As I opined in my recent review of 'Dukes of Hazzard' on HD DVD, I'm not entirely sold on this whole remake craze that has currently gripped Hollywood. It is not that I'm necessarily against taking old movies, television shows and even theme park rides and "reimagining" them for a new generation (hey, it worked for 'Pirates of the Caribbean'). But it often seems as if the studios are simply raiding their old libraries for any even remotely recognizable title, and slapping it onto a whole new set of plot and characters that has little if anything to do with the original source material. What's the point of taking a legitimate hit TV show and turning it into something that bears no resemblance to what fans loved about the original, much less irrelevant to young, modern audiences?
Case in point is 'S.W.A.T.,' a totally generic police procedural slash action flick that plays more like a big-budget episode of 'Law & Order' than the trend-setting '70s cop show upon which it is based. Okay, sure, 'S.W.A.T.' made over $135 million at the domestic box office alone, so what do I know, right? Fair enough. But really -- do you even remember this movie or its plot, other than the fact that maybe Colin Farrell and Samuel L. Jackson were in it and lots of stuff blew up real good? Didn't think so.
In case you are unfamiliar with the original 'S.W.A.T.,' it snagged high ratings when it debuted in 1975 but was canceled after just two seasons, due in part to an uproar over the show's realistic violence and somewhat unsympathetic depiction of law enforcement. While it would be hard to call the series "gritty" by today's standards, 'S.W.A.T.' does earn the distinction of being one of the pioneers of a new wave of '70s-era television verite, and it is undoubtedly a forebearer to such hip, critically acclaimed landmarks as 'Miami Vice,' 'NYPD Blue' and 'The Shield.'
Alas, for the movie version, that progressive sensibility has been largely tossed aside for a glossy, fast-cut visual aesthetic; 'S.W.A.T.' 2003-style is about as realistic and "cutting edge" as an MTV video. The plot also downplays the original series' focus on the interrelationships between a strong ensemble cast in favor of turning Colin Farrell into a household name. This was his first attempt at carrying a big-budget American action flick on his narrow Irish shoulders, and the film all but puts him in a Speedo and drenches him in water in slo-mo to convince us that yes, he is the next A-list superstar hottie. 'S.W.A.T.' also largely wastes a solid supporting cast by giving them nothing to do but stand around and admire Farrell, including Jackson as the stereotypical cigar-chomping police sergeant, LL Cool J as a fellow rookie, and especially the bad-ass Michelle Rodriguez, who looks like she could eat Farrell for breakfast.
Truth be told, I didn't entirely not enjoy 'S.W.A.T.' It has its fun moments, there are few noisy action sequences and the cast is easy on the eyes. But I just stopped caring about the "plot" about ten minutes in, and it seemed the filmmakers did, too. I've enjoyed director Clark Johnson's other work much better, most notably his TV efforts (including episodes of 'The Wire,' 'Sleeper Cell' and 'Soul Food'), and I can't blame the guy for jumping at the chance to direct his first big-budget Hollywood action feature. I just wish 'S.W.A.T.' had been a little less nondescript. So by all means, crank this puppy up and enjoy the mindless action and glossy posturing. Just check your brain at the door. Seriously check it.
"It's gritty! It's glossy! It's hot! It's 'S.W.A.T.!'" Okay, the back of the Blu-ray box doesn't really say that, but it might as well have. This is actually a very nice-looking disc from Sony, and definitely one of the better they've put out on the format thus far.
'S.W.A.T.' is a very recent film, so its source material is predictably first rate. The print is very clean and sparkly, if a bit processed for my taste. There is a slight amount of film grain present, but the transfer has been so digitally tweaked it has that smoothed-out, impossibly sleek surface that film could never replicate. Colors are boosted and vibrant but for the most part not oversaturated. Fleshtones are also accurate, with skin boasting that perfect shade of orange that only exists in the movies. Overall, sharpness and contrast are quite good, though some scenes are intentionally blown out, which can slightly obscure detail. Conversely, I thought some interiors were a smidgen too dark for my taste. However, more often than not this transfer looks quite three-dimensional -- even startling at times.
Alas, some of the inconsistency that has so far marred Sony's Blu-ray releases is present with 'S.W.A.T.' For example, I noticed slight noise that hampered shadow delineation in select shots, as well as softness in degrees that varied from shot to shot, even in the same scene. However, this is much less of a problem here than on Sony's earlier batches of Blu-ray titles. I know it is easy to blame the inconsistent quality of many of these early Blu-ray titles on the use of the MPEG2 compression codec instead of the less space-hungry VC1, or the rumored faulty noise reduction chip in the Samsung first-generation Blu-ray player currently be used to review titles. Still, in real-world conditions and regardless of fault, 'S.W.A.T.' does look good, however imperfect.
Besting the transfer is the uncompressed PCM 5.1 surround track included here, which is a true stunner. Really, modern action soundtracks don't get much better than this -- and it is meant to be played loud one, so turn this one up to get the most bang for your Blu-ray buck. (Note, however, that Sony has not included the DTS option that appeared on the standard DVD "Superbit" edition of 'S.W.A.T.' However, I found this PCM track to be superior.)
Just about every aspect of the sound design of 'S.W.A.T.' seems engineered to whup you on the back of the head. Hard. No, it's not subtle, but the complete 360-degree soundfield is almost constantly engaged. Imaging between channels is just about seamless, with highly effective (if far from subtle) deployment of sound effects, score and even some dialogue to the rears. Dynamic range is also impeccable, with even the non-stop gunfire and bombast of the action scenes never too harsh or abrasive. And the .1 LFE gets a total workout, delivering some great pumping bass. Dialogue, too, is nicely balanced in the mix, though a tad quiet for my taste (though I tend to like my dialogue on the louder side, so that is a personal bias). In any case, it is hard to imagine anyone being disappointed with a mix as strong as this one.
Though the standard DVD release of 'S.W.A.T.' came loaded with plenty of extras, Sony couldn't cobble much of them together for its Blu-ray release. Maybe when the studio finally gets those BD-50 dual-layer discs perfected, and/or switches over to the VC1 compression codec, that will change...
Oddly, the only goodies we get is a collection of eight Deleted Scenes, which were not the most interesting of the extras on the previous DVD. Aside from the alternate opening, the majority of the scenes are character-building bits, though nothing essentially. Unfortunately, there is no optional filmmaker commentary provided, so there is little perspective available to understand the scenes anyway.
The only other "extra" is the usual Sony Blu-ray preview trailer.
'S.W.A.T.' is a big, dumb, loud action movie. It was a big hit at the box office, however, so if you've already gotten this far into this review, you probably don't care what I have to say anyway. But as a Blu-ray release, this one is no great shakes. The transfer is indeed mighty fine, sure, and the soundtrack even better, but extras are slim and the disc is quite pricey considering what you get. Chalk this up as another early Blu-ray title that is not yet indicative of what the format is truly capable of.