HD DVD Title: Friday Night Lights
Screen format: 1080p/480i/480p 2.35:1 Widescreen
Studio: Universal Pictures
Year first released: 2004
Previously released on DVD/BluRay: Full Screen and Widescreen DVDs January 2005
Director: Peter Berg
Starring: Billy Bob Thornton, Derek Luke, Jay Hernandez, Lucas Black, Garrett Hedlund and Tim McGraw
Sound Formats: English/Spanish/French Dolby Digital Plus 5.1, English DD 2.0
Length: 1 Hour 58 Minutes
Subtitles: English, Spanish, French
In Friday Night Lights, Billy Bob Thornton stars as Coach Gary Gaines as he leads Odessa Texas’ Permian High School Panthers football team through their dramatic 1988 season. In Odessa, football may be the lifeblood of the town, but it is also path to glory, to a ticket outside of town and a better life. During the Panther’s second game, star running back Boobie Miles (Derek Luke) suffers a serious injury, causing Gaines, quarterback Mike Winchell (Lucas Black) and the rest of the team to dig deep inside themselves and rebuild. Coach Gaines doesn’t ask for much, just perfection, and the Panthers are in the business of winning, with or without Boobie.
This was a first time viewing for me, I had not seen FNL either theatrically or on DVD, though the film had been recommended to me several times. Like most sport based movies, the drama of being driven to winning is the backdrop for the situations the characters find themselves in, but this movie has several things that I found particularly appealing. First, it is based on a true story, and remains faithful to the reality of that season. Second, I finished high school in 1988 so I can relate to the stresses, hopes and dreams of the players despite having played (badly) on a team 2000 miles away where despite the success the teams I played on were not driven so completely by the town I grew up in. Those wondering what ever becomes of the players after their major stories occur will be pleased, as I was, with how this film concludes.
Audio/Video-wise, FNL is an interesting choice for Universal to pick from in their early HDDVD slate, although I suspect that since it was a 2005 DVD release that Uni had HD masters made at the same time. While not the most spectacular visual representation of football I have seen (Any Given Sunday would be my choice on that front) the Cinematography of FNL is very slick. The coloring is notable, again mostly muted and a lot of nighttime action, contrasting the bleak and barren despair of the Odessa area with the vibrancy of the Football stadiums. The action is very sharp, and there is great detail in this high def transfer. Not a real show-off, crowd pleasing reference film, but solid high quality backing up the emotional story elements.
Also not surprising is the Audio side of the house, which is pretty tame with the exception of the actual game scenes. During those, there are some mild panning effects, great envelopment on the crowd noises, and terrific crunch on the tackles. Given that this is primarily a plot driven sports drama, it is forgivable but again it makes it a little surprising as an early HDDVD release. Dialogue is consistently clear and sharp throughout, which is critical.
Extras, like those on the Pitch Black disk, appear to be a carbon copy of those of the corresponding DVD release. These include a director’s commentary, a scene dissection with director Berg, several deleted scenes, a look at Tim McGraw's introduction to the acting world, a training camp video, Cast and Crew look at the real story, and several other featurettes looking behind the scenes. Certainly a nice haul, but completely wasted on anyone who already has the DVD. Also note that the menu system likewise uses an animated Universal Logo as a backdrop instead of anything directly relating to this particular movie, which as noted in my Pitch Black quick look just seems rushed.
While it is encouraging that catalog titles like Friday Night Lights are getting great HD transfers, it’s a little disappointing that the DVD extras are simply shoveled over to the HD DVD releases. Hopefully once the format gets a bit more of a toehold we’ll start seeing the reverse, where they are formatted for HD from the start and those who haven’t taken the high def plunge get stuck with down-converted videos.