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The Lord of the Rings: The Two Towers - Extended Edition (Blu-ray)
New Line Cinema / 2002 / 223 Minutes
Street Date: August 28, 2012
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- List Price: $34.99
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Reviewed by Michael S. Palmer
Wednesday, August 29, 2012
Portions of this review also appear in our coverage of ''The Lord of the Rings: The Motion Picture Trilogy' as well as 'The Lord of the Rings: The Motion Picture Trilogy - Extended Editions'
The Fellowship has disbanded, going their separate ways. Some shed of their mortal coil, others to fight the evil of Sauron's forces, to recover captured friends, while two brave hobbits venture alone towards Mordor, with the One Ring in tow. Familiar faces (David Wenham as Faramir, brother of Boromir) will act in familiar fashion, while a fallen friend will show that not even death can slow some men down. Villainous armies will rise and threaten humanity, while Saruman will threaten them further, possessing the King of Rohan, Théoden (Bernard Hill). In the darkest hour, those fighting to free the world from evil must revive treaties of old, and instill bravery in those around them to succeed. Meanwhile, the darkest creature of all, a gangly former hobbit, Gollum (Andy Serkis), threatens to destroy the plan set in motion through his treachery, and unwavering desire to be reunited with his precious, the very item Frodo has been tasked to protect until it can be destroyed.
'The Two Towers' takes the diverse characters introduced so painstakingly in the first film, and throws them to the wolves, in a sense. The new Fellowship of Sam, Frodo, and Gollum/Smeagol is built on anger, distrust, deceit, and vengeance, as Frodo's will and soul are further sucked into the abyss of the One Ring's lure. On the opposite end of the spectrum, the relationship between Gimli, Aragorn, and Legolas fastens through a shared goal, as inter-species tension diminish in a bond of brotherhood that was meant for the entire Fellowship. Pippin and Merry have little to do beyond survive their captors cold plans for them. Gandalf the Grey has a change of mood, in a sense, becoming Gandalf the White, paralleling the powers and appearance of his nemesis. He is no longer a fun and games wizard, but a savior, a banner to rally behind, and a cause to come together for.
The new faces in 'The Two Towers' are hardly memorable, but it's the performances behind them that leave an impression. Wenham pales in comparison to Bean, his fictional brother (from another mother), though to be fair, his character is given little to do or grow from. Miranda Otto is a pleasure as Eowyn, the strongest female character in the trilogy, as she feels like a new focal point, easily the most important new character, more so than her brother, the banished Eomer (Karl Urban). Hill is great as a man who nearly gives up on life, only to fight anew with revitalized heart and soul, while his tempter, the slimy Wormtongue (played by Brad Dourif) crafts the kind of slithering, calculating villain that is oft referred to, but rarely seen. Of course, the entire kingdom of Rohan deserves what they got, considering they let a man named Wormtongue near their king, but that's another story. The highlight of the newcomers is Serkis as Gollum, seen briefly in the previous film, but finally given a role here. The work Serkis did is amazing, both with his vocal talents playing the character most representative of the duality of man in the series (obviously), and his body movements, through which the character was computer generated.
With all the great new additions, there has to be a negative somewhere in the mix, and that belongs to Treebeard and the rest of his Ern brethren. These living trees from Fangorn Forest are quite terribly depicted, executed in a fashion worthy of execution. These towering treefolk at first are large enough to stomp an orc without effort, with a single stride, yet later are only fractions of the trees around them, as the scale of the hobbits around them grow as the film progresses. Soon enough, these treefolk wage war against the man that has been pulverizing their ranks for some time, and reek serious vengeance upon their industrial counterparts, with actions very befitting of nature dominating over manmade creation. They are bad analogies, to say the least, and are annoying to boot.
While 'Fellowship' was fairly cut and dry, 'The Two Towers' has a level of comedy that is very welcome, and effective, as the gruff Gimli often finds himself on the butt end of the joke. Whether he cannot see over turrets, cannot escape under a literal dog pile, or volunteers (unwisely) the state of Dwarven female and male relations, the change in tone is often welcome, rather than the dire and deadly serious events that came before it.
