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review added: 11/7/03



The Lord of the Rings:
The Two Towers

4-Disc Special Extended DVD Edition - 2002 (2003) - New Line

Part One - Film & Presentation Quality

Skip to Part Two

review by Bill Hunt, editor of The Digital Bits

Enhanced for 16x9 TVsEncoded with DTS & Dolby Digital 5.1 Digital Surround

The Lord of the Rings: The Two Towers (4-Disc Special Extended DVD Edition) Film Rating: A

Disc Ratings (Video/Extras): A/A+

Audio Ratings (DD/DTS): A-/A

Specs and Features

Disc One: The Film - Extended Edition, Part I
Part I - 107 mins (approx 236 mins total - includes 20 min fan club credit roll on Disc Two), PG-13, letterboxed widescreen (2.35:1), 16x9 enhanced, single-sided, RSDL dual-layered (layer switch at 50:42, at the start of chapter 15), custom slipcase with fold-out Digipack packaging (featuring production sketches and artwork), all commentaries feature on-screen text to identify speaker, audio commentary (with director Peter Jackson and writers Fran Walsh and Philippa Boyens), audio commentary (with design team members Richard Taylor, Tania Rodger, Grant Major, Alan Lee, John Howe, Dan Hennah and Chris Hennah), audio commentary (with production and post-production team members Barrie 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 Hull and Alex Funke), audio commentary (with 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), 8-page booklet with foldout appendices map, Easter egg, animated film-themed menus with sound and music, scene access (31 chapters), languages: English (DD 5.1 EX, DTS 6.1 ES & DD 2.0 Surround), subtitles: English, Closed Captioned

Disc Two: The Film - Extended Edition, Part II
Part II - 129 mins (approx 236 mins total - includes 20 min fan club credit roll on Disc Two), PG-13, letterboxed widescreen (2.35:1), 16x9 enhanced, single-sided, RSDL dual-layered (layer switch at at 59:56, in chapter 18), all commentaries feature on-screen text to identify speaker, audio commentary (with director Peter Jackson and writers Fran Walsh and Philippa Boyens), audio commentary (with design team members Richard Taylor, Tania Rodger, Grant Major, Alan Lee, John Howe, Dan Hennah and Chris Hennah), audio commentary (with production and post-production team members Barrie 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 Hull and Alex Funke), audio commentary (with 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), animated film-themed menus with sound and music, scene access (39 chapters), languages: English (DD 5.1 EX, DTS 6.1 ES & DD 2.0 Surround), subtitles: English, Closed Captioned

Discs Three & Four (See Page Two)


"It is an army bred for a single purpose... to destroy the world of men."

And so we come to the crossroads. The Two Towers is the second installment in Peter Jackson's epic film adaptation of J.R.R. Tolkein's The Lord of the Rings - the installment poised to make or break the trilogy. Could Jackson and company follow up on the blockbuster success of 2001's The Fellowship of the Ring? Would the film continue with the same level of quality? Would the momentum of the story build upon the climax of the first film, and prepare audiences for the ultimate confrontation between good and evil in the soon to be released final chapter, The Return of the King? The answer to all of these questions, of course, is a resounding yes.

As the film opens, we find ourselves plunged into the dark mines of Moria, to relive a few moments of Gandalf's confrontation with the fiery Balrog. But instead of playing out as we remember it in Fellowship of the Ring, this time, when Gandalf falls into the abyss, we fall with him to watch as his fight continues. The consequences of these moments will resound throughout much of the remainder of the story, as Frodo and Sam continue their quest to carry the One Ring into Mordor, and Aragorn, Legolas and Gimli race to save Merry and Pippin from the orcs. Along the way, two important new story elements come into play. The first is the character of Gollum, who is bound to the Ring in such a way that he simply must follow it to Mordor. As we watch, Gollum's dual personalities fight for dominance, one wishing to help Frodo and Sam in their quest, and the other seeking to kill them and take back the Ring that was stolen from him (as told in The Hobbit). Meanwhile, Aragorn and company have made their way into the horse realm of Rohan, whose king has fallen under Saruman's dark spell. The people of Rohan are made to suffer too, for Saruman has built a army of murderous orcs numbering ten thousand strong. Together, the white wizard and the dark lord, Sauron, mean to rule Middle-earth, and their first step in this conquest is to wipe out the kingdom of Rohan, and all of Mankind, once and for all. What follows is nothing less than a truly epic battle, in which the fate of both Middle-earth and the Quest of the Ring literally hang in the balance. Trust me when I say, it's like nothing you've ever seen before on film.

