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Universal Studios Home Video presents
Friday Night Lights (2004)

"Gentlemen. The hopes and dreams of an entire town are riding on your shoulders. You may never matter more than you do right now. It's time."
- Coach Gary Gaines (Billy Bob Thornton)

Review By: Dan Heaton  
Published: January 17, 2005

Stars: Billy Bob Thornton, Lucas Black, Garrett Hedlund, Derek Luke
Other Stars: Jay Hernandez, Lee Jackson, Lee Thompson Young, Tim McGraw, Grover Coulson, Connie Britton, Connie Cooper
Director: Peter Berg

MPAA Rating: PG-13 for thematic issues, sexual content, language, some teen drinking, and rough sports action
Run Time: 01h:57m:32s
Release Date: January 18, 2005
UPC: 025192547621
Genre: drama

Image Transfer
Audio Transfer
A- A-B+A- A-

DVD Review

Coach Gary Gaines (Billy Bob Thornton) walks into the locker room with his football team facing insurmountable odds and an imposing halftime deficit; this type of situation has been visited numerous times in past sports films. The coach gives the clichéd motivational speech, which rouses the underdog team towards an unexpected and miraculous victory. Recent examples of actors tackling this scene include Samuel Jackson in Coach Carter and Kurt Russell as Coach Herb Brooks in Miracle. Thornton could easily fall into the trap of overplaying the scene, but instead he speaks in a quiet, commonplace tone and generates a surprisingly believable scene.

This moment offers a perfect example to explain the success of Friday Night Lights, which tackles the conventions of the sports-film genre and surpasses them in nearly every regard. Based on the book by journalist H.G Bissinger, this compelling film follows the 1988 Permian High School Panthers and their drive toward a possible state championship. Located in the small Texas town of Odessa, the football team’s role is much greater than simply as sports competitors. Many citizens place their life’s hopes on the team’s success and exert considerable pressure on the players to win the title. This accomplishment would verify the importance of Odessa and provide hope to residents who have few other exciting moments.

The Panthers’ fans are some of the most fickle in existence, and the radio stations play constant praise or diatribes against the team, depending on the week. The central figure in either scenario is Coach Gaines, who is a genius when they win and a complete idiot following a loss. After an early-season defeat, Gaines returns to find his front lawn littered with “For Sale” signs. This consistent pressure also makes life extremely difficult for the star players, who are constantly reminded about the importance of every play. Parents’ lives are trapped as they relive the glory days of high school and push their kids to play out these fantasies. Don Billingsley (Garrett Hedlund) faces rough verbal abuse from his drunken father (singer Tim McGraw) each time he makes a mistake. The dad is so focused on his son’s football actions that he forgets to be a parent to the guy. During a telling moment, one player says they should be having fun at the age of 17, to which another replies, “I don’t feel 17.” The difficulties of playing football under such intense scrutiny wear on the players and lessen the enjoyment of teenage life.

The season begins with tremendous hope for a perfect season, and this anticipation rests largely on the shoulders of star running back Boobie Miles (Derek Luke). The very arrogant player backs up his talk on the field by scoring touchdowns with considerable ease. College recruiters are constantly watching his every move, and a future career in the NFL is a distinct possibility. Miles spends little time on schoolwork and has focused his entire life on playing football. Unfortunately, trouble arises early in the season when he faces a possibly career-ending knee injury. While he struggles to return and play, the future of the 1988 team hangs in the balance. Football is a nasty sport where the danger of injury is always imminent, and Miles’ situation reveals the heart-wrenching reality of young people placing all their hopes on a professional career.

Director Peter Berg (Very Bad Things, The Rundown) injects this story with impressive realism and creates a unique style not prevalent in most sports films. He utilizes hand-held cameras and muted colors that correlate to the tale’s journalistic origins. This approach combines well with the use of mostly unrecognizable actors that would not immediately draw a specific reaction from viewers. Lucas Black did earn considerable success during his younger days in Sling Blade and the television series American Gothic, but he’s generally not a household name. His role as quarterback Mike Winchell effectively presents the stress of playing football in Odessa. Black also stays within himself and doesn’t fall victim to the typical mannerisms of the quarterback role. The fine supporting cast would only gain minor success without a commanding figure as Coach Gaines, and Thornton delivers one of his finest performances. He proves his diverse talents once again by reinventing himself as Gaines, who takes nagging advice from everyone in the town and only smiles in response.

