Friday Night Lights
Running Time: 118 minutes
Aspect Ratio: Anamorphic Widescreen (2.35:1)
Subtitles: French, and Spanish
Audio: English – Dolby Digital 5.1; French and Spanish – Dolby Digital 5.1
January 18th, 2005
In some parts of this great nation (Odessa, Texas in the case of this film) high school football more than just a game, it is a way of life! And like the folks that inhabit said parts, those responsible for making Friday Night Lights show tremendous respect and reverence for the sport, and the atmosphere surrounding it, which makes the film seem starkly realistic.
Now I must confess, although I love most other sports, I am not exactly a huge football fan (e.g. I never went to a game while I was in high school). That being said, after watching Friday Night Lights, a film shot with hand-held cameras to put viewers right on the gridiron with the players, I cannot help but imagine that the film captures the spirit of the experience perfectly. The same holds true for the screenplay, which was adapted from “Friday Night Lights: A Town, a Team, and a Dream”, by H.G. Bissinger, the book that tells the true story of Permian High School’s (in Odessa) 1988 football season.
This is a passionately made film, and it really fires on all cylinders in its realistic, unrelenting approach to showing the effects of intense pressure to win at all costs on these young men, usually from the people that are supposed to be supporting them the most (parents). Hell, I saw this type of behavior, on a smaller scale, even when I played little league baseball, where parents would practically get into fistfights with umpires that weren’t calling enough strikes when their son was pitching, or with the coach who wasn’t playing their son (who was obviously the next Babe Ruth). Sadly, this type of behavior has probably become more prevalent over time, especially since pro sports offer the opportunity for extreme wealth and fame.
On the contrary, even though the good people of Odessa practically shut down the town during Panthers games, most of these folks are not zealots. Indeed, the vast majority attends Panthers’ games to show community pride, give their support to the boys on the team, or simply to have a good time. As previously mentioned, however, some Panthers fans take these games entirely too seriously, living and dying on every down, treating the players like gods, and getting all over the coaching staff when things do not go right.
For example, after the opening game of the 1988 season, when an injury to a star player jeopardizes the Panthers’ season, coach Gary Gaines’ (Billy Bob Thornton) comes under fire from many of the team’s overzealous boosters. Indeed, his every decision is called into question, he is torn apart and criticized over the airwaves on the local sports talk-radio station, and some people even go so far as to give the coach visual cues that he is no longer wanted in town.
More importantly though, some of these overly rabid fans/boosters place a tremendous amount of pressure of the players, some of them not even old enough to vote, which has serious consequences for a few. For instance, the fact that Don Billingsley (Garrett Hedlund) is only an everyday player for the Panthers, and not a “superstar”, makes the blood of his abusive, alcoholic father Charles (country star Tim McGraw) boil. The elder Billingsley, whose life appears to have peaked at age 18, was a star player/state champion for the Panthers, and now appears to have little passion left in life, except for living vicariously through his son.
Charles is not all bad, and it is admirable that he wanted a better life for his son than he had (what parent doesn’t), but his approach was not exactly the best or most positive one. I do not usually utilize movie quotes in my reviews, but Charles’ completely misguided advice to his son Don really struck me. He says “This is the only thing you will ever have.”, implying that he only has his senior year “to make yourself some memories.” Sadly, Charles doesn’t realize that just because he failed to amount to anything after high school, that things just might turn out differently for his son, who still has the time and opportunity to make better memories than those of his glory days at Permian.
The team’s starting quarterback, Mike Winchell (Lucas Black), also has serious turmoil in his personal life - he must care for his mother (Connie Cooper), who is suffering from a serious neurological disorder. And when the team’s star, a talented, highly sought after (but brash and overconfident) running back named “Boobie” Miles (Derek Luke), severely injures his knee in the first game of the season, Mike must confront the additional pressure and expectations of being the team’s leader for the remainder of the season without cracking.
Other players weave in and out of the plot like a running back looking for daylight, but it is the aforementioned boys, Don, Mike, and Boobie, whose touching, somewhat tragic stories are the story’s focal point. Well, actually, the game of football itself is probably just as important, and has plenty of attention lavished upon it. Indeed, the championship game, held in the Houston Astrodome, takes nearly a half hour to unfold. This game really is an incredible spectacle to behold, thanks to the bone-rattling but thoughtfully framed cinematography, that easily rivals the best other football movies have to offer, by placing viewers right in the middle of the hard-hitting action.
