LOTR: The Two Towers Special Extended DVD Set
Starring:
Viggo Mortensen, Elijah Wood, Orlando Bloom, Sean Astin, Andy Serkis, John Rhys-Davies, Bernard Hill, Ian McKellan, Dominic Monaghan, Billy Boyd, Liv Tyler, Christopher Lee, Hugo Weaving, Brad Dourif, Cate Blanchett, David Wenham, Mirando Otto, Sean Bean, and many more…
Directed By :
Peter Jackson
Grade
A

Synopsis: The story is the middle part of a trilogy based in the land of Middle Earth, a fictional yet hyper-realistic history replete with it's own geography, culture, and legends…old and new. The previous movie (The Fellowship of the Ring) details a bit of the history of Middle Earth, wherein all the folk of M.E. (man, dwarves, elves, and others) united to war against an insidious conqueror named Sauron. He is defeated, but his power and essence lives on in The One Ring, which he constructed to dominate the minds of lesser beings. F.O.T.R. revolved around the realization that a humble hobbit had come into possession of the One Ring, and the quest to destroy it before Sauron's re-strengthening forces hunted it down and used it to return their master. In The Two Towers, we pick up where the previous movie left off: the fellowship struggling to destroy the Ring has been sundered. The hobbits Frodo and Sam seek a way into Sauron's domain of Mordor to destroy the Ring, being trailed by Gollum, a former thrall of the Ring, the whole way. Their friends Merry and Pippin have been captured by Sauron's traitorous ally, the wizard Saruman. The other former fellowship members, Gimli the dwarf, Legolas the elf, and Aragorn the Dunedain Ranger, seek to free their captured comrades. Gandalf the Grey Wizard is reborn and helps to marshal the forces of M.E. including the living trees and the horsemen of Rohan. Everywhere, the forces of good strain against the machinations of their two foes: the wizard Saruman in the tower Orthanc in Isengard and the dark lord Sauron in the tower Barad-dur in Mordor.

Who Will This Appeal To?: Fans of Tolkien or the Lord of the Rings. Lovers of fantasy, drama, action, romance, suspense, comedy…basically anyone who watches movies.

Evaluation: First off, if you haven't seen The Fellowship of the Ring, go watch it. Okay, now that we've all seen the first film, I can continue. There are a lot of ways to look at this movie: standing alone, as the middle film of a trilogy, as an adaptation of a novel, and as a combination of all of these.

This movie suffers the most when considered fully on its own merits. Peter Jackson and many others involved with the film have said it was the hardest of the three to make, and their least favorite. This can often be the case with sequels, the middle part to a trilogy in particular. Where it hurts The Two Towers is in its narrative, which honestly I think is a big problem in the source material. In the first story, you've got a beginning, in the third, you've got an ending. What've you got in the middle? All the bits you have to work in between the two. Kind of hard to work that into a stand alone story, wouldn't you think? Having to set up a lot for the story that followed it was a problem The Phantom Menace faced, and just like that movie, T.T.T. does that admirably but at the expense of its own story. So, excuses being made, the narrative suffers. Your group of heroes you now know and love is split up and interacting with a lot of new characters. Now, surprisingly, these new characters all have merit and add to the story (unlike, say, The Matrix: Revolutions), but still, some of the magic of the chemistry in the first film seems lost. And since everyone is split up, you've got to figure out how to balance the telling of their stories…how much do you tell of each before you cut back to the others? Tolkien had originally split the story into two, and told them one-at-a-time without cutting between them. He would've preferred this format in a film adaptation, but I don't think that's very practical for today's viewing audience. I did have a lot of problems with the editing and pacing of this movie in the theatrical release, but the Extended Edition does a lot to fix that. It still seems that some scenes begin and/or end too abruptly, and I'm not sure I'm happy with the way the story was edited together as a whole, but I couldn't honestly tell you exactly what I would've done different. Peter Jackson made some tough decisions editing this film, and I give him credit. Those criticisms aside, it's a fantastic movie. One of the best ensemble casts in history…so many wonderful scenes that are played to just the right level. The movie as a whole is touching in some parts, inspiring in others. You'll find yourself laughing with some of the characters, and feeling the sadness and despair of other characters. The cinematography is outstanding, as is the production design, costuming, digital effects, etc. You really believe in the world of Middle Earth. Jackson does a fantastic job of making the heroes heroic and the villains vile. By the end of the movie you'll be worshipping Aragorn and hating Saruman. The score is fantastic and helps a lot with tying the themes and characters together cohesively. And there's Gollum. Computer Graphic purists be warned…you can tell there is CG in these films. Yes, the best CG goes unnoticed. But let's face it, how could this trilogy be done without massive amounts of CG? So let me just say that while noticeable, it looks fantastic, and you won't focus on it. And the most noticeable effect, Gollum, well, you'll be so captured by his performance that you won't focus on the effects. It's that good. This is equal or better than what was seen in The Hulk, and whatever criticisms you have of that movie, it was the next step up in CG from Jurassic Park. The time and energy that was put into ensuring the quality of this film is evident.

