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MOVIE INFO

Director:
Peter Jackson
Cast:
Elijah Wood, Ian McKellen, Viggo Mortensen, Liv Tyler, Sean Astin, Cate Blanchett, Orlando Bloom, Christopher Lee, John Rhys-Davies
Writing Credits:
J.R.R. Tolkien (novel), Frances Walsh, Philippa Boyens, Stephen Sinclair, Peter Jackson

Tagline:
The Battle for Middle-Earth Begins!

Synopsis:
The Fellowship has broken, but the quest to destroy the One Ring continues. Frodo and Sam must entrust their lives to Gollum if they are to find their way to Mordor. As Saruman's army approaches, the surviving members of the Fellowhip, along with people and creatures from Middle-Earth, prepare for battle. The War of the Ring has begun.

Box Office:
Budget $94 million.
Opening Weekend
$62.007 million on 3622 screens.
Domestic Gross
$339.734 million.

MPAA:
Rated PG-13

DVD DETAILS
Presentation:
Widescreen 2.35:1/16x9
Audio:
English Dolby Digital EX 5.1
English DTS 6.1 ES
English Dolby Surround 2.0
Subtitles:
English
Spanish
Closed-captioned

Runtime: 235 min.
Price: $39.99
Release Date: 11/18/2003

Bonus:
Discs One & Two
• Audio Commentary with co-writer/co-producer/director Peter Jackson, co-writer/co-producer Fran Walsh, and co-writer Philippa Boyens
• Audio Commentary with 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
• Audio Commentary with 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
• Audio Commentary with 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
Disc Three
• Introduction from Peter Jackson
• “JRR Tolkien: Origins of Middle-earth” Documentary
• “From Book to Script: Finding the Story” Documentary
• “Designing Middle-earth” Documentary
• “Weta Workshop” Documentary
• “The Taming of Smeagol” Documentary
• Andy Serkis Animation Reference
• Gollum’s “Stand-In”
• Middle-earth Atlas
• New Zealand as Middle-earth
• “The Peoples of Middle-earth” Galleries
• “The Realms of Middle-earth” Galleries
Disc Four
• Introduction from Elijah Wood
• “Warriors of the Third Age” Documentary
• “Cameras In Middle-earth” Documentary
• “Big-atures”  Documentary
• “Weta Digital” Documentary
• “Editorial: Refining the Story” Documentary
• “Music for Middle-earth” Documentary
• “The Soundscapes of Middle-earth” Documentary
• “’The Battle For Helm’s Deep Is Over’” Documentary
• “The Flooding of Isengard” Animatic
• Abandoned Concepts
• Production Photos
• Miniatures Gallery
• Sound Demonstration: “Helm’s Deep”


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RELATED REVIEWS


The Lord of the Rings: The Two Towers - Platinum Series Extended Edition (2002)

Reviewed by Colin Jacobson (November 17, 2003)

After all that we finally move to DVDs Three and Four, where boohoogles of additional extras reside. Disc three starts with a 108-second Introduction from director Peter Jackson. He alludes to the difficulties encountered in making the flick. Jackson then gives us a quick overview of what to expect from these platters and also provides tips for navigation of them.

Entitled “The Journey Continues”, DVD Three initially splits into six subdomains. J.R.R. Tolkien – Origins of Middle-earth offers a 29-minute and 29-second program that mixes short movie images, archival pieces, and interviews with Peter Jackson, co-writer Philippa Boyens, conceptual designer John Howe, The Lord of the Rings: The Making of the Movie Trilogy author Brian Sibley, Tolkien and CS Lewis author Colin Duriez, Tolkien’s publisher Rayner Unwin, JRR Tolkien: Author of the Century author Tom Shippey, The Visual Companions author Jude Fisher, Tolkien language translator David Salo, Defending Middle-earth: Tolkien, Myth and Modernity author Dr. Patrick Curry, and actors Christopher Lee, John Rhys-Davies, Dominic Monaghan, Sean Astin and Viggo Mortensen.

This program covers Tolkien’s friendship with CS Lewis and its impact on his work, the effect of his World War I experiences on writing, the process of writing the story, the awkwardness of his story-telling methods, the decision to split the story into three volumes and their titles, some interpretation of characters and elements, and a number of other bits that affected the tale. Lots of good material about the genesis of Rings pops up here, and “Origins” provides an entertaining and highly informative glance at the subject.

