While now known more as a TV series that just won’t quit, Friday Night Lights first started as a book that was then adapted into this feature film starring Billy Bob Thorton. Although not a smashing success at the box office (though it did double its production domestically), the film inspired those who watched it and has since gone down as one of the better football films ever made. Universal has decided to bring this film to Blu-ray in the first part of 2009, just in time for the football fans to watch as they gear up for the Super Bowl.
A genuine stand-up-and-cheer movie about a courageous high school football team’s fight to fulfill their destiny and live their dream, Friday Night Lights is “unforgettable and real” (Larry King). Based on the besselling book by H.G. Bissinger and starring Billy Bob Thornton, it’s a true American story of how one legendary Texas town made hope come alive under the exhilarating glare of Friday Night Lights! “one of the greatest sports stories ever told” (Sports Illustrated) is now “One of the greatest sports movies ever made” (Larry King).
Thinking back a few years, there really haven’t been all that many films focusing on football (though the majority have come from Universal, as odd as that may sound). Granted I haven’t exactly kept an eye out, but the only one in recent memory that pops up is We Are Marshall, which was a rather disappointing effort all around and didn’t focus as much on the sport as Friday Night Lights did. I bring all this up, of course, to denote that I really don’t have much to compare this film to, nor am I even a fan of the sport, so it’s doubly hard for me to really invest myself into this film the same way others have.
Having said that, I still found this to be a deeply moving film about one team’s efforts to succeed. While it focuses on teenagers, there isn’t really a single element to this film that really feels angst ridden or loaded with high school clichés (though that may have to do with this film taking place in 1988). Of course that wasn’t all that helped drive the film for me, as the players and coach’s motivation from beginning to end was an enthralling spectacle to watch.
Of course this film is more about a team failing than succeeding, which also makes it bittersweet in that regard. I certainly wasn’t expecting it when I watched it (I obviously didn’t read anything about it, so that’d explain why), yet it just felt right for this kind of film. I was thrown back by Derek Luke’s performance as Boobie Miles that I found the failure in this film way more engaging than the successes they felt. Which is what this film really is all about; the team may have ultimately failed in their games, but they succeeded in so many other areas of their lives.
Of course the failures were a bit wrenching to witness, but that’s what happens when you have a movie (based on a book) based on a true story. As always, some liberties were changed in the film to make it more exciting, but nevertheless it was a really enjoyable and fantastic film to watch. While those who aren’t football fans may dismiss it, I really urge you to watch it; hell, after watching this I may end up watching the critically acclaimed (but apparently rarely watched) TV series, which oddly has Connie Britton in it as well, although in different roles for each.
Speaking of actors, I have to hand it to Thorton again. I’ve seen him in some excellent films lately and he’s quickly growing on me as an actor. I never paid much attention to him before, but he has a really strong on-screen presence that forces you to take notice of him every time he comes on. On top of his performance, each and every one of the football players was exceptionally cast. It was also a nice surprise to see Lee Thompson Young in the film, as I hadn’t seen him on much since that Disney channel show of his (which I admittedly used to watch when I was young).
Overall Friday Night Lights isn’t an exactly a happy film, but it still manages to lift your spirits. If you haven’t yet seen this film (which will celebrate five years this October), then do yourself a favor. This one comes Recommended.
Universal has brought over a near identical replica of the previous HD-DVD release from 2006. The disc arrives in standard Elite Blu-ray case (though I did note that it has a new center disc holder—we’ll see if it keeps the discs in place better. It also doesn’t have a large plastic bar along the top either) with an insert advertising the format as well as other Universal Blu-ray titles. Menus for the disc are the usual blade system and are easy to navigate.
Video arrives in an AVC encoded transfer that is quite remarkable looking. The beautiful cinematography in this film really pops and the on-field footage of the games is nothing short of brilliant. The texture of the grass, stadium lights, and even crowd shots are filled with detail and just about all of the exterior shots are near flawless. There are some issues to be had with the transfer, however, and that stems from the grain that exists naturally on the film. It’s hard to tell if it’s all natural or not, but it is a bit distracting at times; but even with that having been said, it’s a small nuisance, as the rest of the film is simply impeccable. Audio is a DTS-HD Master Audio 5.1 mix that is as impressive as you’d imagine, with plenty of thump from the subwoofer when the music kicks in and plenty of surround action during practice and actual games in the film. Occasionally dialogue is a bit hard to hear, but for the most part everything is crisp and easy to hear. Spanish and French DTS5.1 audio are included, as well as English SDH, Spanish and French subtitles.
There’s a whole selection of extras, all of which have been ported from the HD-DVD version. First up is the Feature Commentary with director Peter Berg and Author Buzz Bissinger. This is a great track as not only do they already have a report with one another since they’re cousins, but having the director of the film and author of the book makes for just about as informative of a commentary as one could hope for.
Next up is a healthy array of extras to poke through, all of which are presented in standard definition. Action-Packed Deleted Scenes (21:48) take us through a whole array of removed sequences, Peter Berg Discusses a Scene in the Movie (1:09) which is then played (2:50, 1080p) and is the only extra here in 1080p (mainly since it’s taken from the movie itself). Player Cam (4:19), Tim McGraw: Off the Stage (6:11), The Story of the 1988 Permian Panthers (23:32), Gridiron Grads (14:11), and Behind the Lights (26:51) wrap up the remainder of the featurettes, which range from short behind-the-scenes pieces to some fairly in-depth looks at the original story as well as the making of the film itself.
Overall a solid release all around. Plenty of extras to pick at and the film itself is some of the best looking football I’ve ever seen. And considering football is about all I watched when I got my HDTV (I said before I wasn’t a huge fan and I’m not…but hey, it was all I had to watch in HD). Recommended.
Friday Night Lights is now available on Blu-ray.