Well, the wait is finally over and the Extended Version of Peter Jackson’s second installment in "The Lord Of The Rings" trilogy has finally arrived in its Extended Edition. I deliberately avoided all the posts and reports on the Internet outlining what changes have been made to this extended version so I could truly enjoy the film and let my self be surprised as new scenes and edits showed up. (I will do the same for you and NOT reveal much about what additions have been made.) The experience was marvelous and once again, the resulting film is a much deeper and richer experience than the theatrical cut, bringing to the screen countless scenes from the book that had been left out initially. Now, running almost 4 hours, "The Two Towers" puts new meaning into the term "epic filmmaking."
The movie takes us back to Middle-Earth, seamlessly picking up the story from "The Fellowship Of The Ring" with a fairly climactic scene to set the tone for what’s to come. Once again Peter Jackson and his crew have done an incredible job bringing Tolkien’s world to life, and as the events overshadow the world, so do the pictures get gradually darker and seedier, culminating in the incredible battle at Helm’s Deep. When first watching "The Fellowship Of The Ring" I –and I am sure many of you – thought, films don’t get much better and bigger than this, but Peter Jackson proved me wrong. While having a very different tone, "The Two Towers" eclipses the previous film in countless aspects making you wonder how the final installment in the trilogy could possibly look like. Fortunately enough, we will all be able to witness the Battle for Middle-Earth very soon in theaters.
The character of Sméagol plays a big role in this film and I do want to go on record here saying that to me he is the best computer generated character we have veer seen on the screen so far. His performance is subtle and convincing and his monologue is as intense and full of life, as if he were a real character. Never is there a moment in the movie where he breaks the illusion and that even though he has considerable screen time.
The movie itself is once again presented on two separate discs on this release, each containing roughly 2 hours of movie. The presentation is stellar to say the least and you will be hard pressed to find any problems with it. There is not a speckle, not a mar in sight and the level of detail in the presentation is absolutely staggering. Combined with the deep, rich blacks that creates ominous shadows but never muddies up the image, the picture has a visual depth that is absolutely amazing. The color palettes in "The Two Towers" are very muted to enhance the atmosphere of gloom that is taking hold of Middle-Earth, but the reproduction of these tones will leave you mesmerized. Needless to say, I believe, that the transfer is free of edge-enhancement or compression artifacts and ranks as a reference quality DVD presentation.
The DVD comes with a wonderfully rich Dolby Digital EX audio track, as well as a DTS ES 6.1 track, both of which are phenomenally directional and active. Surround usage is very aggressive throughout, masterfully reproducing the original sonic bombast of the movie’s theatrical presentations. With a wide frequency response that has powerful basses and crystal-clear high ends, the audio of the film adds as much atmosphere to the film as the visuals. Dialogues are perfectly balanced and are never drowned out by the sound effects or the music, and overall the audio presentation is every bit as flawless and impressive as the video.
The release also contains a large number of commentary tracks. The first on, and maybe the most important one, features director/writer Peter Jackson with his co-writers Fran Walsh and Philippa Boyens. The track is constantly overflowing with information and tidbits as they explore the production and the creation aspects of the movie, clearly analyzing their intents and the results in the film.
The second commentary track features the movie’s design team consisting of Richard Taylor, Tanya Rodger, Grant Major, Alan Lee, John Howe, and Dan and Chris Hennah. Here we are mostly introduced into the aspects of the production that made the film look like Middle-Earth. It explains how Tolkien’s written explanations were used to create the rich imagery and settings for the film in a way that is faithful to the literary source.
On the third commentary track the production team comes to speak up about the film. It is a very diverse track that covers production and post-production and in that sense also many of the business-related issues of the production. It is engaging and interesting and further adds to the completeness of the release.
The fourth commentary track on the release features the principal cast members and is also one of the most rewarding and entertaining tracks, as each participant brings his or her own unique perspective to the elaboration. While the writer’s track is the most informative overall, the cast track clearly the most fun.
On the third disc of the box set we find five featurettes. These are extremely well put-together segments on various aspects of the film. "Origins of Middle-Earth" for example explores Tolkien’s writing in more detail, featuring many interviews by Tolkien scholars and historians exploring the symbolism and underlying subtext found within "The Two Towers."
"Finding The Story" takes a look at the process of adapting the material to a movie script. Philippa Boyens explains in quite some detail why some of the characters and events from the book had to be changed in order to make the film work.
"Designing Middle-Earth" is a look at the design work done on the production and contains a look at many of the sketches and artwork produced to create the look of the film. Also location scouting is covered here, such as finding the perfect location for Edoras, and so forth.
"Weta Workshop" gives viewers the chance to see how many of the film’s effects were achieved, both digitally and as live action effects. Needless to say that it is quite an achievement we are seeing in the movie and going behind the scenes is just as exciting.
"The Taming Of Sméagol" is, of course, an undisputed highlight of the disc, as we get to see how this computer-generated character has been brought to life and how the interaction between live action footage and Sméagol has been created.
A middle-Earth Atlas is also included on this disc, tracing the movement of the parties in the film throughout this part of the story and "New Zealand as Middle-Earth" is another look at the geography and landscapes that were used to bring to life Tolkien’s fantastic realms. The DVD is rounded out with an incredibly large image gallery on the subjects covered on this disc.
This takes us to the fourth disc of the set where once again a series of featurettes awaits us. This time it is more behind-the-scenes materials as we go on the set during the shoot of the film. Many of the segments found on this disc explore the physical requirements to make the film and we study techniques and tricks of the production and filmmaking teams as they prepare to put on celluloid one of the greatest epics ever. The filmmaking process as a whole is encapsulated here, as we go into the post production facilities from there seeing how special effects are applied, how the film is edited and refined, and how then the music for the film is created and added. In its entirety this fourth disc gives you an incredibly close and detailed look at the entire process, all the steps and all the intricacies that go into making such a large film. If you thought you appreciated these efforts based on the end result alone, think again, and watch this disc. You will walk away with a newfound admiration and respect for everyone involved in the production, no matter how well you thought you knew how it was done.
An interactive demonstration the Battle of Helm’s Deep is also included on this disc, as well as a large image gallery, complete with audio commentary.
"The Lord of the Rings: The Two Towers" to me is clearly the best film of last year and this is clearly the best DVD release of this year hands down. The over 40-minutes of new footage included in the movie are spectacular and add a richness to the film that has to be experienced, and the supplements are just top of the line throughout. It is simply impossible to find a single flaw in this DVD release and whether you are a fan or not, this is a release you cannot ignore.