The 20-minute and 56-second From Book to Script: Finding the Story gives us some shots from the set, movie clips, and interviews with Peter Jackson, executive producer Mark Ordesky, co-writer Philippa Boyens, producer Barrie Osborne, co-producer Rick Porras, and actors Viggo Mortensen, David Wenham, Liv Tyler, and Elijah Wood. They go through the challenges involved in telling the second part of a trilogy and delve into many of the changes made from the original text. Of particular interest to fans will be the discussion of the unused thread of Arwen at Helm’s Deep; we see some shots from the set as the participants discuss what happened with that. Overall, “Story” gives us a solid examination of the adaptation process.

Three smaller segments make up the content of Designing and Building Middle-earth. “Designing Middle-earth” lasts 45 minutes and 42 seconds and uses the standard format with movie clips, behind the scenes footage, and interviews. We hear from Peter Jackson, actors Ian McKellen, Sean Astin, Elijah Wood, Miranda Otto, Viggo Mortensen, Billy Boyd, and Bernard Hill, conceptual designers Alan Lee and John Howe, art department manager Chris Hennah, supervising art director/set decorator Dan Hennah, production designer Grant Major, director of photography Andrew Lesnie, visual effects art director Jeremy Bennett, producer Barrie Osborne, construction supervisor Ed Mulholland, co-producer Rick Porras, miniature builder Roger Lewis, greensmaster Brian Massey, senior matte painter Roger Kupelian, head of matte painting Max Dennison, location administrator Matt Cooper, carpenter Geoff Goss, and stunt performers Sala Baker and Mana Davis.

This show covers many of the film’s visual elements. From early conceptual art to specifics of locations and sets and props, we get lots of information about these topics. After a general introduction and discussion of the ways the looks of Fellowship and Towers differ, we go through each of the movie’s sites in the order they appear. This becomes a satisfying way to explore the places and artifacts of the film, and “Designing” works nicely. It presents the material logically and with complexity, and we learn many cool tidbits, such as the problems with the construction of the gate to Helm’s Deep.

Another documentary appears via “Weta Workshop”. It runs 43 minutes and 47 seconds and examines that studio’s work on Fellowship. The documentary lasts 43 minutes and features interviews with Jackson, Weta Workshop creative supervisor Richard Taylor, conceptual designers John Howe and Alan Lee, Weta designer/sculptors Jamie Beswarick, Warren Mahy, Shaun Bolton, Ben Wootten and Daniel Falconer, Weta Workshop manager Tania Rodger, Weta sword smith Peter Lyon, Weta Workshop supervisor Jason Docherty, Weta on-set coordinator Jamie Wilson, previsualization supervisor Christian Rivers, prosthetics supervisor Gino Acevedo, and actors Karl Urban, Bernard Hill, Jed Brophy, John Rhys-Davies, Dominic Monaghan, Billy Boyd, Orlando Bloom and Brad Dourif.

“Workshop” looks at the design and construction of many Towers pieces and it also gets into the creatures, weapons, armor, and various other elements. “Workshop” features discussions of the building of the monsters, prosthetics, and additional practical pieces. At times we watch Richard Taylor as he walks through the different props and other things and tells us about them. This occurs less frequently here than during the companion piece on the Fellowship set, though. The emphasis remains on showing us the ins and outs of the various elements, and it tosses in more than a few fun anecdotes for good measure; the one in which Rhys-Davies plays a practical joke on Jackson stands out as a particularly good one. Overall, “Workshop” offers an entertaining and informative glance at the film’s many practical elements.

This area concludes with two sets of “Design Galleries”. This area splits into two smaller domains: “The Peoples of Middle-earth” and “The Realms of Middle-earth”. “Peoples” further divides into “The Enemy”, “Gandalf the White”, “Rohan”, “Third Age Elven Warriors”, “TreeBeard”, “Ents”, “Faramir”, and “Ithlien Rangers”. Unsurprisingly, many of these then break down into character-specific galleries, and with so many of them at hand, I won’t list them all. Within the “Peoples” section, we find galleries for 21 different characters or types. Each of these includes between eight and 130 images for an amazing total of 999 stills. The shots show concept drawings as well as costume tests and other photos.

