Back when Blu-Ray made its entrance just under ten years ago, I kept an intent eye out for this. And now even though we’re into the 4K generation, I suppose it’s better late than never to get another release. Fabulous Fillms were the first to distribute Universal’s remaster of The A-Team on Blu-Ray and they sent ManlyMovie this box set last week, limited edition version. I have to say, I had a blast binging on this over the weekend, a dual kick of nostalgia and clean, deep colours and detail. It’s pretty much been worth the wait.
Each episode of The A-Team is like a mini-western. The standard format would see some townsfolk roughed up by local bullies, then seek help from a group of ex-special forces soldier hardasses, who arrived in a slick GMC Vandura to even the odds. What an amazing premise, probably even more interesting that someone hasn’t really used it again in some way to positive effect – the less said about the movie the better. I feel that The A-Team has endured better than its 1980s contemporaries – although most of them are classics too – because the central characters have such strong charisma. Each character’s eccentricity reverberates off the other – even when there’s no action on screen, simple conversations on the road, in the van, are so much fun and the actors are clearly enjoying themselves.
Dwight Schultz was Jim Carrey before Jim Carrey was Jim Carrey, the perfect fit for Howling Mad Murdoch, who by the way, was a late casting addition. Dirk Benedict, the smooth talking bastard, easily owned the role of Faceman, alias Templeton Peck. Mr. T had just come off his fearsome role as Clubber Lang and was possibly the most popular as B.A. Baracus. Finally, George Peppard, a thespian, mediated the motley crew as Col. Smith, using his acting force and skills to balance the show between farce, intelligent thriller and kinetic action show. It could and probably would have failed as a bad comedy without him.
The A-Team is and was a manly TV show. Don’t take my word for it, ask Dirk Benedict, who says that it was the “last truly masculine TV show”. “The feminization of TV is complete”, mused Lt. Peck. “It’s written for women, written by women and produced by women”. Benedict also says that men only talk on TV how women would like them to talk: “Guys talk how women would like them to talk (on TV)”. Benedict reminisced about how much fun they had as a foursome on set, smoking cigars and getting their way with regards to proper manly etiquette being shown on screen. Of course this led to allegations of sexism behind the scenes, but who is to say these weren’t overblown.
Now, that’s not to say that the show was perfect. Mention The A-Team and almost always someone is going to mention the fact that no-one ever got shot, it’s one of the first things they remember. And it’s true, there was no swearing either (‘scuzzballs’ being a favourite put-down of Peppard’s). But the show manages to thrive despite these shortcomings. It also tackles a rot that existed in the United States at the time of disowning soldiers, specifically Vietnam Veterans. Here, they are the heroes, betrayed by their superiors and up to a more positive scrutiny and understanding… even if Hulk Hogan had to lend a hand.
By series five, things fizzled out. They were running out of ideas and had to confront that they were going to the well once too often with some things. The confrontation with the status quo had to happen, along with a terrible new synth intro to try and ‘modernize’ the show. It’s not bad, season five, it’s just that the first four seasons, especially 2-4, are very, very good. So I wonder if there is anyone out there who has not given this show a chance. If there is, they don’t know what they’re missing. What classic, well-rounded TV show with eternal characters. I really, really love this show and rate it 10/10.
Now as for the new release, something odd struck me at first. Each episode of The A-Team has an intro montage, a sort of mini-trailer for what is to come. The first episode I watched from this set from season one looked like something from an old DVD. Very grainy and meek. I thought man, Universal have scammed us all and have re-released their old encode with some spit-shine. The fact that the iconic intro didn’t look too impressive kept the worry going. But then the episode itself began.
The difference was at once unquestionable.
The A-Team, now, on Blu-Ray, looks extremely good, and often stunning. There’s a weighty feel to everything, like there’s a new depth not before realised. Not only is the picture sharp (see screen grabs), but the colour has been boosted, without feeling intrusive. The blacks are deep and inky, you can see the treads on B.A.’s van, which by the way, looks better than ever here. Maybe it’s a placebo effect, but it was almost like it was enhancing the fun even more, somehow.
To relay just how strong this remaster is, each episode weighs in at just under 9GB. That’s quite big for a 45 minute show, which is proven by the bitrate which goes quite high. I clocked it at its highest at 40MPBS. This is where Blu-Ray and hard media still comes into their own, because while services like Amazon offer streaming 1080p stuff, due to bandwidth compression, you’re never going to equal something being read by a lazer.
Oh and the audio is impressive too. Now, it’s DTS-HD Master Audio, I noticed this crisp and clear audio was rating at 2MPBS. For comparison’s sake, this is higher than many of those shitty pirate rips you see these days for entire movies, video included. So as far as audio/visual goes, we have it real good here with The A-Team, and just wait until you watch it on a TV with upscaling 4K technology. For fans of the show, the remaster of the episodes alone is worth every damn dime.
As far as extras go, the first release was quite lacking for me and it’s my only sore complaint about that release. Here again we carry over with two featurettes, a ten minute mini doc with the late Stephen J. Cannell, where he gives some interesting trivia. Such as the inspiration for the show being a real ‘A-Team’ rescuing a senator’s relative from a Turkish prison, with Mad Max 2 also being a heavy inspiration. The second is a show called The Great 80’s Flashback, a half hour documentary about 1980’s television.
Fun in its own right, covering the likes of The A-Team and Miami Vice, but also going slightly off topic with stuff like Murder, She Wrote. I’m not sure where these are from, they’re new to me (unless the Cannell feature was on the DVD set ten years ago and I don’t remember), but they’re old, 4:3 and 576p. I think they missed an opportunity here, a full blown 60 minute retrospective and some commentary would’ve pushed this to a 10/10. Even the feature Bring Back The A-Team would’ve been nice.
With this limited edition, commentary from Dwight Schultz and Dirk Benedict (Murdoch and Face) is added. And it’s not some lazy hit and run deal either. While there are too many episodes for them to cover, they do put in around 6-7 hours of commentary. They’re also not phoning it in and share an obvious chemistry talking to each other. It’s a lot of fun listening to these two funny men going over select episodes and sharing insight.
The release also contains a limited edition signed collector’s card, but only 1,000 copies like this are available, so you’d better be quick.
At any rate, this show is a winner. It gets the meat and potatoes stuff right, the remaster is heavyweight stuff and all seasons, including the first, have survived in pristine condition.