Monday, February 9, 2015

Boardwalk Empire: The Complete Fifth Season Blu-ray Review

Reviewed by Allie Schembra
Over the course of its first four seasons, "Boardwalk Empire," the hit HBO series from Emmy Award winner Terence Winter and Academy Award-winning director Martin Scorsese, garnered critical accolades for its top-rated performances, beautiful costumes and set pieces and breathtaking cinematography. Concluding a powerful and groundbreaking run, season five jumps forward six full years to 1931. In stark contrast with the Roaring ‘20s, the country is in the throes of the Great Depression, and with the end of Prohibition in sight, Nucky is looking to legitimize himself by forging alliances with liquor producers.

Series (5 out of 5 stars)
I’m really sad that "Boardwalk Empire" has ended.  Season five is easily my favorite season, closely followed by season one.  I didn’t think anything could top the first season, but when I sat down and started watching the final season, I quickly realized how wrong I was.  I really can’t go into too much detail because pretty much every single episode has huge spoilers – just prepare to be shocked at every turn. 

As we begin, it’s six years later, and although Prohibition is close to ending, the country has fallen into the Great Depression.  People are out of work, starving, homeless, and Nucky’s business is holding on by a thread.  Everyone is trying to just survive – Nucky and Sally have exiled themselves in Cuba, Margaret is working in New York, Eli is a drunk living in Chicago and working for Mueller/Van Alden as a debt collector, Chalky has been arrested and sentenced to a chain gang, and Al Capone has finally taken over the Chicago operation.

In flashbacks, we see a young Nucky Thompson trying to earn money by doing any little job he can find.  That includes diving for coins that the rich men throw into the water, assist them when their hats fly off their heads in the wind, or helping ladies on the beach.  When he is noticed by one man – the Commordore – he does everything he can to get in his good graces and is rewarded with a job at the hotel.  As Nucky grows, we see him become a Deputy with the Sheriff’s office and eventually, the Sheriff.  It is during these flashbacks, we find out how he met Gillian, and how their history began.

Back in the present, Nucky and Sally, in Cuba, are trying to make a deal with the Bacardi Rum Company and become the distributor in the United States.  Nucky leaves Sally in charge of the Cuban operation and returns to the United States in order to secure investors.  He meets with many powerful men and one in particular is interested – Joseph Kennedy.  Nucky and Joe begin a partnership and work to get the run to the U.S. Chalky, who is working in a chain gang, finally escapes and returns to Atlantic City.  

He makes his way to New York in search of Narcisse and finds Daughter, with a small girl in the townhouse.  Narcisse finds Chalky with Daughter and makes a deal with him – Chalky agrees to begin working for Narcisse.  Daughter warns Chalky that Narcisse is going to betray him, but Chalky still goes to work for him. Margaret, who is working her way up the ladder in New York, runs into a problem after her boss commits suicide.  

The wife of one of the clients has found out that Margaret was closer to her husband than necessary, and threatens to out her as a Thompson if she doesn’t pay her the money her husband lost.  Margaret goes to Nucky and asks for help.  They briefly reconcile in order to placate Mrs. Rothstein. Gillian has been committed to a hospital, where she is fighting to survive.  The more she agrees to whatever the doctors and nurses say, the safer she is.  

However, she manages to smuggle a letter to Nucky out via a nurse and gets it mailed.  After Nucky receives it, he doesn’t open it for a while.  When he does, he reads the Gillian is asking him to once again help her and show her some of the kindness that he showed her so many years ago when they met. Eli is in Chicago, working for Mueller/Van Alden as a debt collector.  Al Capone has taken over the operations and war between factions has broken out.  Mueller/Van Alden and his wife invite Eli and June to dinner, where things get out of hand and the dinner ends up in disaster.

If this recap seems basic and vague, it’s the best I can give without giving away any important details and spoilers.  There is so much going on in the season – from flashbacks to present time – that saying anything more detailed would absolutely give it all away.  What I can, and will say, again and again, is that "Boardwalk Empire" is a show that will truly be missed.  Five seasons was definitely not enough, but as the creators said “even Prohibition had to end…” 
Video (5 out of 5 stars)
Once again, "Boardwalk Empire’s" 1080p widescreen presentation is amazing.  The sets, the colors, the costumes are all so realistic; it was almost like being there.  Skin tones were natural, colors were bright and the picture was sharp and very clear.  As good as the show was to watch on television, the Blu-ray was even better.
Audio (5 out of 5 stars)
As with the previous seasons, "Boardwalk Empire’s" audio was on point.  The dialogue was clear and every word intelligible.  The sound was even and there were no major volume changes.  The English DTS-HD Master Audio 5.1 was as close to perfect as you can get and every episode was as enjoyable to hear as it was to watch.  Audio is also available in French and Spanish DTS 5.1, and subtitles are available in English SDH, French, Spanish, Danish, Dutch, Finnish, Norwegian, and Swedish.
Extras (4 1/2 out of 5 stars)
While not as robust as in previous seasons, I did enjoy what was included.  What was missing, though, were my two favorite features from past season – Boardwalk Chronicle and the character features.  However, the included feature about the locations was pretty interesting.
  • Scouting the Boardwalk – Hear how the location manager of Boardwalk Empire find the unique buildings and neighborhoods that bring each episode to life.
  • Episode 1 – play with commentary, season 4 recap, preview, scouting the boardwalk
  • Episode 2 – recap, preview, scouting the boardwalk
  • Episode 3 – recap, preview, scouting the boardwalk
  • Episode 4 – play with commentary (with commentary by creator/executive producer/writer Terence Winter, executive producer/writer Howard Korder, Steve Buscemi (Nucky Thompson), and Vincent Piazza (Lucky Luciano)), recap, preview, scouting the boardwalk
  • Episode 5 – recap, preview, scouting the boardwalk
  • Episode 6 – recap, preview, scouting the boardwalk
  • Episode 7 – play with commentary (with commentary by director Allen Coulter, Michael Zegen (Bugsy Siegel) and Ben Rosenfield (William Thompson)), recap, preview, scouting the boardwalk
  • Episode 8 – play with commentary (with commentary by creator/executive producer/writer Terence Winter, executive producer/writer Howard Korder, executive producer/director Tim Van Patten, and Steve Buscemi (Nucky Thompson)), recap, preview, scouting the boardwalk.
Summary (5 out of 5 stars)
Boardwalk Empire became one of my favorite shows. The history, the sets, the costumes, the stories… it all was right up my alley. I’m glad that I have HBOGO and can watch it whenever I want. It’s definitely a show I will watch over and over again.  It’s a great show, with great imagination and great history.  I’ll admit, when it first began, I thought of it as a “1920s Sopranos,” but it quickly became so much more than that.  It found its own identity and it is a show that I can’t recommend enough.

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