Friday, April 6, 2012

Boardwalk Empire: The Complete First Season Blu-ray Review

Reviewed by Jami Ferguson
From Terence Winter, Emmy Award-winning writer of The Sopranos, and executive producer Martin Scorsesecomes the lavish and addictive HBO drama Boardwalk Empire that re-creates the glitter and decadence of 1920′s Atlantic City at a time when Prohibition proved to be a major catalyst in the rise of organized crime in AmericaFull of corruption, backroom politics, vicious power struggles and a fierce hunger for wealth, the critically-acclaimed series personifies one of the most colorful and violent time periods in American history.  The Great War was over, Wall Street was about to boom, women got the vote and everything was for sale, even the World Series.  The undisputed ruler of Atlantic City was the town’s treasurer, Enoch “Nucky” Thompson (Buscemi), a political fixer and backroom dealer who was equal parts politician and criminal and equally comfortable in either role.  Because of its strategic location on the seaboard, minutes from Philadelphia, hours from New York City and less than a day’s drive from Chicago, the town was a hub of activity for rum runners.   And Nucky Thompson took full advantage.

Film (4 1/2 out of 5 stars) 

Boardwalk Empire is an HBO drama that takes place in Atlantic City, New Jersey during the prohibition period.  The show centers around Enoch “Nucky” Thompson (Steve Buscemi).  Nucky is described as being as corrupt as the day is long.  Nucky crosses paths with real life mobsters from New York City and Chicago including Lucky Luciano (Vincent Piazza) and Al Capone (Stephen Graham).  Nucky is a public servant on the surface but is involved in bootlegging and other illegal activities that keep him living a luxurious lifestyle.  Nucky’s brother Eli (Shea Wigham) wears a uniform, but also serves Nucky’s interests.  Jimmy Darmody (Michael Pitt) is a veteran who returns to work for Nucky but quickly gets in trouble.
Boardwalk Empire Season One contains the following episodes:
1.  Boardwalk Empire – Prohibition begins and Nucky immediately aligns himself to profit, and strikes deals with Arnold Rothstein and Lucky Luciano.  Nucky is approached by Margaret Schroeder seeking a job for her abusive husband.  Jimmy Darmody returns from the War with big ambitions.
2.  The Ivory Tower – Jimmy’s crime has been pinned on Margaret Schroeder’s now deceased husband, but agent Van Alden continues to investigate.  Jimmy uses the money from his botched robbery to buy gifts for his mother and fiancée and Margaret is questioned by agent Van Alden after being coached by Nucky’s brother, Elias.
3.  Broadway Limited – Nucky makes a bootlegging deal with Chalky White.  Nucky arranges for a boutique job for Margaret after she returns the envelope of cash he gave her, rejecting charity.  Agent Van Alden learns that Jimmy was involved in the murders he’s been investigating and as a result Nucky orders Jimmy out of town.
4.  Anastasia – Nucky prepares for his “surprise” birthday party but is pleasantly surprised to see Margaret Schroeder, who is there to deliver a dress to Nucky’s girlfriend, Lucy.  As always, Nucky uses every opportunity to advance his political goals.  Jimmy and Capone start taking over territories and there is collateral damage.
5.  Nights in Ballygran – Eli is getting increasingly argumentative with Nucky.  Gillian suggests that she should take over caring for Jimmy’s son. Margaret returns to the Women’s Temperance League meetings and naively seeks Nucky’s help to stop a bootlegging operation near her home.  When Nucky doesn’t help, Margaret turns to Agent Van Alden who in turn disrupts the Celtic St. Patrick’s Day dinner with Nucky’s family in attendance.
6.  Family Limitation – One of Nucky’s men is robbed on the boardwalk and Nucky confronts Lucky.  Meanwhile, Margaret’s new relationship with Nucky allows her the freedom to quit her job and move to a nicer home.
7.  Home – Nucky and Eli’s father falls and they decide it’s time to sell his home.  Jimmy meets a fellow wounded soldier who helps him get revenge for what was done to Pearl.  Luciano and Rothstein’s protégé cut a deal with the D’Alessio Brothers.  Both Lucy and the Commodore want attention from Nucky.
8.  Hold Me in Paradise – Nucky visits Chicago for the Republican National Convention and the D’Alessio Brothers move in on Nucky’s territory back in Atlantic City.
9.  Belle Femme – Jimmy returns to deal with the D’Alessio brothers and is arrested by Agent Van Alden.  Margaret helps Madame Jeunet and Nucky prepares for war.
10. The Emerald City – Nucky asks for Margaret’s support of a candidate.  Doyle re-aligns himself with Nucky.  Angela’s photographer friend brings out Jimmy’s violent side.  Van Alden’s emotions are a continuous problem.
11.  Paris Green – Nucky sees dramatic shake ups in his political and personal lives.  Jimmy meets with his dying father for the first time in years.  Agents Van Alden and Sebo have confrontations.
12. A Return to Normalcy – As Election Day approaches, Nucky hopes to keep the Republicans in power.  Torrio brokers a deal between Rothstein and Nucky that will affect everyone.  The future is uncertain for many.
My good friend Jamie not only shares my name, but also my opinion on almost every television show that I love.  When Jamie says watch this show, you’re going to love it, I listen.  Jamie religiously watches Boardwalk Empire and predicted that I would love it too.  Happily, her track record is still solid since I loved the show as she thought I would.  I was a little worried that it would be awkward if I didn’t like it after hearing all of her rave reviews about it, but fortunately we are on the same page on this show.
HBO sure knows how to put together a season set, and for that matter a TV show.  Boardwalk Empire looks amazing, and sounds just as good.  They did a spectacular job  recreating the period the show is set in which has to be a major effort to pull off.  Steve Buscemi leads the cast with his masterful performance but the rest of the cast are uniformly excellent in their roles, with one exception.  My one and only complaint is the actress, Paz de la Huerta that played Nucky’s girlfriend Lucy Danzinger.  She bothered me every moment she was on screen.  I realize that the viewer isn’t supposed to fall in love with Lucy but I don’t think that she was supposed to make your skin crawl either. However, that’s just a tiny little quibble in an otherwise excellent show.  This show is so good, that if I had the time, I would watch all twelve episodes back to back all over again.  It’s a very addictive show.

