Note: The Lord Of The Rings Trilogy was released as a boxed set by New Line awhile ago, and it contained the theatrical versions only. New Line has now released each title on its own, outside of the boxed set. There are no discernable differences between the discs in that boxed set and the discs in the individual releases - and yes, these are still the theatrical versions, not Jackson's extended cuts.
Picking up directly where the first film in the trilogy left off, The Two Towers follows Frodo Baggins and his pals as they continue their quest to destroy the 'One Ring' and the evil wizard Sauron. The Fellowship finds themselves divided and on entirely different paths but they know they must end up at two different towers - Orthanc Tower in Isengard, where Saruman is holding out, and Sauron's tower fortress in Baraddur which is in a scary part of Mordor. While all of this is going on, a slimy creature named Gollum (Andy Serkis) obsesses over the ring and does everything that he can to turn different factions against each other and ruin all that the Hobbits and their allies have set into motion. All of this is going on while Sauron has his sights set on Minas Tirith, the capital of Gondor.
Got all that? Not if you haven't seen the first movie you don't. This picks up the story immediately and hits the ground running and if you haven't sat through the first entry, The Fellowship Of The Ring, in which Frodo and his allies form the Fellowship to stop the evil Sauron from ruining the day you're probably not going to have a clue what's going on in this picture. That's not a fault of the film, but it does bare mentioning even if parts of the story told here do work as a self contained unit. Once again director Peter Jackson has created a truly epic film of truly massive proportions though where the first film suffered from some pacing problems, here things do move a fair bit quicker and the movie is all the better for it.
Frequently the middle part of a trilogy is going to be the weakest, or at least the less exciting chapter, though this picture (like The Godfather II) is a rare exception. With this trilogy, much of the exposition and basic character development is well established in the first chapter, letting the second part flesh things out while putting more emphasis on action and adventure. Jackson did a fine job delivering all of the spectacle and visual flourish you could want with The Fellowship Of The Ring but The Two Towers rises above it thanks to tighter pacing, more tension, and a few more memorable set pieces. Of course, this is still a fantasy adventure film at its core and because of that very fact, it won't resonate with most audiences the way other equally epic films like Apocalypse Now or Once Upon A Time In The West will - the emotional impact just isn't there - but this film is a visionary one in its own way. Jackson's command of special effects is spectacular as he and his crew use every trick in the book, digital and organic alike, to deliver a world unlike one we'd ever seen on screen before this film was made. Gollum is a perfect example, as despite the fact that we know he's obviously just 'movie magic' he's rendered so well here and played with such wholehearted enthusiasm that we're able to completely buy him, no matter how unrealistic a creature he might be in the grand scheme of things.
As good as the cast were in the first part, here, since they're more established, they've got more to work with and as such deliver some consistently intense and interesting work. Jackson, with help from his cast and the remarkably talented crew he's surrounded himself with here, again delivers an impressive slice of popular entertainment meant for a mass audience but with enough 'art' behind the intent to stimulate your brain just enough. As it was with the first film, it may not jive with everyone's individual interpretation of the source material, but it is, in this writer's opinion, the most tense, exciting and unpredictable chapter of the trilogy, and, as such, the most enjoyable.
The VC-1 encoded 2.40.1 anamorphic widescreen 1080p high definition transfer for The Two Towers is noticeably better than the one provided for the first film, but it still suffers from some of the same problems. Overall the image is good, sometimes even great but again, there are some inconsistencies to take note of even if this second film does show stronger detail than the one that came before it. There is some minor, albeit noticeable, DNR throughout all the film that is definitely going to irritate some people and it pops up frequently enough that those irks are going to be completely warranted. Color reproduction generally looks good and there aren't any compression artifacts to note. Print damage isn't ever an issue and on that level the image is nice and clean, but yeah, those flaws are definitely there. On the other hand, there are moments here that are amazing in their clarity and their depth. Certain close-up shots show every nook and cranny on the performers' faces and all the texture and detail in the costumes. Had the image been like this consistently it would have made a lot of people very happy but even if that were possible, it hasn't happened here. This isn't as inconsistent as The Fellowship Of The Ring but it does leave room for improvement.
The Lord Of The Rings - The Two Towers gets the DTS-HD 6.1 Master Audio treatment on Blu-ray in English with optional standard definition Spanish language dubs also supplied. Subtitles are offered up in English SDH and in Spanish as well. While there are very valid reasons to complain about the video quality of this release, you're going to have a much harder time complaining about the audio. The 6.1 track included for this film sounds spectacular, with all the surround activity you'd expect from the picture and maybe even a bit more. Bass response is very strong and powerful without burying the performers in the mix while dialogue is always perfectly balanced, clean and clear. Of course, it stands to reason that the battle scenes are going to impress, and they do, but even quieter and more dramatic moments sound great with some welcome and entirely appropriate ambient noise noticeable in the rear channels. The score is as majestic and powerful as you'd want it to be and nicely spread across the sound stage and there aren't any problems with hiss or distortion to note. The Fellowship Of The Ring sounds great on Blu-ray.
All of the extras are included on a second disc, which is a standard definition DVD. First up is a fourteen minute On Set featurette that was shown on the Starz Encore Channel that looks at the creation of the follow up film, how it adapts the source, and how and why certain locations were chosen. More interesting is the forty-two minute featurette, Return To Middle Earth, that gives us a pretty good look at what it was like literally living life on the set in New Zealand for so long while this project was underway. There's the more standard stuff like interviews and effects shots and what not, but it's the 'slice of life' bits that make this worth watching.
Also included on this disc is a goofy seven minute short called The Long And Short Of It that the cast and crew made while living on the set. It's not LOTR related at all but it's amusing enough and it comes with its own seven minute making of documentary.
Rounding out the extras for this film are six television spots, a music video, a promo for The Return Of The King, a collection of Lord Of The Rings web promos, and a preview for the extended edition of the film.
While more extras seemed like a no-brainer and a better transfer sure would have made a lot of people very happy, this is still a pretty solid release of the theatrical cut of the best part of the trilogy. The Two Towers is exciting, beautiful, moving and frequently very intense and while the Lord Of The Rings Trilogy boxed set is already out there for those who want all three films, if you've got a specific need to own just the theatrical cut of the second picture, then you can consider this disc recommended.
Ian lives in NYC with his wife where he writes for DVD Talk, runs Rock! Shock! Pop!. He likes NYC a lot, even if it is expensive and loud.