THE LORD OF THE RINGS:
With the arrival of the Special Extended Edition of THE LORD OF THE RINGS: THE TWO TOWERS, I am awed at how much better an already fantastic film has become with the addition of another forty-three minutes of footage. In my review of the theatrical version of THE TWO TOWERS, I expounded that watching the film made me feel as though I were in the presence of cinematic greatness. Well, the Special Extended Edition of THE LORD OF THE RINGS: THE TWO TOWERS that sensation is greatly amplified- as if one were going from a richly woven piece of cloth to a luxuriously fine tapestry. Even the smallest additions to Peter Jacksonís brilliant film add to its complexity, as well as creating a greater understanding of and appreciation for J.R.R. Tolkienís brilliant fantasy work.
THE TWO TOWERS is the middle film in the trilogy and as such brings the viewer into the middle of the action, without explaining what has come before. Therefore it is essential that one view THE LORD OF THE RINGS: THE FELLOWSHIP OF THE RING before even considering watching THE TWO TOWERS. As THE TWO TOWERS opens, we discover the Fellowship of The Ring has been broken, with Frodo (Elijah Wood) continuing his quest to destroy Lord Sauron's Ring of Power, aided only by his good friend and fellow hobbit Sam (Sean Astin). Although Frodo is troubled by his final memory of Gandalf The Grey (Ian McKellen), who saved the other members of The Fellowship by standing his ground against the Balrog, even worse things come to occupy Frodoís mind on the long and arduous journey of Mordor.
As Frodo and Sam make their way to Mordor, former fellowship members 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). However, when Merry and Pippin escape the Orcs on their own, and wind up in the protective care of the Ent Treebeard (voiced by John Rhys-Davies), an old friend advises Aragorn, Legolas and Gimli that their services are desperately needed to protect the people of Rohan against an overwhelming army of orcs created by Saruman the White (Christopher Lee). The cast of THE TWO TOWERS also features Miranda Otto, Bernard Hill, Bruce Hopkins, Brad Dourif, Liv Tyler, Cate Blanchett and Hugo Weaving.
THE TWO TOWERS proves to be a much darker film than THE FELLOWSHIP OF THE RING, even though the two could be easily joined together to create a cohesive whole. Situations within THE TWO TOWERS turn dire, with a greater deal of bloodshed, which accounts for the darker tone of the second film. THE TWO TOWERS also features a marked increase in action and violence, as well as a seemingly quicker pace than THE FELLOWSHIP OF THE RING. Still, even with the numerous action sequences, director Peter Jackson recognizes that this is very much a character driven story and maintains strong character development throughout the film.
As Iíve stated in the past, the performances are uniformly excellent, with THE TWO TOWERS being more of an ensemble piece than THE FELLOWSHIP OF THE RING, with the focus shifting away from Fodo and onto the plights of the other characters that have been separated from him. I should also mention that one of the filmís most intriguing performances is one that is realized entirely through CGI. The character of Gollum was motion captured from a live performance by actor Andy Serkis, then digitally inserted into the film with amazing results. Gollum is without question the most wholly believable digital character to appear in a movie thus far.
New Line Home Entertainment has made the Special Extended Edition of 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. As with the Special Edition of THE FELLOWSHIP OF THE RING, THE TWO TOWERS has been spread across the first two discs of this four disc set to maximize the bit rate for both video and audio playback. Since this is a New Line title, my expectations that this would be an absolutely stunning DVD have not only been met, they have been exceeded. The image is just incredible; appearing sharper and better defined than the theatrical version, which was certainly no slouch on DVD. Owing to the higher bit rate, clarity is greatly improved, as are the fine details within the image, plus one gets a sense of greater depth and dimensionality from the picture, than what was present in the previous theatrical version DVD. Colors tend to be somewhat subdue by design, although there are flashes of vibrancy throughout the course of the film. Blacks are totally pure, as are the whites. The image also boasts excellent contrast and shadow detail. Digital compression artifacts are always well concealed, despite the filmís length, multiple soundtracks and audio commentaries.
The Special Extended Edition of THE LORD OF THE RINGS: THE TWO TOWERS is presented with both Dolby Digital 5.1 EX and DTS 6.1 ES soundtracks. As good as the visuals are on the DVD, I have to say that the audio portion of the program proves to be their equal. Digital soundtracks and sound design seldom come any better than what has been created for THE TWO TOWERS. Fidelity is astonishingly good for both the music and sound effects, plus the sound design is so wonderfully enveloping that it draws the viewer into the world of the film. The sound effects themselves are aggressively deployed across the forward soundstage and especially in the surround channels, which seem constantly alive.