Unfortunately, this stylistic choice does not work quite as well for the rest of the film, which leads to the first of only two real criticisms I have of Friday Night Lights. Quite frankly, although the football scenes are easily the better for the use of handheld cameras, the dramatic impact of the film’s more “serious” moments is diminished by the jittery nature of the image. Secondly, Peter Berg “borrows” from just about every successful sports film that has preceded it, although somehow, the many clichés that result from this do not detract from the film very much.
These minor complaints aside though, Friday Night Lights succeeds in most every other respect, thanks to excellent direction; gritty, honest performances; and a rich, engrossing story. Turning to the acting for a minute, even though I am not his biggest fan, I must commend Billy Bob Thornton for his exceptional work as Coach Gaines. His intense focus, obvious preparation, and smooth line delivery left me in amazement, but I was even more impressed with how his presence seemed to bring out the very best in his co-stars.
Speaking of co-stars, most of the actors who portray the players in Friday Night Lights are terrific, especially Derek Luke, who is quickly building an impressive résumé (he is also great in Pieces of April and Antwone Fisher). I could almost feel Boobie Miles’ hopelessness in a scene where he ponders the uncertainty of a future that had seemed so bright and prosperous only a short time ago, before his injury.
Lucas Black (Cold Mountain) and Garrett Hedlund (Troy) are almost as impressive as Derek Luke as Mike Winchell and Don Billingsley, respectively. Country music star turned actor Tim McGraw was also surprisingly effective as Charles Billingsley, who is not just a mean drunk (although it sometimes seems that way), but really wants his son to have a better life than he has had. Really and truly, the depth of all of their performances gives a lift to a story that was already very strong.
For all of the reasons listed above, Friday Night Lights is one of the best movies about high school sports that I have ever seen (granted, however, I haven’t seen too many). In particular, the film does a terrific job of showing the competitive natures of both the kids and their parents (including the uglier sides of them), the pressure put on teenagers to perform, and the high price to be paid for focusing solely on winning, no matter the cost. If you have any interest in sports, especially football, or if you just love a good, well-adapted story, throw on your pads and step into the huddle, ‘cause Friday Night Lights is your type of movie!
SO, HOW DOES IT LOOK?
Universal presents Friday Night Lights in its wide (and original) aspect ratio of 2.35:1, and the results seem to mirror the grainy, vintage-looking image I remember seeing in theaters pretty closely. To begin with, the film is set in Odessa, Texas, which is a rather drab looking place, but although the film’s color palette is dominated by earth tones, colors are accurately drawn, and do not exhibit much in the way of chroma noise or bleed.
On a slightly more positive note, black levels are good, so shadow delineation is above average, and background detail is generally quite good as well. Unfortunately, from time to time, a bit of edge enhancement is visible. It should not prove to be a major distraction for most people, but it is there. Thankfully, there were no other compression artifacts visible.
All things considered, this transfer ranges from about average to slightly above average in most respects, and again, it reproduces the look of the film that I remember it having in the theater. I can't lie...it is certainly not great, but it is not a bad transfer either.
WHAT IS THAT NOISE?
The sounds of the “Mojo” football that is played under theFriday Night Lights are recreated in the home by Universal in Dolby Digital 5.1, and the results of this effort, with one notable exception, are quite positive! First of all, dialogue is delivered cleanly, with no noticeable defects or overt compression issues. Frequency response and imaging are also pretty good, and the score is spread nicely over the front speakers.
Unfortunately, where I had expected this track to really spreads its wings - during the football sequences – I was left disappointed that all 5.1 channels were not fully utilized to really immerse viewers in the Permian Panthers’ games. More specifically, although the surround channels could have been used to almost make it seem as if you are on the field during the game, the front channels are clearly more dominant. On the plus side, the subwoofer really does drive home all of the violent collisions between players during games.
On the whole, the fact that the surround channels are not taken full advantage of bothered me a bit, but otherwise this soundtrack left me with nothing to complain about! Although this transfer could have been a bit better (as is the case with the video quality), but most fans of the film should still be pleased with what it has to offer.
For Friday Night Lights, director Peter Berg and Writer Buzz Bissinger sat down and put together a yack track that consists chiefly of the duo talking about the story, and the differences between his book and the finished film. Both men are fairly easy to listen to, and there are not too many dead spots, but one thing that stuck out was the extremely limited amount of information about how the football sequences were rehearsed/captured on film. This is a football movie people, what gives?!?!?!
