Monday, September 27, 2010

The Lord of the Rings – The Two Towers Theatrical Edition Blu-ray Review

After the critical and commercial success of The Fellowship of the Ring, expectations were higher for The Two Towers.  For Peter Jackson and crew, The Two Towers was the hardest movie to make out of the three because when their script was changed from two movies (as originally intended) to three, some major changes were made.  The beginning of the film was actually supposed to be the conclusion of The Fellowship of the Ring and they changed to ending so that the Battle at Helm’s Deep would be the climax. Because of this swapping of scenes between the movies, the films started to diverge from the book’s time-line more than they had before.  As parts of The Fellowship of the Ring were incorporated into The Two Towers, that also meant that some scenes from The Two Towers would later be moved over to Return of the King including the whole sequence with Shelob the spider.

In The Two Towers, some new characters are introduced including Baromir’s brother Faramir (David Wenham), King Theodan (Bernard Hill), Eowyn (Miranda Otto), Eomer (Karl Urban), Grima Wormtongue (Brad Dourif), and most importantly, Gollum (Andy Serkis), who had made a brief appearance in the first movie.  The decision to capture Andy Serkis’s physicality and facial expressions led Jackson to abandon two years of already completed CGI work on the character which is why Gollum looks different in The Fellowship of the Ring than he does in the rest of the series.  That decision forced WETA digital to redo every scene that involved Gollum leaving them only 2 1/2 months to complete all of it which is amazing considering the artistry of the final result.  Gollum set the standard for CGI characters and even almost eight years later is a technological and creative triumph.  The fact that Andy Serkis was deemed ineligible for an Academy Award due to an outdated rule is one of the many travesties by the Academy.

With the Fellowship now broken, the scope of the series expands into a larger world-view as we see the conflict enveloping the kingdoms of Rohan and Gondor.  The scale of the movies skyrocketed as the last two movies required more time to build the sets and to film the huge battle scenes.  For example, it took over three months to film the Battle at Helm’s Deep alone and the stronghold had to be built in a rock quarry because of the size of set which took seven months to build.  The Rohirrim city of Edoras took six months to build on top of Mount Sunday and was so remote that a road had to be built to access it.  The effort that the production crew put in to make the world as realistic and amazing as it was should be commended. They did such a good job building the sets, that the main door of Helm’s Deep was so strong that the stuntmen playing the Uruk-hai attempting to batter the door down were unable to do so until the door was weakened!  We also get to see the ruined city of Osgiliath which was made to look like a bombed out London due to the constant attacks on it from the forces of Mordor.

As hard as the crew worked on making these movies the best they could be, the cast worked just as hard and in some cases made even more sacrifices.  Viggo Mortensen broke two toes accidentally while kicking an orc helmet and later had a tooth knocked out during the filming of  the Helm’s Deep battle.  Orlando Bloom broke a rib after falling from a horse and Bernard Hill had his ear slashed as well.  The cast was so dedicated that during those overhead wide angle shots of them running after the missing hobbits, that’s actually Viggo and Orlando running with broken bones and Gimli’s stuntman who had injured his leg!  Even Andy Serkis suffered when he went into a river than had to be unfrozen before filming just to get the scene of Gollum chasing a fish right.
The Two Towers was an even bigger hit than the first movie with audiences and critics alike.  It made over $925 million world-wide and has a 100% fresh rating by professional critics on Rotten Tomatoes.   It brilliantly set the stage for the final installment of Return of the King and the Battle at Helm’s Deep is one of the best battle scenes ever filmed.

Film  (5 out of 5 stars)

The movie starts with a recap of sorts where we can hear dialogue from The Fellowship of the Ring as we soar over the majestic mountain range of Caradhras where Gandalf went missing and was presumed dead by the Fellowship.  We soon learn Gandalf’s fate as we finally see what happened after he lost his grip and fell down the chasm with the Balrog.  While Gandalf battles the Balrog, Frodo and Sam are traveling through the hills of Emyn Muil to continue their lonely and dangerous mission to destroy the Ring of Power in the fires of Mt. Doom.   They don’t realize that they are being followed by the creature Gollum who wants the ring back more than anything.

The fact that the hobbits will later depend on the demented Gollum to lead them safely to Mordor will bring about it’s own risks and will eventually drive a wedge between the friends.  Meanwhile, Aragorn, Legolas, and Gimli are still chasing the Uruk-hai and orcs that kidnapped Merry and Pippen at the end of the last movie.  They have traveled into the kingdom of Rohan where they soon meet with the outcast Eomer who has been banished for threatening the advisor of King Theodan, a man named Wormtongue.  It turns out that King Theodan has been possessed by Saruman and is nothing but a shell of a man that is out of touch with reality which leaves Wormtongue nominally in charge.

Off in the wilds of Fangorn Forest, Merry and Pippen have their their own trials to overcome and they will play a big part in gaining allies to fight Sauron and Saruman.
Saruman has at this point amassed an army of over 10,000 Uruk-hai and orcs and has allied with the Wild Men of Dunland who begin burning and killing every person in the western reaches of Rohan.  The advancing army forces the people of Rohan to retreat to their ancestral stronghold of Helm’s Deep where they have never been defeated.  The climax of the movie is the massive battle between 300 men defending the stronghold versus the Saruman’s army of 10,000.

The character arcs continue to progress and what had started as a Fellowship of necessity is now one of strong friendship.  In this movie, we see that the bonds between the group have grown even stronger and they are going out of their way to protect each other and Legolas and Gimli have even started to competitively track their kill count.  Aragorn is even more aware of his destiny and although he still isn’t sure he can do it, he’s ready to try.  He is no longer running away from his destiny but he still isn’t happy about it.  It was nice to see him in full Ranger mode in this movie using his skills to track the hobbits and recreate events that happened in the past just by tracks left in the dirt.

