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Ring-bearing hobbit Frodo (Elijah Wood) and his loyal hobbit friend Sam (Sean Astin) discover they are being followed by Gollum (Andy Serkis), who promises to show them the way to the black Gates of Mordor. Meanwhile, across Middle-earth, warrior Aragorn (Viggo Mortensen), the Elf archer Legolas (Orlando Bloom) and Gimli the Dwarf (John Rhys-Davies) find their way into the Rohan kingdom, whose once great King Theoden (Bernard Hill) has fallen under Sarumanís spell. Eowyn (Miranda Otto), the niece to the King, is drawn to Aragorn, but Aragorn canít forget his love for Elf Arwen (Liv Tyler). Gandalf (Ian McKellen) who survived his fall, has returned more powerful as Gandalf the White. But Saruman (Christopher Lee), the evil white wizard has raised a huge army intent on destroying human civilization.

Review by Andrew L. Urban:
As has become hobbitÖer, habit, New Line has thrown as many resources into the DVD release of the second in this trilogy as into the film itself. Well, almost. It even includes The Long and The Short of It, a cute, wordless short by Sean Astin, made one blustery Sunday morning while shooting pick-up shots, using the crew from the big pic for the small pic. (And Peter Jacksonís cameo as a bus driver will go down as a moment in bus driving history.) Itís quite appropriate to have it on the disc, though, because its theme exactly reflects the spirit of cooperation that made the short possible Ė and sheds light on the humanity that is so evident throughout the Ring trilogy.

This DVD package offers much, itís true, but nothing more powerful than the film itself (a few minutes shorter on DVD due to the technicalities of the transfer process).

It is a mark of considerable achievement that a contemporary adult audience can take in its stride the talking and walking Treebeard and his fellow trunks in the middle of a vast film about Middle-earth and the threat to its survival. It struck me while watching The Two Towers that our everyday unsatisfied yearning for real heroes, combined with our wishful thinking for a little magic in life, make us susceptible to the grand story of the Ring and the hobbits, the wizards and the courageous Aragorns, the lovely elves, the hideous Gollum and all. The Two Towers, like The Fellowship of the Ring, has been brought to the screen with a single mindset: it must have been like this, that period of history we are now rediscovering somewhere beforeÖ.back then in the past. In fact, the film reminded me of the daydreams I had when studying history at high school. It seemed than that the world has always been a deadly, vicious place, tribes and nations fighting frequent savage battles for the right to keep or take territory, or proclaim religious victory. Battles inspired poets, heroes lived on in tales of their exploits. Only by idolising those heroes could we come to terms with the anguish of wars, or accept that there are always destructive, evil forces that cannot be disarmed by reason and compassion. So Tolkienís fantasy world of Middle-earth was drawn from very real sources, and Peter Jacksonís fiercely loyal and dedicated team has created a complex and compelling cinematic version of Tolkienís imagination. This film details the confrontation between the forces of Saruman and our heroes, but it retains its human scale for all the grand set pieces Ė and grand and violent they are. Yet note the consumer advisory: medium level violence. Jackson has given us a very real sense of the battles and that vicious, deadly hand to hand combat, but avoids actual blood and guts. The editing, sound and music replace those shots. Andrew Lesnieís cinematography and Howard Shoreís music provide additional layers for subconscious and emotional colours that cement the filmís mood and tone into our psyche. The extraordinary production design which won last yearís Oscar for Grant Major and Richard Taylor is expanded with awesome results, and the fusion of live action with computer generated images is spectacularly successful. Jackson and co have brought back the value and respect for the term epic cinema.†

This sense is compounded with the 10 minute preview of The Return of The King (Disc 2), in which Peter Jackson shows us a snapshot of the awe-inspiring conclusion to the story of Middle-earth and the clash of good and evil. Appropriately enough, then, the film contains what has been described as perhaps the greatest battle scene ever filmed. This preview will probably be the first item to see, for fans who acquire this DVD package. It does indeed whet the appetite and underlines the vastness of the production.†

The eight short featurettes on Disc 2 are adornments to the major jewels, the two in-depth programs, but the last on the list, Bringing Gollum to Life is highly recommended. Itís a fascinating insight into the creation of a unique cinematic character, combining a real actor with digital tools. Arms and Armor is another good one.

Of the bigger pieces, On the Set begins with Elijah Wood talking about the making of the second film Ė this time with grown hair. But like all the creative packaging, the mood and tone is set by the haunting, vaguely nostalgic and dramatic motif from Howard Shoreís exceptional score. Despite the unavoidable repetition here and there (eg making Gollum) the feature is compelling. And as Peter Jackson points out, you have to understand special effects to make this trilogy, just so you donít allow the effects to overwhelm the story.

Warner Brosí 42 minute Return to Middle Earth (vaguely comparable to Return to Giant Ė the doco made about the making of Giant, recently released on DVD) focuses on how the stars worked, how they managed to stay on location for two years in New Zealand. Itís a bit of up close and personal mixed with making of material.

It always seems a trifle disconcerting to hear the American accented narration on these supporting features, considering the filmís strenuously un-American flavour. But that aside, the package immerses us in the world of Middle-earth with resounding success.†

Footnote: The four-disc Special Extended Edition DVD of The Two Towers is released in November 2003.

Published August 28, 2003

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CAST: Elijah Wood, Ian McKellen, Liv Tyler, Viggo Mortensen, Sean Astin, Cate Blanchett, John Rhys-Davies, Bernard Hill, Christopher Lee, Billy Boyd, Dominic Monaghan, Orlando Bloom, Hugo Weaving, Miranda Otto, David Wenham, Brad Dourif, Andy Serkis, Karl Urban, Craig Parker

DIRECTOR: Peter Jackson

SCRIPT: Fran Walsh, Philippa Boyens, Stephen Sinclair, Peter Jackson (Based on the book by J.R.R. Tolkien)

OTHER: Special Make-up, creatures, armour, miniatures: Richard Taylor

RUNNING TIME: 173 minutes

PRESENTATION: 1.35:1, 16:9 enhanced, DD 5.1 EX.

SPECIAL FEATURES: Disc 1: feature with optional subtitles; English HI, Greek. Disc 2: On the Set; Return to Middle earth; eight featurettes created for the official website, Gollumís Song music video; trailers; behind the scenes preview of The Return of the King; preview of Return of the King video game; trailers & tv spots; (plus Sam Astinís short film, The Long and the Short of It, and the making of doco)

DVD DISTRIBUTOR: Roadshow Entertainment

DVD RELEASE: August 26, 2003

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