'The Two Towers' gets the ball rolling, though, with the urgency that the series had been lacking up to that point. As soon as the fighting element of the Fellowship bands together with Rohan to secure the area's life at Helm's Deep, tension finally builds. Armies of great strength and number are depicted, with diverse talents and purpose. War begins to dominate the film, with a do-or-die defense that is so horribly outnumbered that the proportions are somewhat akin to parable. The friendly competition between warriors is set aside, if even briefly, in the dire circumstances that haunt the night.
But all that goes well for the film is discarded by a repetitive narrative that ruins any real drama. Any single time the Fellowship, or their allies, face defeat, they are miraculously saved. This happened before, with the Balrog and Arwen, but it is much more prevalent here. Trees and the army of Rohan save the two captured hobbits from their orcish oppressors, a throng of Elves arrive at the last minute to help fortify Helm's Deep, and Gandalf comes with an army to save the day soon after. It's lazy, cheap, and contrived. It shows that one need not face their challenges, as when it looks most serious, there will be someone to bail them out.
Jackson's second time conducting the 'Lord of the Rings' freight train is easily more taut, covers more ground in less time, and does a good job maintaining tone, even if some of the branching storylines seem forgotten at times, with lengthy gaps between visits. Acting is on par with the previous film, but with a more diverse cast of characters, locations, and moods, 'The Two Towers' proves itself to be a superior film to 'The Fellowship of the Rings,' if even slightly. With great battles and characters painting the landscape, one can easily make the case for this entry into the series as the most entertaining, even if it isn't the best crafted 'Lord of the Rings' film.
The Extended Edition
On DVD, these editions were released after the Theatrical Edition DVD release of each respective film, timed to coincide with the next film to bow in theaters (while the final Extended Edition release was then released in the same time period as it would have if there were a fourth film). 'Two Towers' now runs an epic 235 minutes, with an intermission of sorts caused by the need to change discs after the capture of Sam and Frodo.
Detailed comparisons and explanations of the changes between cuts can be found at this website, which hosts a library of comparisons (and may contain NSFW content on titles that add in nudity on alternate/unedited cuts).
In 'The Two Towers', it's fun to see the Elven rope gag between Sam and Frodo, even if the scene accomplishes nothing, while the Merry and Pippin extension with their Uruk-Hai captors is unnecessarily added, bringing nothing of note to the table. The sequences with Treebeard are lengthened, but to no avail, as they're less than interesting, making one wonder if they were cut, and the character minimized for a reason.
The real problems with 'The Two Towers' lies in the fleshing out of the Faramir/Boromir relationship, in flashback and vision, which completely pulls the film away from its destination on an unnecessary side-quest that would be explained well enough in the film to come. Sometimes a reference is all we need to understand a relationship, and while it's always great to get more Sean Bean, it is done here at the sake of the coherency of the film. Worse still, the climax of the Helm's Deep battle is lessened by the new fate of the surviving Uruk-Hai. There is no doubt in my mind that the Theatrical Edition of this film in the series is infinitely superior, with the right cuts being made for sake of cohesion, something lacking in this story.
The Disc: Vital Stats
As Nate promised last year, Warner Bros. Home Entertainment has finally released the 'Lord of the Rings -- Extended Editions' as individual films. This 5-disc set includes 2 BD50s (parts one and two of the movie) and 3 DVDs (two Appendices discs from the original DVD release of the Extended Editions as well as one DVD featuring the Costa Botes documentary). All five discs are housed in a 5-disc blue case (the trilogy set was a black case) with cover art from the 2006 2-disc DVD release of 'Two Towers' (though unlike that release, this version does not include an option to watch the theatrical cut of the film). An information booklet is no longer included. A matching slipcover completes the package, though a garish Ultraviolet sticker ruins its overall appearance.
