Friday Night Lights

'Friday Night Lights' is the story of Odessa's Permian High School football dynasty in the 1980s. It's a good story, but did Hollywood pull off a film rendition of Odessa high school football?

DVD Watch

Friday Night Lights

Universal Studios, $29.99

Friday Night Lights is the story of Odessa's Permian High School football dynasty in the 1980s. It's a good story, but did Hollywood pull off a film rendition of Odessa high school football? The book was a documentary story. The film is not a documentary, but a docudrama. Credit the DVD for having extra features with more real stories of the Odessa Permian Panthers of 1988 and of the culture of West Texas football. The short documentary shot by the author in 1988 provides a sort of Hoop Dreams backdrop to the book, the real players, and the era. Where I grew up and when we played Odessa, we thought about Odessa's team plane, the carpeted locker room, the 25,000 fans at the game, the six-county school district, and the rumored grade-school recruiting, but most of this is left out of the movie only to reappear in bits and pieces as DVD extras. Ê

This Friday Night Lights is Hollywood's version of the lives of several of the ballplayers with Billy Bob Thornton as the coach. Thornton does pull off the demeanor, pep talks, and teachin'-boys-about-life stuff, as you might expect him to do. But when you go to the DVD menu, you'll see that a lot of what was cut from the movie was the very detail that made the book the unique snapshot of a time and place. An example is Thornton's story to the boys of the ages of "sincere warfare" between Permian and Midland Lee, for years the de facto state championship game. This scene was cut, along with scenes depicting the Hatfield-and-McCoy-type feud between the adjacent towns. If even these small chunks of reality had been in the original movie, for me, as a benchwarmer from Lubbock High, it would have made all the difference in the world. That they were included on the DVD is some consolation. Ê

As it is, the stock teen characters – the religious kid, the alcohol kid, the orphan, guy with crazy mom, and Mr. Happy G. Lucky – are pretty believable Odessans. ÊThey overcome or survive the derived obstacles that face them and come together as a team. Their togetherness is a virtue in the hyperviolent world of Hollywood football. But the interviews with the real kids, then the real grown-ups 15 years later are much more interesting.

High school football is violent, but the football scenes are barely believable. Starting with full-pad contact drills on the first morning of two-a-days, the action just seems off. A DVD extra tries to explain how they did the hits like a flying kung-fu movie, but it doesn't say why. Usually, playing Permian, we just had smaller guys trying to hang on the legs of their bigger guys and make them fall down. Hollywood messed up the action part. That's too bad for a football movie. But get the DVD for the extras, particularly the documentary accompaniment to the book. One final special bonus: If you want to try and figure out what the heck Tim McGraw is doing in a movie, the featurette explaining his brilliance is available, too.


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