Boardwalk Empire The Complete Fourth Season Blu-ray Review
It’s never a quiet time when you’re a gangster
Continuing the Trend
It’s never a quiet time when you’re a gangster as Season four of Boardwalk Empire amply showsHBO’s hit series continues to enthral and inspire in equal measures in the continuing ‘adventures’ of Atlanta based crime lord Nucky Thompson as he struggles to hold onto his power both in terms of the ‘business’ and within his own family. Picking up some eight months after the violence of Season three’s climax, Nucky holds a palaver with the major crime heads and brokers an uneasy peace, but with everyone out for themselves, things soon start down a dark path. The time scale for this season is 1921/22 and historically not a lot actually happened, particularly in Thompson’s world; the show gets around this with its introduction of fictional characters (something it has done all along) and this is where we spend the majority of the story.The power struggle between Chalky and Dr Narcisse for the control of the ‘Black side’ of town and how it impacts on the bigger picture of the crime lords forms the major plot of this season, although many other story threads (some tying up loose ends from previous seasons) play out and it is great to have some closure; although some will be pulling quite dramatically at your heartstrings. Chicago also has a much larger role and the rise of Al Capone is given far more prominence this time around, as well as the early Bureau of Investigation and a young J. Edgar Hoover. But it is with Nucky and his new deals, his looking after his nephew and his (again) strained relationship with his brother where the real meat of the show is, and it is never better than when Steve Buscemi is centre stage commanding the screen.
The ease with which we side with the ‘bad guys’ is astonishing and it is a testament to the show that we keep coming back for more.
The disc presents a broadcast correct 1.78:1 1080p transfer using the AVC codec and is Region Free.
Just like the previous discs in this ongoing series the picture is pretty much immaculate throughout with detail levels rivalling the most expensive blockbuster. Skin texture is excellent, clothing weaves are fantastic (check out the Onyx Girls costumes as they shimmer in the lights), indeed all foreground information is superbly rendered; petals on flowers, texture of brick walls, readable newspapers and more. The background holds edges just as well, check out the breaking waves outside the Nucky's Hotel, how the sand moves and the little tufts of grass poke their heads through, for some examples.
the picture is pretty much immaculate throughout
Colour is strong and vibrant never showing any wash or bleed. Continuing the slightly muted pallet that favours the brown end of the spectrum, all the primaries come off extremely well, reds have a deep, thick colour, especially blood which is sickening in its detail, blues grade to perfection and greens are suitably lush.
Brightness and contrast are set to give some very strong blacks indeed, sometimes hiding shadow detail, sometimes not, but there is never any crush, even in the darkest of scenes. Whites too are bright and never clip in themselves, only when the dynamic ratio of the scene dictates that the digital cameras struggle to pick up everything, more of which below.
Digitally there are no compression problems, edge enhancement, posterization or jaggies, but I did spot, on the odd occasion something akin to digital noise; more especially it is triggered when there are very bright areas in a predominantly dark scene, such as netting in front of a window of a dark room (such as in Harrow’s kitchen when he is talking to his sister in an early episode). What happens is something similar to crawling grain, but what is happening is camera failing to pick up every bit of detail in the curtains, but trying too. It only happens once or twice in the entire run time, but it is there, so worth mentioning even if it is not going to interfere with the reference score; for that is what this picture is, stunning in every regard.
I reviewed with the English dts-HD Master Audio 5.1 surround track. Ambience, ambience, ambience. That’s what this track is all about. Sure the dialogue is natural sounding, dominated by the frontal array, but given directionality when needed (especially the musical numbers). Yes the effects are pin point accurate, what with cars driving by, gun shots and weather placing you in the thick of the action. And the score is wonderfully set in the mix given a terrific dynamic range and makes full use of all the speakers. But where it really shines is with its attention to detail regarding the ambience. A simple two shot scene with characters talking is made all the more real by the surround environment, there might be a train rattling away behind you, or there might be rain outside, or the waves of the ocean might be far out to the left. Better yet a scene with arguing from above you might intrude on your night’s sleep. The track is so wonderfully natural sounding and the surrounds are in constant use providing ambient sound to really place you in the picture. Reference stuff, no question.
Boardwalk Chronicle – Interactive extra that relies on your remote to access the content. There are four selectable icons: Characters; where you can access information about all the character involved in the scene, updates with motivations as the episodes progress. Location; access information about the location of where the scene is taking place (geographically, rather than local). Facts; random ‘facts’ pop into the screen (no need for remote access) with informative titbits on historical or otherwise interest, fairly slow this, not nearly enough facts for my liking considering the nature of the piece. Scouting the Boardwalk; access to brief featurettes detailing more information about a particular shooting location (twelve in total).
Audio Commentaries – Five episodes get the commentary treatment and each have a variety of participants all talking about anecdotal aspects of the show – Episode 1 is with executive producer/writer Howard Korder, executive producer/director Tim Van Patten and Steve Buscemi; Episode 4 is with creator/executive producer/writer Terence Winter, writer David Mathews, producer Ed Bianchi and Michael Stuhlbarg. Episode 5 is with Howard Korder, Tim Van Patten, Anthony Laciura, Brian Geraghty and Gretchen Mol. Episode 8 is with Howard Korder, Erik LaRay Harvey, Michael Kenneth Williams and Margot Bingham. Episode 11 is with Howard Korder, director Allen Coulter, Michael Kenneth Williams and Margot Bingham.
Paleyfest: Made in NY Boardwalk Empire Paved Q&A – Recorded on 6 October 2013 after a showing of episode 5 a panel of Terence Winter, Howard Korder, Jeffery Wright, Gretchen Mol and Michael Kenneth Williams discuss the revelations, the climax and the themes developed in this shocking episode.
The Onyx Club: Step Back in Time – A brief featurette which starts off as an examination of the newest big set for the show but then expands into talking about 20’s America, race relations, costumes, music and how crime became a way of life for everyone rebelling against what was perceived to be ‘Prohibition Madness’.
Becoming Harrow – Interview with (predominantly) Jack Huston and others on one of the favourite characters of the series, how he came to be, his interpretation, his way of life, ethics and why he has such an endearing quality. Quite a moving testimony to a beloved character.
New Characters – Very brief overview of some of the new characters introduced this season given by the actor playing them detailing their own take.
Scouting the Boardwalk – Access to all twelve features from the Chronicle, but this time with a ‘play all’ function.
Season 3 Revisited – Useful roundup of the events in Season 3, don’t want too far as it inexplicably starts to talk about up and coming events from Season 4!
The fourth season of Boardwalk Empire continues the exploits of Nucky Thompson as he attempts to expand his empire into Florida, makes and breaks working relationships with the major crime players in New York and Chicago and it at it’s very best when Steve Buscemi is commanding the screen. Historically not much actually happened in this part of the prohibition era and the show gets around this, much as it always has, with the introduction and stories of the fictional characters, many of which share a lot of screen time and whose exploits rival those of the main characters. This Season is no exception with many story threads being tied up, others being opened up and all sprinkled with some very vicious violence (more graphic than ever before) that hammers home these really are not very nice people to deal with; and the fact we still root for them is a testament to the show's genius.
the fact we still root for the gangsters is a testament to the show's genius
HBO’s set is as wonderful as all the previous with a reference picture in terms of detail, colour reproduction and black levels and an all-encompassing soundtrack that is huge on ambience proving an extremely natural surround environment. The extras package is plentiful providing some nice information into the historical accuracy, casting sets and more. Essential viewing.
Suggested retail price when reviewed: £49.99
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