'A-Team' gets new life on film

Several years ago, Yahoo polled 1,000 TV viewers and asked them what classic show they'd like to see revived. The surprise winner was a program that had ended its run nearly 20 years earlier, and was probably best known for one of it stars, a Mohawked black man wearing enough jewelry to pay off the national debt, whose favorite catchphrase was the iconic "I pity the fool!"

Yep, Mr. T and "The A-Team" remained favorites long after their supposed sell-by dates, which is a major reason why, after almost a decade in development, a big-screen version of the series opens Friday. And, as "A-Team" director Joe Carnahan told the Los Angeles Times, this is not "the easy, breezy Cover Girl version of 'The A-Team.' We're not making an homage to 'The A-Team.' We're taking the base story of four guys wrongfully convicted of a crime. That's the point of departure."

So what else is new? When it comes to source material, Hollywood has been looking to TV since the boob tube became a mass medium. The Oscar-winning 1955 film "Marty" was based on a TV drama, as was the classic 1957 film "12 Angry Men." From "Maverick" to "The X-Files," "The Untouchables" to "The Twilight Zone," the film industry has continued to raid TV for ideas.

The reasons for this love affair are obvious.

"Executives are always afraid of spending money on an unknown quantity," says film critic Marshall Fine of Hollywoodandfine.com. "That's why movies based on old TV shows are so popular — because there's a huge audience who knows exactly what you're talking about when you mention the title."

But given the number of truly awful TV adaptations, the journey from small to large screen can be perilous. "You have to look at the movie as a reinvention," says "A-Team" producer Jules Daly. "If you think you have to replicate the show, you're going to lose. And sometimes the cheesier the show, it gives you more to go with. You embrace the cheese, or find what was solid within."

In the original "A-Team," which ran from 1983 to 1987, George Peppard (John "Hannibal" Smith), Dirk Benedict ("Face" Peck), Dwight Schultz ("Howlin' Mad" Murdock) and the inimitable Mr. T (B.A. Baracus) starred as Vietnam-era Army Special Forces soldiers who were ordered to rob the bank of Hanoi as a means to end the war. But the officer who issued the order was later murdered, so those in the A-Team were branded as criminals and sent to prison. They eventually escaped, and took on jobs as soldiers of fortune while running from the military.

In the new version, which features Liam Neeson as Hannibal, Bradley Cooper ("The Hangover") as Face, Sharlto Copley ("District 9") as Murdock and mixed martial arts fighter Quinton "Rampage" Jackson as B.A., the men are Iraq War covert operatives framed for a crime they didn't commit. They escape from a military prison and try to find out who took them down.

In addition to the major characters, a few of the program's old touchstones remain, such as when team leader Hannibal Smith utters his classic line, "I love it when a plan comes together."

But other aspects, like the Iraq war time frame, have been updated. No longer in the mix is B.A.' s bejeweled accessorizing, nor does he utter, "I pity the fool."

No matter how the film plays out, however, fans of the show will be able to wallow in a double dose of "A-Team" nostalgia. Hitting video stores today is the 25-disc complete series on DVD, packaged in a replica of the van the boys traveled in.