THE LORD OF THE RINGS:
It is a rare and magical experience to walk into a movie theater and realized that you are in the presence of greatness. However, that is the way one can feel about the first two chapter of director Peter Jacksonís breathtaking cinematic adaptation of J.R.R. Tolkienís THE LORD OF THE RINGS trilogy. These movies are instant classics that will be celebrated decades from now in the same way that we now revere cinematic wonders such as CITIZEN KANE and LAWRENCE OF ARABIA. With the power of digital effects and good old-fashioned storytelling ability, Jackson has turned the once un-filmable series of novels into wondrous motion picture epics that will most assuredly stand the tests of time.
As a film, THE LORD OF THE RINGS: THE TWO TOWERS ($30) is very much different and very much the same as THE FELLOWSHIP OF THE RING. Where THE FELLOWSHIP OF THE RING seemed slow and methodical, THE TWO TOWERS almost seems to rush at the viewer at breakneck speed, yet both films are part of the same story and donít exhibit any difference in storytelling style. In fact, the films could seamlessly mesh into one another, as one continuous film, with the changes in pacing, being necessitated by the developments in the filmís storyline. I mention that THE FELLOWSHIP OF THE RING and THE TWO TOWERS could be meshed into a single continuous film because that is what Jackson has essentially done by picking up the action of the second film essentially where the first one ended. THE TWO TOWERS pretty much hits the ground running, without making any sort of effort to explain or summarize the events of THE FELLOWSHIP OF THE RING.
The film opens with Frodo (Elijah Wood) being haunted in his dreams by his final memory of Gandalf The Grey (Ian McKellen), who stood his ground against the Balrog and allowed the other members of the fellowship to escape. Although the fellowship was ultimately broken by the loss of Gandalf and the burden of the ring of power weighing upon him, Frodo continues the long journey to Mordor to destroy Lord Sauron's ring, aided only be his stalwart friend and fellow hobbit Sam (Sean Astin). Of course, while Frodo and Sam make their way to Mordor, we find that warriors Aragorn (Viggo Mortensen), Legolas (Orlando Bloom) and Gimli (John Rhys-Davies) remain in pursuit of the bloodthirsty orcs, who have snatched away hobbits Merry (Dominic Monaghan) and Pippin (Billy Boyd). Eventually the captured hobbits are able to escape the orcs on their own, which makes it possible for the three warriors to go to the kingdom of Rohan, where their services are desperately needed to help fend off an overwhelming assault by an army of orcs created by Saruman the White (Christopher Lee).
As with THE FELLOWSHIP OF THE RING, the performances in THE TWO TOWERS are universally excellent. Where Elijah Wood had to bear much of the burden on his shoulders for the first film, much of the weight shifts to Viggo Mortensen as the character of Aragorn steps more towards the forefront of the story. Additionally, THE TWO TOWERS provides the supporting characters more opportunities to shine and distinguish themselves. Perhaps the most intriguing character in second film is also the one that received the most press- namely the fully CGI Gollum, whose performance was voiced and motion captured from a performance by actor Andy Serkis. Serkis gives a wrenching performance (realized by CGI) as the poor creature hopelessly corrupted by the ring of power, yet still tries to fight its influence. The cast of THE TWO TOWERS also features Miranda Otto, Bernard Hill, Bruce Hopkins, Brad Dourif, Liv Tyler, Cate Blanchett and Hugo Weaving.
New Line Home Entertainment has made THE LORD OF THE RINGS: THE TWO TOWERS available on DVD in 2.35:1 wide screen presentation that features the anamorphic enhancement for 16:9 displays. A separate full screen version is also available for those individuals that don't care to see films as they should be seen. As expected, New Line has produced another absolutely stunning DVD that looks as marvelous, if not better than THE FELLOWSHIP OF THE RING (hey, it is hard the distinguish which film looks more phenomenal). Unquestionably, this disc is a prime example as to why New Line has the reputation for producing many of the best-looking DVDs to ever hit the market. The image is incredibly sharp and beautifully defined. Color reproduction is intentionally somewhat variable, with certain sequences appearing lush, vibrant and fully saturated, while others are decidedly subdued and almost drained of color. Blacks are pure and inky, while the whites are crisp and highly stable. Both contrast and shadow detail fall under the excellent category. The film element used for the transfer is completely pristine. Digital compression artifacts are rarely noticeable, despite such a long movie being crammed onto a single dual layered DVD.
THE LORD OF THE RINGS: THE TWO TOWERS is presented with a Dolby Digital 5.1 EX soundtrack that is so dizzyingly marvelous that it can leave its audience stupefied in sonic delight. Sound design doesnít come any better than this- quiet passages have a genuine sense of space and presence, while the action oriented moments are aggressive onslaughts that take full advantage of the all the discrete channels of the digital audio format. The battle sequences are truly incredible, with waves of sound washing over the viewer, yet nothing sounds muddled and one is always able to pick out the precise directional origin of every sound that rushes past their listening position. Fidelity is excellent across the board with every sound effect being wholly convincing and Howard Shore's score coming across with a rich musical presence. Dialogue is fully intelligible, even when the battle sequences are at their peak and the actors voices are reproduces with a completely natural timbre. The bass channel is thunderous and certain to have oneís subwoofer shaking the floorboards. An English Dolby Surround soundtrack has also been encoded onto the DVD, as have English subtitles.
Full motion video, animation and sound serve to enhance the DVDís beautifully designed interactive menus. Through the menus, one has access to the standard scene selection and set up features, as well as the supplemental materials offered on this two-disc set. Because of the length of the feature, all of the supplemental material is contained on the second disc of this set, and I should note that none of the material presented here will be duplicated on the four-disc, extended edition of THE LORD OF THE RINGS: THE TWO TOWERS that is coming in November 2003.
Promotional TV documentaries and featurettes are the highlights of disc two. From the Starz! Network is On the Set: The Lord of the Rings: The Two Towers, which runs fourteen minutes and is more of a PR piece than an actual look behind-the-scenes. Far more in depth and enjoyable is Return to Middle-Earth a forty-three minute program that originally aired on The WB Network. A rather interesting an enjoyable inclusion on disc two is The Long And Short Of It, a five-minute film made by actor Sean Astin during the extended production of the Tolkien movie trilogy. Supporting The Long And Short Of It is an introduction by Astin, as well as an eight-minute making of featurette.
Eight four-minute featurettes from the film trilogyís web site are also provided on disc two (at much improved resolution), as are a theatrical teaser and theatrical trailer, plus sixteen TV spots. One will also find Emiliana Torrini's Gollum's Song music video, as well as a video game preview for a cyber version of The Return of the King. Closing out the video features are previews for the upcoming four-disc Special Extended Edition of THE LORD OF THE RINGS: THE TWO TOWERS (coming November 2003) and the theatrical release of THE LORD OF THE RINGS: THE RETURN OF THE KING (December 2003). Disc two is also DVD-ROM enabled offering web links and access to on-line content.
Like its predecessor, THE LORD OF THE RINGS: THE TWO TOWERS is an instant motion picture classic. New Line has produced an absolutely spectacular DVD edition of the film's theatrical cut (which I highly recommend), plus they have a super deluxe four-disc, Special Extended Edition of the film in the works for November. I am sure that many will have difficulty in waiting for November and will be picking up this edition now to satiate them until the Special Extended Edition arrives. But then again, considering how good this DVD is, and the fact that the supplemental content will not be duplicated, many will be buying both releases anyway.
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