Friday Night Lights (2004) [Blu-ray]

Genre(s): Drama / Sports
Universal || PG13 - 118 minutes - $29.98 || January 6, 2009
Reviewer: Brad Lowenberg || Posted On: 2009-01-08


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.:: F I L M ::.
The Film

S P E C I A L
.: F E A T U R E S :.

Special Features

.:: V I D E O ::.
Video

.:: A U D I O ::.
Audio

B L U - R A Y
.:: EXCLUSIVES ::.

Blu-ray Exclusives

.:: O V E R A L L ::.
Overall
.::MOVIE INFORMATION::.
Director: Peter Berg
Writer(s): Buzz Bissinger (book); David Aaron Cohen and Peter Berg (screenplay)
Cast: Billy Bob Thornton, Lucas Black, Garrett Hedlund, Derek Luke, Jay Hernandez, Tim McGraw, Connie Britton


Theatrical Release Date: October 8, 2004


.::DVD INFORMATION::.
Supplemental Material:
  • Feature Commentary
  • Deleted Scenes
  • 4 Featurettes
  • BD-Live


Technical Information:
  • Number of Discs: 1
  • Widescreen (2.35)
  • English (DTS-HD MA 5.1)
  • Subtitles: English

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.::THE FILM::.

Hope comes alive on Friday nights.

Friday Night Lights could’ve easily have followed the path of previous sports/football movies like Remember the Titans (a film I liked) or the typical head coach, halftime speech, cliché seen in Oliver Stone’s Any Given Sunday. Fortunately, both of those things did not happen and, in fact, Friday Night Lights offered something more to a sports-drama rarely seen anymore.

Billy Bob Thornton plays Gary Gaines, who’s in his second year coaching the Permian High Panthers, who reside in the small town of Odessa, Texas. This town lives and breathes high school football: breakfast talk consists of a mother reading the playbook to her son while he eats, the high class dinner conversation centers around how to improve the defense, and the term “jock” is taken to the extreme where these players are regarded as superstars (amongst both the students and the townsfolk).

The pressure is very high on the kids and Coach Gaines as they enter the year under media scrutiny as they are expected to not compete in their league, but also win the state championship. Leading the team is self-proclaimed future Heisman winner, Boobie Miles (played by Luke, who looks like he’s bulked up quite a bit), an all-state juggernaut running back. Other players followed are Mike Winchell (Black) - quarterback, Don Billingsley (Hedlund) - running back - who deals with living the shadow of his father (McGraw) and Brian Chavez (Hernandez) – safety.

Each of the players goes through the usual hardships other teens do as they leave high school and start living their own lives. However, unlike the normal teen, these athletes must also deal with the pressure of being not only successful, but perfect. Winning is what counts here.

Friday Night Lights truly is a great sports-drama. The film is less about the clichés found in these types of movies than it is about the characters that drive it. It is less about the head coach’s half time speech or his barking at the players than it is about these football players personal lives as they deal with the pressures of a town that only really lives life through them.

Billy Bob Thornton does a great job as the coach who is still getting adjusted to the way the town thinks and their reaction to a win… or a loss. While the coach, as a character, was not thoroughly expanded out, Billy Bob Thornton does turn in a quiet role that really melds in well with the rest of the cast and characters.

Lucas Black, Derek Luke, Jay Hernandez and Garrett Hedlund all do a great job with parts that are normally dumbed down in teen flicks (like Varsity Blues), but instead these teens have to deal with problems in their lives. Hedlund’s character, Don Billingsley, has an abusive father (played by country singer Tim McGraw), Luke as Boobie Miles has aspirations of the NFL (he has built his entire career around it) and Lucas Black as QB Mike Winchell deals with his ailing, and over controlling mother.

Where Friday Night Lights thrives, though, is in combination with these characters and the football action on the field. Director Peter Berg could’ve taken a revolutionary stance with how he shoots a game, but instead he relies on the thrilling moments of a pass in the air or the hard hits put upon a player. It’s not over-the-top… it feels real. And like I said, it’s not original, but it is effective.

