Saturday, 7 March 2009

DVD Review - Lord of the Rings: The Two Towers (2-Disc Extended Edition)

The Two Towers follows the story started in Fellowship of the Ring, where a party of nine set out from Rivendell to take a ring of power back to the fires where it was forged to destroy it. Its owner is now seeking that ring, and if it gets it, the whole of Middle Earth is doomed. So that party set out, made up of representatives of all the free races of Middle Earth - Hobbits, Men, Elves, and Dwarves, guided by a Wizard. Without going into too much detail, at the end of Fellowship of the Ring, the party of nine becomes divided, with two members lost and two captured.

The Two Towers then is initially split into three narratives - the captured Hobbits, the three pursuing their captors, and the two Hobbits still trying to get the ring to Mount Doom. They get the feeling that they are being watched, however - soon they will meet one of the strangest creatures alive on Middle Earth.

(Incidentally, if you haven't seen the films or read the books and are wondering what a Hobbit actually is, think of a humanoid who is very short and stocky, and eats about twelve meals a day. Big meals, that is.)

Even though this is the second in the trilogy and thus by default leaves unanswered questions and unfulfilled plot elements, The Two Towers is very much a complete film in itself. To my mind it's clearly the best of the three, an d in fact my favourite film to be released in 2002. The cast are superb, the story tremendous, and the special effects are fantastic. The battle scene at Helms Deep particularly combines action, drama, and a little humour superbly. Even the one or two changes to the storyline of Prof Tolkein's book (The Two Towers is Book 2 of Lord of the Rings) are sympathetic to the spirit of the books, and I thought they were rather clever (unlike some of the changes in the last film, Return of the King). Overall, a superb cinematic experience that transfers well to this wide-screen DVD transfer. The musical score is pretty much perfect (I was surprised to find that much of it was Wagner, I hadn't recognised it) and the runtime of 172 minutes doesn't feel a second too long. (The film here is the extended edition, though it's not easy to tell which scenes were cut from the original edit!)

Without further revealing the plot, here are some of the characters:

Aragorn (Viggo Mortensen) - he is a man of great honour and even greater destiny. However he is beset by feelings of doubt, especially as things seem to have gone all wrong since he assumed command of the group. A true warrior but would seek to avoid battle if there was a better alternative.

Frodo Baggins (Elijah Wood) - the hobbit who inherited the Ring, whose task it is to take the ring to Mount Doom. He is stout of heart and even volunteered for the job, much to everyone's amazement, but that doesn't mean he's not afraid. Also the ring begins to exert an influence over those who bear it, and it's beginning to show…Samwise Gamgee (Sean Astin) - another hobbit, Frodo's gardener no less. A staunch ally and friend, whose heart is truer than a true thing that's just been awarded a diploma in trueness.

Legolas Greenleaf (Orlando Bloom) - an elf from far away, and forming a very unlikely friendship with the dwarf in the party. Eagle eyed and a sure shot with the bow, he occasionally exhibits some of the uncanny Elvish abilities. Gimli (John Rhys-Davies) - a gruff young dwarf who's pretty handy with an axe. Likes collecting orcs' heads. (Well you've got to have a hobby!…) Even more surprised than the elf about their growing friendship.

Gollum (Andy Serkis) - using an at-the-time revolutionary CGI technique, Serkis' movements were remapped into the Gollum character so that the movements looked completely realistic. Our Andy also came up with the rasping voice himself. This creature has been corrupted by the ring yet there is a shadow of his former self, a good creature, in there somewhere. One scene where his split personalities are verbally battling is a fascinating microcosm of the larger battle between good and evil taking place in the whole of Middle Earth.

Sauron - well he's only a disembodied eye at the moment (a HUGE disembodied eye, but a disembodied eye nonetheless) with no physical form, but this guy is so evil that he doesn't let it stop his plans for world domination. Constantly probing for and calling to the Ring, as he knows that capturing it would not only enable him to take a physical form once more, but make him utterly unstoppable. And there's the difficulty with taking it to Mount Doom - that's his home turf, and as they get nearer he can sense it, and the ring can sense him - and will try to do anything to go back to him.

