The Lord of the Rings: The Two Towers appears in an aspect ratio of approximately 2.35:1 on these single-sided, dual-layered DVDs; the image has been enhanced for 16X9 televisions. I anticipated a fine visual presentation, and this transfer of Towers more than lived up to my 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.
The extended edition of Towers integrated the new 44 minutes of scenes neatly, and I never noticed any disruptive or awkward edits. The visuals appeared consistently positive for those segments, so I didn’t detect any decrease in quality. The elements flowed smoothly and concisely.
If you compare my comments above to those of my review for the theatrical cut of The Two Towers, you’ll note that they’re identical. Given that fact, why did I increase my grade from an “A” for the two-disc version up to an “A+” for the extended edition? Because it seemed too flawless for me not to give it that mark.
I almost never award “A+” ratings for live-action flicks, but the extended version of Towers looked so amazing that I felt it earned the ultimate honor. The special edition accorded extra bitspace for the transfer, and that seemed to make a difference. This set presented the movie in a fantastic way that appeared exceedingly smooth and dynamic. While the original DVD looked great, this one came across as just a little tighter and transparent. I saw no moments that gave me even the slightest hint of concern, so I thought Towers deserved an “A+” for its fantastic transfer.
Though they didn’t quite merit the highest honors, I also felt very pleased with the Dolby Digital EX 5.1 and DTS ES 6.1 soundtracks of The Two Towers. The tracks featured the same strengths of the audio for Fellowship but lacked that mix’s moderate weaknesses. 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.
Across the board, I found the two soundtracks to seem identical. I flipped back and forth between the pair and noticed no differences at all. Often I detect some improvement in transparency or bass response for the DTS mix, but that didn’t happen here. Instead, the two tracks came across as exceedingly similar.
For this four-DVD release of The Two Towers, we find tons of extras. On the first two discs, we locate a whopping four audio commentaries. Called The Director and Writers, the first logically comes from director/co-writer/producer Peter Jackson, co-writer/producer Fran Walsh, and co-writer Philippa Boyens, all of whom sat together for this running, screen-specific affair. And a good one it is, as the participants offer a light and lively discussion of the film. They cover a terrific variety of topics. We learn about the additions made for the extended edition of the film as well as working with the cast, changes from the Tolkien book, effects, location and set challenges, plus many other areas. Jackson dominates but both women offer some good notes as well, and they cumulatively prove to be very chatty. The women even occasionally gang up on Jackson to make fun of him, such as when he facetiously discusses doing more reshoots to make an even longer version of Rings. Jackson also tosses out other funny remarks like his ideas for spin-off TV shows. Despite the very long running time of the feature, almost no empty spots appear during this entertaining and compelling piece. They offer a strong discussion in this concise and involving commentary – it’s the best of the DVD’s four.
Next we find a Design Team track that includes remarks from production designer Grant Major, Weta Workshop creative supervisor Richard Taylor, conceptual designer/set decorator Alan Lee, conceptual designer John Howe, supervising art director/set decorator Dan Hennah, art department manager Chris Hennah, and Weta Workshop manager Tania Rodger. Though some of the participants seemed to sit solo for the track, most appeared to be clustered into logical groups. If you listen to this track, you’ll learn about all things visual in regard to Towers. The program covers props, sets, costumes, makeup and pretty much everything else under that falls under that umbrella. We find out about design and execution of these elements.
Though this might seem dry, the commentary actually comes across as nicely lively and engaging. The pace moves quickly and provides lots of cool details about the material, with many fun anecdotes along the way. I liked the fact it offered so many notes about the visual design rather than simply “nuts and bolts” issues. For example, we learn about the stylistic concerns related to the computer created characters but we don’t hear about the technical areas; that’ll follow in the next commentary. Many tracks of this sort can drag due to excessive jargon and procedural matters, but this one goes by briskly since it avoids those traps. It offers a great look at the ways the crew brought Middle-earth to life, and it manages to provide a fun and entertaining glimpse at the design issues. It’s my least favorite of the four, but that’s not really a negative since the other three are so good. “Design Team” remains informative and useful.