Friday Night Lights offers a story that could have easily fallen victim to the typical genre pratfalls and become a lesser film. Audiences would have still enjoyed the story, but it would not stay with them for a lengthy period. Peter Berg and co-writer David Aaron Cohen have taken a non-fiction book and retained its raw authenticity. Specific dramatic aspects have been changed to fit better within a feature, but they do not sacrifice the heart of the story. The film speaks about more than winning or losing and presents both the difficulties and joys of Texas high school football.

Rating for Style: A-
Rating for Substance: A-


Image Transfer

Aspect Ratio2.35:1 - Widescreen
Original Aspect Ratioyes

Image Transfer Review: Friday Night Lights utilizes an impressive 2.35:1 anamorphic widescreen transfer that nicely conveys its realistic, gritty atmosphere. This tone makes the sceen look less colorful than many picture, however, as this fits with Peter Berg's goals. Few defects exist on this print, and the football action is very clear, which leads to an effective presentation.

Image Transfer Grade: B+


Audio Transfer

 LanguageRemote Access
DS 2.0French, Spanishyes
Dolby Digital

Audio Transfer Review: This disc provides an excellent 5.1-channel Dolby Digital transfer that presents the countless bone-crunching football hits in energetic fashion. The crowd noise and extra sound effects spring well from the rear speakers, which creates a deep sound field. This track helps to enhance the intimate feeling of the games and drop you right into the action. The significant power of this transfer leads to a gripping listening experience.

Audio Transfer Grade: A-


Disc Extras

Full Motion menu with music
Scene Access with 32 cues and remote access
Subtitles/Captions in English, French, Spanish with remote access
Cast and Crew Biographies
Cast and Crew Filmographies
4 Other Trailer(s) featuring Ray, The Motorcycle Diaries, Miami Vice: Season One, Las Vegas: Season One
10 Deleted Scenes
1 Documentaries
3 Featurette(s)
1 Feature/Episode commentary by Director Peter Berg and author Buzz Bissinger
Packaging: generic plastic keepcase
1 Disc
1-Sided disc(s)
Layers: dual

Extras Review: Friday Night Lights is the type of story that raises interest in the back story, and this DVD fails to disappoint. The primary extra features are described in the following sections:

Action-packed Deleted Scenes
While I wouldn't necessarily describe the additional 20 minutes of deleted scenes as "action-packed," they do provide some interesting moments. Many of the inclusions are extended versions of the original scenes that give additional information or add enhance the characters. An intriguing excised plot line involved the suspension of a Dallas Carter player for academic irregularities, which actually happened in real life. However, the screenwriters did alter the details to fit the film's progression.

Commentary with Peter Berg and H.G. Bissinger
Writer/director Berg and author Bissinger are cousins and have obviously known each other for a long time, which enhances this feature-length commentary. The best moments involve discussions on the actual players and how their stories were translated onto the screen. They offer plenty of worthwhile information and make this track an enjoyable experience.

The Story of the 1988 Permian Panthers
This 23-minute documentary brings together the real Mike Winchell, Don Billingsley, and Jay Hernandez to discuss their actual experiences. It also offers an interview with Boobie Miles, who doesn't seem to mind reliving that very difficult time in his life. Video highlights of the key players showcase their actual exploits, which is an enjoyable inclusion. Peter Berg and a few actors also appear to speak about the players depicted.

Peter Berg Discusses a Scene in the Movie
This quick one-minute description from Berg explains the hamburger joint scene, which was added later at the request of studio executives. They felt that the movie's first 25 minutes were too hectic and needed to slow down a bit.

Ryan's Player Cam
The unknown Ryan Jacobs played a football player in the film, and he presents four minutes of behind-the-scenes footage. The mostly throwaway moments include guys at the barbershop, batting cage, and the Astrodome.

Tim McGraw: Off the Stage
This six-minute feature spotlights country star Tim McGraw and speaks to him about his decision to play the difficult role. The singer seems like a genuine guy and discusses the connection between the character and his young life.

The remaining supplements include extensive cast and crew biographies, DVD-Rom features, and pre-menu trailers for four releases coming soon to DVD.

Extras Grade: A-


Final Comments

Friday Night Lights overcomes the limitations of the sports-film genre and offers one of the year's most compelling movie experiences. Billy Bob Thornton makes the football coach an entirely believable character and never reverts to a conventional type of performance. Accompanied by a collection of fine extra features, this release deserves a strong recommendation.


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