That is the one word I’d use to sum up Friday Night Lights: effective. The characters, action and drama felt real and not contrived. The actors here looked like they belonged. Friday Night Lights is indeed one of the best sports-dramas I have seen in a long while. Could it have been better? Sure. Could it have been a lot worse? Oh yes. It is because of the solid writing (based upon the book by H.G. Bissinger, the strong acting from not only veteran Billy Bob Thornton but the young actors as well. Whether or not you are a fan of the sports genre, I believe you will still enjoy the film for its heart and very touching moments.



.::SPECIAL FEATURES::.

On the surface, this disc doesn't seem to have much meat to it and although one of them isn't worth a damn, couple of the others make up for the difference.

The commentary from director Peter Berg and writer (and Berg's cousin) Buzz Bissinger, has a good mixture of both behind-the-scenes information as well as good old fashion family jostling fun. Director Berg (who can be seen, acting, in the movie could be overly congratulatory toward his cinematographer or other personnel, but Bissinger would bring him back to reality. So between the banter and other stuff, this commentary track is one of the better non-talent tracks to come around. Now, I only wish that there was another commentary with the cast members or perhaps even some of the real life guys this movie is about. Fortunately, some of the latter is covered later.

Deleted Scenes: The disc has 10 deleted scenes running at over 21 minutes. Most of these scenes were extended and while some of them were -- more than likely -- deleted due to pacing (there was no commentary for this), there were a couple that were well acted ("LV Shows Up at Gaines' House" is a good, though obvious, scene). Another extended scene involved the forfeiture of Dallas Carter's games due to academically ineligible players (something that happened in real life, though this time it was in different order). Like in most cases, it is pretty obvious why they were deleted.

Peter Berg Discusses a Scene in the Movie: The director talks about a scene that needed to be added to the film because after a test screening, the studio felt something else was needed. This "discussion" — which takes place on the set — runs for only 1 minute and is followed by the scene itself. This is definitely the worst feature and absolutely worthless.

Player Cam: This is a video diary from one of the players as he shows a little bit of the stuff happening behind the scenes. Lasting at 4 minutes, this isn't anything great, but it does show the fun the cast and crew had.

Tim McGraw: Off the Stage: A good featurette with some interviews with the cast, crew and primarily country singing star McGraw who turns in an excellent performance that shows he can make the jump from singer to actor. Some of this may be considered to be fluff as the interviews mainly congratulate McGraw and a great job but something about it was just plain ol' fun. There was some behind-the-scenes footage including a quick clip of Billy Bob Thornton tossing the ball to McGraw.

The Story of the 1988 Permian Panthers: Although this documentary runs only about 20 minutes, it answers quite a few questions that I was hoping would be answered with another commentary track with the guys whom this movie is about. However, it was nice to see that with the standard film documentary style of profiling each character, followed by interviews with the actor; but added to this also were interviews with the real football players including Boobie Miles who I felt really sorry for but he realizes that if his football career hadn't been ruined, he may not have his kids today. Also featured was the reunion of Mike Winchell, Don Billingsley and Brian Chavez.

BD-Live (Profile 2.0) - As usual, a bookmarking feature is present so you can send your favorite clips to your Blu-ray buddies.



.::AUDIO & VIDEO::.

Friday Night Lights is presented in 2.35:1 (AVC) on a 50GB Disc. Similar to the HD DVD, I found the quality to be a nice improvement over the DVD version, but not quite as High Def as I would have liked it. The film is very gritty, and the constant movement of the camera (Peter Berg's style) did not help as the picture felt a bit smeared. A comparison to the HD DVD yielded identical picture.

Universal has dumped the previous Dolby Digital 5.1 + and upgraded to an English 5.1 DTS MA track. I was really disheartened with this track because for being such an involving film on the football field, my rears felt inactive and empty. I was expecting more of a 'punch' but it simply didn't deliver it for me.



.::OVERALL::.

Friday Night Lights is a fantastic film that tends to go on just a wee bit too long. While I did enjoy it, I still find the Television show (loosely based on the film) to be far superior. Universal has included a great set of extras but Picture and Audio quality are simply not up to the Universal standard I have come to expect in the past year.