Speaking of Ultraviolet, each film in the trilogy now contains an Ultraviolet copy rather than last year's Digital Copy release. Instructions and a redemption code are included; it requires that you have accounts with, at least, Flixster and Ultraviolet, and that you then link both accounts. After spending 20 minutes trying to link everything, I then noticed you can, as an alternative, login directly to your Vudu account and redeem your code. It's much faster and doesn't involve typing in a long url. Sadly, this Ultraviolet copy is only available in SD. As someone who uses computers all day long, the Ultraviolet process remains a clunky and frustrating hassle.
No controversy here. 'The Two Towers' didn't get a new transfer, so there is no lime tint, green mist, or bizarre ice. That also means it also doesn't quite match 'The Fellowship of the Ring' when it comes to sheer detail. Since the original Blu-ray of this film wasn't an utter pile of...stuff..., the folks at WB and New Line didn't give it the treatment you'd expect from what may be their most profitable franchise. As such, it's somewhat locked in the same strengths and flaws of the Theatrical Edition Blu-rays.
It's nice, though, to see white, white snows and azure skies, as they're such beauties to behold when they're the right color. Textures and color clarity are amazing from the start, and it stays this way for the rest of the film. We have a rich, sharp, beautifully white title card, mists that don't look like poisonous clouds, and fantastic skin tones that aren't as dramatically altered by lighting and/or color balance as they were in the first film. Greens themselves are no longer neon, and finer details, like the scars on Gollum's back, leap right off the screen in ways never before seen on home video.
Sadly, we see some very light edge tampering, sporadically, with protruding spears being the most obvious sharpened image in the film. There's a tiny moire in Arwen's dress, but looking at it, it's hard to fault the disc, when the material was so obviously intricate. DNR, which is literally nowhere on the first film, does pop up from time to time, so keep an eye on beards and hair for some random blurring and patching that doesn't quite make sense. It's nice that there's no aliasing or artifacting, especially in some of the more frenetic or sharply moving moments, but this particular entry in the Extended Edition set isn't any significant upgrade from the previous disc. It's passable, but definitely not a real winner.
I said it once, and I'll say it again:
"Three films, three DTS-HD Master Audio 6.1 mixes, one reason why this release may rule them all."
The adage concerning not fixing what isn't broken applies to the audio New Line provided 'The Lord of the Rings' trilogy. In fact, I'm much more impressed with the sound this time around than I was back then, even if nothing has changed in terms of what type of mix has been provided. The entire trilogy sounds quite literally flawless, for its entire runtime. Not once in the entire viewing marathon did I have a moment where I wished some element was heftier, or some speaker had more activity. This was perhaps one of the most pleasant, accurate to the action on screen mixes I've encountered in some time.
All three tracks are nothing short of splendid, with pitch perfect dynamics, wonderful directionality, constant and appropriate localization effects, superb clarity, impeccable prioritization, wonderful volume spikes, and plenty of down and dirty bass to keep the entire experience engaging, no matter how thoroughly worn out you are by the length of the material. The soundstage is constantly filled, putting you in the middle of the experience throughout the entire affair, be it in a not-so-crowded hall or a battle littered with combatants from all angles. There's never an inappropriate moment or sound, not a single hair out of place. Range is brilliantly unchecked, and the echoes found in this trilogy, there may not be any better example on this format! I loved how regularly the bass had a different kind of roar, with frequencies and potencies changing, creating a fun new experience each time there was the need for extreme power, and I loved even more the fact that not once in the entire runtime did I need to adjust the volume settings on my receiver. The sharp clangs of sword on sword, the cold thumps of bodies hitting the ground, the whizz of arrows swooping across the room at any given angle, the thunder beneath a massive creature's footstep, the haunting melodies, the sharp spikes of victorious yells and screams, the screeching of the undead, the rumble of a volcano...all part of a perfect audio experience. The Extended Editions of 'The Lord of the Rings' trilogy all earn perfect marks, with no regret or nitpicks. The most thunderous element after these three tracks played was the sound of my applause for a job more than well done.
