Boardwalk Empire enters its fifth and final season with as much gusto and verve as ever it had
Boardwalk Empire Review
All good things (and all bad things) must come to an endAnd so it is with Boardwalk Empire, HBO’s fictitious retelling of the Atlantic City mob boss Enoch ‘Nucky’ Thompson; that became a hit show, winning accolades and fans all over the world. This fifth and final season picks up some six years after the events of season four, it’s 1931, during the Great Depression, and there are hints that Prohibition might be coming to an end. Everyone is feeling the downturn; mob bosses from New York to Chicago continue to vie over territory while Nucky himself looks to the future, trying to turn legitimate by importing Bacardi rum once the repeal of prohibition has been passed. History has shown us what happens to all these characters - even if this season plays fast and loose with the facts. So this season has a sense of inevitability; it is shorter in length and has the feel of winding up.Giving the season greater gravitas, the makers mimic The Godfather II, providing symmetry as we explore Nucky’s childhood and rise in Atlantic City concurrently with the collapse of his empire. In Chicago Al Capone is at the height of his powers and is feared by everyone; his mood swings and turn on a dime anger is graphically shown in a beating in his hotel room. Meanwhile Elliot Ness begins his investigation with the help of the Treasury Department to bring Capone to justice for tax evasion. As powerful and as absorbing as ever, Boardwalk Empire blazes its way into the sunset. And with hints that it may come back to the big screen with the man who started it all, Martin Scorsese, as director, we may not have seen the last of this epic story.
Blu-ray Picture QualityThe discs present a broadcast correct 1.78:1 aspect ratio, with a 1080p transfer using the AVC codec and they are region free.
With the drop in season episodes there appears to have been a slight dip in picture quality as well, though not enough to stop it from being excellent. Detail, as with all previous discs, is terrific: skin texture, clothing weaves, building fascias, beach sand (and grass poking through it) are all wonderful – check out the model of the Empire State building that Capone uses as an impromptu weapon and the subsequent blood splatter; there are clear and defined edges throughout.
Colour is well represented; the series continues its trend of using a dour pallet by pushing earthy browns and greens, particularly in the 30’s scenes, those in the past tend toward a cooler colour scheme. The primaries are thus suitably bolstered or reduced depending on the requirements of the scene, but there are never any instances of wash or bleed.
Primaries are suitably bolstered or reduced depending on the requirements of the scene.
Contrast and brightness are well defined giving rise to strong blacks which adds punch and depth to the picture; though it is here that we encounter the few issues. Blacks can, very rarely, crush and we lose the occasional area to murk, and the same can be said for the whites which very occasionally clip and remove detail; particularly noticeable with tree branches in the late 1800’s scenes. Yes this is an artefact of digital capture, but I’ve never seen it before in five seasons worth, so worth mentioning.
Digitally (apart from that above) there are no issues - no compression artefacts, no edge enhancement and no jaggies. There are, however, a few instances of banding, limited to the darker areas, which occasionally distract. Aside from these very minor points (I am nit-picking really) the picture is once again stunning to look at.
Blu-ray Sound QualityI worked with the English dts-HD Master Audio 5.1 surround track. A rich and absorbing track that makes full use of the surround speakers to fill the room with ambience; whether that is the wireless radio (predominantly used), creaking buildings, street noise, party gatherings, restaurant clatter or any other type of atmosphere that helps to surround and envelop you, creating a feeling of actually being a part of the landscape. Dialogue comes across clear and coherent; whilst sounds are very natural, given a little directionality when called for but dominated by the frontal array. Bass is utilised extremely well, giving a very natural undertone to the proceedings and adding some hefty weight to gunshots, car engines and the like. Overall it never puts a foot wrong in any regard.
Blu-ray ExtrasAudio Commentaries – On four of the episodes featuring cast and crew in each. They all cover much the same ground (much as they have in the previous seasons) about the story, characters and anecdotes specific to that episode, which are: Golden Days for Boys and Girls with executive producer/writer Howard Korder, executive producer/director Tim Van Patten and actor Steve Buscemi; Cuanto with creator/executive producer/writer Terrence Winter, Korder, Buscemi and actor Vincent Piazza; Friendless Child with director Allen Coulter and actors Michael Zegen and Ben Rosenfield; Eldorado with Winter, Korder, Van Patten and Buscemi.
Scouting the Boardwalk – fifteen minute feature on finding locations used, there are eight highlighted and we are talked through them by their respective ‘scouts’.
Boardwalk Empire Blu-ray VerdictBoardwalk Empire enters its fifth and final season with as much gusto and verve as ever it had. This shorter, at eight episodes, season has a sense of inevitability - in as much as history has already shown us character outcomes, even if this season plays even more fast and loose with the truth. However the makers draw on the great Godfather II as inspiration for their season arc; by showing Nucky’s childhood and rise to powers while his current life is disintegrating during the Great Depression, the onset of the Prohibition repeal and other mob bosses pushing him out. Still powerful, still absorbing and just as engaging Boardwalk Empire isn’t happy to just fade; it goes out in a blaze of glory.
Still powerful, absorbing and just as engaging
HBO’s Blu-ray set is very decent; the picture is right up there with the best despite one or two anomalies regarding crush/clip and banding, but colours are bold and the detail is excellent. Sound quality is once again reference, being all about ambience and realism, while the extras are a little lacklustre this time around. However the set is still a must have to complete the story - Recommended.
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