Portions of this review also appear in our Blu-ray review of 'The Lord of the Rings: The Motion Picture Trilogy'
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 Disc: Vital Stats
Earlier this year, Warner Bros/New Line Cinema released 'The Lord of the Rings: The Motion Picture Trilogy,' a nine disc box set (which later got trimmed to six discs) that sparked plenty of controversy, to be sure. The titles were not available individually, only in the hard-case packed trilogy, which did not give the films individual box art.
To the chagrin of many hardcore fans, it was the Theatrical Editions of the films that debuted on Blu-ray, with no release date for the Extended Editions in sight. Now, all three titles that comprise the trilogy of films are available for purchase as standalone releases, with their appropriate, film-specific cover art.
Each 'Lord of the Rings' standalone disc is the same as those found in the box set, even if the numbers on the ring of the disc are now different (much like many of the 'Harry Potter: Years 1-6 discs, despite being the same as their previous releases). The menus are the same, the set up options, the good, and the bad. Each film disc is a BD50 Dual Layer Disc that is Region A/B/C (confirmed on my B locked LG BH100).
There are a few differences between releases of the standalone editions, which are detailed in the supplements section of this review!
Just as 'The Two Towers' represent victory in the face of defeat (over and over and over again), the transfer afforded the film shares this message of overcoming the odds...somewhat. While hardly demo material, 'The Two Towers' is a visual improvement over 'The Fellowship of the Ring' that cannot be ignored.
While most of the problems found in the transfer for 'Fellowship' remain, they are on a much smaller scale with this VC-1 1080p transfer. DNR is still present, and at times cruelly obvious, though it is nowhere near as problematic and prevalent. Edges are crisper, stray hairs actually leap now, as ringing is reduced significantly (though not to the point that it is no longer an issue), while clothing textures feel three dimensional, worn in, and realistic. Aliasing is present lightly, with the marsh sequence getting the brunt of that beast. Skin tones are more consistent, and certainly much truer. Soft shots still exist, and are certainly much less frequent, and much less distracting.
'The Two Towers' is a dark film (somewhat like 'The Empire Strikes Back,' only with feel good nonsense at the close rather than amazing defeat), and the visual aesthetic matches this tone. Blacks are deeper, and are damn near ever-present considering how prolonged some night sequences find themselves. Delineation is solid, with hardly any real detail lost into oblivion, as low lit shots maintain solid clarity. Whites are striking and brilliant, without any bleed, even in the sharpest and brightest of them all. The entire film is draped in destruction and decay, broken castles, rot, dirt and rocks, metal, debris, and age, and this tattered existence is strikingly noticeable. Flashbacks are again extremely soft and lacking any true detail, with a nice light blur to boot.
While technically sound, and in no way the fault of the transfer, the special effects work again looks quite bad in high definition. Gollum doesn't fit in to many of his scenes, as he feels like he's floating in front of his background, leaping off the screen in an otherwise flat and drab existence. At first, there are light white flicks dancing around in the creature, that cannot be seen in live action characters, that appear on Treebeard at first, as well...further proof that Stephenie Meyer has ruined the literary world for good (seriously, though, the characters don't sparkle, but they do have a light pixel hoedown). The interactions of the hobbits at times can feel taped on, as they look out of place in numerous scenes showing scale with Orcs, and they look almost like digital creations in long shots with the Ents. In close up shots with these tree people (I hope that isn't a derogatory term), the hobbits are softer than their bark-laden companions. Any time a transfer makes special effects look completely out of date, it is a sign of a solid transfer in my books, but also a sad thought of the fun memories of not being able to see the wires and effects. The magician has almost been outed.
The highlight of the first film in the trilogy on Blu-ray is still the highlight in the second portion, as the DTS-HD Master Audio 6.1 track provided 'The Two Towers' is still quite technically sound (oh that was a bad pun), though very different from 'Fellowship.' Dialogue remains clear, with less domineering score elements covering any word in the mix. There are less volume spikes in this volume, and certainly a softer score. Bass levels are increased, though, with the clomps and stomps of wargs and horses as they battle, along with booming orc war drums echoing, pulsing, and pounding through the room, to the point that one can easily feel a part of Helm's Deep. Ambience is increased, as well, with random discrete effects hitting rear speakers with greater frequency, and some smooth pans from warriors moving across the screen. Swooping arrows also exhibit solid movement. This mix feels like a completely different beast than 'Fellowship,' with less high end, a stronger low end, and a fuller, wider environment.
There is an interesting sidenote to the standalone editions of the 'Lord of the Rings' Blu-rays. There were two versions of the trilogy set, one with digital copies, and one without. The one without came in a slimmer box, with only one case inside, which made them stand out a bit, by comparison.
The standalones have two choices, as well, though this time, one is a store exclusive, and is available immediately. Standard editions will contain the bonus discs from the original DVDs and previous Blu-ray release, which have a small smattering of extras each. Just recycled discs, really. However, the Wal-Mart exclusive releases of the titles replace the extras disc with the widescreen edition DVD releases themselves, and are labeled as "Blu-ray + DVD combo packs" on the front, with a nice looking blue banner across the front and spine, and different artwork on the back art.
Some fans may not like this style of release, but I do personally prefer bonus DVD copies over old as hell supplements DVDs that contain advertisements for titles long out of print already. It helps me gauge the improvement of the title from last generation to now, and it gives me the ability to loan out the film without having to loan out my Blu-ray edition. Win-win. A shame they didn't have exclusive slipcovers. Now that would have made these titles look fantastic!
For those buying the non-Wal-Mart editions, the supplements disc contains:
'The Two Towers' on Blu-ray doesn't suffer anywhere near as much, or as often, as the first film in the trilogy. Still, it isn't perfect, and devoted fans will still have a fit over it. Considering they were already having a fit over not getting the Extended Editions, though, it's nothing new. 'The Two Towers' again has robust, amazing audio, that easily justifies the cost of a purchase, even in a stopgap situation filling time before the longer cuts come out. There shouldn't be as much buyer's remorse with this one as there was with 'Fellowship.'