so let's start by looking at it in more detail:

The Devil's in the Details: Inside the Action with Joe Carnahan
This is basically a clone of Sony's Maximum Movie Mode, ie: a director audio commentary that occasionally switches to a video feed of Joe Carnahan sitting in a studio with the film projected on a large screen behind him. From here he talks in depth about how the currently playing scene was realised, which can include behind-the-scenes footage and video graphics to aide in the breakdown. In addition to Carnahan's input is an interactive "dashboard" that astutely fills up the black borders of this 2.35:1 presentation; at the top are a number of square frames which fill up with the images of certain weaponry that appear at some point in the film, and when each frame contains an image you can select it with your remote to bring up a small pop-up window that displays information and statistics on the weapon in question. At the bottom of the frame are five plans lettered A-E which represent the five major plans enacted by the A-Team throughout the film, when these plans play out an indicator in the bottom right corner of the screen counts off the stages of each plan one by one. This is little more than a boringly obvious indicator and holds no actual informative value.

Deleted Scenes (09min:05secs, 1080p)
Six short deleted/extended scenes, which you can choose to play individually or as a nine minute montage. There's nothing noteworthy here other than a truly bizarre cameo by Dalip "Great Khali" Singh during B.A.'s garage smackdown intro.

Gag Reel (07m:19s, 1080p)
A standard gag reel with lots of on set banter and foul language, gotta love the studios for making their feature films as bland and family-friendly as possible then overloading the home video release with adult-orientated extras!

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A-Team Theme Mash-up Montage (01m:36s, 1080p)
A redundant montage of smashy-explodey clips from the film set to the good old-fashioned A-Team theme.

Plan of Attack (28m:39s, 1080p)
Once you get past the usual backslapping routine then this is a pretty good Making Of, helped greatly by the excess of varied action sequences crammed into the main film giving it plenty of topics to cover, which this featurette does with the usual mixture of cast & crew interviews and behind-the-scenes footage. The general impression this documentary exudes is that Joe Carnahan tried to make the shoot as fun as possible and there was a shed load of CGI used on even the practical effects/stunts.

Character Chronicles (23m:11s, 1080p)
More like Actor Chronicles as these five featurettes each focus more on the actors playing each member of the A-Team and Jessica Alba than the characters themselves. Liam Neeson's featurette does discuss the differences between the film Hannibal and the TV original, but the other "profiles" tend to have random themes; like Bradley Cooper's profile focusing on his weapons training and how good he got at handling his beloved M4 and Sharlto's profile spoofing his off-screen persona.

Visual Effects Before and After with Commentary by Visual Effects Supervisor James E. Price (06m:11s, 1080p)
There's no shortage of CGI shots in The A-Team and James E. Price's rapid-fire commentary chugs along non-stop until a good few of these digital shots are laid bare, with before and after animatics showing how they were built up.

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Theatrical Trailer (02m:25s, 1080p)
Yer common, garden variety theatrical trailer presented in full HD.

Fox Trailers (07m:19s, 1080p)
When you first play the disc HD trailers for Knight and Day, Wall Street: Money Never Sleeps, and Unstoppable play; they're easily skipped with the remote but you cannot play these trailers from the main menu.

Live Extras
There are two options here: WHAT'S NEW takes you to Fox Entertainment's online hub where you can download clips and trailers for a plethora of Fox releases (The A-Team included). LIVE LOOKUP plays the film with a dashboard from which you can access IMDB info on the cast & crew as you watch the film.

Overall

An enjoyable remake is given a strong Blu-ray release from Fox Home Entertainment that covers all the bases as far as secondary playability is concerned. The only real niggle I have is that the HD presentation is bogged down by the completely needless addition of a longer Extended Edition.

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Film
7 out of 10
Video
8 out of 10
Audio
8 out of 10
Extras
6 out of 10
Overall

7

out of 10

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