Who wants to see the middle of a movie, anyway? The beginning of the movie introduces the characters and presents the conflict. The ending holds the resolution and the conclusion. But the middle? Who wants to just see the middle? Nobody comes late and leaves early at the Cineplex. Nobody sane, anyway. This is not just any film, though. This is an Epic. Literally everything about this production is huge. The original text of the story was actually so long that it had to be divided into three volumes. The companion fil… is equally as massive. It also covers three volumes, with each volume clocking in at a length much longer than most rational people are willing to tolerate.
Yes, this is a film of Epic proportions, and the Extended Edition DVD is no different. Over 43 minutes of extra footage has been added to The Lord of the Rings – The Two Towers, bringing the total run time to 3 hours, 43 minutes. It’s not just filler footage, either. Over 200 new digital effects were created for the DVD release; more than most films have in their original theatrical versions. The added material helps the film instead of hurting it, providing more room to develop characters and plot lines. In this case, more is more.
However, be forewarned; this is not a set for the faint of heart. For those that fear the size of this film, the two-disc theatrical version is available for rental. You should check it out, instead. This one is probably not for you.
No, this is a DVD set for the bold. For those undaunted by the thought of a film that spans two discs. Those who are unafraid of four feature-length commentaries, over 1800 images, and hours upon hours of documentary footage. Those who stand tall in the face of interactive maps and Easter Eggs. Yes, this is for you. This is your quest. Accept it boldly, and view it with an undaunted heart. Witness the majesty of The Two Towers – Extended Edition on DVD.
An Epic film calls for an Epic soundtrack. New Line has provided us with two; Dolby Digital 5.1 EX, and DTS 6.1 ES. Both are fine choices that really go above and beyond the call of duty, making this film sound simply amazing. The clarity that they deliver is unmatched. Every flying arrow, every falling raindrop, every string on every violin can be heard individually. One of the great benefits of spreading the film over multiple discs is that there is more room available for a quality audio track (or two). Lucky for us, this is an opportunity that was exploited to the fullest.
The DTS track is my personal favorite. Sound comes from all sides throughout the film, surrounding the viewer in rich environments, and making speaker locations virtually disappear. Bass hits hard throughout the film, adding a feeling of realism seldom equaled. Dialog is anchored to the center channel, yet free to naturally roam away when the action demands it. This is an amazing soundtrack… one of the best that I have ever heard.
The Dolby Digital track is nothing to ignore, either. While not as loud as the DTS track, it does a better job of blending the audio across the front speakers, making for seamless imaging as objects move horizontally across the front-of-house. While the DTS track is more honestly realistic, the Dolby track has all of the rough edges smoothed off, resulting in a track that is a bit more pleasing to the ear.
It’s really just a matter of preference. Both tracks are reference quality. While the DTS track packs more of a punch, the Dolby tack is more sonically beautiful. Viewers can’t possibly make a bad choice between these two wonderful soundtrack options.
As much care was taken with the video quality on this title as was taken with the audio. A film as large as this one carries some hefty visuals with it, and the viewer is able to see them all here. The Widescreen transfer is near perfection, with clarity and detail being the order of the day. Each Orc in the army has distinct movements and characteristics that can be spotted easily. Landscapes miles away can be seen in great detail. Blacks are deep, and flesh tones are perfect.
One scene early in the film showcases just how fantastic the transfer quality is. Aragorn is tracking the movements of Merry and Pippen, and as he does, viewers are rapidly taken on a flashback ride back and forth from Aragorn’s daytime tracking to the Hobbit’s nighttime escape. These rapid changes in brightness are handled to perfection, with no bleed over apparent at any point during the scene.
Some special mention has to be made with regards to the character of Gollum. To put it succinctly, he looks unbelievable. The detail that has gone into this character is unparalleled. With regards to the transfer, the digital grading department deserves a big pat on the back for making him fit seamlessly into his scenes. Many CG characters seem to lie over the top of their backgrounds, but Gollum has depth. He is affected by shadows and light, and it is often easy to forget that he is not actually there. Simply amazing.
