Friday Night Lights... a JU1CY review - High-Def Digest Forums
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Old 02-26-2007, 01:29 PM
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Red face Friday Night Lights... a JU1CY review

Friday Night Lights: A JU1CY Review

My first review on HD DVD is the film Friday Night Lights, and let me start by saying that I loved this movie in the theaters. I saw it twice, and loved it both times, so I went into this review with ‘high hopes’. It didn’t live up to my ‘High Def’ expectations, but we’ll get to that a little later.

The Story:
The plot for Friday Night Lights is a typical ‘cookie cutter’ football movie… but somehow it works. When every other recent football movie is the same, this one stands out, in my opinion. Is it because it has better action sequences? Not necessarily. The football action scenes are fantastic, but so were the scenes in Varsity Blues. Is it because it has better actors? No, not really. The actors gave great performances… but that’s not what made this movie great in my opinion.

The one thing this movie has that the others don’t, is a firm grasp on reality. *Spoiler alert*: If you haven’t seen this movie, and don’t want the ending ruined, skip down to the “Sizing up the Video” section.* The reason that I state that this film has a firm grasp on reality is because in the end, the team loses. They don’t defeat the giant (or in this case giants). There isn’t that “we win simply because we are the stars of the movie” crap at the end. You know, the comeback to end all comebacks… beating all the odds with only your third string players, blah blah blah. This movie is exciting to watch, and still reminds us that there is real life waiting for you when you’re done watching this movie. You come away thinking about what could have been. It evokes emotion, when there are literally dozens of other movies with an almost identical plot.

The story draws you in, creating a bond with the ‘players’ because of the pressure that is being put on them from the surrounding town. For those who played high school sports, it brings back all of those ‘must win’ feelings.

We start in a typical Texas town, circa 1988, watching as our ‘star’ football players make their way to the first day of practice for what is supposed to be a championship season. The Permian Panthers, from Odessa, are not the biggest team, and they aren’t the fastest team… but they have the ‘intangibles’ that make them great.

The star of the team (and the one person that the entire offense is based around) is James ‘Booby’ Miles, a child prodigy. But, like every great sports movie, the Panthers can’t be loved without adversity. With their team dominating their first home game, Booby gets hurt, and not just an ankle sprain… a significant tear to his ACL.

A good portion of screen time is dedicated to Booby, and his struggle to get back into the game. With all of the bravado that comes with youth, he rushes back to the field before his knee is ready. The results are disastrous, and Booby’s football days are over.

Despite the loss of Booby, the Panthers find a way to win games, with a few glaring exceptions. The quarterback, Mike Winchell, isn’t used to being in a ‘must pass’ offence, but is now forced to lead his team. Struggling with the pressure to deliver the win, and the external pressures of taking care of his mother, Mike finds that playing football isn’t always as much fun as it used to be.

Because of the injury to Booby, Don Billingsley is given the opportunity to play, and must learn to cure his severe case of ‘fumbleitis’ or risk not only being benched, but having his alcoholic father (played by Tim McGraw) abuse him at every turn. The relationship between father and son is a though one to watch, and we come to really care about Don because of it.

As the season progresses, the Panthers find themselves in a three way tie for first place in their division. To resolve this tie, the league resorts to the tried and true method of… the coin toss.

Throughout the playoffs, the Panthers find a way to ‘get er done’, and find themselves in the State Championship game with the Carter Cowboys. This team of literal giants (most of these players look like NFL starters… not high school seniors) are the only ones standing in the way of the Panther’s Championship season. As coach Gaines says in one of the deleted scenes, “they are bigger than us by 30 pounds, to the man.” These guys are huge… and they play like they’re even bigger.

After being utterly decimated through the entire first half, the Panthers somehow claw their way back into this game. Down by only 5 points with less than a minute and a half left on the clock… the Panthers are driving. With fantastic plays from both Mike Winchell and Don Billingsley, the Panthers are within scoring position. With just a few ticks of the clock left, the Panthers decide to run the ball right up the middle. Don does exactly what needs to be done, and gets the ball to the three yard line… but wait… holding, 10 yard penalty, repeat third down. With all of the team’s hopes and dreams, Mike lofts the football into the back of the end zone for the game winning touchdown… but it’s no good! The Cowboys win the Game!

The first time that you watch this movie, you walk away shaking your head. “I don’t believe it, how could they lose? The star of the movie ALWAYS wins in the end…” and you leave the theater talking about the film the entire way home. It pulls emotions up from deep within, and takes you back to high school, back to a time when things like winning were the only things that mattered. This was a great film, and the more I watch it, the more I love it.

Final Score: 4.5 out of 5 stars (A)

Sizing up the Video
This film is presented at 2.35:1, with a 1080p24 film encoding; Universal does an adequate job with this transfer. With as much as I loved this film, I must say that I was not at all blown away by this transfer. Like I said earlier, it’s not that the film doesn’t look great, it may have just been my love of this movie had me hoping for more… but I wasn’t blown away.

Granted, a lot of the action shots are filmed with that ‘you are on the sidelines’ camera shake, but I didn’t feel like I was watching this movie through a window. The 3D effects that HD is supposed to provide just weren’t there. Film grain was prevalent throughout, but rarely excessive. Color recreation and sharpness were good, and flesh tones were excellent. Detail is good despite the ever-present film grain, and blacks were rock solid. The best scenes were well lit interior scenes, but even those didn’t provide that ‘reference material’ pop that I was hoping for. Maybe I’m being too harsh on this transfer because of how much I really loved this film, but I never found myself saying, “Wow, look at how three dimensional that image looks… it’s like I can reach out and touch the actors.”