Oh, well…that rant aside, although this is not the most informative commentary, in terms of describing how the film was made, it is still worth a listen, as there is quite a bit of information on the story provided.
Upon selecting this short (4:20), fairly lame extra, you will be treated to footage of (among others) Ryan Jacobs, Lucas Black, Joseph Norman, Dean Baldwin, Erick Smart, and Peter Berg fooling around, getting haircuts, taking batting practice, gambling on golf, and exploring the Astrodome. Since it added absolutely nothing to the film experience, I thought it was a terrible waste of my time, but your mileage may vary…
Peter Berg Discusses A Scene In The Movie
Director Peter Berg introduces the “Buddy’s Burgers” scene, and talks about how it was added during re-shoots to slow the film down, by having the characters sitting around for a bit. Subsequent to Mr. Berg’s introduction, the 3-minute scene in question is shown.
Tim McGraw: Off the Stage
During this 6-minute featurette, country music superstar Tim McGraw, producer Brian Grazer, and director Peter Berg discuss how Mr. McGraw came to be involved with the film, the character he portrayed, and his background as a high school athlete. McGraw also talks about his inspirations for the character Charles Billingsley, and the differences between acting in a feature film and performing music live. To be honest, although I actually like Tim McGraw, this featurette is light on detail and somewhat congratulatory, so it will probably only have any appeal to hardcore Tim McGraw fans.
Story Of The 1988 Permian Panthers
Through 23 ½ minutes worth of interviews with the film’s cast and crew, and real Permian players, viewers get a better idea of both the environment surrounding Panthers games and what has gone on in these people’s lives. We also get to see some game footage from 1988, including the legendary “Boobie” Miles in action, and learn what has happened to the players in the nearly 17 years since the season featured in the film. Not that it had much competition, but this is easily the best featurette on the disc!!!
There are a total of 10 deleted/extended scenes included, which run for nearly 22 minutes, and include footage of janitors and teachers giving Coach Gaines advice on how to win the state championship, some of the players lamenting the fact that they are going to end up stuck in Odessa, the Panthers being trained and motivated by Coach Gaines, and additional game footage.
In my opinion, most of this material would not have added to much to the finished film, but I always find it interesting to see deleted material, if only to try and figure out why it was excised. The scenes are entitled as follows:
--- “Don’s Middle Finger”
--- “Extended “Sincere Warfare” Speech”
--- “Janitor Gives Gaines Advice”
--- “Teachers Give Gaines Advice”
--- “Gaines In Car With Coaches / Shotgun Scene”
--- “Comer Hops”
--- “Extended Midland Lee”
--- “L.V. Shows Up At Gaines’ House”
--- “No Gear Training”
--- “Extended “Dare You To Beat It” Scene”
Cast and Filmmakers
Brief bios are available for:
--- Billy Bob Thornton
--- Derek Luke
--- Jay Hernandez
--- Lucas Black
--- Garrett Hedlund
--- Tim McGraw
--- Peter Berg
--- Brian Grazer
--- James Whitaker
--- John Cameron
--- H.G. “Buzz” Bissinger
--- David Aaron Cohen
The disc kicks off with trailers for the upcoming DVD releases: Ray, The Motorcycle Diaries, Miami Vice: Season One, and Las Vegas: Season One.
(on a five-point scale)
THE LAST WORD
Friday Night Lights is not just a great “sports movie”, it is a great movie, which focuses on some truly complex issues involving relationships, growth, and the perils involved with placing too much emphasis on athletic achievement. Football junkies should enjoy the game sequences in this film, which look fantastic, but the excellent performances should appeal to both sports fans and film buffs alike. Just as importantly, the screenplay is also a fine adaptation of Buzz Bissinger’s book. Basically, whether you are a sports enthusiast or a person that just likes a well-told story, you should give this one a look!!!
Okay, so the movie is worthy, but how is it presented on home video? Well, as far as the DVD is concerned, the grainy, herky-jerky visuals of Friday Night Lights are brought home faithfully on the format, and although it could have been a more immersive mix, the bone-jarring hits and other sounds of high-school football games are delivered nicely by the Dolby Digital soundtrack. Overall, the extras are a bit of a mixed bag, as the audio commentary and “Story of the 1988 Permian Panthers” are good, but the deleted scenes and other featurettes are a waste of time.
All in all, Friday Night Lights is only about average, as DVD releases go, but the movie deserves a spot in the library of both sports enthusiasts and those who like great films…it will definitely have a place in mine! Recommended!!!