The original Blu-ray release of 'The Lord of the Rings' had a minimal amount of extras available (or none at all if you bought the Wal-Mart exclusive versions), mirroring the already heavily aged original DVD releases by stealing their supplement discs and repackaging them. This Extended Edition set does the same thing, in essence, by taking two discs from each DVD version of the first releases of the book packed Extended cuts, as well as the documentary found on each of the second release versions of the Extended Editions (which also came with the Theatrical Cuts, the only editions so far to do so), packing three discs per film with the two discs for each film (which contain four commentaries each!), to create a monolithic supplement package that definitely rules them all.
Discs 1 and 2: Commentaries
- Four tracks featuring writing/directing (Peter Jackson, Fran Walsh, and Phiippa Boyens), design crew (Richard Taylor, Tania Rodger, Grant Major, Alan Lee, John Howe, Dan Hennah, and Chris Hennah), production folk (Barrie M. Osborne, Mark Ordesky, Andrew Lesnie, Mike Horton, Jabez Olssen, Rick Porras, Howard Shore, Jim Rygiel, Joe Letteri, Ethan Van der Ryn, Mike Hopkins, Randy Cook, Christian Rivers, Brian Van't Hul, and Alex Funke), and finally the cast members (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). The director/writers commentary is interesting, but having viewed the Appendices (keep reading) before the commentary tracks, there was a lot of retreaded ground. Changes between cuts are explained, and the Andy Serkis performance is detailed in shots containing Gollum, along with lots of banter about the shooting experience. The design commentary talks about LARPers who obsess over Legolas, creating special effects, especially practically, the crafting of props and costuming, with seamless transitions and a nice, interesting tone. Production is smooth and fast moving, an easy listening track that doesn't dig all that deep, scraping by on the surface of random elements almost at random. It's scatterbrained, to be sure, but not necessarily in a bad way. The actors track is the best of this bunch, as Rhys-Davies is pure awesomeness with his analysis and dry wit, characters explain direction they were given for little quirks that get lost in the mix, random filming anecdotes and frustrations, some silly interactions, and explanations of what happens on screen, which happen a bit much more than anything else from a few contributors. A solid track, but not the best, as there's lots of wasted time on jibber jabber.
Discs 3 and 4: The Appendices
- The Appendices, Part 3 (SD) - "The Journey Continues" marks the start of the first 'The Two Towers' bonus disc, with the introduction followed by six categories: J.R.R. Tolkien: Origins of Middle-Earth (29 min), From Book to Script: Finding the Story (21 min), Designing and Building Middle-Earth (89 min), Gollum (44 min), Middle-Earth Atlas, and New Zealand as Middle Earth (14 min). Yes, these look an awful lot like the ones featured on the first Appendix disc... The Tolkien feature doesn't focus on the man as much as his writing inspirations alongside C.S. Lewis, alongside the politics of the time concerning the publishing. The script/writing feature covers the ways the story and it's slots, with what items happen where, were changed due to storytelling devices on screen. The "Designing" feature has three parts, with the first covering, well, designing the film from start to finish, crafting the appearance of the flick. The second part is a Weta feature, which covers the creation of the beasties in the film, and with the first major battle taking place in this volume, now is a great time to show the attention to these nasties and various good guys. There's also another design gallery for characters and locations, same as on the first Appendix. We get into the good stuff with the Gollum features, with the first covering the realization of the character, complete with tons of Andy Serkis on set performances that are beyond intriguing. We also get an animation reference and a feature about a stand-in day for another actor in the "gimp suit," as well as a design gallery showing the evolution of the character. The Middle-Earth Atlas is the same as before, but now features four different paths you can revisit. Lastly, the feature concerning New Zealand locations doubling as Middle-Earth is once again pure awesomeness, short as it may be.