In addition, 83 of the stills include optional commentary. An icon notes when this becomes available for certain shots, and we find statements from Christian Rivers, John Howe, Alan Lee, Paul Lasaine or Daniel Falconer. Their remarks provide some nice insight into the design of the various participants.

The other section of the “Galleries” features “The Realms of Middle-earth”. This divides into 12 smaller domains: “Emyn Muil”, “Dead Marshes”, “Rohan”, “Fangorn Forest”, “Ithlien”, “Henneth Annun”, “Osgiliath”, and “Isengard”. These areas provide between nine and 115 stills for a total of 517 individual images. Like the “Peoples” domain, these mix photos and concept art. We also get 54 more commentaries for various shots.

With the conclusion of all the galleries, we move to the Gollum domain. This launches with a documentary called “The Taming of Smeagol”. It fills 39 minutes and 33 seconds as we get the usual mix of elements and interviews. Here we hear from Rick Porras, Peter Jackson, Richard Taylor, Barrie Osborne, Ben Wootten, John Howe, Jamie Beswarick, Mark Ordesky, Weta senior animator Jason Schleifer, actor Andy Serkis, Christian Rivers, animation designer and supervisor Randy Cook, visual effects DP Brian Van’t Hul, Elijah Wood, Sean Astin, Weta creature facial lead Bay Raitt, Weta visual effects supervisor Joe Letteri, motion capture supervisor Remington Scott, visual effects supervisor Jim Rygiel, Weta systems architect Jon Labrie, visual effects producer Dean Wright, Philippa Boyens, Weta animation department head Adam Valdez, animation supervisor Richie Baneham, Warren Mahy, Weta 3D sequence lead Ken McGaugh, and Gino Acevedo.

Possibly the most interesting of DVD One’s documentaries, “Taming” gets into Gollum from start to finish. It begins with examinations of conceptual art related to the character as well as New Line’s doubts about the capabilities of the Weta digital artists and and then leads into Serkis’ casting in the role. We find out how his performance broadened the character and interacted with the others on the set and then discover how Serkis influenced the digital creation. We watch the animated Gollum come to life as well. A terrific amount of behind the scenes material fleshes out the subject and we really get a great understanding of the topic.

A cool split-screen piece appears via “Andy Serkis Animation Reference”. On the top, this 106-second clip shows Serkis as he performs the confrontation between Smeagol and Gollum; the bottom offers the final film footage. We get a great look at how the animators used Serkis’ work as the guideline for their interpretation.

For a humorous piece, we go to “Gollum’s ‘Stand-in’”. To set this up, we get a few remarks from Serkis, David Wenham, Elijah Wood, Sean Astin, producer Barrie Osborne, and co-producer Rick Porras. The three-minute and 19-second clip shows Porras in the “gimp suit” as he acts as Gollum stand-in for some second unit photography. It’s a fun bit.

The final component of the “Gollum” domain presents another “Design Gallery”. This includes 95 images related to the character. We see concept sketches, maquettes, and other materials in this interesting little section. In addition, 23 of the elements provide commentaries; we hear from Mahy, Wootten, Falconer, Rivers, and Beswarick.

With the Middle-earth Atlas, we can examine the “geographical context to the events that take place in The Two Towers”. It allows you to follow four different paths: Frodo and Sam, Merry and Pippin, Legolas, Aragorn and Gimli, or Gandalf. Essentially this means we wind out way through the map and see brief movie clips to illustrate each location. Frankly, the “Atlas” seems a bit lame. I’d prefer some greater depth of information about the different places instead of this abbreviated version of the film.

For specific location information, we move to New Zealand as Middle-earth. It leads us through the sites for Emyn Muil, the Dead Marshes, Rohan, Edoras, Ithlien, Fangorn Forest, and Helm’s Deep. You can examine these individually or use the “Play All” to see them as one 14-minute and 26-second program. It includes remarks from Barrie Osborne, Rick Porras, Andrew Lesnie, Peter Jackson, Mark Ordesky, Bernard Hill and Dan Hennah plus lots of video footage from these places. We see Jackson and crew as they scout the spots. “New Zealand” offers a quick and efficient glimpse of these locations, and the original video shots of them offer interesting contrasts with their appearances in the flick.

