Blu-ray and DVD Reviews

The Lord of the Rings: The Two Towers (Special Extended DVD Edition)

Reviewed by: Scott Chitwood
Movie Rating:
10 out of 10
Extras Rating:
10 out of 10
Movie Details:
View here

Buy this DVD at Amazon.Com

Rating: PG-13

Starring:
Elijah Wood as Frodo Baggins
Ian McKellen as Gandalf the White
Viggo Mortensen as Aragorn
Sean Astin as Samwise 'Sam' Gamgee
Billy Boyd as Peregrin 'Pippin' Took
Liv Tyler as Arwen Undómiel
John Rhys-Davies as Gimli, son of Glóin/Treebeard (voice)
Dominic Monaghan as Meriadoc 'Merry' Brandybuck
Christopher Lee as Saruman the White
Miranda Otto as Éowyn
Brad Dourif as Gríma Wormtongue
Orlando Bloom as Legolas Greenleaf
Cate Blanchett as Galadriel
Karl Urban as Éomer
Bernard Hill as Théoden, King of Rohan
David Wenham as Faramir
Andy Serkis as Gollum/Sméagol

Special Features:

DISCS 1-2: The Feature:

A new version of the second installment includes over 40 minutes of never-before-seen footage incorporated into the film.

Four audio commentaries by the director, writer, the design team, and production team featuring more than 30 participants including Peter Jackson, Richard Taylor, Howard Shore, Elijah Wood, Sean Astin, and Orlando Bloom.

DISCS 3-4: The Appendices:

Two discs with hours of original content including multiple documentaries and design/photo galleries with thousands of images to give viewers an in-depth behind-the-scenes look at The Lord of the Rings: The Two Towers

DISC 3:

Introduction
J.R.R. Tolkien – Origins Of Middle Earth
From Book To Script – Finding The Story
Designing And Building Middle Earth
  • Designing Middle Earth
  • Weta Workshop
  • Design Galleries

Gollum
  • The Taming Of Smeagol
  • Andy Serkis Animation Reference
  • Gollum’s Stand In
  • Design Gallery

Middle Earth Atlas – Tracing The Journeys Of The Fellowship
New Zealand As Middle Earth

DISC 4:

Introduction
Filming The Two Towers
  • Warriors Of The Third Age
  • Cameras In Middle Earth
  • Production Photos

Visual Effects
  • Miniatures
    • Big-atures
    • The Flooding Of Isengard Animatic
    • Galleries

  • Weta Digital
    • Abandoned Concepts

Editorial: Refining The Story
Music And Sound
  • Music For Middle Earth
  • The Soundscapes Of Middle Earth
  • Sound Demonstration – Helm’s Deep

“The Battle for Helm’s Deep is Over…”

Other Info:
Widescreen
Dolby Digital 5.1 Surround Sound
DTS Surround Sound
Running Time: 208 Minutes

Synopsis:
This version of the movie is a special edition featuring 40 minutes of new and extended scenes (including all new music and effects) put back into the theatrical edition by Peter Jackson.

"The Two Towers" is the second film in the Lord of the Rings trilogy and it picks up immediately where the first film left off. The Fellowship is now broken and our heroes are split into three separate adventures.

Frodo and Sam continue the quest to destroy the ring in Mt. Doom, but they have difficulty finding their way to the land of Mordor. However, an unlikely guide comes to their aid. Gollum, the previous owner of the ring, catches up with the Hobbits and agrees to show them the way. Schizophrenic and twisted, he is pitied by his new master Frodo. Sam, though, does not trust the creature and suspects that he is leading them towards a trap so he can reclaim the ring. But can Frodo resist the temptations of the ring and complete his quest before it destroys him?

Meanwhile, Merry and Pippin remain captured by the orcs who intend to deliver them to Isengard. Through good luck, they are able to escape into some ancient woods where they encounter a tree-like creature called an Ent. Named Treebeard, the creature is the leader of his species and he pledges to protect the two Hobbits. Though the Ents are disinterested in the affairs of Middle Earth and are rather slow to rise to action, they end up playing a pivotal role in the war against evil.

Finally, Legolas, Gimli, and Aragorn pursue the orcs who have captured their friends. Intensely driven to save them, they make their way into the land of Rohan that is inhabited by horse riding men. There, they encounter the last person they expected to meet - Gandalf. It turns out that the wizard was able to escape certain doom and defeat the Balrog demon. Gandalf assures them that the Hobbits are all right and he diverts them to meet with the king of Rohan, Théoden. The king's mind has been taken over by the evil wizard Saruman and he sits idly by as his land is overrun by orcs. After Gandalf "exorcises" the king, he leads them into retreat to Helm's Deep, a fortress where they intend to make a final stand. There 300 men must face 10,000 orcs in a battle that will be the turning point in the war with Sauron.

"The Two Towers" is rated PG-13 for epic battle sequences and scary images.

