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The Two Towers’ comes to life

Jonathan Retartha | Monday, November 24, 2003

Tolkien fans now have the opportunity to get even more hobbit, elf and dwarf action as The Lord of the Rings: The Two Towers Extended Edition DVD gives viewers an entirely new film. The Two Towers is the second part of the Lord of the Rings series of novels, written by J.R.R. Tolkien.The series, directed on film by Peter Jackson, tells the story of a hobbit, Frodo Baggins (Elijah Wood) who goes on a quest to destroy a ring that is the source of all evil in the world. The Two Towers picks up where the first part, The Fellowship of the Ring, leaves off, with Frodo’s company of travelers dispersed. Frodo now travels with his friend Sam (Sean Astin, of Rudy fame) and a creature named Gollum (Andy Serkis), while Aragorn (Viggo Mortensen), a friend of the hobbits, continues on his journey to take his rightful place as king of men in Middle Earth.The first two discs of the four-disc set contain the actual motion picture. While the theatrical DVD was released in August, featuring the version of the film shown in theaters, along with a few extra features, the Extended Edition DVD features over 40 minutes of unseen footage. While the notion of providing deleted scenes in a DVD is not new, Peter Jackson takes this feature one step further by weaving the deleted scenes into the film, forming a “director’s cut” that even features original music composed just for these deleted scenes by composer Howard Shore.Even though many “director’s cut” DVDs seem long and drawn out with the deleted scenes woven in, The Two Towers actually seems shorter in the Extended Edition than in the theatrical version. All of the deleted scenes are valuable additions to the film and satisfy many of the complaints that several critics and Tolkien purists have had about the film. Some of the deleted scenes include a funny scene with Merry (Dominic Monaghan) and Pippin (Billy Boyd) experimenting with Ent Draft, Aragorn revealing his age to Eowyn (Miranda Otto), and the funeral of King Théoden’s son. In addition, a long scene describes a flashback of Boromir (Sean Bean) and Faramir (David Wenham) together. This scene is also important because it introduces the character of Denethor (John Noble), who plays a key role in the final chapter of the trilogy, The Return of the King, which opens in theaters Dec. 17. Finally, perhaps the largest addition to the film is a sequence of scenes at the end of the film, which continue Legolas (Orlando Bloom) and Gimli’s (John Rhys-Davies) head count and show the orcs fleeing from Helm’s Deep into Fangorn Forest. The sequence also shows Merry and Pippin discovering a heap of food in the ruins of Isengard. At over three hours and 45 minutes, Jackson successfully achieves his goal of making his films more like “histories” of middle earth, as if the events of the story actually took place. The film also can be watched with several audio commentaries, including one with almost every feature actor in the cast, one with Jackson and his writing team, and one with members of the design team.The other two discs are full of special features that will keep fans entertained for hours on end. Disc three is full of pre-production material for the film. Even though the movies may seem dense with material, the books themselves are even denser, and the writing team was forced to make several cuts and changes to the original story in order to make it flow better on the screen. While many of these changes have angered Tolkien purists, one documentary features Jackson explaining all of the cuts and changes and why they needed to be included or removed from the film. Other excellent documentaries on the third disc explore the world of Weta, the special effects and design company that worked on the films. It is simply amazing to watch how much effort was put into the hundreds of costumes and prosthetics, as well as into finding and constructing the various locations in New Zealand where the three films were shot concurrently. Also featured on the third disc are hundreds of conceptual drawings for the various costumes and sets in the film.While all of the design documentaries provide incredible insight into the filmmaking process, perhaps none is more fascinating than the section on disc three devoted to the creation of the Gollum character, the first ever dramatic performance given by a computer-generated character. Never before has such a significant event in film history been so well documented. The documentaries even explore the controversy that erupted inside of Weta over whether to use Serkis as a model for Gollum’s performance using revolutionary motion capture technology, or to simply use his voice and use the computer alone to generate the character’s movement. The fourth disc documents the actual filming of the picture. One section of features describes the amazing collection of miniatures needed for certain parts of the film. Another goes into depth about digital effects in the film. A third section is devoted completely to music and sound, with commentary from Shore about the different themes used for different locations in the movie. All of the special features make the Extended Edition the ultimate movie experience. Enough information and insight into the process is present in this DVD to make it its own lesson in filmmaking. Everything from ideas and drawings to editing and marketing make this a truly unique experience to own on DVD. While many thought that Jackson would run out of things to put in the DVD after loading the Fellowship of the Ring Extended Edition DVD with dozens of bonus features, he has actually topped himself with The Two Towers. All of the contributors to the interviews have been through the Extended Edition process before and are even more comfortable with answering questions and sharing their love of film. Even without the spectacular DVDs, the Lord of the Rings trilogy will leave an indelible mark on the world of filmmaking. The extended editions only serve as further proof of the passion and love every person involved has with bringing the novels to life.