The battle sequences sound absolutely incredible, but then again, so do the filmís quieter moments, which create a genuine sense of acoustic space. Dialogue is perfectly rendered, with robust natural timbre and complete intelligibility. The bass channel is powerful and tends to shake the ground quite a bit. The differences between the Dolby Digital and DTS soundtracks are perceivable, but not overly pronounced. DTS does have an edge in spaciousness, bass reproduction and musical fidelity, but then again, if you system does not accommodate DTS- the Dolby Digital track still sounds magnificent. An English Dolby Surround soundtrack is also encoded onto the DVD, as are 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 an astonishing array of supplemental features, which have been spread across all four discs of this massive DVD set. Discs one and two offer four running separate audio commentary tracks. All four of the audio commentaries contain vast amounts of information about the production, and while they are all worth hearing, there is far too much information to take in during a short period of time. These commentaries are best sampled over the course of a few weekends, or across several months. It would be best to start either with the cast or director's commentaries, depending upon oneís preference for entertainment value or technical details.
Here is a rundown of the participants on the four commentary tracks: The Director And Writers commentary track features Peter Jackson, Fran Walsh and Philippa Boyens. The Design Team commentary track features production designer Grant Major, creative supervisor Richard Taylor, conceptual designers Alan Lee and John Howe, supervising art director Dan Hennah, art department manager Chris Hennah, plus workshop manager Tania Rodger. The Production/Post-Production Team commentary track features editor Mike Horton, additional editor Jabez Olssen, visual effects supervisor Joe Letteri, producer Barrie Osborne, executive producer Mark Ordesky, director of photography Andrew Lesnie, co-producer Rick Porras, composer Howard Shore, visual effects supervisor Jim Rygiel, animation designer Randy Cook, supervising sound editors Ethan van der Ryn and Mike Hopkins, VFX art director Christian Rivers, VFX cinematographer Brian Vant Hul, and miniatures director of photography Alex Funk. The Cast commentary track features Elijah Wood, Sean Astin, John Rhys-Davies, Billy Boyd, Dominic Monaghan, Orlando Bloom, Christopher Lee, Sean Bean, Bernard Hill, Miranda Otto, David Wenham, Brad Dourif, Karl Urban, John Noble, Craig Parker and Andy Serkis. To avoid confusion during theses multiple participant commentary tracks, subtitles pop up on screen to identify the speakers.
Discs three and four are entitled The Appendices and contain hours and hours of supplemental programming. However, to prevent boring any readers beyond this point, I will keep my comments on the supplements as short as possible. Disc Three is entitled The Appendices Part Three: The Journey Continues. J.R.R. Tolkien- Origins Of Middle-Earth is a thirty-minute program that looks at the author and aspects of his life that influenced the trilogy. From Book To Script-Finding The Story runs twenty minutes and features Peter Jackson, who discusses the difficulty of adapting the second book of the trilogy, then make it work in relation to a first and third film. Designing And Building Middle-Earth clocks in a bit shy of ninety minutes, but looks at the various aspects of creating the filmís locations and overall visual appearance. Gollum runs under forty minutes, but this three-part program thoroughly examines how the digital character was convincingly brought to life. Middle-Earth Atlas is an interactive map that allows one to follow the paths taken by the various characters as they make their way across the landscape of Middle-Earth. New Zealand As Middle Earth allows one to look at the actual locations in New Zealand where the middle third of the trilogy was filmed.
Disc Four is entitled The Appendices Part Four: The Battle For Middle-Earth Begins. Filming The Two Towers is broken into two sections and runs more than an hour and forty minutes, which allows it to provide an extensive look behind-the-scenes at this difficult action intensive film. Visual Effects looks at the filmís miniatures, which are made to look huge on the screen, as well as showing how animatics helped the director in visualizing and creating some of the effects intensive sequences. Editorial: Refining The Story is twenty minute program that examines the monumental task of assembling a huge special effects and action intensive film such as THE TWO TOWERS. Music And Sound is broken into two sections, with a combined running time of forty-five minute, which allows it to look at Howard Shoreís impressive score and then shows how the multiple layers of sound effects combine together in the final mix. The Battle For Helmís Deep Is Over runs under ten minutes but allows the director and cast members to offer their thoughts on the film during production.
The Special Extended Edition of THE LORD OF THE RINGS: THE TWO TOWERS is undoubtedly the DVD event of the year. Not only is this incredible motion picture made even more fantastic by the addition of another forty-three minutes of footage, the generous and thoughtful supplemental materials truly make this four disc set something to treasure. As for the presentation itself, both the image and sound are absolutely first rate demonstration quality material that everyone with a home theater system is going to absolutely love. New Line Home Entertainment deserves high praise for this set and the Special Extended Edition of THE LORD OF THE RINGS: THE TWO TOWERS is absolutely recommended.
The Special Extended Edition of THE LORD OF THE RINGS: THE TWO TOWERS is available in two versions- a standard release for $39.98 and a Collector's Gift Set for $79.98.
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