Plot: What’s it about?
In High School I played Tennis. Growing up in the South, Football and Basketball were what all the jocks played, though. It’s not that uncommon for the Varsity football team to have control over the town like they did in “Friday Night Lights”. In Texas, football is king second only to religion (and that line becomes blurred from time to time). Small blue-collar towns like Odessa don’t have a lot to look forward to except their football team. This is the sort of town in which everyone knows everyone else and everyone’s business is public knowledge. Boys were supposed to play football, the girls be cheerleaders and the fathers live vicariously through their High School football team. This was depicted in another football movie, “Varsity Blues” which shares a lot of the same traits as “Friday Night Lights”.
The movie focuses on the town of Odessa, Texas and thier high expectations for not only a perfect season, but a state championship as well. The head coach, Gary Gaines (Billy Bob Thornton) makes more money than the High School Principal and is expected to deliver. But the focus is all on the players. Mike Winchell (Lucas Black) is the quarterback, shy and reserved, and whose mother quizzes him on plays during every meal of the day. Don Billingsley (Garrett Hedlund) tries to live up to the expectations of his alchololic father (Tim McGraw – yes, the singer) and Boobie Miles (Derek Luke) has the most promising future in the game, only to suffer a career-ending injury in the first game. The movie follows the team through their highs and lows and Thornton never gets portrayed as some dictator-like coach. Instead, he’s modest and faces the very real possibility that the team won’t win it all and tries to live down their high expectations.
In the realm of football movies, there are three recent ones that fit nearly the same bill: “Friday Night Lights”, “Remember the Titans” and “Varsity Blues”. I’d have to say that I really prefer “Remember the Titans” the best as it’s the most inspiring (and still based on a true story). “Friday Night Lights” is a great, well-made movie and anyone who likes the game of football will certainly get a jolt out of the film. I won’t divulge the ending, of course, but let’s say that the movie is true to the book by H.G. Bissinger. It’s amazing the amount of pressure that has been put on mere teenagers over the years, something that will probably not change – but it’s also amazing what can be accomplished for the love of the game. Short of playing the game, “Friday Night Lights” gives us an insight into what it was like for the Odessa Panthers (and every other High School team out there) in their quest for the 1988 Texas State Championship.
Video: How does it look?
“Friday Night Lights” has a very unique look to it in that its crystal clear in most scenes, but I feel the look is intentionally grainy in some of the others. The entire movie uses handheld cameras and gives it the same sort of look that films like “The Kingdom” and “Saving Private Ryan” have. Image quality is improved over the standard DVD and essentially identical to the HD DVD. The 2.35:1 AVC HD transfer does look good and the game scenes (filmed at night, obviously) dont suffer from any artifacting in the least. Colors are a bit muted for the most part, but detail is bumped up from the standard DVD.
Audio: How does it sound?
A DTS Master Audio soundtrack is used here and with great effectiveness. Football movies, by and large, tend to sound pretty good especially during game scenes. The loud “thuds” caused by the tackles really activates the LFE and as such the film has a very robust soundtrack. Dialogue sounds a bit on the soft side or maybe thats just because the football scenes are that good. Unlike a lot of sports movies, this one actually has a lot of football scenes in it and makes for a very good listening experience. An improvement over the Dolby Digital 5.1 soundtrack on the standard DVD, for sure.
Supplements: What are the extras?
“Friday Night Lights” has just enough to give you your money’s worth and the supplements are identical to the standard DVD and HD DVD. This Blu-ray does offer some of Universals BD Live extras, more on those later. We start off as director Peter Berg delivers an insightful commentary that shows how much passion he had for this project. It’s nearly as good as the movie itself. Some deleted scenes that don’t add a lot to the movie. Some are presented in anamorphic widescreen and others are not. There’s no commentary accompanying them, so we don’t really know why they were cut – but the old “pacing” seems to fit here. Tim McGraw played Don’s father and what is it about Billy Bob Thornton in which he stars in films with Country singers (he was in “Sling Blade” with Dwight Yokham)? Nevertheless, McGraw dishes about his acting experience, how he could relate to the character and the challenge of doing acting as opposed to singing. Players from the current Permian Panthers did some home movies and this has been labeled as “Player Cam Action Shots”. This was pretty misleading…Lastly, “Real Life, Real Games, Real People: The True Story of the 1988 Permian Lions” is a pretty informative documentary on the real players portrayed in the film – a kind of “where are they now” segment. The benefit of Blu-ray is that its becoming more and more interactive and with many of Universals newer titles, viewers are actually able to record and share their scenes and even their own commentaries on the film. This is a pretty cool feature and only time will tell if it catches on with the masses.