By Chaz Lipp
Article first published as Blu-ray Review: The Lord of the Rings: The Two Towers – Extended Edition [5-Disc Set] on Blogcritics.
It’s been a decade since I saw The Two Towers, the second part of Peter Jackson’s Academy Award-winning adaptation of J.R.R. Tolkien’s The Lord of the Rings. Revisiting it on Blu-ray, via the recently released standalone version of the extended edition, has its pros and cons. I don’t remember my first screening well enough to know what has been added, but I also bring no preconceived notions of how well the longer version compares to the shorter. I do know I didn’t care for the film 10 years ago, so I was interested in seeing if my feelings had changed. This Blu-ray release is the same—same transfer, same audio, same features—as what was included in 2011’s The Lord of the Rings: The Motion Picture Trilogy – Extended Edition box set.
As far as I’m concerned, The Two Towers suffers from a lot of the same problems that plagued The Fellowship of the Ring. Whereas that one had a clear beginning but no ending, The Two Towers has neither. It’s simply doesn’t work as its own movie, independent of what went before or is yet to come. Maybe that’s beside the point. I realize the three films are meant to function together as one very long piece. But there isn’t enough to the story to support the bloated running time. Much of the time is given over to largely irrelevant distractions. Take the hobbits Merry (Dominic Monaghan) and Pippin (Billy Boyd) for a good example. These two characters serve no meaningful part in the movie, yet we keep going back to them as they mark time by riding around in walking, talking tree creatures called Ents. The Ents do step up during the end battle, but Merry and Pippin remain relatively dispensable.
Frodo (Elijah Wood) and Sam (Sean Astin) continue their trek to Mount Doom, where Frodo must dispose of the powerful One Ring. It’s a long and treacherous journey for two little hobbits to make on foot, though in the end it’s just a really long walk. Luckily, Gollum has a much bigger role in this one. The mentally tortured creature, so expertly voiced by Andy Serkis (who also did the motion capture), is torn between his obsession with the ring he once possessed and revulsion over what it transformed him into. Gollum is by turns sympathetic and despicable, standing out as the most interesting character. The scenes involving Frodo, Sam, and him are among the finest in the film.
The Two Towers is considerably more action-oriented than the first film, and the climactic battle of Helm’s Deep is a real spectacle. The Uruk-hai comprise a formidable army of evil. Legolas (Orlando Bloom), Aragorn (Viggo Mortensen), Gandalf (Ian McKellan) and the rest of the gang have their work cut out for them. Turns out Gandalf didn’t actually die, as he appeared to in the first film. Or he did, but through the power of “magic,” an illogical concept employed to bail these characters out of dire situations, he came back as Gandalf the White. Maybe it’s just me, but most of the dramatic weight of a main character dying evaporates when they can bring themselves back.
The extended edition of The Two Towers looks spectacular on Blu-ray in 1080p. Unlike the extended edition of Fellowship, which was controversially re-color corrected (with enhanced green and cyan applied to some sequences), Towers is faithful to previous versions. The well-defined image exposes some of the more dated CG effects and occasionally obvious green screen shots. The final battle takes place at night, but fine detail is still in abundance regardless of the dim lighting.
The audio is presented in DTS-HD Master Audio 6.1, but even on a 5.1 system it sounds pretty magnificent. Much like Fellowship, all channels are used remarkably well. The surrounds are constantly engaged, very subtly at times but aggressively when appropriate. The LFE channel is also perfectly utilized, with full-bodied, resonant bass bolstering the action scenes. Dialogue is never problematic. I can’t imagine anyone being less than fully satisfied with this soundtrack.
The model for special features established by Fellowship is followed here. Four audio commentaries accompany the feature film, the first with the director and writers, the second with the cast, the third with the production team, and the fourth with the design team. The video-based extras are contained on three standard DVDs. Between disc three’s “The Appendices Part 3: The Journey Continues…” and disc four’s “The Appendices Part 4: The Battle for Middle-Earth Begins,” there are about seven hours of documentary features. If that weren’t enough, disc five contains Costa Botes’ fly-on-the-wall style “behind the scenes” documentary that runs about an hour and 45 minutes.
As someone who doesn’t consider himself a Lord of the Rings fan, I found The Two Towers to be far more entertaining and involving than the first film. I still think it’s too long for what it is, but there’s a lot more action and more Gollum this time around. The Lord of the Rings: The Two Towers – Extended Edition is for those who don’t already own the extended editions box set as it doesn’t present any new material.