Blu-Ray Review: Boardwalk Empire- The Complete Fourth Season
Distributor: HBO Home Entertainment
Street Date: August 19th 2014
Technical Specifications: 1080P Video, Color, 1.78:1 Aspect Ratio, 5.1 DTS-HD Master Audio
Runtime: 733 Minutes
With the fifth and final season of Boardwalk Empire premiering on September 7th, HBO Home Entertainment is releasing the complete fourth Season on Blu-Ray and DVD this coming Tuesday August 19th. I remember back in 2008 when I first heard that Terence Winter of The Sopranos fame would be producing and writing a new HBO series based around prohibition-era Atlantic City, and I was instantly intrigued. Having been an avid viewer of The Sopranos throughout the entire series (one that lasted from my sophomore year in High School to my first year out of College), I knew Mr. Winter would be crafting something truly special.
When it was announced in 2009 that none other than Martin Scorsese would be co-producing the show as well as directing the pilot episode, it sealed the deal. Boardwalk Empire has been consistently entertaining throughout its run, with richly developed characters and captivating drama from week to week, it has become one of my personal favorite shows of television history. Though I was disappointed to hear that the series would be ending after only five seasons, much like Deadwood (another short-lived HBO series), the creators have permanently cemented these characters in my psyche, and it remains a show that I will revisit time and time again throughout my life.
At the beginning of Season Four of Boardwalk Empire, our colorful cast of characters are looking towards new beginnings while still reeling from conflict in their past. Nucky Thompson (Steve Buscemi) is dealing with the aftermath of the Rosetti/Masseria conflict that painted the Boardwalk in gangland blood. He’s the boss of Atlantic City once again, but the years of conflict have taken a toll on him. Margaret (Kelly Macdonald) and the children have left him, and he’s scratching for the vast power that he once so easily acquired. Business is looking up though, as Nucky makes peace with Arnold Rothstein (Michael Stuhlbarg) and Joe Masseria (Ivo Nandi), therefore getting New York back in his good graces and bringing stability to the New York/Jersey trade. Gillian Darmody (Gretchen Mol) struggles with her addictions more than ever, prostituting herself while trying to regain custody of her grandson. Fan-favorite character Chalky White (Michael Kenneth Williams) is now running The Onyx nightclub (a position granted to him after saving Nucky’s life during Season 3) and Federal Agent James Tolliver (Brian Geraghty), working directly for J. Edgar Hoover, is desperately trying to put all the pieces together to prove the existence of a gangland conspiracy/connection between the respective powers that be. Meanwhile, everybody’s favorite disfigured assassin Richard Harrow (Jack Huston) tries to adjust to family life with Julia and Tommy, but gets caught up in the conflict once again.
Season Four hits the ground running with intense drama and conflict, just as we thought things may have cooled down in Atlantic City. There are several newcomers to the show this year, including Jeffrey Wright as Doctor Narcisse, a brilliant Harlem kingpin who comes into conflict with Chalky after finding out what Dunn Purnsley’s (Erik LaRay Harvey) been up to on his nights off. Patricia Arquette is new to the cast as well, portraying Sally Wheet, a tough bartender in Tampa who has eyes for Nucky while he’s on business. Dr. Narcisse brings Daughter Maitland (Margot Bingham) to The Onyx, presenting Chalky with both new talent for the club, and igniting a passionate desire in him for the beautiful singer.
I tried to be as vague as possible in my season synopsis, because this is absolutely a show that I want new viewers to experience themselves. The entire cast is spot-on once again, converting fascinating characters from the written pages to the screen. While everyone is fantastic, Brian Geraghty is perhaps my favorite performance of the season. As Federal Agent Jim Sullivan, he broods obsessively in his investigation, and his manipulative and cocky demeanor adds serious depth to his performance. Jack Huston as Richard Harrow is absolutely worth noting as well, bringing his character to new depths and through further trials that keep us on the edge of our seats. He’s a brilliant actor, and Season Four features his best work yet.
I have the utmost respect for the work that has been done on this show, with each season improving upon the next. The characters are skillfully written, and their individual story arcs are both thrilling and heartbreaking. I look forward to the fifth and final season premiere of Boardwalk Empire on September 9th, and so much of me desired this series to continue on, even though I know it has to end.
Having watched the Fourth Season in High Definition during its regular broadcast, this Blu-Ray edition is still an amazingly solid upgrade from HD television, with incredible detail and clarity in everything from the period costume design to Atlantic City architecture. Black levels are nearly perfect, with inky darks that stay solid throughout the season. The color scheme depicted in the presentation is authentic to the filmmaker’s intentions, as it matches previous seasons in its muted, dusty, gold filters and rich texturing. Facial features are very well defined, and skin tones look very life-like. The series looks simply gorgeous on Blu-Ray!
