The Lord of the Rings: The Two Towers appears in an aspect ratio of approximately 2.35:1 on this single-sided, dual-layered DVD; the image has been enhanced for 16X9 televisions. New Line know better than to mess up their bread and butter, and the excellent picture of Towers fell in line with those high expectations.
Sharpness looked terrific. At no time did I discern any instances of softness or ill-defined shots. Instead, the movie consistently came across as nicely accurate and concise. I saw no issues connected to jagged edges or shimmering, and I also detected no signs of edge enhancement. The movie lacked any examples of print flaws. I witnessed no specks, marks, or other defects during this clean and smooth presentation.
Fellowship gave us a pretty restricted palette, and the darker atmosphere of Towers meant its hues were even more subdued. The first flick featured some settings with warm tones such as the shire or the elf lands, but Towers seemed much cooler overall. Even the greenery of the Ent locales looked a bit pale. I didn’t regard this as a problem, though, since the DVD clearly replicated the movie’s intended palette. The colors were appropriately vivid when necessary and seemed accurately depicted.
Black levels also came across well. Dark shots demonstrated good depth and clarity. Low-light shots were nicely displayed and seemed clear and adequately visible. Shadow was clean and tight. Given the darkness of so much of the film, those components became especially important, so their high quality was an important factor in the success of the transfer. Overall, the image of The Two Towers appeared very strong.
I also found much to like about the Dolby Digital EX 5.1 soundtrack of The Two Towers. It featured the same strengths of the audio for Fellowship but lacked that mix’s moderate weakness. Fellowship suffered from rather overcooked bass response. Low-end elements blasted off the charts and became something of a distraction. Happily, that didn’t occur for Towers, which presented very good bass. The low-end remained tight and rich and never presented the boomy quality that marred the prior track.
The rest of the Fellowship mix seemed excellent, and Towers replicated that success. The soundfield appeared very active and involving. All five channels presented lots of material that kept the viewer at the center of a realistic and immersive world. Elements seemed appropriately placed and they blended together well. Flying creatures soared from location to location accurately, and other pieces popped up in their proper places too. The whole thing meshed together quite nicely, and the piece worked swimmingly. Not surprisingly, battle sequences were the most impressive, but the entire package seemed strong.
Audio quality equaled the positive nature of the soundfield. Speech was natural and distinctive, and I detected no issues connected to intelligibility or edginess. Music sounded bright and vibrant, as the score presented rich and full tones. Effects came across as accurate and concise. No problems with distortion appeared, and these elements were clean and broad. As already noted, bass response seemed excellent. I found much to like in the terrific soundtrack of The Two Towers.
A little less than four months after this initial DVD release of The Two Towers, New Line will produce a super-special edition that packs hours and hours of extras. Because of that, this two-disc set seems destined to become regarded as the “bare bones” version. It’s not without some good extras, though it seems somewhat less packed than the two-DVD edition of Fellowship.
We open with On the Set The Lord of the Rings: The Two Towers Starz Encore Special. It runs 14 minutes and offers the typical mix of movie clips, behind the scenes materials, and interviews. We get remarks from director Peter Jackson plus actors Christopher Lee, Elijah Wood, Ian McKellen, Jonathan Rhys-Davies, Billy Boyd, Dominic Monaghan, Sean Astin, Andy Serkis, Viggo Mortensen, Orlando Bloom, Karl Urban, Bernard Hill, Brad Dourif, Miranda Otto, Liv Tyler and Hugo Weaving. We learn a smidgen about some filmmaking issues like bringing Gollum and Treebeard to life, but mostly we just hear a recap of the story. “On the Set” is just your typical promotional featurette and seems totally skippable.
A more extensive program comes next. The Return to Middle-earth WB special lasts 42 minutes and 54 seconds and uses a format similar to that of the prior show. We get interview snippets with Jackson, visual effects supervisor Richard Taylor, supervising art directors Dan and Chris Hennah, cinematographer Andrew Lesnie, and actors Wood, Bloom, Otto, Tyler, Astin, Boyd, Monaghan, Mortensen, McKellen, and Serkis.
Though longer and richer than “Set”, “Return” remains promotional in nature. Make no mistake – it exists to convince us to go see Towers. Despite that orientation, it seems fairly entertaining. We don’t get a great overall look at the production, but the images from the set offer some good material, and we find a few nice glimpses of how things were done. Short pieces elucidate upon topics like sets and locations, actor training, and various extracurricular activities during the shoot. You’ll find limited amounts of real “making of” information, but it’s a breezy and interesting show overall.
Created on the set by actor Sean Astin, a short film called The Long and Short of It pops up next. It begins with a 73-second intro from Astin; the flick itself fills five minutes, 51 seconds on its own. Created with Rings stand-ins and crew – including a quick cameo from Peter Jackson - the dialogue-free movie tells the tale of a short woman and a tall man who help an average-sized dude hang a wall advertisement. It’s cute but not really very entertaining.
