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S.W.A.T. was released theatrically on August 8th 2003 in the heart of the summer movie season. The eighty million dollar budgeted action film raked in over one hundred million domestically, making it a bona fide blockbuster by the time it hit DVD with a wealth of extras in June of 2004. Columbia Tri-Star has now released a Superbit edition of the title to reward fans of the film with the best possible video and audio presentation. For those of you who’ve seen the film and may own it already, is it worth the double-dip? For those new to the film, is it worth checking out? To be honest Bad Boys II left a poor taste in my mouth and I had a premonition before viewing this film that I would be seeing Bad Boys III. Fortunately, that was not the case...  

S.W.A.T. Superbit
Film
The movie opens with a great hook for an action movie: members of a S.W.A.T. team in Los Angeles are in the middle of a rescue situation. The team succeeds, but injures a civilian in the process. This causes officer Brian Gamble (Jeremy Renner) to quit, and also sees Jim Street (Colin Farrel) get demoted. A rift between the two former best friends and partners forms as they go their separate ways. Fast-forward five months where veteran Sgt. Hondo Harrelson (played by bona fide bad-ass Samuel L. Jackson) is given the assignment of assembling a new S.W.A.T. team. He enlists the help of Farrell’s character to also recruit officers played by Michelle Rodriguez, LL Cool J, and Josh Charles to formulate the new team for the L.A. Police Department. There are some fun training sequences here, including a poker game in which card hands are obtained by using sniper rifles to hit their cards. The final test for this group to become an activated S.W.A.T. unit occurs in a mock terrorist situation on an airplane. These training sequences are engaging because we get to learn about our heroes throughout the duration of them. This important detail will make the real action sequences better and more meaningful.  Samuel L. Jackson (best known for his role in Pulp Fiction) is wonderful in his role as a mentor to the rest of his team, trying to keep things cool under pressure. Taking Colin Farrell under his wing, the two make a great team and are at the heart of a likeable cast in S.W.A.T.

The film continues as the new S.W.A.T. team takes on live challenges in their roles as officers. A romantic spark beings to develop between Rodriguez and Farrell as the team begins to bond. The romantic element works for two reasons: Firstly, the woman comes off as strong a team member as the man does, and secondly, it is not at all the focus of the plot, more like a footnote instead. All the while a new mafia boss has entered town to mark his territory. After mercilessly killing a local mob boss, Alex Montel (played by Oliver Martinez, best known for his roll in Unfaithful) is ironically pulled over for a broken taillight, which translates into his subsequent arrest upon the police’s discovery of his identity. In an attempt to move him to a higher security facility, all hell breaks loose as Montel attempts to escape. The S.W.A.T. team intervenes and thwarts the escape attempt, but not before a live news camera gets in his face for him to deliver a fantastic plot twist: ‘Help me escape, and I’ll pay you $100 million.’ The media is exploited, and now the movie really gets going.

S.W.A.T. Superbit
Not only does the multi million dollar offer create a sense of mistrust in the public, but in the police force as well. In one attempt to move the prisoner, a gang attempts to free Montel which turns into a spectacular fire-fight. Montel even attempts to seduce police offers into accepting his bribe, creating a sense of second-guessing all of the characters. When one of the members of the S.W.A.T. team finally takes him up on the offer, the movie begins its push towards the climax.

S.W.A.T. marked the directed debut for one Clarck Johnson, a man who’s had extensive experience in television direction (hit shows such as The Shield and The West Wing). Using a script from writers David Ayer and David McKenna (who between them have a resume of American History X, Training Day, and The Fast and the Furious) the new director was able to create a fun summer action flick. There are so many things that impressed me with his style, which begins with his direction of action sequences. So many directors in action movies today use too many cuts to show sequences unfold, making the audience feel motion sickness. Johnson on the other hand uses longer cuts and uses the camera to give good coverage of the action spots. Also, as in Bad Boys II, these type of action movies easily become lude in the demeanour of the character’s dialogue and actions. In S.W.A.T. the characters keep it clean enough so that you wouldn’t be embarrassed to watch it with your parents, and thus create a likeable ensemble cast. This was an applaudable effort from this new director, and I look forward to seeing his next work.

S.W.A.T. Superbit
Video
While I’m afraid I can’t compare this transfer to the one initially released, it’s a fair assessment to make that it’s an improvement being that there are no extras on this disc compared to the other release, which was loaded with them. Filmed in a 2:40:1 aspect ratio, the video transfer for S.W.A.T. in its Superbit release has a technical quality of near perfection: there’s no haloing as a result from edge enhancement, nor is there film grain prevalent during the film. Dark colours are well balanced against each other allowing for various shades to be projected clearly differentiated from each other. At times the colours look wonderful showing flashes of brilliance particularly in action sequences in the street action sequences and during the finally on the railroad tracks (where white lights are shown shining through fog at night, without error).

Despite it’s achievements in the aforementioned technical arenas, I felt somewhat let down in this video transfer especially with the consistency of certain colours. For example, the dark blue jumpsuits that the S.W.A.T. team wears sometimes would change from a rich colour to a dull colour in the same scene (in-between edit cuts).  The colours don’t constantly jump off the screen at you like they do in other Superbit titles such as Bad Boys II and Once Upon a Time in Mexico. The director’s choice of using video camera ‘news’ footage split throughout the film for narration purposes also makes S.W.A.T. lose points, as it caused pixilation at times because of it’s low quality. This transfer is by no means a bad one and is sound in many aspects, but I feel as though it could have been better.

S.W.A.T. Superbit
Audio
Presented in both Dolby Digital and DTS, it’s the audio portion of this Superbit that really shines. While many action films have the opportunity to have an impressive audio track, S.W.A.T. benefits from a creative sound design. A variety of different gunshot sounds mix things up on the action sequences in the process keeping them from being redundant. All sound channels are used throughout the movie, even in non action scenes, to create engulfing environments. One of the better examples of this is in the police station when you can hear a baby crying in one channel, a phone ringing in another, chatter all over the place, with the main dialogue still being heard clearly. The filtering of voices is another technique that the sound designer used effectively giving scenes a sense of realism.

The audio portion of S.W.A.T. also accentuates a glowing music soundtrack. While the score wasn’t something that really blew me away, the clarity of the music is nothing short of stellar. Bass sounds aren’t overbearing and high brass sounds ring amazingly clear. The dialogue is never drowned out by the other sound elements, which makes the S.W.A.T. Superbit a superb audio presentation.

Extras
As always with Superbit titles, S.W.A.T. includes no extra features. Just in case you were unaware, this is done intentionally so that compression can be kept to a minimum to increase the video and sound quality of the feature presentation.

S.W.A.T. Superbit
Overall
I am very pleased to report that S.W.A.T. caught me by surprise; I expected a hollow action film with crass dialogue, and instead was treated to a fun popcorn- movie. A likeable cast led by Colin Farrell and Samuel L. Jackson allow the audience to be attached to the characters and feel at least some kind of emotion during their dynamic scenes. This is not your run of the mill brainless action flick, but its plot won’t give you a headache to thinking about it either. Even though Columbia Tri-Star has given a decent effort in the Superbit edition, I’d recommend checking out the previously released S.W.A.T. Special Edition which is packed with extras. That is certainly my plan. If you already own the DVD from the previous release, this probably isn't a big enough improvement to warrant a double-dip.


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