Plot: What’s it about?
“The Lord of the Rings: The Two Towers” ranks as the tenth best movie according to the Internet Movie Database. This is the tenth best movie of all-time, mind you. I’m not certain that I agree. While I’m sure that the legions of fans that this movie has (and I’ll admit, I’m one of them) had a not to small part in that ranking, can we really agree that this movie is better than “GoodFellas”, “Vertigo”, “Raiders of the Lost Arc” or “Dr. Strangelove”? Uh…no. But all that aside, the second installment of the Lord of the Rings series did live up to the hype, unlike that of “The Matrix”. I might be the only person, however, who thought that this movie wasn’t better than the first. I felt lost in the middle of things and I’ve not read the books. Most everyone reading this review and who saw the movie has, though. I don’t mean to generalize, but I’m assuming that it’s a fact. Both movies were nominated for Best Picture and the first one might have deserved it, but not this one. So if you’re looking for orcs, dragons, wizards, hobbits, elves and about every other assorted creature under the sun; well you’ve come to the right place. Other than that, if you didn’t like the first installment, then this won’t do much for you.
And “The Lord of the Rings: The Two Towers” essentially picks up where the first one left off, a fairly original move when you really sit down and thank about it. Though the movie will probably be remembered for the hour long battle scene at the end of the film. Frodo (Elijah Wood) and Samwise (Sean “Don’t call me Rudy” Astin) continue their voyage for the One Ring and hence destroy it. However, the pack has been split in half and the others now face challenges equal to that of the two Hobbits. Aarogan (Viggo Mortensen), Legolas (Orlando Bloom) and Gimli (John Rhys-Davies) have made friends of the Rohan, a race of humans that are in the path of the upcoming war, led by its aging king, Théoden (Bernard Hill). The two towers between Mordor and Isengard, have united for destruction. All the while, the corrupt wizard Saruman (Christopher Lee), has been under the power of Dark Lord Sauron, and his assistant, Gríma Wormtongue (Brad Dourif). They’ve created a grand Uruk-hai army whose sole purpose is the destruction of Man (Middle-earth). All the while, the rebellion against Sauron is heating up and will be led by Gandalf (Sir Ian McKellen), who we thought was dead after the Balrog captured him. One of the Ring’s original bearers, the creature Gollum (Andy Serkis), has tracked Frodo and Sam down in search of his ‘precious’, but is captured by the Hobbits and used as a way to lead them to Mt. Doom.
This movie is a natural progression of the first installment and for those who are looking for any kind of recap will not get one. This plays to the people out there who have actually read the books by J.R.R. Tolkien and though there are “purists” out there who wouldn’t like to have seen a thing changed; there has been for time constraints. And yes, when I mention “time constraints” with a 179 minute movie, there’s a lot of action to be put in that frame. But let’s get real here, first. The “sequel” if you can call it that, did actually live up to the expectations that the first one laid out. The third is looking to be the kicker in the bunch and though I’m not the best fan of the movies, I’ll make sure and see it in the theater. If it’s action you’re looking for, then you’re sure to have your fill here. Just about every positive aspect from the first movie is present here except for the presence of Sean Bean (his character was in The Fellowship of the Ring), who I felt made the movie “click” a bit more. Still, we have a varied cast and though it won’t be everyone’s cup of tea; this is sure to please the masses. I suppose it has, with it garnering awards for Best Picture and such, eh? Fans won’t want to miss out on this DVD and though the 4 disc version is the one to get, there are those of us who will be more than satisfied with this version. Recommended.
Video: How does it look?
The new extended cut of the movie is now spread over two discs as opposed to the original being on just one. That, and add in the fact that there’s about 45 additional minutes here and you’ve got one great-looking picture. This is demo material here, folks. Lord of the Rings: The Two Towers sports a gorgeous-looking 2.40:1 anamorphic transfer that looks great even on my 55″ screen. As we might expect with a new to DVD title, the image suffers from…nothing. Even considering the length of the film, no compression artifacts are present and even the dark scenes (which there are many) look absolutely pristine. The film has a 3-D effect to it, it’s so clear. In fact, it looks almost too clear. At times I felt that I was watching a video game or something of that nature; still I can only imagine how much better this would look in High Definition. I could throw a few more adjectives your way, but this is reference quality, rest assured.
Audio: How does it sound?
As good as the original version sounded, we now get the addition of a DTS 6.1 ES mix to accompany the Dolby Digital 5.1 EX mix. With the additional footage, we get a different track, though most of it sounds nearly identical to the original release. The DTS track takes charge here and if you’ve ever wanted to hear this movie the way it was meant to be heard, just crank up the volume and let it be heard. While the DTS is simply one of the best-sounding tracks around, the Dolby Digital EX track is just as amazing. The Dolby Digital EX mix is supplied (I don’t have an EX receiver, but the 5.1 sounded just fine, thank you) and it is active the entire 236 minutes. When you have to turn the volume down when the menus pop up, you just might be in for some sort of treat, audio-wise. Dialogue is one part of the film, but the surround effects are so engrossing that it literally helps you get caught up in the movie. You get used to hearing the discrete effects come out of the rear channels. I like that my subwoofer actually has to do some work! Older movies and Dolby Surround tracks are just fine, but every once in a while you need to crank it up and this is the perfect movie to do it with. Again, I’m running out of words to describe how good the mix is. Outstanding! Whichever track you choose, the Dolby Digital or the DTS, you’ll be more than satisfied with your choice.