DVD Four receives the title “The Battle for Middle-earth Begins” and divides into six smaller sections after a 65-second Introduction from Elijah Wood; it serves the same purpose as Jackson’s opening on DVD Three. We begin with Filming The Two Towers, which then splits into three subdomains. “Warriors of the Third Age” runs 20 minutes and 57 seconds as it offers the standard combination of film snippets, behind the scenes footage, and interviews. We get remarks from Barrie Osborne, stunt coordinator George M. Ruge, Rick Porras, assistant swordmaster Kirk Maxwell, Sala Baker, Viggo Mortensen, cultural fighting styles Tony Woolf, mocap combat choreographer Carrie Thiel, Orlando Bloom, Peter Jackson, stunt performers Lani Jackson and Augie Davis, swordmaster Bob Anderson, actors Craig Parker and Sean Bean, Bernard Hill, Miranda Otto, Mana Davis, second unit director John Mahaffie, Richard Taylor, Elijah Wood and Billy Boyd.

“Warriors” mainly concentrates on the fight choreography and the battle sequences. We see preparation for those scenes and training of actors and stunt people. Some good shots from the set appear along with a few fun anecdotes, but “Warriors” seems like one of the DVD’s fluffier documentaries. While it includes a reasonable amount of useful material, it tosses in too much praise and happy talk. It still gives us nice information, but it feels less substantial than most of the other shows.

Though its title implies a fairly technical program, “Cameras in Middle-earth” really offers more of a production journal. The 68-minute and eight-second documentary goes through different realms as it conveys general details about the shoot. In addition to the scads of on-set footage, we get comments from Barrie Osborne, unit production manager Zane Weiner, Elijah Wood, Viggo Mortensen, Dominic Monaghan, Andrew Lesnie, John Rhys-Davies, Peter Jackson, Sean Astin, Billy Boyd, Sala Baker, Karl Urban, Orlando Bloom, Mark Ordesky, Bernard Hill, Miranda Otto, Andy Serkis, Richard Taylor, Brad Dourif, Carrie Thiel, John Mahaffie, Jed Brophy, Sean Bean, David Wenham, Rick Porras, Craig Parker, Lani Jackson, George M. Ruge, Philippa Boyens, and physical effects supervisor Steve Ingram.

“Cameras” remains mostly anecdotal in nature as it provides documentation of the shoot. We follow the production from location to location in the order they appear in the film. These elements show lots of behind the scenes material that aptly displays the various challenges and issues. The interviews tell us more nuances of the production and toss in some nice details such as various injuries, occasional tensions, and different challenges, boat training. “Cameras” remains engrossing and informative from start to finish.

This area finishes with a collection of “Production Photos”. We get a total of 58 shots here. Two of them come with some comments from Gino Acevedo. It’s a decent but unspectacular set.

When we move to the Visual Effects realm, we split into three subdomains. From there, “Miniatures” further divides into three smaller topics. “Big-atures” offers a 21-minute and 49-second documentary about the film’s small-scale sets and objects. It includes comments from Jackson, Richard Taylor, Alan Lee, John Howe, Rick Porras, Tania Rodger, Dan Hennah, Barrie Osborne, Philippa Boyens, Brian Massey, Brian Van’t Hul, Christian Rivers, Ed Mulholland, Steve Ingram, visual effects DP Alex Funke, armour weapons/standby John Harding, and Weta Workshop miniature builders Mary MacLachlan and John Baster. After a general discussion of miniatures, we get more specific information about the following topics: “Helm’s Deep”, “Barad-Dur”, “The Black Gate”, “Fangorn”, “Osgiliath”, “The Flooding of Isengard”. It shows these components in nice detail and allows us to gain insight into their creation. It’s especially terrific to take closer looks at the miniatures in closer detail.

During the prior program, we saw snippets of “The Flooding of Isengard Animatic”. This component lets us watch the entire 90-second piece. You can check out the amusingly crude early take on its own or in a split-screen comparison with the final footage from the film.

