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Boardwalk Empire: The Complete Fifth
HBO Home Entertainment
Blu-ray Disc Released: 1/13/2015
All Ratings out of
Review by Mike Long, Posted on 1/6/2015
When I was a kid, we learned that a show had gone through its final season when it didn't return the following year. Today, the final season of a show is announced month's in advance and a big deal is made of the fact that a series is going out in style. There is a countdown to the series finale and media outlets speculate about what the ending will be like. This puts a lot of pressure on shows to deliver a slam-bang conclusion, and most fail miserably. Boardwalk Empire has always been a show which was somehow quiet and morose, yet featured explosive violence. What kind of ending would this show have as its fifth and final season drew to a close.
As Season Five of Boardwalk Empire opens, we see that it is now 1931, seven years after the events of Season Four. Nucky Thompson (Steve Buscemi) is now a changed man, as he has seen the times change. The Great Depression has put a damper on his illegal liquor business. The supper club he once lived above, which was destroyed in an explosion, has become a nightclub, and Nucky lives in an empty hotel on the beach. Nucky has turned his attention to Cuba, where he and his partner, Sally Wheet (Patricia Arquette), are attempting to have Bacardi rum brought to America. Yet, even in Cuba, Nucky's enemies can find him. Meanwhile, Nucky's brother, Eli (Shew Whigham), is still serving out his exile in Chicago, where he is working for Al Capone (Stephen Graham), alongside former fed, Nelson Van Alden (Michael Shannon). Margaret Thompson (Kelly Macdonald), who is still legally married to Nucky, has done well for herself on Wall Street, despite the "Crash". Chalky White (Michael Kenneth Williams) begins the season in prison, but that doesn't last long. As Nucky attempts to shrink his empire, and strike a deal with Joe Kennedy (Matt Letscher), the other mafia groups see this as a time to strike.
I've always found Boardwalk Empire to be a very hit or miss show, and Season Five continues that pattern. In essence, the parts which work, work well, and those which don't pale in comparison. The main part which works is anything involving Nucky. From the first episode, Nucky, as essayed by Steve Buscemi, has seemed an unlikely kingpin, and this is what makes this character appealing. Yes, Nucky has done some very bad things over the years, but he often seems to hate doing them. Buscemi is at his best when acting incredulous or annoyed. Nucky likes peace and quiet and he likes things done a certain way -- which means that he's chosen a terrible profession and we delight in seeing him frazzled by incompetence and madness which surround him. Season Five does itself a favor by bringing Margaret back into the fold, as her scenes with Nucky always work well, given their banter.
While the stories concerning Nucky's "speakeasy" business have often been interesting, I feel that Boardwalk Empire suffers when it focuses on the other crime families. This occurs, in no large part, due to the fact that these criminals are often interchangeable. Over the years, it's taken a score-card to keep up with which mean-looking guy in a hat is about to make a power-play to take over someone else's territory. While Al Capone and "Lucky" Luciano (Vincent Piazza) have been standouts (and easily identified), many of the others become nameless, faceless cardboard cutouts, and we are forced to watch one hushed meeting after another in which plans are hatched. This is often followed by action scenes in which people who we sort of know are killed.
Being the final season, Boardwalk Empire has decided to do something a little different. The story taking place in 1931 is intertwined with a look at Nucky's background. It starts when he's a small boy, and we see how he and Eli were raised, and continues through until he's a young man, working as a constable. This allows us to see how certain events in Nucky's life shaped him. And someone has earned a super award for the casting of Mark Pickering, as young Nucky, as he looks just like Buscemi. And while the writers do a great job of having the past mirror the present, it seems odd that they would wait this long to show us how Nucky became Nucky.
Taking a step back from all of that, the final season of Boardwalk Empire was pretty good. As one would expect, major characters died, storylines were tied up, and revelations were made. I wasn't crazy about the very end, but it I guess that it was inevitable and it contained a great twist that even my wife didn't seen coming. I can easily say that the final episode was much better than those seen on Dexter or True Blood. The good news is that the show didn't wear out its welcome and these last eight episodes, while not perfect, displayed the power which the show held.
