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Blu-ray Reviews

Boardwalk Empire: The Complete First Season Blu-ray Review

TV Reviews

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#1 of 2 Cameron Yee

Cameron Yee

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Posted January 13 2012 - 02:20 PM

Did we need another American gangster story? Probably not, but thanks to filmmakers' and audiences' endless fascination with the subject, we got one. Thankfully the show is filled with great characters and character development, made all the better by fine performances from Steve Buscemi, Michael Pitt and Kelly Macdonald. A great Blu-ray presentation and collection of extras make for a worthy addition to the video library. 


Boardwalk Empire: The Complete First Season
Release Date: January 10, 2012
Studio: HBO Home Entertainment
Packaging/Materials: Five-disc DigiPack with slipcase
Year: 2010
Rating: TV-MA
Running Time: Approx. 12:12:00
MSRP: $79.98

Video 1080p high definition 1.78:1 High definition
Audio DTS-HD Master Audio: English 5.1 / DTS: French 5.1, Spanish 2.0, Castellano 5.1 Various
Subtitles English SDH, French, Spanish, Castellano, Portuguese, Danish, Finnish, Norwegian, Swedish Various

The Season: 4.5/5

It's the eve of Prohibition in the United States, and in Atlantic City, New Jersey Enoch "Nucky" Thompson (Steve Buscemi) is celebrating. As the Atlantic County Treasurer, Thompson has amassed both power and wealth, but it's under the strictures of Prohibition's "Noble Experiment" that he will truly ascend, transforming from a corrupt-but-charming regional politician into a full blown criminal kingpin controlling a major port on the Eastern seaboard.

As Thompson works to establish his kingdom, he'll garner his share of enemies, namely New York's Arnold Rothstein (Michael Stuhlbarg) and his protegé Charles "Lucky" Luciano (Vincent Piazza). A fledgling bootlegging deal gone awry - no thanks to Thompson's over-ambitious friend and sometime driver, Jimmy Darmody (Michael Pitt) - torpedoes any chance of the two working together amicably. But, given each man's ambitions, becoming enemies seems like an inevitability. It's also this initial venture that brings around Federal Agent Nelson Van Alden (Michael Shannon), whose dogged attempts to cut off the head of the bootlegging snake, will delay and distract both up-and-coming criminal figures.

Darmody has had and will have his own share of transformations during this time. At one point a Princeton-bound intellectual, Darmody opted to serve his country in the Great War instead, eventually returning home a changed and haunted man. Though not a sociopathic thug like his Chicago ally Al Capone (Stephen Graham), Darmody is no less committed once he sets his mind to being a gangster, his boyish good looks masking a well of darker impulses.

By contrast, the women in Thompson's life tend to have transformation thrust upon them as opposed to being chosen. Margaret Schroeder (Kelly Macdonald) in particular, a poor, Irish immigrant housewife and mother of two young children, quickly captures Thompson's attention despite their rather innocuous, initial interactions. It's because of his concern for her - in forms both obvious and chilling -  that she eventually must decide between remaining as she is or becoming something much less well defined. Thompson's transformative tendencies prove infectious in this regard, affecting, if not corrupting, everything they touch.

Though the world didn't need another American gangster story, filmmakers' and audiences' seemingly endless fascination with the subject has given us "Boardwalk Empire," an undeniably compelling look at the empire-building machinations of a seemingly mild-mannered county treasurer. Though Thompson's politicking and criminal dealings don't show us anything we haven't seen or heard before, it's ultimately the strength of the characters and their evolutionary development that make the show as intriguing as it is.

Much of the appeal around the main character is due to the casting of Buscemi in the lead role. At one time better known for his work as a supporting player, Buscemi takes to the part quite naturally, bringing to it qualities we've seen in his other characters, but also elements he's not really had a chance to explore until now. As Nucky Thompson, Buscemi is at turns endlessly exasperated and unequivocally menacing. It's a combination that not only makes sense for the character, but that is perfectly suited for the actor playing him.

Pitt as Darmody also turns in a consistently strong performance. His character arc takes a notably grittier, in-the-trenches trajectory, which provides a fascinating, contrasting look at the growing Atlantic City and Chicago mob scenes. Macdonald similarly proves a canny player, bringing to her Margaret Schroeder a quiet but forceful presence -  an inner strength that will undoubtedly be capitalized upon in the upcoming episodes and seasons.

