The Lord of the Rings: The Two Towers (Extended Edition)
Studio: New Line
Film Length: 223 minutes
Aspect Ratio: Anamorphic Widescreen (2.35:1)
Audio: DD EX 5.1, DD 2.0 Surround, DTS 6.1 ES
Subtitles: English, Spanish
Retail Price: $39.95
The Lord of the Rings: The Two Towers is the second installment in Peter Jackson’s trilogy based on the books by J.R.R. Tolkein. When it comes to trilogies, when they’re over with it’s usually the second film, which will tell the history for the series. If the second film is weak then it could make the first film look bad or it could make people less interested in the final chapter. Jackson had a lot on his plate with The Two Towers but with this wonderful chapter he was able to improve on the first film and get people hyped for what would follow.
This new DVD under the title “Extended Edition” contains forty-three minutes of additional and extended scenes, which should delight fans of the film. I must be honest and say I hadn’t seen either film until a week ago so I certainly don’t know each and every line of dialogue and I really don’t know too much about the characters or the books. I had a rather hard time trying to do this review because this set isn’t really for me. This four-disc set is for the die-hard fans of the series who want to know everything about the film and they want extra scenes to help give more background to characters.
Since I’m not too familiar with this film I must say I’m not sure how much the new stuff will help or if it will in fact hurt the film. From my first viewing of the theatrical cut to this new version, I must say that I rather enjoyed this longer cut of the film. Like Dances With Wolves and Almost Famous, I doubt those who didn’t enjoy the regular version would find anything interesting in this longer cut but then again this discs wasn’t made for them. From my memory of the first viewing, the new and extended scenes really weren’t needed but they did add to the overall entertainment level. Had there never been an extended version I doubt we’d be missing anything since the theatrical cut is already a classic but those who want to go a step further won’t be let down.
The main difference I noticed with this new cut is that the overall feel of the movie is a lot bigger and the journey that the characters take seems to be a lot more vital and more dangerous but why this is I can’t really explain. Perhaps I’m just a dork in thinking that a longer film can add something more to an already great film but that’s really the only thing I can think of. Characters like Faramir and Boromir are given the most extension here and some of the new stuff answers questions from the previous film. The biggest improvement here is probably all the battle scenes, which are more drawn out making them all the more beautiful.
There’s also an additional twenty-minutes at the end of the film, which lists the names of all those in the fan club. I hadn’t ever seen this before and I personally thought this was a very good touch considering it’s those fans who this new version was released for. Again, as of today, I’m not one of those big fans but from my two viewings there’s no doubt that this Extended Edition is the better film. I certainly enjoyed it a lot more so those who know the characters better will find a lot more treasures here than I did.
VIDEO---The film is shown widescreen (2.35:1) and is enhanced for 16x9 TVs. The picture quality compared to the previous release is certainly a lot better here and the added scenes are mixed in perfectly so there’s no quality drop there. The biggest improvement is the overall look of the film, which is full of wonderful detail and so much clarity that the picture seems 3D like. Even just comparing the first scene you’ll be able to tell that there’s so much more detail here from the color of the sky to the actual outfits being worn by the characters. I did notice some very very minor edge enhancement but you’ll have to strain your eyes to notice this so the EE isn’t a problem. This is pretty much a perfect transfer from beginning to end.
AUDIO---We get a Dolby Digital Surround, Dolby Digital 5.1 EX and a DTS 6.1 ES track to pick from. Comparing the sound mix here to the previous disc is an easy winner. The new mixes are certainly a lot better on all grounds especially the DTS track here, which has a lot better bass that doesn’t sound as heavy and muddy. Everything from the dialogue to the music score is crystal clear and really adds a new dimension to the film. The 5.1 EX track is equally impressive and I didn’t notice too much of a difference between the two. The biggest difference, although a minor one, is that the DTS track sounds a bit more natural and smooth especially during the quieter moments in the film. The battle scenes are also slightly better in the DTS track, again because of them sounding more natural. Both tracks are a new mix compared to the previous release because of the extended and new scenes. New music cues have been added the score has been modified in spots.
EXTRAS---Naturally the extras are the biggest difference between the two releases. Again, I doubt minor fans of the film will be effected by the extras but the real fans of the film will certainly be in Heaven.
