DVD Review: Boardwalk Empire Season 1

Boardwalk Empire: Season 1 DVD boxSTUDIO: HBO/Warner | DIRECTOR: Various including Martin Scorsese | CAST: Steven Buscemi, Michael Shannon, Gretchen Mol, Kelly MacDonald, Dabney Coleman
BLU-RAY & DVD RELEASE DATE: 1/10/2012 | PRICE: DVD $59.99, Blu-ray $79.98
BONUSES: character dossiers, featurettes
SPECS: TV-MA | 732 min. | Drama | 1.78:1 aspect ratio | 5.1 Dolby Digital audio | English, Spanish, French, Portuguese, Chinese, Thai subtitles

RATINGS (out of 5 dishes): TV Show | Audio | Video | Overall

Boardwalk Empire: Season 1HBO’s Boardwalk Empire is sprawling and sumptuous on DVD. The gorgeous Prohibition-era sets and costumes no doubt look even better in the TV show’s Blu-ray version, but they are stunning even on standard-definition DVD.

The Emmy Award-winning show boasts smart writing and sharp acting, reminiscent of HBO’s earlier dramatic series Rome and even Carnivale, minus the supernatural elements.

Boardwalk Empire is set in Atlantic City during the decadent 1920s, when the Prohibition helped the rise of organized crime. Corruption? Check. Violence? Check. Some episodes can be a little slow, but mostly, it’s an intriguing television series, and the performances alone — including politician/gangster Steve Buscemi (The Big Lebowski), his heavy Michael Pitt (Funny Games), poor mother Kelly MacDonald (Nanny McPhee), FBI agent Michael Shannon (Take Shelter) and dancer Gretchen Mol (Tenure) — are worth a look.

As well as all 12 episodes of season one, the five-disc DVD set comes with some great special features.

The most interesting is the featurette “Atlantic City: The Original Sin City,” in which historians and filmmakers talk about the real town and people that inspired the TV show. Even Martin Scorsese (Cape Fear), who directed the pilot, shows up in a brief bit about the baby incubators on the Boardwalk, saying the businesses, which showcased premature babies, actually saved lives.

The 30-minute featurette describes how Atlantic City became the entertainment capital of the 20s. “It was Vegas before Vegas,” says Vicki Gold Levi, author of Atlantic City: 125 Years of Ocean Madness. There’s lots of good information here, expanding on what’s shown in the television series.

Hosted by actor Greg Antonacci (TV’s The Sopranos), “Speakeasy Tour” takes you around the cities that were supplied by booze coming out of Atlantic City, including Chicago and a visit to the infamous bar The Green Mill. The piece is entertaining and informative, a great companion to the show.

Each DVD in the set offers dossiers on the nine main characters, with a brief text bio and pictures from the show.

And six episodes have commentaries with series creator Terence Winter, Buscemi and others. The speakers keep things moving, giving behind the scenes information and even get personal. During episode four, actor Michael Kenneth Williams (TV’s The Philanthropist) describes how one violent scene on the show reminded him of when he was attacked.


Buy or Rent Boardwalk Empire: The Complete First Season
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About S. Clark

Sam Clark is the former Managing Editor/Online Editor of Video Business magazine. With 19 years experience in journalism, 12 in the home entertainment industry, Sam has been hooked on movies on since she saw E.T. then stared into the sky waiting to meet her own friendly alien. Thanks to her husband’s shared love of movies, Sam reviews Blu-ray discs in a true home theater, with a 118-inch screen, projector and cushy recliners with cup holders.