It was a good transfer, but definitely not reference material

Final Score: 3.5 out of 5 stars(C+)

How does it Sound?
Universal gives us another Dolby Digital-Plus, 5.1 surround, for Friday Night Lights. The audio is very similar to the video, in my opinion. The film is very front heavy, and doesn’t utilize the surround the way that it could have. I was hoping for ‘bone crushing hits’ to reverberate from all around me, but it never happened. There were a few times when background music was nicely played in all 5 of my speakers, giving me that ‘listening to my car stereo’ feeling… but I never felt the punch from my surround speakers.

Dynamics were good, and the sound was actually quite detailed, but there was no envelopment, and my rear soundstage was virtually non-existent.

Final Score: 2.5 out of 5 stars(D)

Special Features
Friday Night Lights has all of the special features that we have come to expect on DVD, including deleted scenes, Peter Berg discussing a scene, Player cam, Tim McGraw: Off the Stage, Feature length commentary (with Director, Peter Berg, and writer, Buzz Bissinger), The story of the 1988 Permian Panthers, and two HD DVD exclusives: “Behind the Lights” and “Gridiron Grads”

I personally am not a huge fan of feature length commentary. I don’t know, maybe it’s sitting there listening to the director talk about why a certain scene is orange and not red, but the typical commentary is usually something that bores me… but this commentary is different. I was quite surprised at the lack of “This was a tough scene to shoot, because you have to get the camera angle just right so the hit looks believable” that I have become used to. Instead, Peter Berg (director) and Buzz Bissinger (writer) discuss the difficulties of getting the story to fit. They talk about how hard it was to get all of the content of the book adapted to screen, with only two hours to tell the story. I really like this deviation from the norm.

The other pieces in the Special Features were mostly filler and fluff. The deleted scenes were very typical of deleted scenes. Some were simply extended versions of scenes still in the movie, and others were removed for whatever reason. Most notable was the scene where the Carter Cowboys are declared ineligible, because one of their players received a ‘D’ in his classes. I am glad that they took this scene out of the movie, because it takes the focus away from the game, and brings in more racial tension than I personally think is necessary. Like I always say, it was cut for a reason… and none of these scenes would have made the movie better.

The ‘Peter Berg discussing a scene’ was a total waste of time. You could skip this feature, and miss nothing. Berg chooses to talk about a scene that is in no way engaging or exciting, and I found myself cheer as the clip ended.

The player cam was a four minute time waster, where we follow football player, Ryan Jacobs, around as the players horse around.

The Tim McGraw clip was fairly interesting, because he discusses the differences between performing a live concert, and acting on stage. I personally would have assumed (since I have never been a famous singer) that the two would go hand-in-hand… but apparently not so.

My favorite part of the Special Features was “The Story of the 1988 Permian Panthers”. Maybe it’s because I really enjoy history, or maybe it’s because I love football, but this was a great distraction. This clip contains interviews with the ‘real’ players, as well as archived footage from actual games. It provides you with the sense that even though this was a theatrical release, it was indeed based on a true story. As a side note (and something that I learned from IMDb) is that there are a few scenes in the movie where the real James ‘Booby’ Miles is standing in the background, behind Derek Luke (who plays him in the movie).

What else is on the Disc? HD DVD Exclusives
The HD DVD release of this movie contains all of the ‘extras’ from the SD release, and a few additional ‘surprises’. These include “Behind the Lights” and “Gridiron Grads”

“Behind the Lights” is a behind the scenes look at the making of Friday Night Lights with cast and crew interviews. None of these were in HD, which was disappointing, but this near 30 minute featurette was a nice surprise none the less. It includes interviews with Director, Peter Berg, Writer, Buzz Bissinger, producer, Brian Grazer, and star, Billy Bob Thornton (Coach Gaines).

“Gridiron Grads” is a chronicle about the extras in the film. All of these guys were Pro Football hopefuls, who take football more seriously than anyone really should. It was interesting to see their mentality, but next time I have thoughts of being an extra on a film… I may think again.

Final Thoughts
I really loved this movie in the theaters, and it holds up decently well on HD DVD. I think that because I liked to so much, I was hoping that this movie was going to be a reference quality transfer… which it was not. Don’t get me wrong, I have seen titles look a lot worse, but if you are looking for a title to show off your new HDTV/ HD DVD set-up, this is not a title I would choose. Everything was there in terms of picture quality, it just lacked that 3D image that I have come to love in HD. The DD+ track left me wanting more, and the extras were right on par with most discs released today.

All in all, I give this transfer a 3.5 stars… great movie, I just wanted more.

Last edited by JU1CYFRU1T; 02-26-2007 at 01:31 PM.
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Old 02-26-2007, 01:30 PM
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As with all reviews... feedback is welcome.

Last edited by JU1CYFRU1T; 02-26-2007 at 01:41 PM.
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Old 02-26-2007, 01:39 PM
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Peter Berg is a sweet director I loved the style of The Rundown.....however as a canadian.... American College/High School football stories do not appeal to me at all. So I have not seen this, and do not plan on it...however I can't wait for The Kingdom.
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Old 02-26-2007, 02:48 PM
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I'm a huge fan of American Football, and usually love football themed movies. But, Friday Night Lights (the movie) just didn't do it for me. I thought it was pretty boring. Yeah, I suppose you can't always have the team win in the ending, but the ending of FNL was a real let down. The movie lacked the inspiration of "Remember the Titans", my favorite football movie. Nor was it fun to watch, like "Varsity Blue".

I thought the HD DVD transfer was pretty decent.

Actually, I enjoy the TV series much better, although they are turning it into too much of a soap opera since the first of the year.
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Old 02-27-2007, 08:23 PM
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Nice review! This is on the backburner for me, but I've always wanted to see the movie.

Does it in any way tie into the TV series (which I haven't seen yet either)?
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