A few years after the fact, there now seems to be two distinct camps where the Lord of the Rings series is concerned: Those who still maintain a juicy and passionate affection for the trilogy, and those who are simply sick of the whole affair by now. Me, I'm firmly a part of the former group. If anything, subsequent viewings of the trilogy have enabled me to love the films even more, and while I'm able to spot a few seams here and a few ripe lines there -- my simple opinion is that Lord of the Rings represents one of the finest big-budget achievements you'll ever come across.
The movie section that follows consists of excerpts from my original theatrical review of The Two Towers. For more specific info on these particular DVD releases, please skip on by and scan on down...
It's awe-inspiring, amazingly entertaining, and a glowing testament to how wonderful the art of big-budget filmmaking can be. (This is coming from a guy who read the source material after the movies were announced, so if you're a Tolkien purist you may see the films in a decidedly different light.) One of the golden issues seems to be that The Two Towers doesn't "stand on its own." To that I say simply this: the finest pieces of entertainment require some sort of effort on the viewers' part. In this case, all the effort you're asked is that of sitting through The Fellowship of the Ring - hardly an unpleasant assignment, if you're asking me.
So yeah, you'll be lost if you didn't see the first film. One could say the same about The Godfather Part 2, and nobody seems to mind there.
What impressed me most about the 'adaptation' angle is how Jackson and Company were able to take a novel that tells its story in A-B-C fashion and congeal it into a cinematic narrative that allows each separate subplot its own ebb and flow. In short, this one's not as 'close' to the source material as the first film, but therein lies the power of the word 'adaptation'.
As much as Fellowship was a true ensemble piece, The Two Towers deftly weaves three separate narratives: Frodo (Eljah Wood) and Sam (Sean Astin) trek dangerously close to Mordor; Merry (Dominic Monaghan) and Pippin (Billy Boyd) manage to escape from their Uruk-hai captors only to find themselves not alone in the Fangorn Forest; while Aragorn (Viggo Mortensen), Legolas (Orlando Bloom), and Gimli (John Ryhs-Davies) are in hot pursuit of their kidnapped pals. To say that each tale leads somewhere fascinating would be a massive understatement. (Oh, and wasn't there a wizard involved in all this somehow?)
Much like the intital film introduced a stunning array of characters, The Two Towers offers a few new faces: Miranda Otto is sweet and effective as the demure (yet fiery) Eowyn; Bernard Hill is stately and regal as the afflicted King Theoden; Karl Urban is suitably heroic as Eomer the horseman; Brad Dourif is gleefully evil as the aptly named Grima Wormtongue; and then there's Gollum.
As someone generally unimpressed by 'all-CGI' movie characters, it took me a few moments with Gollum before I realized how stunningly this sort of technology could be utilized. It's no surprise that New Line was pushing Andy Serkis' name on the Supporting Actor ballot. That this character could be so flawlessly "created" and this genuinely heartfelt marks a milestone in the marriage between art and technology.
As irritating as it is to sound like a gushing press release, The Two Towers simply does have it all: rousing adventure and kinetic fights, touching romance and warm friendship, scary jolts and solid laughs, candy for the eye, roughage for the brain, and a feast for all the other senses. The acting is surprisngly strong across the board, Howard Shore's musical score is lush and invigorating, the art direction and costume design are stunningly beautiful ... Hell, you could be a movie fan with zero tolerance for dragons and wizards, yet still simply sit back and enjoy the scope and spectacle and the pure, jaw-dropping craftsmanship of what's parading across the screen.
Bah. I could go on and on and on, but scan the movie sites and you'll find a dozen rave reviews for this one. Much as I hate to 'go along with the crowd' there's simply no denying that The Lord of the Rings is a filmmaking acheivement of staggering proportions, one that deserves every ounce of praise its received ... and then some.
Video: OK, so after scanning through my Extended Edition discs and comparing them with this Limited Edition release. After doing a good deal of research and picking the brains of people who know a lot more about video specs than I do, I've come to the following conclusion: The transfers are pretty darn excellent. I'll leave it to the more eagle-eyed nitpickers to call me wrong on this one, but I couldn't spot any improvement (or downgrade) in the picture quality. The anamorphic widescreen transfer delivers this epic in stunningly fine fashion.
Audio: Dolby Digital 5.1 EX or DD 2.0. Again, the 5.1 track sounds a aurally impressive as did the audio on my beloved Extended Edition releases. Your mileage may vary of course, but I think both releases are aces in the sound department.
If the Limited Edition releases offer two main selling points, they are these:
1. The LEs offer the theatrical versions AND the extended editions in one handy package. There's been much hand-wringing over the fact that, regardless of which version you prefer, you must flip the disc in order to watch the entire movie. Those with multi-disc players have a legitimate gripe here.
2. The massive trilogy of "fly on the wall"-style documentaries that are exclusive to the Limited Edition releases. On the one hand, these are excellent pieces, unpolished and often candid glimpses of the astonishingly huge production and the army of good-natured people who worked on it. If you're a LOTR completist, you definitely won't mind dropping the few extra bucks for these docos. Those who have just a passing curiosity for the new supplemental material would be best served by renting or borrowing all three of the bonus discs. As insightful and illuminating as Costa Botes' documentaries are, I don't think they offer much in "replay value."
Documentary running times are as follows:
Fellowship: 85 minutes
Towers: 106 minutes
King: 112 minutes
It's easy to see why the LOTR fans have been of two minds on the Limited Edition releases. On one hand you're getting both versions of each film, plus a massive collection of behind-the-scenes footage. On the other hand, you might not even want the theatrical cuts (frankly I don't need 'em), plus it's annoying to keep flipping discs during your Tolkienathon.
The movies are perfectly awesome, so if you don't already own the (Extended Edition) DVDs, this Limited Edition comes Highly Recommended. (Then again, the EEs have some really excellent extras on 'em!) If, however, you already own all three Extended Editions, I'd have to downgrade my rating to simply Recommended.
Double-dip it may be, but it'd take 30 years and 40 re-releases before I could find something nasty to say about Jackson's Lord of the Rings trilogy.