As an adaptation of the novel, T.T.T. fares a little roughly. Now, with any adaptation, especially one as epic as this, you've got to realize you're going to lose a lot of characters, places, and events. A movie can only realize the spirit and intentions of what is in the novel, unless we're talking about a short story (which some very wonderful movies have been made from- a la The Shawshank Redemption and many other Stephen King works for example.) In T.F.O.T.R., Peter Jackson, Fran Walsh, and Phillipa Boyens actually made some substantial changes to the story…compressing time, combining characters, adding events, and fleshing out details of the original material. They took a lot of flack for a few key decisions, but these were nothing compared to the changes they made in T.T.T. So, Tolkien purists be warned: the grumpy old curmudgeon would possibly turn in his grave at this film. Some concessions in particular which may fit wonderfully with a movie audience's sensibilities (such as Legolas surfing down stairs on a shield, Gimli mentioning the central nervous system, and the drastic changes involved in making Faramir a more "interesting" character) would most definitely not fit with Tolkien's vision. However, this is a movie. Many of these viewers may never read the lengthy and verbose writings of Tolkien. For some, this is the sole chance they will have to appreciate the world of M.E., and for others, it's a treat just to see it realized on the screen. Especially after viewing the appendices (special features) on the DVD, I really think every effort was made to preserve the integrity and spirit of Tolkien's work, and it seems to me that any changes to the story really were in the best interests of the film. I suppose the final verdict will be after seeing The Return of the King.

Looking at this film from within the middle of the trilogy, it fares quite well. Each character set has their own little adventure within the arc of the story as a whole. Each mini story possesses all the elements that make a great story. The overall story cuts back and forth between the various characters in a way that generally provides for the most suspense. Each group does what they need to do to align them for the final part of the story in The Return of the King. Particularly in the Extended Edition, the added footage fleshes out the individual journeys so that they feel less like distractions from what you were just watching, and more like separate elements that become cohesive in the end. The movie provides some wonderful action scenes while continuing the development of the characters and the world they live in. We couldn't ask for anything more.

Final Verdict: Watch The Fellowship of the Ring, preferably the Extended Edition. Then watch this. Then go watch The Return of the King. Appreciate them all for the larger story they tell. Then go out and read a book or three. The Lord of the Rings books expand on the movies and are modern classics. The Hobbit tells the story of just how the One Ring got into Bilbo Baggins' hands in the first place, and is the lightest and most action packed of Tolkien's books. These are great stories, and everyone should be able to get something out of them.

It's All in the Details: Love the music used in the trailer to The Two Towers? Well, movie music is frequently recycled, especially for use in trailers. This particular bit is originally from the score to Requiem for a Dream (film by Darren Aronofsky, music by Clint Mansell.) Go check it out.

DVD: Ah, the DVD. Where was the DVD before The Lord of the Rings came along? 'Collector's Editions' with only some Filmographies on them. 'Special Editions' with a featurette and some trailers. Well, no longer! The Extended Edition DVD for The Lord of the Rings trilogy raises the bar and then some! A gatefold case inside a slipcase, two discs of special features, four running commentaries, easter eggs, and more! Keep in mind, New Line has also been good about not short-changing anyone on the earlier release theatrical version DVDs, but if you really want the goods, go for the extended edition. Now, none of these features are duplicated from the theatrical dvd, although some have the same basic information (i.e.-making-of, behind-the-scenes, "tell us what it was like-" kind of stuff.) On the E.E. dvd, you've got Dolby Stereo, 5.1, and 6.1 surround sound! Crystal crisp video, great menus and loads of extras! Standouts are the features on the stunt players, adapting the story, and the in-depth coverage on bringing Gollum to the screen. The extended footage itself is pervasive, presenting a very different feel to the movie. Not only are there many new and extended scenes, but many of the scenes in this version of the film use different takes and edits from the theatrical version. Specific scenes sometimes don't gel perfectly with the rest of the film, (particularly some comedic scenes in the latter half which seem at odds with the darker tone of this movie) but in general, the flow of the film is greatly improved over the theatrical cut. This is an epic, and to truly experience the epic-ness of it, you want the extended edition. This is the best dvd of 2003, ask for it, no, demand it for Christmas or go out and buy it today!

- - Jeff Light

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