Frodo is slowly falling into shadow and is starting to lose himself to the Ring of Power.  The ring is taking a toll on him and it gets worse the closer he gets to Mordor.  It’s all Sam can do to keep his friend from surrendering the ring to the Ring-wraiths that continue to search for the hobbits.  In their travels, they meet Baromir’s brother Faramir who also desires the Ring of Power to fight Sauron.  He too will face the insidious corruption from the Ring of Power and will need to face the same choice that his brother failed.  As if resisting the ring wasn’t hard enough, the rules of Gondor and his father, would require him to forfeit his own life if he spares the hobbits and lets them take the Ring of Power with them.

The hobbits companion Gollum also has to decide whether or not he will help the hobbits or send them to their doom for a chance to regain the ring.  The split personality of Gollum and Smeagal, the person he used to be before the ring corrupted him, is handled perfectly.  Going back and forth with himself on whether or not to kill the hobbits is both funny and disturbing.  The ring has corrupted him so completely that even he isn’t exactly sure what to do.  His Smeagal half is happy to be with Frodo while his Gollum half only wants the ring and will not hesitate to murder anyone to get it.  I think the Academy should have given a special Oscar for this breakthrough achievement in blending CGI and an actor’s performance.

All of the characters in the movie must make hard choices which adds a lot of drama and tension to the movie.  Some will make heroic choices, while others let their greed overcome them.  All of these choices will reverberate through the next movie’s conclusion.  Peter Jackson and cast and crew have done another stupendous job.  The care and effort that went into these movies is just astounding.  Despite having to rework the script to span three movies, Jackson, Walsh, and Boyens met the challenge and pulled it off with flying colors.  Cleverly making the ending a cliffhanger where we know that some characters are walking into mortal danger and leaving the fate of Saruman in question just made the anticipation for the final movie even greater.

Video (5 out of 5 stars)

While The Fellowship of the Ring had some issues with the video quality especially during night-time scenes, I am happy to report that The Two Towers improves on those issues.  There is still some light DNR present but the contrast is consistent and flesh tones and the clothing have improved as well.  Most satisfying for me was the improvement of night-time shots since the majority of this movie occurs during night and during the Battle at Helm’s Deep during bad weather as well.  Blacks are solid, deep and very satisfying.  In the last movie the blacks were slightly washed out and I’m glad that isn’t an issue this go around because that would have driven me crazy.  I am very happy with the picture quality for this movie.

Audio  (5 out of 5 stars)

Once again the audio quality is amazing!  There is clear, crisp, and intelligible dialogue throughout the movie from quiet scenes to the huge action set-pieces.  From the hearing the rumbling thunder of the horses of Rohan to the massive battle at Helm’s Deep, this movie will give your home theater system a workout!  I loved how the satellite speakers were used as well…the overall experience makes you feel you are actually there with arrows whizzing by your head.  Once again, I recommend buying this disc just for the sound alone!

Special Features  (5 out of 5 stars)

I’m beginning to see a pattern here.  Just like with Fellowship of the Ring, the supplements here give you a basic offering but it’s a step down for people that are used to the goodies we got from the past Extended Editions.  Once again, I’m glad that the studio has made an effort not to duplicate past special features, but for those of you that love the extras, you should hold out for the inevitable Blu-ray release of the Extended Editions.  Here is what you will find on the discs and once again everything but the trailers are in Standard Definition:

On the DVD:

  • Return to Middle-Earth: WB Special – I enjoyed this feature and it primarily focuses on the the ordeals that the actors faced to make this movie. 
  • On the Set- ‘The Two Towers’ – Starz Encore Special – This featurette focuses more on the themes of the movies and the locations used.  Standard EPK stuff. 
  • Special Extended DVD Edition Preview – A look at the extended edition of  ‘The Two Towers.’ Once again we have to bide our time until it comes out. 
  • Behind the Scenes Preview of ‘The Return of the King’ – A preview of the next movie for those few people that haven’t already seen it. 
  • ‘The Long and Short of it’ – This is Sean Astin’s short where he used cast and crew to to have some fun even though it doesn’t have anything to do with the movie.  Just to add a little trivia here, Astin made this short using Lucasfilm’s new High Definition Digital Video camera.  They were demonstrating the camera for Peter Jackson so Astin asked if they could stay an extra day so he could use the camera to shoot his short film and they graciously agreed, so he was able to shoot the film in six hours. 
  • The Making of ‘The Long and Short of it’ – The cast and crew that helped Sean Astin make his short discuss the making of it. 
  • Featurettes – Eight webisodes much like the previous disc where they cover aspects of the production in three to five minute segments.
  • Music Video – Music video for Emiliana Torrini’s Gollum’s Song. 
  • TV Spots – Sixteen tv spots for the film.
 On the Blu-ray: 

  • Theatrical Trailers – Three excellent trailers for each of the movies.  
  • Trilogy “Super Trailer” – A six and half minute long trailer for all three movies. Highly enjoyable!  
  • Game Trailers – Trailers for two games based on the movies, Aragorn’s Quest and War in the North.

    Final Thoughts  (5 out of 5 stars)

    Peter Jackson and the cast and crew did it again!  The characters continue the paths laid out in the first movie and their friendships have deepened.  The entire cast including the new members are all excellent and have beautiful chemistry.  This movie is a lot darker in tone  than the first one and the stakes have been raised quite a bit.  While I miss the focus on the Fellowship of Nine that I loved, I have to admit opening the scope of the movie really makes the final two installments even more epic.   The Battle at Helm’s Deep is one for the ages, and the quality of this disc makes it easy for me to recommend anyone to buy it unless they are waiting for the Extended Editions.  Another great job by all involved!

    Purchase your copy today!




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