Boardwalk Empire: Season 1 (UK - BD RB)
Marcus catches up with the first season of the HBO crime drama on Blu-ray...
1920 Atlantic City. Boardwalk Empire begins with the final hours before The Prohibition Act came into play and shows us instantly how Atlantic City carried on regardless and through political manipulation, criminal schemes and lots of personal favours Enoch "Nucky" Johnson (Steve Buscemi) generated money and power from pretty much everyone who resided in his city.
The 72 minute first episode (directed by Martin Scorsese no less) sets the scene perfectly and while no episode after it feels quite so alive as the pilot, the world of Boardwalk Empire is a very good watch.
Back when the show first aired I watched the pilot episode and quickly made the decision that this show would work better for me over a weekend's worth of watching the complete boxset rather than week on week TV viewings. This proved correct because once I got going on this boxset the momentum built fast and it became quite a compelling watch. The large scale of the story as well as in visuals, extras and locations (that also include New York and Chicago) builds a tangled web of different relationships and plot points that some characters know of and some don't. The main thread of Nucky's ongoing dodgy dealings are well paced and Buscemi's performance makes this character so likable.
On top of that the sub plots such as Michael Shannon's Federal Prohibition agent Nelson Van Alden trying to make something out of his case, or Michael Pitt's James "Jimmy" Darmody getting more involved with Stephen Graham's Al Capone all add a bigger scope to the show. Even elements like Jimmy's mother Gillian (Gretchen Mol) and her quirks and the adorably sexy Lucy Danziger (Paz de la Huerta) and that fantastic voice she has, all add small flavours that makes it another show that holds its own against the movie world and with its twelve episode season, it has the time to let to us really delve into the characters.
The first season of Boardwalk Empire was a very easy watch and was full of impressive plot lines, great character development and a very good look at the early days of the criminal golden age that has become legendary over the years. It's very well made (even with some of those quite obvious special effects backgrounds from time to time), is full of great performances and while it's not a show I'm crazy about, I'm quite looking forward to seeing where the second season goes.
The colours run a little strong in the pilot episode but other than that, this is one pretty looking show. Blacks, especially on suits look deep and inky, the lighting is generally gorgeous and there is a lot of depth to scenes with plenty of detail in the backgrounds as well as the foreground (though it has to be said this is never as great as in the pilot episode which obviously had a bit more of a budget and of course Marty behind the camera).
Textured clothing, detailed sets and everything about this production's period, is there to see. Once again, the image never seems as sharp outside of the pilot but generally the episodes that come after it are in the winter and are a bit darker so that could be considered the excuse for that. The entire Atlantic City set is beautifully made and the way it's shot here makes everything within the sets look great. The CGI background shots make everything look very clean (if not a bit fake from time to time) and small things like characters' blue eyes (especially Michael Pitt's) and red flowers on suits can really hop off the screen against the largely brown, black and grey costumes. This really is a great looking show and the visuals here are top notch, absolutely shining in HD.
This is a strong, crisp and very impressive DTS-HD audio presentation. The track provides a strong multi-layered feel with busy clubs, bands playing and people enjoying themselves. At its finest the audio presentation here really brings scenes alive and gives Boardwalk Empire a real energy.
Overlapping dialogue all sounds clear and crisp and there's plenty of it. Smaller scenes also work wonders even at the lowest of levels. The boardwalk itself is also very impressive, always feeling genuinely like a seafront and small touches in the ambience sell it as a tourist location. Lastly the musical selections here really fill the track out. That awesome old scratch to recordings is thoroughly celebrated here and the clarity of the old tunes are fantastic. Also the songs performed in the clubs are strong and punchy and again show off the audio presentation here every time the singers and bands get going.
On every episode we have the option of watching the enhanced viewing mode. Breaking 'Events' down we have more detail on production. history, locations and music. This additional information is in various forms: picture in picture, mini making of segments, stills of the era and even footage with insights from the writer or historians to back up the visuals. You can even hear complete versions of songs if that 20s sounds takes your fancy. It's a very nice extra to watch alongside episodes and certainly expands the understanding of the era.
The commentaries are split across key episodes. The pilot features writer Terence Winter and he gives a through account of the show's history as well as his understanding of the era he's recreated. Episode 4 features Terence Winter, Steve Busemi and Michael Kenneth Williams (who plays Chalky in the show). Episode 6 has director/writer/producer Tim Van Patten and writer/supervising producer Howard Karder. Episide 8 has Terrence Winter and director Brian Kirk. Episode 11 has Howard Karder, director Allen Coulter and Michael Shannon and finally episode 12, Terrence Winter and Tim Van Patten. All of the tracks are detailed and full of behind the scenes factoids and stories and fans of the show should get plenty from them all.
Also featured are the 'Character Dossier' selections. All of the main characters are here and feature a biography, a gallery and their relationships, making bouncing into other characters more friendly.
Additionally each episode comes with a selectable batch of previews and recaps.
The meatier extra features begin on disc four with 'Atlantic City the Original Sin City' (29:35 HD). This is very much a history lesson about the setting of the show. From the early days of the seaside town in the 1800s up to the era Boardwalk Empire takes its inspiration from. It delves deeper into the real life people the characters are based on and how the dodgy dealings and systems of control held Atlantic City in a corrupt grasp.
'Speakeasy Tour' (24:39 HD) has the stars of the show showing us around the cities featured in the first season and provide more detail about how stock supplied by Atlantic City was used. It's another historical look at the players in the criminal underworld of America. This includes tours of still existing bars and talking to owners about the infamous faces that used to frequent them. The feature also goes into the secret exits in the case of a raid.
Disc five has the 'Making Boardwalk Empire' (19:35 HD) featurette and it's a quick stop guide to the show. An introduction to the political corruption, the growth of the criminal underworld and the culture changing Prohibition Act. We get lots from the writer, the stars and of course Martin Scorsese.
'Creating the Boardwalk' (04:54 HD) goes into the digital technology used to widen the scale of this "Times Square by the sea" and how much of the practical set is made using pictorial references of the actual place and how a further eight miles of set is created within a computer. All very effective in the show.
Well Boardwalk Empire is another hit from HBO and like many of their other shows, we get a Blu-ray boxset that shines. Great video and audio and a solid set of features. Fans should be very happy with this set and if you've not seen the show yet this is pretty much the perfect place to start.
* Note: The above images are taken from the Blu-ray release and resized for the page. Full-resolution captures are available by clicking individual images, but due to .jpg compression they are not necessarily representative of the quality of the transfer.
Review by Marcus Doidge
Suitable only for persons of 18 years and over
Release Date: 9th January 2012
Disc Type: Blu-ray Disc
Audio: DTS-HD Master Audio 5.1 English, DTS 5.1 French, DTS 2.0 Spanish, DTS 5.1 Castilian Spanish
Subtitles: English SDH, French, Spanish, Portuguese, Danish, Finnish, Norwegian, Swedish
Extras: Commentaries, Enhanced Viewing Mode, Atlantic City the Original Sin City, Speakeasy Tour, Making Boardwalk Empire, Creating the Boardwalk
Easter Egg: No
Cast: Steve Buscemi, Michael Pitt, Kelly Macdonald, Michael Shannon
Genre: Crime and Drama
Length: 733 minutes
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