Boardwalk Empire appears in an aspect ratio of approximately 1.78:1 on this Blu-Ray Disc. Expect visuals similar to what we saw in Season One.
Overall definition remained good. At times, wide shots could be a little soft, but those instances didn’t dominate. The majority of the series presented positive delineation and accuracy. At no point did I see concerns with edge haloes or shimmering, and source flaws failed to appear in this clean presentation.
In terms of palette, the series opted for a sepia feel typical from period pieces like this. This meant restrained hues, but the Blu-ray depicted them well; within the stylistic limitations, the colors were strong. Blacks came across as deep and dense, while shadows showed appropriate clarity. The shows always looked pretty positive.
I also felt pleased by the generally positive DTS-HD MA 5.1 audio of Empire. Given the series’ emphasis on dialogue, the tracks didn’t get a ton of room to shine, but the shows demonstrated a good sense of place and atmosphere at all times. When the material warranted more use of the soundscape – like a machine gun attack or a barn explosion – the five channels became active partners in the proceedings. Though those moments didn’t occur frequently, they added to the shows.
The quality of the sound was also solid. Music was peppy and bright, while speech sounded distinctive and concise. Effects seemed realistic and provided a good punch in the louder moments. Everything here suited the programs.
The package comes with plenty of extras. Six episodes boast audio commentaries. Here’s what we find:
“21” - creator/writer/executive producer Terence Winter, director/writer/executive producer Tim Van Patten, and actor Michael K. Williams;
“Gimcrack and Bunkum” - co-executive producer/writer Howard Korder and actor Jack Huston;
“Peg of Old” - Korder, co-producer/writer Steve Kornacki, director Allen Coulter and actor Charlie Cox;
“Two Boats and a Lifeguard” - Winter, Van Patten and actor Steve Buscemi;
“Under God’s Power She Flourishes” - Korder, Coulter and actor Gretchen Mol;
“To the Lost” - Winter and Van Patten.
Across the various tracks, we hear about cast, characters and performances, sets and locations, period details and historical elements, themes and story elements, and related issues. These commentaries start off well, as the first two are the best. Those chats seem vital and informative, and I really like Huston’s notes about his part and performance.
After that, however, the commentaries become less consistent. Oh, they still include decent information, but they’re slower and come with lowered levels of useful material. We still get enough to ensure that the tracks merit attention, but don’t expect the high quality of the first two to continue the whole way.
Found on all five platters, we get Character Dossiers. These give us details on a mix of important characters and function as a kind of “family tree”. They deliver biographical notes as well as connections and photos. They’re fun to see, especially since they evolve over time; each episode gives us an update on the characters. That can be helpful, as they can keep us up to date while the season progresses.
Disc One provides a featurette called Back to the Boardwalk. Hosted by Terence Winter, this 14-minute, 37-second piece gives us a quick overview of the series’ first season. It’s a nice refresher, as it gets us back up to date before we launch into the second set of shows.
On Disc Four, we get Secrets of the Past: Storytelling in Episode 11. In this 59-minute, 53-second piece, we hear from Winter, Korder, Coulter, Mol, Kornacki, Buscemi, Van Patten, Cox, writer/executive story editor Itamar Moses, writer Bathsheba Doran, production designer Bill Groom, set decorator Carol Silverman, and actors Michael Shannon, Aleksa Palladino, Shea Whigham, Paul Sparks, and Kelly Macdonald. They look at “Under God’s Power She Flourishes” in detail, as this works like a kind of “picture-in-picture” commentary for the most part. We get a nice mix of details about the series and this particular episode.
A bunch of components fill out Disc Five. Living in 1921 provides an interactive domain with that covers five subjects: “History”, “People”, “Culture”, “Trends” and “The Arts”. Under these we can “view videos, archival images and in-depth facts”. All told, we can examine 49 topics such as “The Music of 1921”, “Memorial Day and the Poppy”, “Dining Out in 1921” and “Heroin During Prohibition”. Across these, we hear from Macdonald, Buscemi, Williams, Groom, Silverman, Palladino, Korder, Winter, Van Patten, costume designer John Dunn, makeup department head Michele Paris, hair department head Francesca Paris, Clothes on Film editor Chris Laverty, historians/authors Nelson Johnson and Burton Peretti, associate costume designer Lisa Padovani, authors Lisa Moore and Jonathan Eig, band leader/arranger Vince Giordano, Tulane University American Studies Director Joel Dinerstein, music supervisor Randall Poster, researcher Edward McGinty, and actors Michael Stuhlbarg, Anatol Yusef, Vincent Piazza, William Forsythe.
25 of the subjects give us text notes, and 24 of the topics provide video snippets. These run between one minute, 21 seconds and three minutes, 30 seconds for a total of 56 minutes, 27 seconds. The lack of a “Play All” option for the video clips makes them a bit of a drag, but we still learn a ton about the era depicted in the series. “1921” creates a broad, involving compendium of details.
Under the three-minute, 35-second New Characters, we hear from Cox, Forsythe, and Winter. They deliver some basic notes about the Owen Sleater and Manny Horvitz characters. We get minor insights but not much in this generally promotional piece.
Updates to the Boardwalk lasts three minutes, 14 seconds as it offers info from Groom and Winter. They chat about new sets featured in this year of Empire. Groom does the heavy lifting; “Updates” is too short to be substantial, but it gives us some nice tidbits.
In addition to a Season Two Promo Spot, we finish with The Money Decade. It occupies 24 minutes, 33 seconds with info from Eig, Johnson, Moore, Peretti, Van Patten, Buscemi, Stuhlbarg, Dinerstein, Giordano, Mol, Laverty, Dunn, Macdonald, burlesque dancer Medianoche, and actor Paz de la Huerta. We look at a mix of facts about the 1920s as well as aspects of how the series represents that period. We’ve heard similar info in other places – mainly “Living in 1921” – but this is still a tight, informative overview.
The package also incldes a DVD Copy of Season Two. It places all 12 episodes on two double-sided discs. It lacks the extras of the Blu-ray.
After a pretty good first season, Boardwalk Empire returns with a second year that’s… pretty good. I doubt I’ll ever truly love the series, but it remains involving and well-made enough to maintain my attention. The Blu-ray provides consistently positive picture and audio along with a reasonably useful set of supplements. Fans of the series will be happy with this package.