Disc 4: The Appendices, Part 4 (SD)
- "The Battle for Middle-Earth Begins". After yet another intro, we have five features here: Filming 'The Two Towers' (89 min), Visual Effects (51 min), Editorial: Refining the Story (22 min), Music and Sound (47 min), and "The Battle for Helm's Deep is Over..." (9 min). The Filming feature has three sections, with a feature on stunt work creating warriors from varying factions with unique fighting styles and personalities, a feature that is generically concerned with filming on locations and the difficulties of doing such, with some random, interesting, sometimes amazing anecdotes, along with a photo gallery full of production photos. There are three VFX categories, with miniatures getting the first focus, with Helm's Deep getting the first focus before moving on to the Black Gate and the forest, and on to an animatic concerning the Isengard flooding that has to be seen to be believed, along with a miniatures photo gallery. From there, we get a Weta Digital feature discussing the countless digital shots in the film, crafting them from nothing to full high def glory, and lastly two abandoned segments, featuring a slideshow of a Slime Balrog and an endless staircase. On to editing, we see the differences in styles between films, focusing on multiple shots, the positioning of the film in the series in regards to storytelling, and on to cutting the action sequences. There are then three sound features, one focusing again on Shore's score, the sound design, creating the noises for the film, which is a real treat, before finishing off with a sound demo for Helm's Deep, which isn't as fun as the video demos. This appendix ends with a short feature looking back at the film as a whole, just the experience of making it.
Disc 5: Costa Botes documentary (SD, 106mins)
- Hobbits and blowup dolls! Tree climbing, and walking tree designing! Making Gollum heads! Watch Andy Serkis on set, vacuuming a great hall after rehearsing scenes, check out some injuries and precautions, horse logistics, set preparation, and more set preparation. There's a ton of footage on set between takes, rehearsing, and it does get a bit monotonous after a while, and while it's fun to watch Helm's Deep being made, and seeing Gimli outtakes rules all else, this Botes documentary doesn't compare to the other two. It's too generic, same stuff over and over, with little in terms of intrigue.
There are technically two new features found on each disc 1 of the trilogy, but they earn no points, whatsoever on this release. The sheer amount of data and information found in this release that was previously released is more than enough to keep a fan preoccupied for a long, long time. The only reason there's any high-def exclusive points for this review is because of a single piece of paper.
- The Lord of the Rings: War in the North Trailer - The Untold Story (HD, 1 min) - What's that? A video game based on 'The Lord of the Ring' is coming? Quick, advertise it on each and every disc one of the set! This one looks pretty damned generic and no different from all the other 'LOTR' games that have come out in the last ten years.
- BD-Live - A generic portal that does nothing, and takes up menu and disc space! That's exactly what I was looking for in this release, yes! Can I also have a lengthy load time only to discover that big whopping nothing? I can?! Hip hip, hooray!!!
- Ultraviolet Copy - Instructions along with a URL code are included. The redemption code works at Flixster as well as Vudu. The expiration date is August 28, 2014. Also, it is not in HD.
On the 'The Two Towers' disc one, a three minute SD MTV movie award acceptance speech is shown, as Gollum won an award for best virtual performance (tough category, that). It's pretty poor, really, but calling Dobby a %$@ing &^% is quite epic.
On the Appendices DVD discs, there is a symbol at the bottom of each page that is a not-so hidden link to the DVD credits.
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'The Lord of the Rings: The Two Towers - Extended Edition' 5-Disc Set is exactly the same as the release included with the Extended Edition of the trilogy, except it features different cover art, an SD Ultraviolet copy of the film, and no paper booklet describing the contents of its packaging. 'Two Towers' features reference audio and very strong video with hours and hours of special features (from previous releases). If you own the trilogy boxed set already, there is no reason to buy this or the other two individual releases. If you held off on buying the trilogy as a whole, the trilogy set is still probably a better deal in terms of pricing. If you like only one or two of the films from this trilogy, or you like the look of the green, red, and blue cover art more, then you could consider these individual releases.