Disc 1 and 2
Commentary Track 1: The Director and Writers: This track includes director Peter Jackson, writer/producer Fran Walsh and writer Philippa Boyens. This is perhaps the most entertaining track because there’s never a quiet or boring moment throughout. Jackson and Walsh do the most talking and this ranges from discussions of the new scenes and stuff including the screenplay, the CGI and some stuff that didn’t get filmed. Jackson also talks about some scenes that he wanted to film more on but couldn’t because he had other scenes to film that day.
Commentary Track 2: The Design Team: This track features Richard Taylor (WETA Workshop Creative Supervisor), Tania Rodger (WETA Workshop Manager), Grant Major (Production Designer), Alan Lee (Conceptual Designer/Set Decorator), John Howe (Conceptual Designer), Dan Hennah (Supervising Art Director/Set Decorator) and Chris Hennah (Art Department Manager). This was the least interesting track to me but I must be honest and say I’m not too interesting in the design or art department. While I certainly enjoy looking at the work I’m really not into learning about it. Those who are interested in this stuff will find the track full of wonderful information.
Commentary Track 3: The Production/Post-Production: Barrie M. Osbourne (Producer), Mark Ordesky (Exec. Producer), Andrew Lesnie (Director of Photography), Mike Morton/Jabez Olssen (Editors), Rick Porras (Co-Producer), Howard Shore (Composer), Jim Rygiel (Visual Effects Supervisor), Joe Letteri (Visual Effects), Ethan Van der Ryn (Supervising Sound Editor), Mike Hopkins (Supervising Sound Editor), Randy Cook (WETA Animation Designer/Supervisor), Christian Rivers (Previsualization Supervisor), Brian Van’t Hull (Visual Effects Director of Photography) and Alex Funke (Visual Effects Director of Photography). The special effects in the film are certainly mind blowing so learning how they were created is certainly entertaining. This was my second favorite track and all sorts of interesting stuff is told here. Also, over two-hundred new effects were created for this extended version and they are discussed here.
Commentary Track 4: The Cast: Elijah Wood (Frodo), Sean Astin (Sam), John Rhys Davies (Gimli), Billy Boyd (Pippin), Dominic Monaghan (Merry), Orlando Bloom (Legolas), Christopher Lee (Saruman), Sean Bean (Boromir), Bernard Hill (Theoden), Miranda Otto (Eowyn), David Wenham (Faramir), Brad Dourif (Wormtongue), Karl Urban (Eomer), John Noble (Denethor), Craig Parker (Haldir) and Andy Serkis (Gollum). I listed to this track last and I must admit I really wasn’t expecting much from it. After the deep and intelligent first three tracks I was expecting this to be silly and off the wall talk but that certainly wasn’t the case. Everyone on the track takes the film very seriously and talks about it the way it should be. Each one discusses their characters, behind the scenes stuff and of course the director. There are many wonderful stories here making this a must listen to track.
All four audio commentaries are very entertaining and I’m sure fans will enjoy them all. All four tracks have subtitles, which will tell you who is speaking and the role that had in the film. For example, when Elijah Wood speaks his name will appear on screen (in the black bars) along with the name of his character.
Disc 3: The Appendices Part Three: The Journey Continues
The disc starts off with an introduction by director Peter Jackson. The track explains the journey you’re about to take in this mammoth set and Jackson adds why this set was created. He also talks about how this was the most important of the three films and he discusses how the film was made from beginning to end. In all there are five documentaries, which run around three hours. You can select a “play all” option or you can pick from the five selections. The majority of the footage is shown anamorphic widescreen, which was an added surprise. Spanish and English subtitles are also included.
J.R.R. Tolkien—Origins of Middle-earth (29:19)
This segment obviously centers on the man who wrote the books, which the film is based on. Here we get all sorts of background information ranging from his writings to the fact that he was a Catholic. The most interesting thing is learning that Tolkien fought in WW1, which might explain some of the scenes in the book. Questions about war, good and evil are all covered and everything is quite interesting.
From Book to Script—Finding the Story (20:57)
The most interesting thing here, again is hearing Peter Jackson talk about why the middle of a trilogy is the hardest to pull off. They discuss how they needed the first film to have the perfect ending so that this film could start off well but more interesting is selected how to end this film the right way so that the third film can work. Several of the actors are also interviewed as well as the producer and screenwriters. Again, it’s very interesting hearing all the thoughts on this “middle” of the trilogy.
