: (Elliot Goldenthal) The 2003 remake of a 1970's
television series, S.W.A.T.
provided a modern, fictional glance at the
training of young cops who aspire to belong to the highly respected Special Weapons
and Tactics unit. Coming on the heals of television and feature films portraying
Los Angeles cops in a more positive light, the film is an explosive action drama
that has a logical stretch for plot. Aside from the problems inherent in any film
that attempts to force the concepts of redemption and betrayal into yet another
police thriller, Clark Johnson's all-too-predictable film also had a few incredibly
unbelievable scenes that ruined the narrative with their massive fallacies (the
worst of which supposing that a jet airplane, even a small one, could land, turn
around, and take off on a four-lane freeway bridge lined with overhead light
fixtures). Colin Ferrell's absolutely wooden performance in the protagonist role
didn't help matters, either. Regardless of the film's often suspect quality,
however, the assignment of Elliot Goldenthal to the score came as a welcome
surprise to film music collectors. If anything, S.W.A.T.
Goldenthal would not be the kind of guy that you'd want living next door to you in
a high-end apartment building, especially if his home studio is right on the other
side of a six-inch-thick wall. His score also confirmed that Goldenthal was capable
of producing noise of such an aggressive nature as to kill an elderly person if
unleashed upon that senior citizen during moments of fragile physical of mental
condition. Is this a bad thing? Not necessarily. Dating back to his popular score
, Goldenthal's credentials in the genre were well grounded, although
his monumental success for his artsy work for Frida
the previous year,
including an Academy Award win, had led some fans to believe that he would follow a
path of arthouse projects closer to the domain of Thomas Newman or other heavy
drama composers. In many ways, S.W.A.T.
was a complete 180 degree turn from
that expectation, for Goldenthal responded to the highly sensitive music of
with a downright monster for S.W.A.T.
. The thriller's otherwise
average production values would not lend themselves to the sophistication of the
composer's talents, and even some of his fans would argue that Goldenthal, who has
the capability of bringing brilliance to any mediocre film, was above this
Whether you can tolerate the film or not, Goldenthal tackled the
project as though it is a fine piece of art, a canvas deserving of his most
deviant musical creations. And you really do get a heavy dose of creative output
for the occasion. What's amazing about Goldenthal's music for S.W.A.T.
his ability to take such a simple genre, with a simple theme and a simple sound,
and whip it into a complex frenzy of awkward, but effectively refreshing sounds.
He starts with the ingredients of a Media Ventures score (electric guitars,
percussion, keyboards, and orchestral accompaniment) and weaves them into an
ambitious product that Media Ventures composers couldn't write even if their
lives depended on it. The heart of the S.W.A.T.
score is "Bullet Frenzy,"
a relentless piece that takes an otherwise simple drum loop and bass guitar motif
and staggers it into an almost off-balance joyride of highly organized, but
chaotic sounding noise. This technique would be reprised throughout the score,
with seemingly jumbled rhythms, snippets of theme, orchestral blasts, and
occasional unleashing of an electric guitar all inserted in precisely
disharmonious and staggered progressions. What makes this approach work is the
consistency of the overarching rhythm to the score. Goldenthal keeps the music
churning forward like a truck out of control, loaded with explosive emphasis on
every beat and constantly pushing ahead with a punchy, aggressive demeanor. There
is certainly testosterone here, but it doesn't outwardly slap you in the face
(like a Trevor Rabin score would) until "Crash Landing," with the majority of
action cues offering enough of Goldenthal's distinctly disturbed classical edge
to spice that testosterone-heavy, kick-ass attitude with a touch of postmodern
uncertainty. Some of the distinct avant garde tendencies that Goldenthal had
shown throughout his career are heard clearly, too, including the always
eardrum-bursting employment of unconventional brass pitch-wavering. For the
mentality of a S.W.A.T. team in action, this combination of apprehension and
professionalism, along with the technological environment of a seemingly endless
pursuit, is brilliantly captured by Goldenthal in the majority of the work.
Halfway through the "Bullet Frenzy" cue at the opening of the album, Goldenthal
inserts a metallic pounding in rhythmic form that brings back memories of
Conan the Barbarian
's Anvil of Crom, with glistening modern weaponry
taking the place of a mercenary's sword.
The other important aspect of S.W.A.T.
to discuss, of
course, is the necessary 1970's style that is infused throughout the entire score.