The only faults that I could find with the transfer are very minor. This is a film that was created for the big screen, and for the most part, it translates well to the small screen. The only problem with this minimization process that I noticed comes in the form of dwarf-sized subtitles. While they are certainly legible, I would have liked to have seen them a tad larger. This is not a major issue, but just a minor detail. Also, there is some streaking when white words appear on a black background. This is most noticeable on the menus at the end of disc one and the beginning of disc two. Again, these are certainly not major problems, but they can be slightly distracting.
These two very minor issues aside, this is an excellent transfer that really does the film justice.
As would be expected, the special features included with this title live up to the Epic scale that Peter Jackson has set for his production. Hours upon hours can be spent pouring over these fascinating and thorough extras. Where one title might have a 10-minute segment covering the locations, this one has a 45-minute segment. Likewise, there’s not just one commentary, there are four. Here is a more detailed look at what viewers will find:
–Discs One & Two–
- Commentary with writer-director Peter Jackson and writers Fran Walsh and Philippa Boyens
- Commentary with the design team
- Commentary with the production/post-production team
- Commentary with 16 cast members, including Elijah Wood, Sean Astin, Andy Serkis, John Rhys-Davies, Orlando Bloom, Christopher Lee, Bernard Hill, and Miranda Otto
- Easter Egg featuring Golum’s acceptance speech at the MTV Movie Awards
This disc opens with a brief Introduction by Peter Jackson himself. While this sounds like a filler piece, it is actually quite helpful to hear what kind of information is included on the disc, as well as getting a brief tour of the menu options. This is one of those special little extras that really places this set at the head of the class. Once viewers have heard the words of Mr. Jackson, they can really get in to the meat of the extras.
- J.R.R. Tolkein: Origins of Middle Earth is a documentary on the why’s and how’s of Tolkein’s writing style. There is also some historical background with regards to his vision for the story itself, and the importance of specific themes and plot elements. (20 minutes)
- From Book to Script: Finding the Story tells of the efforts of the screenwriters to convert this gargantuan tome to a script of a manageable size. Studio employees, writers, and Peter Jackson himself discuss their struggles with what to leave in, what to take out, and what to change to fit the film. (21 minutes)
- The Designing and Building Middle-Earth segment is broken down into three sub-categories. Designing Middle-Earth shows how set pieces were designed and built, as well as showcasing the troubles involved with building on location. (46 minutes) The Design Galleries include photos and drawings of the set pieces, some of which feature commentary. These may be navigated at the viewer’s own pace. Lastly, Weta Workshop takes viewers on a tour of the design and manufacture of the armory, prosthetics and creatures used in the film. (44 minutes)
- Viewers will most likely want to spend most of their time in the Gollum section of this disc. I have seen plenty of special features in my day, but this segment sticks out as truly special. In the first of four sub-sections, The Taming of Smeagol, viewers are introduced to Andy Serkis, the actor who made Gollum come to life. He’s not just a stand-in reference for the animators, he is Gollum. The voice you hear in the final film? That’s Andy. Those movements? Also Andy. Facial expressions, reactions? All Andy. This is a fascinating piece on a truly selfless actor. (40 minutes) Other sub-sections available for viewing are the Andy Serkis Animation Reference, a Design Gallery, and a hilarious bit entitled, Gollum’s “Stand In”.
- The Middle-Earth Atlas is an interactive map that allows viewers to chose a set of travelers from the film and trace their path, viewing scenes from the film at each stop. This handy feature really helps the viewer to track the locations where all the action takes place within the foreign landscape that is Middle-Earth.
- Likewise, the New Zealand as Middle-Earth section allows viewers to see where key scenes were filmed during the long New Zealand shoot. Each site has a short featurette on the physical characteristics of the locations, as well as which scenes from the film were shot there.