Also in the “Miniatures” section, we find a collection of seven “Galleries”. These cover “Barad-Dur” (54 stills), “Fangorn Forest” (eight), “Helm’s Deep” (27), “Ruined Isengard” (52), “Osgiliath” (22), “The Black Gate” (34) and “Zirakzigil” (nine). That’s a total of 206 shots, 48 of which come with commentary; we hear from Howe, Bennett, Lasaine, Funke and Alan Lee here. The galleries offer a mix of concept art and photos of different parts of the miniatures. These elements really allow you to appreciate all the detail work that went into their creation.

For information about computer effects, check out “Weta Digital”. This 27-minute and 30-second piece offers statements from Peter Jackson, Barrie Osborne, Alan Lee, Orlando Bloom, John Howe, Joe Letteri, Jim Rygiel, Dean Wright, Roger Kupelian, Christian Rivers, Richie Baneham, Brian Van’t Hul, Randy Cook, Jon Labrie, Carrie Thiel, Weta visual effects producer Eileen Moran, Weta chief technology officer Scott Houston, Weta 3D sequence lead Gray Horsefield, Weta models supervisor Matt Aitken, software developer Steve Regelous, Massive crowd supervisor Jon Allitt, Weta 2D sequence lead Mark Lewis, Weta 3D sequence lead Wayne Stables, and IT manager Duncan Nimmo.

This program covers most things computer animated, with a particular emphasis on digital sets and creatures. Some of the better moments relate the details about the warg battle, digital doubles, TreeBeard and the other Ents, and virtual armies. “Weta Digital” includes lots of nice information and is an enjoyable piece.

Finally, “Abandoned Concepts” lets us look at two topics in gallery form. “Slime Balrog” presents 27 sketches of that sequence, while “Endless Stair” includes four drawings. Two commentaries – from Falconer and Rivers, respectively – shed some light on “Slime” and give us decent information about what that scene would have been.

Editorial: Refining the Story gives us a 21-minute and 57-second featurette about this topic. We hear from Peter Jackson, Rick Porras, Elijah Wood, Barrie Osborne, Mark Ordesky, editor Mike Horton, additional editor Jabez Olssen, co-producer Jamie Selkirk, and supervising digital colorist Peter Doyle. They discuss the reasoning behind the use of a different editor for each of the three movies, the absence of a prologue, challenges presented by the film’s multiple story lines, the lack of public previews and the use of private ones, pickup shoots, keeping the battle of Helm’s Deep at a reasonable length, and other story-telling issues. The show includes coverage of many intriguing topics as it ably presents all of the concerns faced by the editorial staff. It gives us a good look at the assembly of the movie.

Within Music and Sound, we locate three subdomains. “The Soundscapes of Middle-earth” lasts 21 minutes and 25 seconds as it presents remarks from Peter Jackson, Barrie Osborne, Rick Porras, Christopher Lee, Mike Horton, Mark Ordesky, supervising sound editor/co-designer Ethan Van der Ryn, supervising sound editor Mike Hopkins, ADR recordist Chris Ward, sound designer David Farmer, re-recording mixers Chris Boyes and Michael Semanick, foley artists Simon Hewit and Phil Heywood, sound effects editor Brent Burge, and foley engineer Martin Oswin.

Among other parts, we learn of taping in a cemetery, recording crowd noise, creating Fangorn, altering Rhys-Davies’ voice for TreeBeard, mixing Saruman and Gandalf for one sequence, the warg attack and other creatures, various elements for the battle of Helm’s Deep, and some other pieces. The focus seems somewhat scattershot as it flies from one topic to another, but it remains consistently entertaining. The addition of shots of the various recording sessions and ideas adds to the documentary. I always find sound design fascinating, and this program offers a nice look at how they brought the audio of Middle-earth to life.

Next we get a “Sound Demonstration” for the Helm’s Deep sequence. This 66-second clip lets you check out the scene from eight different auditory perspectives: On-Set Production Audio, Foley, Effects 1 (Weather, Torches, Horn), Effects 2 (Weapons, Ladder, Objects), Effects 3 (Marching, Hits, Falls), Dialogue and Vocal Effects, Music, and Final Mix. It’s a flexible and interesting way to break down the various elements. In a helpful touch, it replays ad infinitum so you can flip between tracks without fear of having to constantly restart the program.