"Boardwalk Empire: The Complete First Season" on Blu-ray includes all 12 episodes that aired on HBO between September and December 2010:

    [*] Boardwalk Empire [*] The Ivory Tower [*] Broadway Limited [*] Anastasia [*] Nights in Ballygran [*] Family Limitation [*] Home [*] Hold Me in Paradise [*] Belle Femme [*] The Emerald City [*] Paris Green [*] A Return to Normalcy

Video Quality: 4/5

The 1080p, AVC-encoded transfer features strong contrast and deep color, though the palette tends toward the earthy and seems slightly desaturated despite some rich spots of color. Black levels are generally inky, but can look a little limited in some scenes, giving them a flatter quality. Detail and sharpness are similarly decent, but then tend to look better in close ups than in wide shots. Ringing along high contrast edges shows up on occasion, but is brief and infrequent enough to not be distracting.

Audio Quality: 4/5
Dialogue in the 5.1 DTS-HD Master Audio track is consistently clear, detailed and intelligible. Surround activity tends to be on the more subtle side, providing nicely balanced environmental effects for scenes on the boardwalk and other public areas, as well as immersive support for the score and music cues. LFE is infrequent given the nature of the show, but the consistent use of period music and spots of intense action exhibit very good depth and fullness.
Special Features: 4.5/5
The bulk of the extras are wrapped up in the picture-in-picture Enhanced Viewing Mode available for every episode. Though there's not a separate menu listing for the elements, the interface easily allows random access to the material and proves to be one of the better implementations of the feature that I've seen. A handful of documentaries on the fourth and fifth discs, audio commentaries, and a detailed character overview round out a special features package that is informative and thoughtfully produced.

Recaps and Previews: Each episode includes the "previously on" and "next on" video pieces that originally aired with it.

Enhanced Viewing Mode: Available on all 12 episodes, the nicely implemented, picture-in-picture interactive feature includes interviews of cast and crew covering topics like characters, production design and story elements; plentiful historical information and trivia about the era; and information about the show's period music. Viewers have the option to either let the various elements come up at pre-determined points in the episode, or jump ahead to them within a cleanly designed timeline interface.

Audio Commentaries

  • Episode 1 - Boardwalk Empire: Commentary by Creator/Writer/Executive Producer Terence Winter 
  • Episode 4 - Anastasia: Commentary by Creator/Writer/Executive Producer Terence Winter, and Actors Steve Buscemi and Michael Kenneth Williams
  • Episode 6 - Family Limitation: Commentary by Director/Writer/Executive Producer Tim Van Patten and Writer/Supervising Producer Howard Korder
  • Episode 8 - Hold Me in Paradise: Commentary by Creator/Writer/Executive Producer Terence Winter and Director Brian Kirk
  • Episode 11 - Paris Green: Commentary by Writer/Supervising Producer Howard Korder, Director Allen Coulter, and Actor Michael Shannon
  • Episode 12 - A Return to Normalcy: Commentary by Creator/Writer/Executive Producer Terence Winter and Director/Writer/Executive Producer Tim Van Patten
Character Dossier: Each of the show's characters get a biography, still image gallery and a list of links to the other characters they are associated with, in case there's any confusion about who's who.

Atlantic City: The Original Sin City (29:35, HD): Provides a history of how Atlantic City was founded and built, and the impetus and evolution of the boardwalk into a cultural and tourist hub. The second half of the documentary focuses on the figure that inspired the character of Nucky Thompson, Nucky Johnson, and his operations and schemes during the Prohibition Era.

Speakeasy Tour (24:39, HD): Visits famous speakeasies in Chicago and New York, providing a history behind each establishment and their current condition. Actors Greg Antonacci, Michael Stuhlbarg, and Vincent Piazza serve as hosts.

Making Boardwalk Empire (19:35, HD): Provides some background on the series' development, its cast of characters, production design and costuming. The same material is used in Enhanced Viewing Mode, so those who have partaken in that feature won't find much that's new. Still, the piece provides a succinct introduction to the show and perhaps a preferable way to view some of the Enhanced Viewing Mode content.

Creating the Boardwalk (4:54, HD): Describes the design and construction of the outdoor set that recreates the Atlantic City boardwalk.


The Feature: 4.5/5
Video Quality: 4/5
Audio Quality: 4/5
Special Features: 4.5/5
Overall Score (not an average): 4.5/5

HBO Home Entertainment turns in a fine presentation for its intriguing American gangster story starring Steve Buscemi. The special features package is informative and thoughtfully produced, making for a Blu-ray release worth adding to the collection.

One thing leads to another at cameronyee.com

#2 of 2 lee vitalone

lee vitalone


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Posted January 13 2012 - 04:52 PM

what a good show! I've watched every episode and season right uo to the last and we still are wondering if it's over! They killed off one of my fav characters, and I cannot see how it can continue. Teriffic characters, teriffic story, It just seemed to get better each week! HBO does what they want though, killed deadwood that was great also. so we have yet to seeabout BE.

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