For the third commentary, we find a discussion from the Production/Post-Production Team. This program includes remarks from producer Barrie Osborne, executive producer Mark Ordesky, director of photography Andrew Lesnie, editor Mike Horton, additional editor Jabez Olssen, co-producer Rick Porras, composer Howard Shore, visual effects supervisors Jim Rygiel and Joe Letteri, supervising sound editor Ethan Van der Ryn, supervising sound editor Mike Hopkins, Weta animation designer and supervisor Randy Cook, previsualization supervisor Christian Rivers, visual effects DP Brian Van’t Hul, and visual effects DP Alex Funke. Many of these folks obviously sat together, and it appeared they sometimes clustered in logical teams. The results then were edited together to make this track.
For Fellowship, I thought the production/post-production commentary was the least interesting of the four, but here it arguably stands as the second best of the bunch. It covers a mix of issues not discussed elsewhere. We hear a little about lighting and other photographic issues, sound effects, computer and other visual material, the score, editorial decisions, and a few additional subjects. Lots of great anecdotes and notes from the set appear. As always, the pace remains brisk and lively, and the commentary includes virtually no dead space. Overall, this commentary adds a lot to one’s knowledge of Towers.
Lastly, we find a Cast commentary that provides material from actors Elijah Wood, Sean Astin, John Rhys-Davies, Billy Boyd, Dominic Monaghan, Orlando Bloom, Christopher Lee, Sean Bean, Bernard Hill, Miranda Otto, David Wenham, Brad Dourif, Karl Urban, John Noble, Craig Parker, and Andy Serkis. Logically, the trio of Wood, Astin and Serkis sat together, as did the pair of Boyd and Monaghan, but it appeared that the others were taped separately.
Expect a lot of information from the actors’ point of view as well as many entertaining anecdotes here. Initially I felt disappointed that a few main performers Ian McKellen and Liv Tyler failed to reappear here, but to my surprise, this track seemed more useful than the equivalent for Fellowship. Both suffer from too much happy talk, as we hear an awful lot of praise splattered around during this discussion.
Despite those elements, the track includes a great deal of interesting material. In addition to many notes from the set, we find a lot of intriguing character examinations. The piece offers a great take on the production as well as interpretation and other elements. It seems less rollicking than the Fellowship commentary, mostly because this one splits the hobbits. All four sat together for the 2001 flick, whereas the break up here. Monaghan and Boyd still give us most of this one’s funny moments, as they exhibit a nice chemistry together. Ultimately, the commentary proves to be informative and enjoyable.
With the end of the fourth commentary, we essentially finish with the first two DVDs, but I want to make one remark before I progress. I don’t skim through portions of DVDs when I review them, which meant I needed to sit through all 14 hours of commentaries to write this article. I can’t say I looked forward to that task, simply because it would be so incredibly time consuming. However, these tracks all seemed so good that I didn’t mind the time at all.
Admittedly, I love audio commentaries, but the prospect of 14 hours worth of Towers data sounded wearying. Pleasantly, the tracks went by quickly and I enjoyed the entire process. This DVD set of Towers didn’t just pack in four commentaries to brag about the number of extras. Each one seems compelling and entertaining in its own right. Clearly a lot of care and thought went into the creation of the various tracks, which helped make this package all the more useful.
One cool aspect of the commentaries: on-screen text identifies each speaker every time a new one appears. This means that the Towers tracks lack the constant voice-overs otherwise necessary to remind us of the different participants. This makes it easier to follow the commentary and seems like a thoughtful addition, especially during the tracks with many different members.
Disc One includes an Easter egg. On DVD One, go to the final page of the “Select a Scene” area and highlight the final chapter, “Of Herbs and Rabbit Stew”. Click down from there and you’ll see a ring. Hit “enter” and you’ll get a two-minute, 48-second clip from the MTV Movie Awards in which Andy Serkis and Gollum accept a prize. It’s fairly amusing.
Continue to Discs 3 & 4