Unsurprisingly, ”Music for Middle-earth” concentrates of the film’s score. In this 25-minute and 19-second piece, we get comments from Peter Jackson, Barrie Osborne, Rick Porras, Philippa Boyens, David Salo, composer Howard Shore, executive music producer Paul Broucek, and score engineer John Kurlander. They go through various themes and elements of those such as choices for instrumentation. We also learn about different vocalists used in the film, the collaboration between Shore and Jackson, recording the music, Jackson’s cameo on the score, additional and altered music for the extended version of Towers, and some other elements. We even hear about their geeky need to recreate the cover of Abbey road. It’s a good look at the music and all its components, and the program provides a fun piece.

DVD Four comes to a close with The Battle for Helm’s Deep is Over. This nine-minute and 27-second program offers a valedictory statement for the movie. We find statements from Peter Jackson, Barrie Osborne, Mark Ordesky, Elijah Wood, Viggo Mortensen, Dominic Monaghan, Karl Urban, Billy Boyd, Andy Serkis, Philippa Boyens, Richard Taylor, John Rhys-Davies, Sean Astin, and Rick Porras. Other than some shots of the various Towers premieres, “Over” offers little useful material, but it acts as a nice send-off for the package, especially since it concludes with a couple of minutes of credits for the folks who put together this amazing set.

All four DVDs include identical DVD-ROM content. They offer links to lordoftherings.net and “Exclusive Online Features”. As I write this, the DVD comes out in two days. The only element of the “Exclusive Online Features” obvious right now is something called “Palantiri: The Stones of Seeing”. The disc provides character as well as cast & crew palantiri.

I ran this feature, but don’t ask me to accurately describe it. The “Cast & Crew” version lets you pick three film participants at one, and then places their names in each of the three interlocking circles. Click on overlapping areas to see what they worked in together. Mostly this ends up as big fat nothing, so we’re left to look at the solo departments for crude filmographies. It’s an interesting idea but not very useful in execution.

As for the “Character Palantiri”, it sort of works the same way. For example, the screen places “the One Ring” in the middle of the screen and then lists five folks it affected around it. You could click on “Sauron” and it’d read “was forged in secret by…” If you then click on “Sauron”, you’ll get eight options for characters connected to him. We also have the option to watch some scenes connected to the characters, but these are dependent on which disc you use to check out the feature; you’d have to flip through all the discs to see each of them. Overall, the “Palantiri” remain an intriguing concept, but they don’t add up to much.

In the “nice touch” department, New Line added both English and Spanish subtitles for all the extras. Too few studios do this, so it’s always great when this text appears.

One comment about this package’s extras: it duplicates absolutely nothing we found on the original 2-DVD set. I regard that as good and bad. On the positive side, it’s cool that we find so much new content, and it rewards purchasers of both sets as it gives them a total of three DVDs totally devoted to supplements. However, it means that we can’t consider the “Extended Special Edition” as totally definitive since it lacks basics like trailers. It’s too bad that New Line didn’t put together a set that combines this release with DVD Two of the original version; that would give die-hard fans everything from both versions in one place.

But one should think of these comments as nit picking in the extreme. I can always think of something that could have appeared, but that shouldn’t obscure the astonishing amount of information on display here. With about 14 hours worth of audio commentaries, about seven hours of video footage, over 1900 frames of stills and more, this package stuffs a mind-boggling array of material.

Almost more astonishing is the fact that almost all of it’s good. With so many pieces, the law of averages dictates that at least a few of them should seem dull or lifeless. Granted, some bits are better than others are. I still think the “Middle-earth Atlas” is a waste of time, and a few of the documentaries come across as slightly fluffy.

However, those remain exceedingly minor complaints. With so much material, it’s inevitable that some will not be scintillating. The miracle here is how quickly I buzzed through all the work.

One might wonder how the Special Extended Edition of The Two Towers compares with its predecessor, the four-DVD version of The Fellowship of the Ring. In regard to the two sets’ extras, they seem very comparable. Actually, I didn’t need to rewrite much of my review for Fellowship; the two packages shared enough similarities to allow me to cut and paste a lot of material.

