HBO is a channel that is known for shows that make big statements, and Boardwalk Empire announces itself every week with a sweeping, timeless main-titles sequence that establishes the character of Nucky Thompson and the tumultuous times evoked by the show’s period setting. To do this, the shows creators enlisted the help of company Imaginary Forces, the creative minds behind the Mad Men title sequence among others as well. The sequence is simple, and utilizes only shots of Steve Buscemi, lots of whiskey bottles, and a boardwalk, but makes clear that Buscemi’s character, Nucky Thompson, rules the boardwalk in tumultuous, prohibition-era Atlantic City just after World War I.
The scene is set- Nucky Thompson walks to the shore, almost commanding the power of the sea. We see hims from different angles and we get various shots of his shoes, his suit, his face, his cigar, and the carnation pinned to his chest pocket. And then, in the water, the bottles come crashing ashore, until there is a pile of them at Nucky’s feet, and he turns away. Simple enough, but also very metaphorical. The creators of the sequence wanted to signify Thompson looking out like he sees the tides bringing his future to him in the form of liquor. It’s also a statement to his power in the story of the show, and how the bottles come crashing violently around the boardwalk, like the violence in the show, but he stays watching, calmly, and walks away unscathed in his getup even though the surf was at one point lapping away at his shoes.
Thompson’s cigar, the old fashioned bottles, and his outfit all work to symbolize the times but one of the most deliberate visual choices in this sequence are the colors. We see the clouds speeded up above his head as he watches, the roaring waves, the boardwalk, and we realize that although saturated the visuals are also heavily shadowed and have vert blueish undertones, almost as if tranquilized. All in all, it is an effective title sequence that gives way to the show in a simple manner and eforces a catchy tune.