Case Number 15411: Small Claims Court

FRIDAY NIGHT LIGHTS (BLU-RAY)

Universal // 2004 // 118 Minutes // Rated PG-13
Reviewed by Judge Clark Douglas // January 12th, 2009

The Charge

Hope comes alive on Friday nights.

The Case

There are few genres that have become as wearisome as the sports movie genre. I've grown sick and tired of seeing the same old "inspirational true story" told over and over again. However, Friday Night Lights is one of the few sports movies of recent years that I was glad to return to. Here is an honest, engaging, surprising story that avoids all the obvious pitfalls of the genre. Here you will find no one-dimensional token supporting players, no shamelessly sentimental music, and no dreary stories about overcoming incredible odds to achieve both personal and athletic victory. Instead, you will be treated to a convincing slice-of-life tale that truly captures the vibe of life in a high school football town.

In this small Texas town, football is everything. Football is the dominant subject of most conversations, and emotions run high during football season. The people in this town care about winning more than anything. The best players on the team are local idols, and an intense level of pressure is placed on every member of the team. The film focuses on a few key members. The team's biggest star is probably Boobie Miles (Derek Luke, Miracle at St. Anna), an extremely talented running back who is getting all kinds of scholarship offers from many different schools. Boobie is charismatic, confident, and maybe just a little too arrogant. Lately, he hasn't been working out or doing the basic exercises with the team. "This talent is God-given," he smirks. That attitude doesn't sit too well with Mike Winchell (Lucas Black, The Fast and the Furious: Tokyo Drift), the team quarterback. Mike is a very hard-working player who also has a great deal of talent. Even so, he hates the fact that he lives in such an intense football town. He can't wait to leave his hometown behind for good. We also spend some time with Don Billingsley (Garrett Hedlund, Four Brothers), the son of a local legend (Tim McGraw, Flicka). Don isn't a particularly talented player, a fact that his father never lets him forget.

The team has a new coach, played here by Billy Bob Thornton (The Man Who Wasn't There). Before the season even starts, the coach comes under intense fire. This has nothing to do with the coach's level of intelligence or skill, but rather because every single adult in Odessa considers themselves an expert on the game. Thornton is quite a contrast to most movie coaches, as he proves to be a very flawed human being at times. In most movies, the biggest flaw a coach has is that he is too obsessed with winning or doesn't spend enough time with his family. Thornton's character has actual moral flaws. He refuses to intervene when a father marches onto the field to berate one of the players. He doesn't comment when one of the parents throws out a nasty racial slur at the dinner table. He allows an injured player to go back on the field despite the potential danger to that player's life. He's an effective coach, but not entirely a good man and we spend a large portion of the film trying to figure out whether or not we like him.

The film is one of the stronger entries on the resume of Peter Berg, a smart and talented guy who has helmed some minor misfires like Hancock and The Kingdom in recent times. Here, he almost never takes a wrong step. The direction is assured and observant at all times. We get the sense that we are not merely being told a story, but rather being given an opportunity to experience life in a unique world. The minor, seemingly inconsequential details are as important here as the big plot points. Anyone familiar with the world of high school football will appreciate how well this film captures the complexities of that world. We aren't merely dealing with X's and O's, but also meddlesome parents, struggling teens with raging hormones, and fans who feel like their dignity is defined by the stadium scoreboard. So many things here are spot-on, and not just the football stuff. Just look at the scene in which a doctor examines Boobie's knee, and consider the doctor's behavior. Here is a guy who actually acts like a real doctor, and not an actor portraying a doctor. The value of such things should not be overlooked.

So, we've established that the film is well worth watching. How about the hi-def transfer? It's pretty solid. This is often a rather dark film visually, and thankfully blacks here are pretty deep. The transfer does suffer from a bit of black crush, but it's not too bad. Facial detail is sharp, and the wide stadium shots are pretty solid. An inconsistent level of grain also appears here from time to time. Audio is a mixed bag. The football scenes are quite strong, as the hard-hitting sound design is rather dynamic. However, the sound struggles a bit in other areas. A couple of scenes in which characters are yelling are plagued by distortion, and the music is cranked just a bit too loud on occasion. Still, the scenes that really need to sound great do sound great, and I suppose that's what most viewers will care about.

Pretty much all of the supplements have been ported over from the previous DVD release. A commentary with Peter Berg and author H.G. Bissinger is fairly informative, if just a little dry at times. The best of the featurettes is "Behind the Lights" (26 minutes), a standard look at the making of the film. Several other featurettes focus on more specific areas: "Tim McGraw: Off the Stage," "Gridiron Grads," "Player Cam," "Peter Berg Discusses a Scene," and "The Story of the 1988 Permian Panthers." There are all pretty inconsequential, though perhaps worth looking at once. Twenty-one minutes of hit-and-miss deleted scenes are included. The only Blu-ray exclusive is the "My Scenes" feature, which permits viewers to snip their favorite moments and make a highlight reel.

Friday Night Lights is an excellent film, and the Blu-ray is worth picking up, if you don't own it. However, those who have the DVD probably shouldn't bother upgrading. This disc just doesn't offer enough incentive to be worth an extra 20-30 bucks. The film is not guilty, Universal is put on probation for this dull double-dip.

Review content copyright © 2009 Clark Douglas; Site layout and review format copyright © 1998 - 2014 HipClick Designs LLC

Scales of Justice
Judgment: 90

Perp Profile
Studio: Universal
Video Formats:
* 2.35:1 Non-Anamorphic (1080p Widescreen)

Audio Formats:
* DTS HD 5.1 Master Audio (English)
* DTS 5.1 Surround (French)
* DTS 5.1 Surround (Spanish)

Subtitles:
* English (SDH)
* French
* Spanish

Running Time: 118 Minutes
Release Year: 2004
MPAA Rating: Rated PG-13

Distinguishing Marks
* Commentary
* Featurettes
* Deleted Scenes
* My Scenes

Accomplices
* IMDb
http://us.imdb.com/title/tt0390022/combined