Of course there are many more characters but that just gives you a brief idea of things. It's an epic story in every way, full of old alliances, betrayals, heroes, heroines, prophecies, and the like. The land of Middle Earth is superbly visualised by Peter Jackson (Director) and the scenery in New Zealand is perfect for the job. Tolkein's disgust at lack of respect and appreciation for nature and the uncaring power of industrialisation comes across powerfully in the scenes at Isengard, where a whole new war machine (including a new species!) is being assembled - at the expense of the nearby forest. (There's more to those trees than first meets the eyes though…) The whole cast are superb, I guess if I really had to say whose performances stood out I'd have to go for Viggo Mortensen, Sean Astin, and Gollum; really though it's as close to a perfect cast as you're likely to get. Bernard Hill, Ian McKellan, Christiopher Lee and Liv Tyler are among the acting talent that I've not already mentioned, while Billy Boyd and Domiic Monaghen provide comic relief in the roles of Merry and Pippin, the.two captured hobbits.
The film can be a bit gruesome or intense in places, which is why the film (and this DVD set) has a 12 rating. Only real die-hard unshakable fans of the book found any fault in the little details that differed or seemed out of place, such as Legolas using a shield to skateboard down the battlements at Helm's Deep. To me, such things just added a little colour and humour to relive the tension slightly at key moments.

This is a 2 disc set, with the first disc containing the widescreen version of the film in Dolby Digital EX 5.1 Surround Sound / Stereo Surround Sound, and has English subtitles.

Disc 2 contains all the special features, including a making of documentary (which is actually pretty interesting for a change) and a feature on Middle Earth itself. The pitfalls of movie-making are seen here - not something I'd really thought about, but in the scene where Sam wades into the stream after Frodo, Sean Astin's foot found what the Area Sweepers hadn't - a long length of glass. Fortunately he was rushed to hospital without serious injury, but it does make you realise that perhaps actors have a tougher time of things than we viewers often imagine,

Perhaps most interestingly of all in the extras, because it's more unusual, is a short film directed by Sean Astin. Apparently he'd always wanted to make a film, and while on the set asked Peter Jackson if all the cameras used in filming Lord of the Rings were in use all the time, and if not could he borrow one. The answer was no and yes, so one weekend Astin made his film. What's nice about it is that many of the cast and crew helped him in some way, mostly with actors becoming producers / cameramen etc and vice-versa with the crew. The film itself is similar to the old black and white silent shorts you got many years ago, only this one's in colour. It's only a few minute and is nothing spectacular, but it's interesting to see the end results. More entertaining is the making of featurette, which includes Peter Jackson driving the bus for about 2 seconds of screen time and Andy Serkis charting his rise and fall as an Assistant Producer and then Boom Holder - or something like that.

There are also a large number of other features looking at the people and places of Middle Earth, and how they were visualised for the film. Miranda Otto (Eowyn) regrets not having a chance to snog Viggo Mortensen. The make-up used to create the hideous orcs is seen Villages are built before your very eyes. It's all interesting stuff if you have any interest at all in Middle Earth. One of the most fascinating of these features is "Bringing Gollum to Life", where the technique used to convert Andy Serkis' movements to the CGI Gollum is explained, and you see some before and after shots of him / Gollum. The Battle of Helm's Deep feature was also interesting, and I still don't understand why people say it's less impressive than the battle for Minas Tirith in the third film (okay that was BIGGER, but not as dramatic).

There is also a 10-minute behind the scenes look at "The Return of the King", which was quite good despite the fact that I'd seen the film before the preview! There is a music video in the form of "Gollum's Song" by Emiliana Torrini - well it was okay - and a preview of the official video game of Return of the King, and an Inside Look at this special edition DVD. English subtitles are available for all of these.


If you're at all interested in Lord of the Rings and don't already have all three, the 2-disc extended DVD pack is well worth investing in.

1 comment:

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