What I appreciate most about The Two Towers is that Jackson has made no compromises for the audience. Middle-earth is a world where violence is commonplace, much blood is shed and evil stands a very real chance of winning and must be confronted head-on. There is no sugar coating on these bitter pills to make them easier to digest. As a result, the journey one takes in this film is just that much more satisfying. An additional compromise that Jackson manages to avoid is obvious right from the opening frames of The Two Towers. You simply MUST have seen the previous film in order to understand what's going on, because there is no recap of the action. Other than the very brief opening flashback, this film launches you immediately into the story, picking up right where Fellowship left you hanging. And the pace throughout much of the film is relentless, pausing only occasionally to let you catch your breath.

In addition to Jackson's deft direction, the savvy adaptation and great performances by cast members new and old, there is much technically to be impressed with here as well. The character of Gollum, entirely created by computer graphics, is astonishing. At last, we have a CG character that gives a real dramatic performance on screen. This is thanks to the work of WETA Digital, as well as the strong acting of Andy Serkis. Serkis not only provides Gollum his voice, but his movent as well thanks to the process of motion capture. Serkis also performed the character on set with the actors, lending the final digital creation a particular presence and immediacy it would otherwise have lacked. Equally wondrous is the astonishing battle for Helm's Deep, in which literally thousands of computer generated soldiers, both good and evil, fight to the death. Each tiny digital character engages in unique and believable combat moves, thanks to a special program written for the film trilogy called Massive. The result is a truly jaw-dropping and epic battle sequence, which gives moviegoers a taste of the even larger battles to come in Return of the King.

As epic and impressive as the original theatrical cut of this film is, we're once again given a real treat for this 4-disc DVD version. It's an extended cut of the film, specially prepared by Jackson, which includes some 43 minutes of all new scenes and scene extensions. As with the Fellowship extended cut before it, this new version of The Two Towers is absolutely spectacular. These new moments add tremendous depth and development to certain characters, give a greater sense of scope to the journey they take during the film, provide wonderful new moments of humor and greatly enhance the intensity of the major battle scenes. Many of them are events Tolkein fans will remember having read in the original novels. These new scenes are complemented by new music cues and over 200 new special effects shots done just for this DVD version.

Among the new treasures in store for fans are several more moments with Gollum, more background on the Ents and additional scenes involving Treebeard in Fangorn Forest, Gandalf telling Aragorn that Sauron is afraid of what he may one day become, Théodred's funeral at Edoras, more of Faramir capturing Frodo and Sam, new scenes between Aragorn and Éowyn on the road to Helm's Deep, more intense footage during all of the major battles... and this is just scratching the surface. There's also a major new flashback scene in which we see Faramir with his brother, Boromir, and their father, Denethor, who is the Steward of Gondor. We learn why Boromir tried to take the Ring from Frodo in the last film, and why Faramir struggles with the same decision here. It's fantastic stuff that really fleshes out both Faramir and Boromir. It's also important for introducing us to the character of Denethor, who plays a larger part in the forthcoming Return of the King. Suffice it to say that if you loved Two Towers before, you'll love it even more now.

I should also note that, as with the Fellowship extended cut, there's a good 20 minutes of credits that have been added to the end of the film (at the end of the regular credits) that feature the names of the members of The Lord of the Rings fan club. This 20 minutes isn't counted as part of the 30 minutes of actual scenes restored to the film itself.

In terms of image quality, this version of the film is every bit as good as the Fellowship 4-disc DVD. Significantly, the video here is also much improved over the 2-disc version of The Two Towers that was released a few months ago. The anamorphic widescreen video, now that it's spread over two discs, has been compressed with a much higher bitrate. Rarely will it dip below 7 Mbps, and the result is improved clarity, greater detail, and more depth to the image. The color palate is more subdued than that of Fellowship, but colors are accurate at all times. In fact, the entire film was digitally color timed to perfection under Jackson's supervision, to achieve exactly the look he wanted for Middle-earth. You'll notice the improvements in the image quality right from the film's opening - just watch as Gandalf and the Balrog plunge into the depths. The film looks absolutely fantastic.

