Friday Night Lights – DVD Review

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Peter Berg


Billy Bob Thornton……….Coach Gaines
Lucas Black……….Mike Winchell
Garrett Hedlund……….Don Billingsley
Derek Luke……….Boobie Miles
Jay Hernandez……….Brian Chavez
Lee Jackson……….Ivory Christian
Lee Thompson Young……….Chris Comer
Tim McGraw……….Charles Billingsley
Grover Coulson……….L.V. Miles

Universal Pictures presents Friday Night Lights. Written by Berg and David Aaron Cohen. Based on the book by H.G. Bissinger. Running time: 117 minutes. Rated PG-13 (for thematic issues, sexual content, language, some teen drinking and rough sports action).

The Movie

Imagine driving through a small town on a Friday night. Then, you lose control of your automobile. Oops, out of gas. Walking to the nearest gas station you see a sign that reads, “Gone to the Game.” That’s not an overstatement. It’s pretty common for an entire town to watch every local pigskin classic. So goes the story of Friday Night Lights and a team’s pursuit to live up to the hype.

“The best football movie ever made,” is not an exaggeration. This is a film that truly grasps the ideology of Small Town, U.S.A. and its obsession for high school football. The ultimate goal for a small town high school is to win its state’s championship. Winning a championship not only showcases the school, but also proclaims the town to be one of promise and significance.

The game of football is a great equalizer. It is a game where twenty-two combatants line up across from one another with a pigskin in between. In the course of sixty-minutes these men wage a mini-war between schools and towns. Bones are broken, noses are blooded and in the end one team is triumphant. However, anything less than perfection is inexcusable in Small Town, U.S.A.

The film Friday Night Lights depicts the town of Odessa, Texas as a town that eats, sleeps, and breathes high school football. The radio airways are abuzz about the Permian Panthers. People call in with their opinions no matter how asinine they may be. For instance, one caller says that if Coach Gaines led the Panthers to an undefeated season that he should be paid upwards of $100,000. When the team wins there is an overabundance of pat-on-the-back approval; but when the team loses, congratulations turn to catcalls. So much so that townspeople don’t hesitate to place “For Sale” signs in Gaines’ front yard. A high school football coach, man, what a way to make a living.

Billy Bob Thornton stars as head coach Gary Gaines. It’s another terrific performance for Thornton. I’m beginning to think that there is nothing this man can’t do. He is a chameleon of sorts. He has played mentally challenged roles (Sling Blade, A Simple Plan). He can play legends (as Davey Crockett in The Alamo). He can even play jolly St. Nick. (Okay, maybe not so jolly.) His performance as Gaines is just another facet to his repertoire. As Coach Gaines, Thornton is a private man. On the football field he is a powder keg ready to burst at the seams. But his outbursts aren’t exaggerated. Off the field he is reserved, a listener. He likes to keep his thoughts to himself even if it is at the expense of his team.

Lucas Black, Billy Bob’s Sling Blade co-star, plays quarterback Mike Winchell. Early into the film there’s no question his desire to be perfect. As he drinks his orange juice over morning breakfast his mother flips through the offensive playbook quizzing him, making sure he has the knowledge and know-how to succeed.

Joining Lucas Black is an eclectic bunch of young actors. Offensive teammates include fullback Don Billingsley (Garrett Hedlund), Chris Comer (Lee Thompson Young), and star running back James “Boobie” Miles (Derek Luke, Antoine Fisher). On the defensive side of the ball are linebacker Brian Chavez (Jay Hernandez, Ladder 49) and the tight-lipped Ivory “Preacherman” Christian (Lee Jackson) among others. Unfortunately, these actors are the only ones identified in the film. That is a shame. It would have been nice to know some of the other players on a personal level.

What makes this film so intriguing is the fact that it is based on a real life event, as described by the best seller Friday Night Lights: A Town, a Team, and a Dream, by H.G. “Buzz” Bissinger. Starting in the summer of 1988 Bissinger followed the Permian Panthers and their journey to the Texas 5-A State Championship. Over the course of a season Bissinger got an inside look at what high school football means to the town of Odessa.