The Movie:
I have already reviewed the first edition of The Two Towers DVD. You can read that review here. If you already bought that edition of The Two Towers, I bet you’ve got a few questions about this special edition.

How is this edition different from the edition I bought a few months ago?

This is the Special Edition that features over 40 minutes of brand new footage. Not only are some of the old scenes extended, but there are also entirely new scenes added in. The scenes feature new music, new visual effects, and a lot of stuff that was originally in the book but had to be cut from the theatrical version. It is the definitive edition of the film. If you don’t see this version, you’re not getting the full story.

What are the new scenes and are they any good?

There are a ton of new scenes in this special edition. Some are really long, really exciting, and they offer a lot of new insight into the characters and story. Some are really brief and, to be quite honest, I didn’t realize they were newly added.

One of the more noticeable additions is a lot more footage of Treebeard. He gets significantly more screentime and we get a lot more backstory on him. He talks more about the Ents, the Entwives, and more. There are also scenes of him chatting with the other trees and slowly rallying with them to action. We also see a major scene from the book restored where the trees travel to Helm’s Deep and help wipe out the fleeing orcs. (I know this addition will please many LOTR fans.) There’s also a scene where a tree wraps its roots around our hobbit heroes in a manner similar to the encounter with Tom Bombadil from the first book.

There are also more scenes of Aragorn and Eowyn. The scenes seem to emphasize a romance between them much more. Eowyn even sings a song during the funeral of Theodred. There is also much more backstory for Aragorn emphasizing the fact that he’s the rightful King (thus foreshadowing the third film). We also learn that he’s a surprising 87 years old.

Faramir gets significantly more screentime as well. There is a flashback scene showing him, his brother Boromir, and their father who is the King of Gondor. We learn about how his father disapproves of him and how Faramir longs to prove himself, hence his desire to return the ring to Gondor. Sean Bean gets a flashback scene where he makes a rousing speech to thousands of people. You get a much greater sense of how he is an important leader for his people. All of this helps to make Faramir releasing Frodo even more significant. It also sets up some of the characters we’ll see in the third film.

Finally there are a few more scenes of Gollum. Most of those scenes are at the beginning of his encounter with Frodo and Sam while there is still some uncertainty of whether he will run off. One of the more significant scenes, though, is at the end of the film after Faramir releases them. We see that Gollum is beaten up a lot more and that he is physically in very bad shape. It makes him even more sympathetic and even Sam shows him a little good will because of it.

On a side note, the new credits feature the names of the members of the LOTR fan club. For a small fee they were able to get their names added for all eternity to this special edition. It’s a cool thing for fans to be able to do.

If I bought the other version, should I buy this one, too?

That depends. If you are any kind of fan of Lord of the Rings, then I’d say that it is a required addition to your collection. There’s no question about it. If you are just a casual fan, I’d still recommend it. While I don’t think the extra scenes are essential for the enjoyment of the movie, for just a few dollars more you’re getting over 40 minutes of extra footage. You’re definitely getting more bang for your buck and it’s worth it. Not only that, but this sets the bar for special edition DVDs. Unlike other special edition DVDs where you might get just an extra scene or two, this one truly delivers the goods.

And if you already own the first edition, you’ll be happy to hear that almost none of the extra features are repeated here. Sean Astin’s short film is not on this DVD and neither are the previous documentaries, the internet videos, the preview for Return Of The King, the music video of Gollum’s song, or other stuff. A couple of bits of behind the scenes footage are reused, but it is brief compared to everything else you get. In short, you’re not buying the same product twice.

The Extras:
Just like the special edition of The Fellowship of the Ring, this version of The Two Towers has an almost overwhelming number of extras. There’s well over 3 hours of behind the scenes footage on the making of the film. To go into detail on every feature would require a massive write-up, but here’s a brief look at some of the highlights:

Commentaries - There are four different commentaries on the DVD. They include the Director and Writers, the Design Team, the Production and Post-Production Team, and the Cast. There are so many people providing commentary that their names are put on the top of the screen so you can keep them straight. (There are 15 different people providing commentary on the Cast version alone.) By far the most entertaining one is the Cast commentary. Andy Serkis, Elijah Wood, and Sean Astin are one team of commentators while Billy Boyd and Dominic Monaghan are another. (They were obviously recorded separately.) The comments of other cast members are interspersed throughout the film. Boyd and Monaghan are the most fun as they joke through a good portion of the picture. Peter Jackson’s commentary is also excellent though it seems a lot of his comments are repeated in the other extras. The Production / Post-Production Team commentary is pretty interesting. Richard Taylor seems like a Kiwi version of Robin Leach while soft spoken designer Alan Lee is the polar opposite. Overall it’s a great series of commentaries well worth checking out.