The 5.1 DTS-HD Master Audio track is just as impressive as the picture quality, boasting both incredible power and quaint subtlety in its dynamic design. Dialogue always comes through clear and clean, with no hiccups, even during the more action/music filled sequences. Sometimes a well-made audio track can really make you feel like you’re right there in the cinematic or television universe, hearing the same sounds and experiencing the same atmosphere as its characters. This 5.1 track embodies that feeling, and completely delivers from one episode to the next.
HBO Home Entertainment has included an informative and fun set of bonus features for Boardwalk Empire: The Complete Fourth Season. Here’s a breakdown of what’s included:
- Audio Commentaries (6)- The following episodes contain audio commentaries from both cast and crew of the series: New York Sour, All In, Erlkonig, The Old Ship of Zion, Havre de Grace, and Farewell Daddy Blues. From Terence Winter to Michael Stuhlbarg, and Steve Buscemi to Michael Kenneth Williams, there is an abundance of talent featured throughout these commentaries, and they prove to be incredibly insightful for the viewer. From discussing the writing and the portrayals, to set design and history, these are wonderful!
- Boardwalk Chronicle- This special episode guide tracks characters as they appear on-screen, gives the viewer historical location markers, and provides facts about various settings throughout the series. This feature is available on all twelve episodes of Season Four.
- Scouting the Boardwalk- Every episode included on this season features the location manager from Boardwalk Empire’s production as he details how he finds locations to use for the show that remain authentic to the time period, or how they are able to transform a given location into an authentic set.
- Season 3: Revisited- This is the 14-minute Season 3 recap that was presented before the premiere of Season 4 and features Terence Winter detailing the big plot points and character arcs.
- The Onyx Club: A Step Back in Time- This behind-the-scenes look at the building, design, and inspiration for The Onyx Club is very informative and fun for fans of the series and runs slightly over nine minutes. The show’s creators and writers discuss the historical era involved, as well as the racial issues affecting the nightly entertainment on the boardwalk at the time.
- Becoming Harrow- Running nearly 8 minutes, this might be my personal favorite featurette on the set! Jack Huston is such a terrific actor, and his portrayal of Richard Harrow on the show is one of the most fascinating performances in modern television. We get to hear from Richard about how the character was written, how he interpreted it for the show, and much more.
- Paleyfest: Made in NY Boardwalk Empire Panel- This is a Q&A with Terence Howard, Howard Korder, and select cast members from Season Four following the premiere of episode 5 (Erlkonig) at the Paley Center for Media. This can be found on Disc 2.
- New Characters- A short featurette (6 minutes) that discusses the new characters that appear during Season Four of Boardwalk Empire including: Dr. Narcisse (Jeffrey Wright), Roy Phillips (Ron Livingston), Agent Knox/James Tolliver (Brian Geraghty), Sally Wheet (Patricia Arquette), and more.
As you can see from the “Unboxing” pictures below, this Blu-Ray release from HBO Home Entertainment includes a great slip-box design featuring Nucky, Eli, and Chalky. The title is glossy and embossed, and the slip-box has a soft matte finish, featuring an aged and rough color filter that looks right out of the prohibition era. On the reverse of the slip-box you’ll find a nice and subtle image of the Onyx nightclub. Inside of the slip-box is a digi-pack with four Blu-Ray discs, a list of episodes, a list of special features, and a gorgeous background design featuring the Onyx dancers. If I had one complaint about the packaging of the set, it’s that the box design itself is more cheaply made than previous seasons that featured a hard box design. I’ve noticed that HBO Home Entertainment has re-released the previous seasons in this cardboard box design as well. I’m hoping they will be able to bring back the hard-box slip-case design next time around for the final season, as collectors absolutely prefer it. Other than that, this is a fine presentation.
With the Fifth Season Premiere only weeks away, this Blu-Ray edition of Boardwalk Empire: The Complete Fourth Season is a must-own for fans of the HBO series. Though the series will be ending after the upcoming season, the multi-layered characters and exquisite writing will live on. Simply put, this is one of the best shows in television history. The Blu-Ray edition from HBO Home Entertainment features superb picture quality that retains the polished and rich look of the television broadcast (albeit with much more detail), and features outstanding 5.1 DTS-HD audio that fully envelops you in this historical setting. The special features are solid, with several commentaries and featurettes to peruse. If I had one small complaint about the release, it would be that I wished they wouldn’t have changed the hard-box packaging from past releases of the show. Other than that, this is a top-notch release from HBO, and comes highly recommended.
Pete Macabre (“Film Fan” Pete)
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