For a film about football you would think it wouldn’t be hard to make. Well, not for producer Brian Grazer (8 Mile, A Beautiful Mind). It took Grazer 14 years to get this film on the silver screen. While in “development hell” the film underwent numerous script changes and various directors. Thankfully it was able to come to fruition by director Peter Berg (The Rundown). In a strange coincidence Berg is the second cousin of H.G. Bissinger. For this picture Berg brings a guerrilla-style of filmmaking. Quick cutting and shot montages are implemented, as is the use of handheld cameras. This helps reveal the poignant sub-plots and moments between Boobie Miles and his uncle, Don Billingsley and his father Charles (played surprisingly well by country superstar Tim McGraw), and the pressure Coach Gaines has to deal with during the season.

If you ask people what their favorite sports film is they immediately conjure up dramas like Hoosiers or Rocky. Friday Night Lights also belongs in that echelon. Those films deemed worthy of the title “sports classic” illustrate more than a competitive sport. They chronicle aspects of life that go beyond the field of play.

It’s interesting to note that Friday Night Lights could have taken place in any small town. With every snap the hopes and dreams of each player hang in the balance. And the passion of winning and the relentless amount of pressure placed on the players and coaches is an eerie fact of life.



The film’s theatrical aspect ratio of 2:35:1 is presented in anamorphic widescreen. The digitally remastered picture is good, but there is some edge enhancement and artifact issues during a few scenes. Peter Berg’s lighting crew did a great job with color filters. The skin tones really show through when you watch the film.


Enjoy the bone-crunching action on your sound system. When Boobie Miles goes down with an injury you don’t just hear it, you feel it. You can listen to the film in English 5.1 Dolby Digital Surround; Spanish, French Dolby Surround. The film is playable with captioning for the hearing impaired. You can also view the film with Spanish or French subtitles.


The disc may not be loaded with extras – like some other special editions – but at least the extras are worth watching. Besides, the movie should come first, not the special features.

The first extra are action-packed deleted scenes. There are a total of 10 scenes/scene extensions that were left on the cutting-room floor. Unfortunately, there is not an option to watch the scenes separately. So, you have to watch all twenty-one minutes if you want to see them all. Also, there is no director’s commentary option for the deleted scenes. That’s okay. Most of the scenes were editing floor friendly. The best scenes are at the tail end of the montage. See if you can spot legendary wrestler Terry Funk.

Peter Berg discusses a scene in the movie is a one minute sound bite by Berg where he gives his reason why he shot the hamburger joint scene near the end of production. After the sound bite is over, the scene from Friday Night Lights plays.

Up next is Player Cam (4:18). Shot by Ryan Jacobs, who plays one of the scrub players for the Permian Panthers in the film, “Player Cam” goes around showing what the actors/extras did while goofing off. Actor Lucas Black does his impersonation of Billy Bob in Sling Blade as well as play director Peter Berg in a strange golf challenge.

Tim McGraw: Off the Stage (6:10) spotlights the country entertainer. During this featurette Billy Bob Thornton, Garrett Hedlund, and Peter Berg talk about McGraw’s work in the film.

The best feature on the Friday Night Lights DVD – besides the movie, duh! – is the featurette: The Story of the Permian Panthers. Instead of doing a simple 30-minute fluff feature on the making of this football film, where the actors talk about the characters they play, the DVD producers give us four members of the 1988 Permian team. For twenty-three minutes you get to watch Mike Winchell (Quarterback), Don Billingsley (Tailback), Brain Chavez (Tight End), and Boobie Miles (Fullback) recount their memories of playing for Coach Gaines.

With all the differences between the book and the film the audio commentary by director Peter Berg and writer H.G. “Buzz” Bissinger is good to listen to. As Bissinger recounts the death threats he received after the book was released, you get a better understanding of small town mentality and the nature of high school football.

Cast and Crew Filmographies and DVD-ROM material round out the rest of the extras.


Upon further review I can’t believe I left this off as an honorable mention in my Top 10 list of 2004. While not as multi-dimensional as H.G. Bissinger’s novel, the silver screen version is a fitting tribute to the 1988 Permian Panthers. This isn’t just a tribute to the team; it’s a tribute to the ideology of high school football.

The DVD Lounge’s Ratings for Friday Night Lights
(OUT OF 10)






Travis Leamons is one of the Inside Pulse Originals and currently holds the position of Managing Editor at Inside Pulse Movies. He's told that the position is his until he's dead or if "The Boss" can find somebody better. I expect the best and I give the best. Here's the beer. Here's the entertainment. Now have fun. That's an order!