- Finally, two Galleries are included; The Peoples of Middle-Earth and The Realms of Middle-Earth. Peoples features no less than 22 sub-categories of drawings and photographs covering the features and costumes of the inhabitants of this strange land. Likewise, the Realms section holds 13 sub-categories of sets and locations. There are over 1500 images here in all.
As if all of this wasn’t more than enough to keep the average viewer busy for a week, there is still a whole second disc worth of extras to come!
Disc Four follows the same format that is laid out in disc three. The first option is a brief Introduction from Elijah Wood. While this one isn’t quite as informative as Peter Jackson’s, it makes up for it with humor. Again, this is just one more extra that makes this title truly something special. Now that we are re-oriented, let’s move on to the good stuff…
- The first section, Filming “The Two Towers” contains three sub-categories. The first, Warriors of the Third Age, follows the planning and execution that went into the stunt work for the film. Special attention is paid to the training of the actors, as well as the tedious work that went into the Helm’s Deep battle sequence. (21 minutes) Cameras in Middle Earth is a gigantic documentary covering the entire shooting process, including the logistical nightmare of shooting three films at once in various locations at the same time, shooting styles, actor injuries, shooting on location and humorous stories from the long and difficult shoot. (1 hour, 8 minutes) Lastly, there is a thorough section of Production Photos from the shoot.
- Next up is the Visual Effects documentary section. This section is packed with tons of information on how the fantastic effects were created for the film. The Miniatures section has separate documentaries on Big-atures, a The Flooding of Isengard Anamatic, and some additional Galleries. (22+ minutes) Also under the Visual Effects menu is a Weta Digital featurette that explains how all of the CG effects were created. This is a truly fascinating segment that I was thoroughly impressed with, making it the highlight of Disc Four. (28 minutes) Finally, there are some Abandoned Concepts galleries included, which help viewers to imagine what might have been.
- Music and Sound is the next topic of discussion. Music for Middle-Earth covers the decisions made regarding the writing of the music, what instruments and vocalists were chosen, how the score was recorded, and audio post-production. (26 minutes) The Soundscapes of Middle-Earth features the work of the foley artists and the sound designers, as well as the choices made during the final mixing process. (22 minutes) Lastly, there is a really cool interactive segment called Sound Demonstration: “Helm’s Deep”, which allows viewers to shuffle through seven different sound elements to hear each one individually, as well as experiencing a track that includes the final mix. I often forget just how many different audio elements must be layered to make a film’s final soundtrack, and this little feature served as a great reminder.
- Finally, after all of this, we come to The Battle for Helm’s Deep is Over…, a short segment covering the film’s journey post-completion, including reflections on the entire process by cast and crew, as well as some footage from the various premiere’s held around the world (7 minutes)
So there you have it. Over six hours of special features, not including the 15+ hours of commentary. Once I had finished watching all of this special footage, I felt like I had been there for the entire shooting of the film myself. This is as good as special features can get.
What more could possibly be said about this fantastic title from New Line? The hype about the film is justified. The book is a classic, and now so is the film. No expense was spared to bring this tale to life in breathtaking detail, no corners were cut, and for that I am thankful. Now viewers everywhere can enjoy the film in a special extended version, with more extras than even Gandolf himself could have created. This is a must-have title for all true DVD Fanatics.
Special Features List
- Four feature-length audio commentaries
- Adapting the book into a screenplay & planning the film
- Designing and inspiration for locations in Middle-earth
- Storyboards to pre-visualization
- Weta Workshop visit: See sculptors in action as they create weapons, armor, creatures, and miniatures
- Atlas of Middle-earth tracing the journey of the Fellowship
- An interactive map of New Zealand highlighting the location scouting process
- Galleries of art and slideshows with commentaries by the artists
- Sending the actors into battle: sword fighting
- Principal photography: Stories from the set
- Digital effects including motion capture and the computer program to create the armies of Orcs
- Bigatures: a close-up look at the miniatures
- …and much more!