Goldenthal very much took the 70's feeling of the concept's origin to heart, making
it the source of inspiration for many of his rhythms and brass highlights
throughout the score. His main guitar theme is staggered with a stereotypically hip
1970's movement, as are several of the instrumental motifs later in the work. His
re-recording of the television series' theme in "S.W.A.T. Sticker" is a highlight
on the album and leads very well into his own, updated guitar theme for the film
(reprised on the album). His wavering effects in the brass accents in "My Big Black
Assault Weapon" are a cool, modern interpretation of 70's staples, although he damn
near ruins it with his trademark wailing of the trombones (once again, is this
hideous noise really necessary?). Later in that cue, he abruptly shifts to a
keyboarded organ, which is another unusual effect for the era's sound. On the
whole, Goldenthal's attempt to saturate the underscore portions with hip, 1970's
rhythms doesn't always work, because he taints the spirit too heavily with his own
darkly avant garde mannerisms. It's the same feeling you get hearing techno
elements in Titus
; the feel of the genre is not at ease with its own use in
the music. You never get the genuine sounds of the era that David Arnold was able
to produce in similar situations, mostly because Goldenthal tries too hard to put
his creative stamp on the style. Thus, the middle portions of the score are its
greatest weakness, with the lengthier rhythm-driven cues often losing their
interest potential (a rarity for Goldenthal music). The 70's sound only really
works in S.W.A.T.
when Goldenthal applies it over the aggressive, pounding
action sequences such as that of "Bullet Frenzy." Also of curious note is a short
passage in "AK-47 Scherzo," during which Goldenthal utilizes rather simple,
harmonious chord progressions for a surprisingly free-flowing minute of music. Fans
are correct to compare this classical interpretation to Hans Zimmer's usual chord
choices, and in this case, a comparison to Mission: Impossible 2
is not too
great of a leap. For listeners hoping to hear solitary moments of twisted beauty
equivalent to the guitar solos in Heat
, disappointment may result. This
score doesn't offer that kind of respite from its consistently brutal personality,
therefore remains the more attractive listening experience.
is a score that impresses you with its
ability to blindside you in such a creative fashion. Goldenthal continued to write
scores with a fascination for the bizarre, and this attention to unusual detail
(along with his natural talents) made him an easy attraction for listeners who were
tired of hearing generic Media Ventures scores at the time. On the other hand,
though, there are portions of the S.W.A.T.
score that are hindered by too
much unrelated background activity in the music. The film's musical requirements
were simplistic; this wasn't a film like In Dreams
, which thrived upon
outrageous musical horror. To satisfy his craving for abnormality, Goldenthal takes
some of the rhythmic sections of the underscore and disrupts them just beyond the
easy reach of the listener, which, in this case, causes the cruising 1970's aspects
to lose their place. Even when you look at a cue such as "Three Chords in Two
Minutes," you realize that Goldenthal is toying with you, because the cue consists
of the same three chords repeated over a two-minute period. There are times in the
film when the score simply overwhelms the soundscape, especially as the chase
resulting from the story's primary betrayal commences. The presence of Goldenthal's
music does actually fail to match the tone of a few scenes. Still, when you've been
pounded with substandard music for so long, hearing a score like S.W.A.T.
can be greatly rewarding in its aggressive sections. But it's surprisingly boring
in the cues of rhythmically meandering underscore. Had the entire work been as
brutal as "Bullet Frenzy" or as stylish as "S.W.A.T. Sticker" and "My Big Black
Assault Weapon," the package would have been significantly more effective. It's the
awkward combination of the two varying tones that only occasionally works, despite
common instrumentation. On album, about 28 minutes of Goldenthal's music is
presented for all of his fans to pick over every last, fine detail. Three songs are
also offered, and they fall along the same range of heavy metal sounds that
Goldenthal uses in the score. Despite their irritating vocals and nondescript
constructs, therefore, the songs at least correlate on a basic level with the
score. Representing his final score for several years, S.W.A.T.
by a series of non-cinematic projects by the composer. In the absence of new film
music from Goldenthal until 2007, though, this score was greatly refreshing for his
established group of collectors. Mainstream audiences beware, though! This is one
nasty piece of work. *** Amazon.com Price Hunt: CD or Download
|Bias Check:||For Elliot Goldenthal reviews at Filmtracks, the average editorial rating
is 3.13 (in 16 reviews)|
and the average viewer rating is 3.07
(in 15,203 votes). The maximum rating is 5 stars.
The insert includes a list of performers, but no extra information about
the score or film.