Boardwalk Empire: The Complete Series (Blu-Ray Review)

boardwalkThe critically acclaimed HBO series Boardwalk Empire is finally available in a complete box set, and while the packaging itself isn’t very impressive, it’s definitely an example of substance over style. For those unfamiliar with the 40-time Emmy nominated Prohibition-era crime drama starring the incredible Steve Buscemi, this collection is the perfect tool to dive into the compelling series. It’s also a wonderful collector’s item for those who are already fans of the show, chock full with fascinating, in-depth behind the scenes and making of featurettes that will make you want to re-watch the entire series just to appreciate all the skill that went into making this groundbreaking show a reality. Unfortunately, the vast majority of these special features were already available on previous season releases, so if you’ve bought them individually, the new content isn’t worth the additional $160. If you don’t own the previous seasons, the complete series box set is entirely worth it.



Boardwalk Empire follows Enoch “Nucky” Thompson, a corrupt politician in the heart of corrupt Atlantic City, New Jersey during the height of the Prohibition era. Rife with violence, gang fights, glitz, glamor, bloodshed and gritty realism not often present in period pieces, Boardwalk Empire is a treat for everyone, ranging from the casual drama fan to the hardcore history buff.

What is perhaps most impressive about this show is the way that they managed to keep an intensely high concept show not only going for five seasons, but going strong. Creator Terence Winter based the show on the novel Boardwalk Empire: The Birth, High Times and Corruption of Atlantic City, and, working with executive producer Martin Scorsese, he took equal parts historical accuracy, intrigue and character development to craft an epic show. I won’t go into much plot detail because, if you’ve seen the show, you know it, and if you haven’t, the storylines are so expertly and inextricably woven, I wouldn’t want to spoil it. Suffice to say, if you haven’t seen it, you really should.

Since stories about bootleggers, gangsters, betrayals and murder can get redundant quickly, the only way to keep a show like this running is to have interesting, well-loved and complex characters the audience wants to see develop. And that’s exactly what Boardwalk Empire did.

All the performances are fantastic, but the stand out is Steve Buscemi as Nucky Johnson, based on the real historical figure Enoch L. Johnson. Buscemi brings nuance, depth and terror to the character, lifting the gangster trope from one-note to complex. But as good as Buscemi is, Boardwalk Empire is truly an ensemble show.

With incredible performances from Kelly Macdonald as Margaret Thompson, Michael Shannon as prohibition agent Nelson Van Alden, Shea Whigham as Nucky’s brother and Atlantic County sheriff Eli Thompson, Stephen Graham as notorious gangster Al CaponeMichael Kenneth Williams as Chalky White  and Bobby Cannavale as Gyp Rosetti, one of the best villains in television history, the ensemble and their stories make the show a winner.

It can easily be said the beautiful period drapings of the prohibition era is as much a character as any of the cast. Part of the joy of watching Boardwalk Empire comes from watching the 1920s and 1930s come alive in such a realistic, lush and visceral way. It’s some of the most impressive and subtle CGI you’ll ever see.



Encoding: MPEG-4 AVC

Resolution: 1080p

Aspect Ratio: 1.78:1

Clarity/Detail: As mentioned above, one of the best parts about this show is the visual look of it. The image is sharp and clear and details are well defined. Props, sets and costumes are well respected by the camera, and given the detailed attention they deserve. There were fears concerning the quality, since the number of discs for each season was reduced from five in their individual releases, to four here. But there are no compression errors or issues stemming from this.

Depth: The depth of field is incredible, especially in the artificially created outdoor scenes. This is definitely an instance where Blu-ray provides a better viewing experience.

Black Levels: For such a (literally) dark show, it’s important for the blacks to be truly black. And they are; inky and deep, especially through all those nefarious nighttime scenes.

Color Reproduction: The show is a tad bit saturated to add to the vintage feel, and the light sepia tones work very well on Blu-ray. Colors are muted just enough, without detracting from the realism and detail in the costumes and locations.

Flesh Tones: Despite the slight saturation, the show manages to look lifelike, and that goes for the skin tones as well. They’re uniform throughout, regardless of time of day or location.

Noise/Artifacts: A few nighttime scenes have an insignificant amount of noise, but overall the show looks incredible. Even the few instances aren’t enough to detract from the viewing experience.



Audio Formats: English: DTS-HD Master Audio 5.1, French: DTS 5.1, Spanish DTS 5.1

Subtitles: English SDH, French, Spanish, Portuguese, Danish, Finnish, Norwegian, Swedish

Dynamics: With an appropriately powerful score, lifelike action sequences and explosive gun battles, the audio finds a perfect home in between, allowing each to shine when necessary.

Low Frequency Extension: Strong when required, and definitely provides extra oomph.

Surround Sound Presentation: The surround sound is impeccable. Tension is built through the dissemination of sound through the appropriate channels, and background noises and conversations are crystal clear without overpowering primary dialogue. It’s an extremely effective use of surround sound.

Dialogue Reproduction: Dialogue comes in loud and clear. I didn’t have to use subtitles to catch every little detail, both in the main dialogue and the background dialogue (I’m a huge fan of subtitles), which is impressive.



There are a lot of great extras in this collection, but, again, most of them are available on the previous single season releases. If you already own them, there’s not enough exclusive, additional content to make picking this one up worth it. If you don’t own them, then the extras are extremely enticing.

Features Include:

  • Season One
    • Boardwalk Empire Enhanced Viewing
    • Making Boardwalk Empire
    • Creating the Boardwalk
    • Character Dossier
    • Atlantic City: The Original Sin City
    • Speakeasy Tour
    • Audio Commentaries
  • Season Two
    • Secrets of the Past: Storytelling in Episode II
    • Living in 1921
    • Character Dossier
    • Back to the Boardwalk
    • The Money Decade
    • Updates to the Boardwalk
    • New Characters
    • Season Two Promo Spot
    • Audio Commentaries
  • Season Three
    • American Empires
    • Boardwalk Chronicle
    • Newsreels
    • Boardwalk Empire – Director’s Chair
    • Distilling Season 2
    • Scorsese on Season 3
    • New Characters
    • Audio Commentaries
  • Season Four
    • Boardwalk Chronicle
    • Scouting the Boardwalk
    • Season 3: Revisited
    • Becoming Harrow
    • The Onyx Club: A Step Back in Time
    • PaleyFest: Made in NY Boardwalk Empire Panel
    • New Characters
    • Audio Commentaries
  • Season Five
    • Scouting the Boardwalk
    • Audio Commentaries
  • Bonus Disc
    • The Final Shot: A Farewell to Boardwalk Empire
    • Anatomy of a Hit
    • Building the Boardwalk
    • Shooting the Series
    • Designing the Series
    • Visual Effects



The show itself may wrap up predictably, but it’s in a satisfying way. There’s nothing better than when a show knows when to bow out, especially when it does it so gracefully after such an impressive run. If you don’t already own the seasons individually, this box set is definitely worth picking up. Click the image below to purchase your set today.

box art

box set


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