lord of the rings: the two towers
I have now sat through "Lord of the Rings: Fellowship of the
Rings" several times, including a few viewings of the film's
extended edition, which was released on DVD earlier this Winter.
When I originally saw the film theatrically, I liked it, but didn't
love it and found it rather flawed - the first hour seemed too slow
and I never really found myself fully involved in the characters.
However, I warmed up to the film after its first DVD release and
consider the extended version to be a very considerable improvement
over the theatrical cut.
I'm pleased to say that I found "The Two Towers", the
follow-up to the first picture, to be mostly a phenomenal piece
of cinema (once again, I have not read the books - I'm going simply
on what I thought of the film). The film may be the middle part
of the trilogy, but that actually works for the opening of the
picture - we know these characters and after the sudden close
of the first film, most will likely be eager to see the adventure
continue on-screen. The opening sixty minutes of the picture opens
at a full-throttle pace as Aragorn (Viggo Mortensen), Legolas
the elf (Orlando Bloom), and Gimli the dwarf (John Rhys-Davies)
continue to try and rescue hobbits Merry (Dominic Monaghan) and
Pippin (Billy Boyd) from their Orc captors. Elsewhere, Frodo (Elijah
Wood) and Sam (Sean Astin) continue their journey to destroy the
ring, guided by Gollum (Andy Serkis), a CGI-creature who is obsessed
with the ring, but decides to serve as the guide for the two hobbits.
There is also the return of Gandalf (Ian McKellen).
The film does split the story into a few pieces, although it's
a credit to director Peter Jackson and the film's editors that
the film cuts between the stories perfectly, with not too much
time spent on one or another. This film focuses on Aragorn's character
considerably more than anyone else, but that's not a bad thing:
Viggo Mortensen is a terrific actor and the progression of this
character is the most engaging part of this picture. Still, Frodo's
quest is compelling material and even Merry and Pippin's ending
up on the shoulders of a giant tree creature, Tree Beard (voiced
by John Rhys-Davies) is enjoyable - a good mix of comedy and drama.
While Gollum's tragic battle with his own soul is often very well-played,
there is one darkly funny sequence with the creature battling
himself that is quite amusing. The human actors also all provide
uniformly stellar performances, with even some of the performances
that have less screen-time (Liv Tyler's Arwen) remaining memorable.
All of this eventually builds towards the battle of Helm's Deep,
a giant stone fortress that Aragorn, Pippin, Gimli, king Theoden
(Bernard Hill) and an army of a few hundred men have retreated
to. Sauruman (Christopher Lee)'s armies are sweeping across the
lands, however, and its only a matter of time before they reach
the gates. When they do - the film's last 20-25 minutes - it's
something truly breathtaking. Facing impossible odds, the band
of a few hundred looks out to face nearly 10,000.
The film does have a bit of a slow point around the middle, but
both the opening and closing of the film proceed with more forward
momentum than the first picture did in general. "The Two
Towers" story, split into several sections, also feels larger
than the first film - there's more going on, there feels like
even more at stake and the urgency and emotion that Jackson is
able to give many events in the film is remarkable.
Technically, the film is also remarkable. Peter Jackson and team,
whose careful use of CGI mixed with astonishingly beautiful real
locations only enhances the film, shows how computer effects should
be used, unlike the latest "Star Wars" pictures, where
the effects overwhelm everything else. Gollum, for example, is
a far better character - in animation, voicing, writing, emotion
and movement - than Lucas's horrid Jar-Jar Binks. Andrew Lesnie's
cinematography once again makes the New Zeland locations look
breathtakingly beautiful and epic. Howard Shore's score adds drama,
tension and excitement without calling too much attention to itself.
Production design is, once again, first-rate.
"The Two Towers" is not a flawless picture, but it
is grand, epic filmmaking unlike anything I've seen in recent
years. The continuing story of these great characters continues
to be compelling, the realization of this world by Peter Jackson
and crew is visually stunning and many scenes here are powerful
and incredibly memorable - especially the Helm's Deep sequence,
which is more amazing than anything I've seen on the big screen
in recent memory.
EXTRAS: As with the first film, the release strategy for "The
Two Towers" will be similar. This release includes a fair
amount of promotional supplements and the theatrical cut of the
picture. On November 18th, an extended edition DVD set for "The
Two Towers" will be released that will include additional
footage edited into the picture itself, as well as 2 additional
discs worth of supplemental features. The extended edition of
the first film was quite remarkable and still stands as the finest
DVD set I've seen; hopefully the set for "The Two Towers"
will reach that standard.
Although it's not the first supplement on the second disc of
this set, it's worth noting, given the above, that there is a
6-minute trailer for the extended edition set that gives viewers
a glimpse of the footage and supplements.
The main supplements included in this set are two "TV"
promotional docs - one that's a short "Starz" piece,
the other a longer, 42-minute look at the making of the picture
that originally aired on the WB. Certainly, the WB special is
a more complete look at the production, although there are some
aspects (discussion of story, etc.) of it that will be a redo
for those who have just sat through the film.
Moving on, there's the "Long and Short of it", a 5-minute
short film directed by "Lord of the Rings" star Sean
Astin. It's an enjoyable short that was made during some (of what
was likely rare) downtime during the production. There's also
a short "making of" documentary that accompanies the
Next up are several short featurettes that were originally on
the web: "Forces of Darkness", "Designing the Sounds
of Middle-Earth", "Edoras: The Rohan Captial",
"Creatures of Middle Earth", "Gandalf The White",
"Arms and Armor", "The Battle of Helm's Deep"
and "Bringing Gollum to Life".
Finally, there are both the teaser and theatrical trailers, as
well as 16 TV spots, a preview for the "Return of the King"
video game and a music video.
Last, but certainly not least, viewers are presented with a 12-minute
featurette that gives a preview (including footage) of the last
film in the trilogy, "Return of the King", which will
be released this December.
"The Two Towers" is a masterful epic, with strong drama,
immense action and breathtaking visuals. Although the 4-DVD set
in November is going to be fantastic, this 2-DVD set is certainly
a fine release for those who can't wait. Highly recommended.