However, Towers presented the stronger set of the two for a few small reasons. For one, I thought its picture and sound quality both seemed superior to that of Fellowship. It got “A-“ grades for those realms, whereas Towers earned an “A+” and an “A”, respectively. These weren’t enormous improvements, but they existed.

As for the supplements, the extended cut of Towers included a moderate increase in its running time when compared to the extra footage of Fellowship. The former gave us an additional 44 minutes, while the latter ran an extra half an hour. Again, this wasn’t a huge change, but it was there.

When I looked at the other extras, they seemed very comparable between the two sets. Both had four commentaries of similar quality, and the third and fourth DVDs came packed with the same excellent kinds of materials. To my surprise, Towers offers a more stuffed package than does Fellowship. I’d thought that since so much of the Fellowship set dealt with groundwork that there’d not be that much to say in regard to Towers, but I was way off base. This set actually includes more minutes of footage and more stills than is predecessor. It didn’t seem substantially better than Fellowship, but the four-disc Towers nonetheless came across as the stronger of the pair.

The only way that Fellowship surpasses The Two Towers relates to the quality of the movie itself, as the former seems like a more involving and engrossing experience. That shouldn’t be seen as a slam on Towers, though. It’s a solid movie, but it simply falls somewhat short of the heights achieved by the first film in the series. The Special Extended Edition DVD adds 44 minutes of mostly useful and entertaining material that serves to make the film even stronger than its Oscar-nominated theatrical cut. The package displays absolutely stellar picture and audio as well.

And then there are its extras. The Special Extended Edition of Towers provides an almost unprecedented array of supplements. This package proves that one can have both quantity and quality, as almost everything available here warrants your attention.

If you dig that kind of thing, that is. That notion somewhat affects my recommendation. On one hand, I absolutely adored the Special Extended Edition and want to urge every fan to pick up a copy. It’s a stellar set that thoroughly entertained and informed me. However, I’m a dedicated fan of supplements; even after I’ve reviewed more than 1600 DVDs, I still get a kick out of this stuff. Many people are like my Dad. He’s never listened to a commentary or watched a DVD documentary, and no matter how strongly I espouse the wonders of Towers, he doesn’t plan to change his tune now.

Under normal circumstances, that means I’d gleefully recommend the Special Extended Edition to anyone who enjoys extras and send the folks like my Dad toward the two-DVD theatrical cut. However, the elongated nature of the film found on the four-disc package influences my decision. While not radically better than the theatrical cut, I think the extended version improves the film.

To further complicate matters, New Line produced two versions of the set. In addition to the one detailed here, there’s a five-DVD package called the “Collector’s Gift Set”. According to Amazon, it adds these features to the four-disc release: “Collectible Gollum polystone statue created by Sideshow; Weta Exclusive bonus DVD on the Weta Workshop and how the Gollum statue was created; Exclusive printed companion piece showing how Gollum evolved from pencil sketch to digital character.” Sounds good, but it comes with a price, as the “Collector’s Gift Set” lists for a whopping $79.92. I’d like to have a copy myself, but for twice the cost of the standard four-DVD release, it’s hard to justify the extra money. Nonetheless, for die-hard Rings fans, it might be worth it.

So here’s the bottom line: if you own no version of The Two Towers, you should, and you should go for the four-DVD Special Extended Edition. If you already have the two-disc theatrical cut and enjoy supplements, snag the bigger package as well. If you currently own the old DVD and don’t give a hoot about extras, go ahead and grab the four-disc set anyway so you can watch the longer version of the film. If you eat, sleep and breathe Lord of the Rings - and have bucks to burn - go for the super-deluxe “Collector’s Gift Set”.

I guess I just should have offered a blanket recommendation for the Special Extended Edition, huh? Whether you spring for the “Collector’s Gift Set” or just stick with the standard four-DVD version, you definitely need to pick up the Special Extended Edition of The Two Towers. It offers an amazing experience that remains gripping from start to finish. I didn’t think it was possible, but with superior picture and sound plus even more supplements, this package actually betters that of Fellowship and stakes a strong claim to the title of the best DVD ever produced.

Back to Discs 1 & 2