Video (4 1/2 out of 5 stars) 

From the second the opening credits begin, I find myself thinking this show looks good.  I don’t have HBO, so I can’t compare it to what it would look like if I watched it on cable.  The 1080p High Definition 16:9 (1.78:1) presentation is impressive in many ways.  The set designers obviously put a lot of effort into creating immense detail, and the color tones make it easy for the viewer to imagine they are right in the middle of 1920s Atlantic City.  I noticed more detail like specs of dirt on foreheads and wrinkles on faces than I can remember in any other Blu-ray.  Although it’s in color, it almost feels like it’s a sepia tone, and you could pause many scenes and have yourself a painting from the 20s.

Audio (5 out of 5 stars) 

The visual appeal of Boardwalk Empire is matched by the period soundtrack.  The DTS-HD Master Audio mix is a compliment to the stunning visual and helps create an amazing atmosphere.  The dialogue is clear and at a consistent level throughout.  Whether it’s Margaret’s breathy Irish voice or a gang of screaming mobsters there was never an issue.  Gunfire and simple phone’s ringing had me looking over my shoulder as to the direction it came from.  This is a reference quality mix!

Special Features (4 1/2 out of 5 stars) 

HBO has put as much time and effort into the special features as the show itself.  The features are excellent in quantity and quality and I’m not even going to complain, as I usually do, about the lack of a gag reel.  I thoroughly enjoyed each feature.
  • Enhanced Viewing Mode – Each episode features a Picture-in-Picture Enhanced Viewing Experience with cast and crew interviews, commentary, production details and more.  The Enhanced viewing mode offers a lot of significant and interesting information. I suggest watching, as I did once in normal viewing mode and then a second time with Enhanced Viewing Mode turned on.  I wouldn’t recommend Enhanced Viewing Mode for your first viewing of the episode as it would be too distracting from the episode.
  • Character Dossier – Character Dossier for a significant number of characters includes a biography, photo gallery and relationships.  It takes a while to go through it all, but it’s a very helpful tool if you forget who someone is or where they fit in the grand scheme of Nucky’s world.
  • Audio Commentaries - Six audio commentaries with principal actors and filmmakers.  Surprisingly, Scorsese was not on the commentary for the first episode, which he directed.
  • Making Boardwalk Empire – A behind the scenes making of featurette.  Features interviews with the cast and crew. Even with twelve PiP tracks in tow, the series’ first-season release still boasts a twenty-minute behind-the-scenes documentary. It may not be nearly as extensive, but it will make for a terrific bite-sized overview for those of you who don’t have the time to tackle the Enhanced Viewing Mode content and audio commentaries.
  • Creating the Boardwalk – The shortest of the features, a five minute look at the process behind creating the boardwalk of the 20s.
  • Atlantic City: The Original Sin City – A 30 minute documentary about the culture of Atlantic City in the 1920′s.
  • Speakeasy Tour – An insider’s look at famed prohibition speakeasies in New York and Chicago.

Final Thoughts (4 1/2 out of 5 stars) 

As usual, HBO has outdone themselves not only on the show itself, but also this Blu-ray season set.  Between the great performances, the sets and costumes, the scripts, and this Blu-ray itself, it’s easy to recommend this with no reservations!  If you’ve been thinking about checking out this show then let me assure you that this is a worthy investment for your time and money!  I’m ready for season two!
Order your copy today!

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