Supplements: What are the extras?
“Lord of the Rings: The Two Towers” comes to us in a 4 disc format. Yes, the original was two discs and this has doubled what you get for your hard-earned money. But this is one of those editions that is more than worth what you pay as you’ll get about two days worth of bonus materials and you’ll most likely be so sick of hobbits and such that you’ll have to put the set away…for a few days. As mentioned earlier, the movie has now been spread out over two discs to bump up the bitrate and give the movie a better look that the already previous good-looking version. Additionally, there are now 45 minutes of scenes that have been edited back into the movie which provide some more depth to the characters and give some more explanation as to what is going on. Though the movie stood well on its own (it was nominated for Best Picture), the addition of these scenes is beneficial to the movie and even expands upon the experience that is watching it. To go along with the 236 minute movie (that’s as long as “Gone With the Wind”, people), we get four separate commentary tracks. The first is with Director Peter Jackson and his team of writers. Naturally, this track deals with getting the movie to screen and how the book was changed for the movie, etc. though not the most exciting of the four tracks, it’s certainly the most impressive. Next we find the track with the design team. Design and the physical look of the movie simply dominate what the movie is all about (especially if you know what all went into making it look the way it does). The track deals with the work that was put into making the set look like it did and the painstaking attention to detail that these (most likely) underpaid men and women went through all for our enjoyment. The third track takes a look at the Production team. Naturally, most of the work took place after the scenes were shot and the effects were put in. The production staff of the movie is vastly under credited with the work they did and only until you listen to this track, can you appreciate exactly how big of an undertaking this project was. Lastly, we have a commentary with the cast. This is, naturally, the most lively track of the four as you feel like you’re in the middle of something. Voices from nearly every direction are heard and all have something interesting to say. With an ensemble cast like this one, the track to listen to is this as it’s the most “fun” and will certainly be the most entertaining.
Ok, that’s half of the discs in the set, but now the real fun begins. The third disc essentially focuses on the pre-production of the movie. Now don’t let this fool you, there’s a lot of undertaking involved in getting set up for something like this and, lest we forget, this is only one of the three movies. We start off with “J.R.R. Tolkien: Origins of Middle-Earth” which explains how the story was derived from the book and the process of bringing this huge concept to the silver screen. We then move onto “From Book to Script: Finding the Story”. Numerous changes were involved in bringing this to the screen and they’re described in detail here. Purists won’t be too happy, but then again, purists are bound to overlook these details as the movies are good and anyone else wouldn’t be as precise as Peter Jackson and his crew. “Designing Middle Earth” focuses on the production of what it took to make the movie look the way it does. So much goes unnoticed in a movie like this and we forget exactly how much work it takes just to produce one scene. This gives us just a glimpse of what it took to design Middle Earth. “Weta Workshop” focuses on John Howe and his team of creative geniuses in bringing the history of the clothes and swords to the screen. Each was designed to fit a certain race and the sheer commitment by this man alone is amazing. Andy Serkis and his team brought the character of Gollum to the screen, but this is explored more deeply in “The Taming of Smeagol”. The character was digital, but the people behind the character made him what it is. Truly, they set the bar that much higher when it comes to digital characters. Next up is “Andy Serkis Animation Reference” in which we see the exact nature in which the character followed what he did. There’s also a rather humorous scene in which we see Rick Porras standing in. Lastly, we have some character maps in which you can choose up to four different paths that the characters chose during their adventure. This really puts it all into a bit more perspective and is a nice “rounding out” feature to this disc.
Disc four starts out with Elijah Wood introducing us to the disc (Disc Three had Peter Jackson) and we’ll jump right in. “Warriors of Middle Earth” tells us of the stunts that went into the filming of the movie. Stunt men (and women) have long been overlooked in movies and this documentary gives them their due credit. All of the action in the movie is made by the stunts (well, not all) and we get only a glimpse into what the stuntmen went through for the film. “Cameras in Middle Earth” might be the best feature on the discs, period. At over an hour, this tells of how the movie was filmed and moving all over the New Zealand map. “Big-Atures” and “Weta Digital” are featured next and focus on the models used for the movie and the digital effects that was used to bring them to “life”. From the opening scene in which Gandolf fights the dragon until the ending scene in which we see the impending war (and essentially everything in between), these two factors all but made the movie what it is. “Editorial: Refining the Story” shows us how Jackson used different editors in the massive shoot. Filming on such a tight budget and schedule, he managed his time and resources wisely to craft one of the better fantasy films around. “Soundscapes of Middle Earth” and “Music of Middle Earth” are both dedicated to, obviously, music and sound. These give us a look at the composer of the film, Howard Shore, and the effects created for the movie. This movie had some great sound effects and is sure to be recognized by the Academy when Oscar time rolls around. “The Battle for Helm’s Deep is Over…” is fairly straight-forward: the cast and crew reflect on the challenge of making the second movie in the series and what lies ahead for the third installment. A sound demonstration is also included aptly entitled “Helm’s Deep”. Needless to say all of your “standard” features are there as well, trailers, DVD-ROM…you name it. Quite simply the set of the year (as the previous version was the set of last year). I don’t think this will have any problem selling in the least.