J.R.R. Tolkien – Origins Of Middle Earth – This is yet another excellent biography on the author of The Lord Of The Rings. While I thought I had heard everything about him on the first DVD, this featured even more about the author. They discuss how the dark tone of the sequel was inspired by his time on the battlefield in WWI. They talk a lot about his friendship with C.S. Lewis. Overall, it’s a nice feature.

From Book To Script – Finding The Story – This documentary mainly features Jackson, Phillippa Boyens, and the other writers discuss how difficult it was bringing this middle chapter of the story to the screen. Most of their time seems to be spent on justifying why they shuffled scenes around and why some stuff from the book was cut. While LOTR fans may have hard time accepting some of the cuts, I found their reasons for changes to be sound and based on the final result I think they made the right choices. It’s interesting to note how some lines from characters in the book are given to other characters in the movie.

Designing And Building Middle Earth – This section features a look at the pre-production and design of the film. Two of the famous Tolkien artists seem to be the heart and soul behind the whole look of the film. Their fine attention to detail is extraordinary. They even pay attention to the form and function of the locations, weapons, and buildings they design. Overall they make an extraordinary effort. Their expert craftsmanship carries over to everyone else in the production. The creation of the swords is impressive and the looks of the various cultures from the Rohan to the Orcs to the Ents are very well thought out. This amazing documentary is followed up with design galleries. Like on the FOTR:SE DVD, some of the pictures are accompanied by commentary from the artists.

Gollum – Gollum is definitely one of the highlights of The Two Towers, so of course there is a whole section of the DVD devoted to him. You follow the initial stages of concept design for him to the creation of the CG character to the casting of Andy Serkis. It’s amazing to see how Serkis influenced the character so much. They actually tailored to look of the CG character to the actor. You see his initial audition videos, his actual performances on set, and more. It would be a very different character if not for Serkis. The interviews are also remarkably candid with Serkis talking about resenting being “erased” from the film, disputes on the set, and other things. But rather than coming across as gossip, it seems more like any family fight that is soon forgotten. To follow things up there’s a joke video featuring some footage of one of the producers dressing up as Gollum for a day when Serkis wasn’t available. You can tell everyone has fun poking fun at him.

Middle Earth Atlas – Tracing The Journeys Of The Fellowship – This is simply a map tracing the routes of the characters through Middle Earth. There’s not much else here. It’s also included in the inside cover of the DVD.

New Zealand As Middle Earth – This video shows the various locations around New Zealand and how they were used as sets. The Rohan set was in a national park and after production wrapped, the entire set had to be disassembled and the natural vegetation, which had been stored in a nursery for 18 months, had to be replaced. Other scenes took place near a bombing range that they didn’t know was still active. Other scenes were literally shot in a parking lot. Each location presented its own unique challenges and it’s fun to hear the cast and crew tell stories about them.

Visual Effects – In this segment we get a closer look at the incredible miniatures known as “Big-atures”. Again, the amazing attention to details is emphasized along with the clever techniques of making the models. Sometimes these models are even better than computer graphics and that’s very much apparent here. It’s amazing to see that the Flooding Of Isengard was one of the last things done for the film and that it was almost an afterthought. In a rush, we see the model makers create a rough animatic of the sequence and it is included on the DVD (which can also be viewed side by side with the final product). Weta Digital also struts their stuff and we get a look at their impressive work. It’s amusing to see them pull their hair out as Jackson challenges them on every level. You get looks at test sequences for the Balrog fight, Helm’s Deep, and more. It’s truly amazing what they accomplish. You also get to see Abandoned Concepts from the film such as the Balrog climbing out of the water with his fire extinguished.

Editorial: Refining The Story – This video shows how the film was edited. They discuss how scenes were cut together and the challenges presented by having three different stories to tell at once. Technical issues are also discussed as we see Peter Jackson in the UK working on the music while everyone else is back in New Zealand editing. They meet up using video conferencing and the internet. (I’m sure hackers are looking for ways to get into their network as we speak.) There’s even an amusing story of how one editor was almost mugged while having a disc of a full cut of the film in his pocket. It’s amazing to me how they can make even a mundane subject like editing into an engrossing documentary.

Music And Sound – Howard Shore walks you through the scoring process from the film. He highlights the major themes from the movie, their origins, and interesting reprisals of themes from the first movie that you may not have noticed. The sound design team also shows how they did their tricks. All sorts of cool tricks for making sound effects are shown. You also see how diffucult it was to complete the sound effects when the movie was edited up to the last minute. This section is rounded out with a Sound Demonstration featuring a scene from Helm’s Deep. All the layers of sound and music are taken out of the scene and you are able to add them in one at a time. It’s very interesting and a lot of fun to play with.

“The Battle for Helm’s Deep is Over…” – This video wraps things up and gives a very short glimpse of The Return Of The King. The earlier edition of The Two Towers had more of the final film in the trilogy, though.

The Bottom Line:
This is one of the best DVDs ever made. It’s a required addition to your DVD collection, even you already own the earlier version.

Order this DVD @ Amazon

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