Friday Night Lights Review
Did Peter Berg sit down to Any Given Sunday in preparation for Friday Night Lights? Perhaps with the sound off? He’s always been a bombastic director, as evinced from Very Bad Things and The Rundown (aka Welcome to the Jungle), but the overly frenetic style here is undoubtedly borrowed from Oliver Stone as are the moody cloud shots, hectic editing and swirling aerial photography. I ask about the volume, however, as Friday Night Lights - which was also co-written by Berg – lacks the rigour and strength of character found in the earlier picture. Then again, perhaps this wasn’t his intention – after all he’s made a film which more closely resembles Coach Carter, albeit less Disney-fied and with American football as its sport of choice.
Like the Samuel L. Jackson movie Friday Night Lights is based on a true story. It follows the fortunes of the Permian Panthers as they progress through the Texas state championships in 1988, with special attention paid to their coach (Billy Bob Thornton) and the family lives of a handful of players. Yet owing to Berg’s fondness for editing every couple of seconds and refusal to keep the camera still (though this does, admittedly, feel toned from Very Bad Things’ abrasiveness), it’s never truly able to settle into a narrative proper. Just as he pulls focus to stroke along various textures, his concentration likewise only touches on surfaces for limited periods of time. Thornton displays the stoicism you’d expect from such a role, but is there anything else to be discerned? The answer is sadly no, and much the same is true of the other key characters, each of whom are allowed a major scene or two apiece and little else. The end result is a piece which fails to truly cohere.
That said, Friday Night Lights does pick up on certain minutiae along the way. The tensions in the team, town and families as well as the sense of community are especially strong, the latter most pertinently in the way it truly surrounds the team – a way of saying how this little town in Texas offers very little else. Indeed, time and again we realise that to many of the players – just like in Coach Carter - this is the only way out of a dead end existence.
If this suggests an overly serious work, then that would certainly be the case. Moreover, it is this element which could prove problematic with a non-US audience. Given that American football is at the centre of Friday Night Lights it is therefore also true that the sport is treated with utmost seriousness. Yet for all the dazzling technical bravura of the rapid fire editing and deployment of more crash zooms than a seventies Michael Winner movie, there really is no way in for the outsider. The film treats it as “the greatest game in the world” and as such anyone who thinks otherwise is likely to be left out in the cold. Certainly, it may be admirable that Friday Night Lights’s setting has been used as a means of laughing at a bunch of eighties rednecks, but a touch of brevity would have been much appreciated.
Friday Night Lights comes to Region 2 DVD in superb condition and bolstered by a host of extras. The image is near perfect with a 2.35:1 anamorphic transfer that is technically flawless. Indeed, the various manipulations of the image which Berg has added are faithfully recreated without a single problem. As for the soundtrack, we are offered a DD5.1 mix which ably copes with the dialogue, bone crunching football scenes and soundtrack (including plenty of Public Enemy) with equal aplomb.
With regards to the extras, these are something of a mixed bag, though many prove worthwhile. Certainly, the promo for Universal Mediterránea is unlikely to be watched even once, but then we do get a fine commentary and a pair of noteworthy featurettes. The talk track comes from Peter Berg and his cousin H.G. Bissinger, who wrote the original non-fiction book upon which the film was based. Given their different roles we get an admirably full piece which discusses both the events which inspired Friday Night Lights and the technical side of its creation (perhaps unsurprisingly the editing and photography receive special attention). Moreover, they clearly enjoy each others company, which only serves to make the listening experience all the more enjoyable.
Of the featurettes, the first covers the events of 1988 which inspired the film, whilst the second focuses in on country singer-turned-actor Tim McGraw. Unsurprisingly, the latter is likely to play better towards a US audience, but the first piece proves highly interesting. Of course, it never really gets into any great depth, but in providing archive footage from the 1988 season, as well as modern day interviews with the players portrayed in the film, does add a further dimension.
Also noteworthy are the deleted scenes, though sadly these lack any contextualising text or commentary. Rounding off the packing we have a ridiculously over-edited piece in which Peter Berg discusses a scene and a video diary-type piece which sees various cast members goofing off to camera.
All special features come with optional English, French, Dutch, Danish, Finnish, Norwegian and Swedish subtitles.