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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 Saruman’s spell. Eowyn (Miranda Otto), the niece to the King, is drawn to Aragorn, but Aragorn can’t 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:
By Gollum it’s a big package. But it’s not big only in terms of volume. The reason for the feature itself being on two discs (as you would have realised) is simply the result of a high bit-rate so as not to compromise the image and sound quality. At the extended length of 214 minutes (43 minutes more than the theatrical release) – plus the four commentary tracks – it takes all the digital space of the two discs to capture the carefully created details of Middle-earth and its vast range of characters.

The presentation of the Box Set is exemplary; a burgundy leather-effect box (with gold embossed title) contains the discs, which are held within a fold-out; on the left are the two discs of the extended edition in separate inset holders, together with a booklet inside the cover that’s decorated with the ancient map of Middle-earth tracing the Fellowship’s journey.

The booklet is a map, too, or at least a map-like representation of the contents of the discs. It explains how some 100 interviews with cast and crew were conducted specifically for the two appendices. 

On the right are the two discs with the appendices. Appendices seems a modest word for what turns out to be a complete deconstruction of this second film in the trilogy, almost as extensive a production as the film itself, it would seem. 

In explore mode, you can navigate around on your own, selecting what and when you want to watch each item offered. This might suit the impatient viewer who wants to cherry pick personal favourites of special interest first. For those who want to immerse themselves in the material and give themselves over to the program, there is the beautifully simple ‘play all’ option. Taken together, this one giant documentary tour on the making of the film.

Add that to the four commentaries by a total 40 – yes 40 – of the cast and crew including the writers and Peter Jackson, the entire production design crew and many of the cast – there is not much left to say about the making of The Two Towers.

As for the film itself, it reminds me of the daydreams I had when studying history at high school. It seemed then 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 Tolkien’s fantasy world of Middle-earth was drawn from very real sources, and Peter Jackson’s fiercely loyal and dedicated team has created a complex and compelling cinematic version of Tolkien’s 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 – 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 Lesnie’s cinematography and Howard Shore’s music provide additional layers for subconscious and emotional colours that cement the film’s mood and tone into our psyche. The extraordinary production design which won last year’s 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 extended version includes expansions and additions that unfold seamlessly within the superbly crafted realisation of Tolkien’s fantasy world and primal story. It’s not just more for the sake of more, but a richer sense of the experience. 

But if you want proof that the film is blessed by real magic, take a look at the scene 55 minutes into the film when Shadowfax, the superb white stallion comes running across the open plains and swings round to come to a stop in front of Gandalf, as if he knew the script. And it’s live, no effects … and on the first take. 

Published November 20, 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: 214 minutes

PRESENTATION: 1.35:1, 16:9 enhanced, DD 5.1; DTS ES 6.1; Stereo

SPECIAL FEATURES: Discs 1 & 2: feature film in two parts, with four separate audio commentaries, identifying each speaker – commentary 1: director and writers (x 3); commentary 2: design team (x 7); commentary 3: production team (x 14); commentary 4: cast (x 16). Disc 3: appendices part 3, with intro by Peter Jackson; video documentaries including origins of Middle-earth and design aspects, extensive extras on Gollum; interactive maps. Disc 4: appendices part 4, with featurettes on the warriors of Middle-earth, cameras, visual effects including miniatures and abandoned concepts; refining the story and music/sound. Disc 5 (exclusive to Box Set edition): making the movie collectible figures

DVD DISTRIBUTOR: Roadshow Entertainment

DVD RELEASE: November 18, 2003

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