If you enjoyed the prior offering, check out The Making of The Long and Short of It. This eight-minute and seven-second shows us what cast and crewmembers did what jobs on Short. We also learn about the project’s genesis and see the antics on the set. It’s a somewhat tongue-in-cheek and fairly entertaining little piece.
In the section called Lordoftherings.net Featurettes, we get eight of these pieces. They run between two minutes, 49 seconds and four minutes, 41 seconds for a total of 33 minutes, 39 seconds of material. I liked the Lordoftherings.net featurettes on the old Fellowship DVD, but these seemed a bit less compelling. They focused on the flick’s villains, the creation of its audio, theRohan capital Edoras, various creatures of Middle-earth, Gandalf the White, arms and armor, the Battle of Helm’s Deep, and Gollum. In addition to movie clips and material from the set, we hear comments from Jackson, actors Wood, Astin, McKellen, Brad Dourif, Lee, Hill, Urban, Mortensen, Rhys-Davies, Otto, Monaghan, Boyd, Serkis, visual effects supervisor Richard Taylor, supervising sound editor/co-sound designer Ethan Van Der Ryn, producer Barrie Osborne, supervising art director Hennah, conceptual artists Alan Lee and John Howe, digital model supervisor Matt Aitken, director of animation Randy Cook, visual effects supervisor Joe Letteri, creature supervisor Eric Saindon, executive producer Mark Ordesky, stuntman Sala Baker, creature facial lead animator Bay Raitt, and co-producer Rick Porras.
A few of the featurettes seem pretty good. The one about the Middle-earth creatures offers some nice design information, and the Gollum piece elaborates on that topic well. I especially like the latter’s depiction of “before and after” shots with actor Serkis. Unfortunately, many of the featurettes come across as little more than promotional items. They tell us only a little about the making of the movie and they include too many movie snippets. The Gandalf segment was the weakest in that regard. Some good material does appear here, but overall the featurettes seem somewhat lackluster.
Remaining in the promotional vein, we get both the film’s teaser and its theatrical trailer. We also locate a whopping 16 TV Spots plus a music video for Emiliana Torrini’s “Gollum’s Song”. The latter mixes the tune with a montage of clips from the movie and some shots of the singer as she records her vocal – yawn!
Towers fans may hate the Special Extended DVD Edition Preview, since it may make their wait for that package seem even longer. Actually, I doubt the five-minute and 14-second piece will frustrate too many. Like its predecessor on the two-disc Fellowship DVD, it quickly discusses the additions to the film and the package’s supplements, so it’s a nice appetizer but nothing terribly compelling.
Even more enticing for fans is the Behind the Scenes Preview of The Lord of the Rings: The Return of the King. Scheduled to come out in mid-December 2003, this 12-minute and 33-second program mixes snippets from that film with some interviews and a few behind the scenes images. We get notes from director Jackson, producer Osborne, writer Boyens, executive producer Mark Ordesky, conceptual designer/set decorator Alan Lee, previsualization supervisor Christian Rivers, actors Mortensen, Boyd, Monaghan, Astin, Wood, Urban and Hill. It focuses on the new movie’s general thrust and some of the work done to make it. The program sets the stage acceptably well, though it mostly concentrates on filmmaking issues.
Yet another promotional preview touts the Return of the King Video Game. In this 181-second clip, we see some images from the product and learn a little about its making. Don’t expect much more than an attempt to sell it to you, though.
Lastly, Towers features some DVD-ROM materials. We find two different weblinks. One goes to the official movie website at Lordoftherings.net, while the other provides “exclusive online content”. As I checked this out five days before Towers hits the street, the link didn’t work.
One very nice element of the DVD’s extras: most of them include English and Spanish subtitles. Only a couple of studios consistently add text to the supplements, so it’s good to see this here. I think subtitles for extras should be the rule, not the exception.
While not quite as terrific as its predecessor, The Lord of the Rings: The Two Towers provides a solid flick on its own. It seems likely to gain in stature when the trilogy ends, but it still works quite nicely in the meantime. The DVD offers excellent picture and audio and includes in a fairly superficial but moderately useful roster of extras. I definitely recommend The Two Towers, though I do so with the caveat that you really need to see The Fellowship of the Ring first.
Note: as I mentioned earlier, New Line will produce a much more elaborate DVD package of Towers about three months after the release of this two-disc set. That version will include a substantially longer cut of the film as well as tons of extras not found here. Based on my experiences with the four-disc Fellowship, none of this package’s supplements will also appear on the “deluxe” set. This two-DVD release will remain the only way to see the original theatrical version of the film.