The audio on this set is also improved from what the 2-disc version offered. The film's soundtrack is included in both Dolby Digital 5.1 and DTS 6.1 ES. This is not the same Dolby Digital mix that was heard on the 2-disc set, owing to the integration of the new footage. Music cues are different now, with subtle tonal changes, and there are modifications to the sound effects mix in many scenes as well. Changes aside, the Dolby surround mix here is incredibly active, with a big wide front soundstage and lovely spaciousness in the imaging. As with the previous DVD release, the DTS 6.1 track, only improves on this by creating a smoother and more natural soundfield. There's greater ambience, more refined imaging and greater subtlety. The differences between the Dolby Digital and DTS sound options aren't major, but high-end users will appreciate them. As expected, the DTS track is definitely my preference.

As with the previous 4-disc set (get used to reading those words, because I'll be using them a lot here), you can choose to watch this film with its own soundtrack, or with no less than four separate, full-length audio commentary tracks. At more than three and a half hours each, you can almost literally spend all day exhausting all the viewing options on Discs One and Two alone! There's a track with the director and writers, one with the artistic designers, another with members of the production and post-production team, and a final track with a majority of the cast from the film. When you select a particular commentary in the options menu, you're shown a list of everyone who participated in that track. If you then select one and start watching (and listening), subtitle text will appear at the top of the screen when different participants speak, identifying not only the speaker, but also their role in the production (or their character in the case of the actors).

The actors' track is the most engaging and entertaining. As one would expect, these people really enjoy interacting with one another. There's an enthusiasm for this project that really shines through. More than a dozen cast members contribute, including several new participants whose characters appear for the first time in this film. About the only significant person absent is Viggo Mortensen, who doesn't apparently like to do commentaries (but is thankfully in evidence all over the documentaries on Discs Three and Four). On the writer/director's track, Peter Jackson, Fran Walsh and Philippa Boyens give what I think is the most interesting of the commentaries. They discuss the challenges of adapting the second book in the trilogy into a film, and how they struggled with it right through filming. There's also wonderful discussion of the performances of the actors, and how pick-up shots were done after principle photography to enhance the dramatic or emotional impact of certain scenes. The design team and production team commentaries are also interesting, if a bit dry, and cover all kinds of filmmaking related topics and detail.

The menus are once again designed so that the selections appear to have been written in pages of a book. The book itself was designed and shot as a real prop and set, by the same folks that worked on the film. That gives the menus the sense of belonging to the world of the film. When you're look at the scene selection menu page, the chapter stop listings once again indicated which scenes are new and which are extended - a nice touch if you're excited to see the new footage right away.

Disc One ends right after the scene in which Frodo and Sam get captured by Faramir and his men. The screen cuts to black and text fades in telling you that "The Story Continues on Disc Two". When you start Disc Two, a black screen comes up with the following text selections: "Continue Film," "Continue Commentaries," "Set-up and Options".

This set's packaging mirrors the previous 4-disc release, with the exception that the color is a little darker, and the artwork on the Digipack reflects the various scenes from the film. The Digipack itself is housed in another gorgeous slipcase that's designed to look like an old hardback book. It's has a simulated leathery texture to the feel and the title of the film is stamped in gold foil on the front and spine. An insert booklet inside contains chapter information and an index of the contents of all four discs, again with artwork from the film. Very nice.

You should also know that there is at least one Easter egg on this set, featuring Gollum's now infamous acceptance speech from the recent MTV Movie Awards. It's in anamorphic widescreen (as is everything on these four discs) and it even includes subtitles... just in case you can't figure out his stark, raving insults. It's very funny and I'm glad it's been included. You can find instructions to access it below. I believe this is the only Easter egg on the set. If I find another, I'll add it to the review.

In the next part of this review, we'll take a closer look at the contents of Disc Three and Four of this set, also known as The Appendices, which contain the real meat in terms of the supplemental material.

So off we go...

Bill Hunt
billhunt@thedigitalbits.com

On to Part Two


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Easter egg Instructions

Disc One

To access the MTV Movie Awards clip of Andy Serkis and Gollum accepting the award for Best Virtual Performance (3 min, 16x9, DD 2.0), go to the last page of the scene selections menu area and select 'Of Herbs and Stewed Rabbit'. Then navigate "down" to reveal a hidden Ring symbol. Press "Enter".
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