Boardwalk Empire: The Complete Fifth Season comes to a close on Blu-ray Disc courtesy of HBO Home Entertainment. The three-Disc set contains all eight episodes of the show's fifth season. The show has been letterboxed at 1.78:1 and the Disc contains an AVC 1080p HD transfer which runs at an average of 30 Mbps. The image is sharp and clear, showing only a hint of grain and no defects from the source materials. This is a somewhat dark show, but the image is never overly dark and the action is always visible. The level of detail is good, as we can make out the textures on objects and the depth is nice, most notably in the exterior shots. The Disc carries a DTS-HD Master Audio 5.1 track which runs at 48 kHz and an average of 4.0 Mbps. The track provides clear dialogue and sound effects. The stereo effects work well, as they draw attention to sounds coming from off-screen. The surround sound effects appear during crowd scenes and some of the action sequences. While it's not my thing, the period music sounds fine as well.
The Boardwalk Empire: The Complete Fifth Season Blu-ray Disc contains a small amount of extras. Disc 1 kicks off with an AUDIO COMMENTARY on "Golden Days for Boys and Girls" from Executive Producer/Writer Howard Korder, Executive Producer/Director Tim Van Patten, and Steve Buscemi. We get another installment of "Scouting the Boardwalk" (19 minutes) which takes us inside each of the eight episodes of Season 5 and focuses on the discovery or creation of a specific location. We hear from the location managers and see footage of the actual location. (For some reason, this appears on the other two Discs as well.) Disc 2 offers an AUDIO COMMENTARY on "Cuanto" by Creator/Executive Producer/Writer Terence Winter, Korder, Buscemi, and Vincent Piazza. Disc 3 provides an AUDIO COMMENTARY on "Friendless Child" featuring Director Allen Coulter, Michael Zegen, and Ben Rosenfield, and also another one on "Eldorado" by Winter, Korder, Van Patten, and Buscemi.
On May 19, 2015, HBO Home Entertainment released Boardwalk Empire: The Complete Series on Blu-ray Disc. This handsome boxed set contains all five seasons of the show spread across 19 Discs. This is essentially all of the previous Blu-ray Disc season releases shrunk down to a smaller, more manageable packages. The technical specs are exactly the same, and unless my count is off, it's the same number of Discs, only now packaged in slimmer cases.
The one difference here is a Bonus Disc which contains some never-before-seen special features. "The Final Shot: A Farewell to Boardwalk Empire" (29 minutes) is a retrospective which explores the series, starting from the beginning. Through interviews with nearly everyone involved with the show, including Martin Scorsese, Creator Terence Winter, and most of the primary cast. The speakers discuss how they got involved with the show, the working experience, and the show's legacy. There is also a discussion of the show's themes and characters. There's not a ton of behind-the-scenes footage here, but we do get to some of the actor's auditions. "Anatomy of a Hit" (8 minutes) has Creator Terence Winter, Executive Producer/Director Tim Van Patten, and Executive Producer/Writer Howard Korder discussing some of the more prominent murders on the show and how the killings on Boardwalk Empire were presented. "Building the Boardwalk" (4 minutes) has Production Designer Bill Groom, Set Decorator Carol Silverman and Visual Effects Supervisor Lesley Robson-Foster discussing the construction of a full-size set and how blue-screen was used to complete the illusion. We hear from Director of Photography Jonathan Freeman and Director of Photography Bill Coleman who talk about the overall look of the show in "Shooting the Series" (5 minutes). Groom and Silverman return in "Designing the Series" (4 minutes), where we hear how the color palette, the furniture, and costumes progressed over the life of the show. "Visual Effects" (8 minutes) brings back Robson-Foster who reveals how on a show like this, the special effects are very subtle, and have more to do with using the computer to create something in a more simple way.
If you've been holding off on getting Boardwalk Empire on Blu-ray Disc, this set is the way to go. Not only will it take up less shelf-space, "The Final Shot" is a very good extra feature in which those involved in the show are allowed to take a look back.
Review Copyright 2015 by Mike Long