Designing and Building Middle-earth (88:10)
This segment here runs just under and hour and a half and is broken down into two chapters. A design gallery is also included as well. The first segment, Designing Middle-earth, takes a look at all the production that went on to make the film look the way it does. We are taken inside the Weta Workshop and pretty much learn just about everything that went on in the movie. The most interesting stuff is learning where some of the sets were actually built. Another key aspect to this segment is the actual somber look of the film, which was very difficult to create. Weta Workshop goes into more detail about various creations in the film. I found this here to be the least entertaining of the two but the thing is still worthy of at least one viewing. Finally we get a design gallery, which is one of the greatest features I’ve ever seen. We are shown drawings of various characters and if selected, we get a commentary explaining what we are looking out.
The section about Gollum is broken down into three sections. The main section is The Taming of Smeagol, which takes a look at the character from actor Andy Serkis to the work done at WETA. Showing us how the effects were done was simply breathtaking in every possible way. We learn how everyone from the director to the writers tried to get this character exactly right because it was the most important effect of the trilogy. I agree that had Gollum been done the wrong way that it would have seriously hurt the film. Andy Serkis Animated Reference shows the actor acting out his role and the WETA workers transferring it over to an animated character. Gollum Stand-In is a brief video of Rick Porras playing Gollum. Also included is another wonderful Design Gallery, which optional commentary.
Middle-earth Atlas: Tracing the Journeys of the Fellowship/New Zealand as Middle-earth
These here are interactive maps, which will lead you through all the extras. The Middle-earth Atlas allows you to select from four paths, which will show you the characters and the journey they took throughout the film. We are shown various clips from the film to go along with the information being told. New Zealand as Middle-earth shows us the real locations that the film was shot at.
Disc 4: The Appendices Part Four: The Battle For Middle-earth Begins
We start off with an introduction by Elijah Wood, which like the Jackson introduction, explains what we are about to see on the disc.
Filming “The Two Towers” (101:08)
This here is broken down into two section and pretty much covers the entire production. Warriors of Middle-earth is full of cast interviews and video footage from behind the scenes. In this section everyone talks about the massive locations as well as what it was like shooting in various locations at the same time. A lot of the battle scenes are told in detail here from the cast learning how to sword fight to the actual stunts performed in the film. Cameras in Middle-earth runs just over an hour and is very interesting. We see what it was like for Peter Jackson to move from location to location and trying to keep his mind on all of this at once. It’s also quite interesting seeing certain actors injured only to finish filming and then dropping into pain. Everything from the bad weather to the freezing cold are covered here in wonderful detail. Also included is a photo gallery, which is as big as I’ve ever seen. Optional commentary is also available on certain photos.
This section is broken down into two separate areas. Miniatures features the documentary “Big-atures”, which runs nearly 22-minutes. Here we are given details of many miniature sets, which ended up looking enormous on the screen. The way this stuff is done has always interested me so this behind the scenes look was a lot of fun. The Flooding of Isengard Animatic is a wonderful little piece, which is probably my favorite of the set. We get to see a rough animation design, which was used by Jackson so that he would have an easier time filming the actual scene. We can view the rough footage alone or there’s a separate feature that allows you to use a split screen to view this footage against what was actually in the film. Another large photo gallery is also included. Weta Digital again deals with all the digital work in the film. Finally we get some production artwork, which also details two abandoned scenes from the film.
Editorial: Refining the Story (21:56)
Here Peter Jackson talks about the choice to use three different editors for each film. We are shown the director in the editing room working with people trying to get the film just right. I’ve always been interested in the editing of films so this here was a wonderful treat. We learn how it was put together and in the order, which was the best. We also get to see alternate takes of various scenes and the editor talks about which was picked and why.
Music and Sound (46:40)
This here is broken into two sections. The first, Music From Middle-earth deals with Howard Shore and everything it took to score the film. He also talks about how he needed a “bigger” score for this film and why it was easier than the first film. The Soundscapes of Middle-earth deals with various sound effects and is pretty interesting. The final section, Sound Demonstration: Helm’s Deep is a wonderful little featurette, which lets you select eight different 5.1 tracks and lets you hear what the scenes sound like while filming to the foley work to the final sound in the film.
The Battle for Helm’s Deep is over (9:26)
This final segment deals with the director and several cast members talking about their overall opinions while shooting this second film and also has them commenting on the upcoming film.
OVERALL---The V/A is certainly a lot better on this Extended release but the extras is the main upgrade for you Lord fans. If you’re a fan of the film then there’s no question that you’ll enjoy each and every hour of the two bonus discs as well as the four commentary tracks. I don’t think a single thing is left out of here so after you’ve completed disc four you’ll feel as if you were the one making the film. New Line has done a brilliant job on all levels with this production.
Release Date: November 18, 2003