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Frodo still sports that single, pained expression on his face, Merry and Pippin are still getting up to mischief and Aragorn is still mixing it with the girls. Yep, it’s the second installment in the Lord Of The Rings trilogy.

The first issue came about when the ultra-sensitive minority tried to lead a push to change the name of the film, from The Two Towers to something probably like The Two Tall Buildings. All I can say is that thankfully most of the argument never saw light of day, and most definitely was never considered when it came to changing the title.

And like any other widely popular release there are loads of other issues raised about the integrity of the production, the effectiveness of the cast members, the closeness of the film to the original novels and, of course, the quality of the visuals. All these will be covered and, more often than not, refuted as nothing more than a few dissenting views among what really is an overwhelming love of the film.

Two Towers, The: The Lord Of The Rings

As mentioned, Frodo and his buddies continue on their journey to destroy that pesky ring. The first film left us with the Fellowship broken and looking destined for failure, with Frodo and Sam continuing on as a scared yet determined duo, and Aragorn, Gimli and Legolas moving on to fight other battles elsewhere as the evil surrounding Middle Earth continues to rise.

While the first film was all about setting up the story of the ring and the Fellowship’s epic journey across Tolkien’s globe, The Two Towers throws up a whole series of curveballs which really gets the action going; Frodo and Sam must recruit Gollum to show them the way to Mount Doom, Saruman builds the strongest army of loyal (and ugly) soldiers in history and we get a visit from an old friend who returns bigger and stronger than ever (I’m sure you all know who I’m talking about, but for arguments sake I’ll leave the big wizard’s name out of the review).

The action pieces make the most out of the stunning sets, costumes, locations and CGI at director Peter Jackson’s fingertips. New Zealand comes up trumps as the characters make their way across the land, running headlong into a battle of epic proportions that has to be seen to be believed. And to think they’re touting the final battle in the third installment as even better. I wait with anticipation.

You don’t need to be a rocket scientist to figure out I’ll tell you this film works. But you don’t need me to convince you as you’ve most likely seen this flick at least once since its debut what seems like a decade ago. The reason it works is purely because of effort and attention to detail. Jackson has overseen the creation of a screenplay which, like the first film, gives fans of the book all the most memorable events and some of the lesser ones whilst still trimming the fat from Tolkien’s pages to ensure the major incidents aren’t merely glossed over.

To cram a whole novel into a three-hour film doesn’t sound like a hard task, but for those who have flipped through the book you’ll know that this one is very much an exception. In this case some key scenes had to be bumped into the third installment but we’ll wait to judge that decision come December this year. What we do know is that the films could never include everything, which was bound to raise the ire of some. We had Tom Bombadil’s omission from The Fellowship and Aragorn’s “brush with death” in this one, among others. But really, some creative license had to be given to Jackson and his pals, which is why they call them adaptations rather than re-creations. We have to judge them on the works they are, not the works they could have been if every page of the book was transferred to film.

For the middle section of a trilogy this is incredible stuff. There might be danger of lag in the middle with a lot of other three-part stories but this one just kicks on from where it left off in the first, and most definitely promises to ramp it up even further in the final episode. Again, this is filmmaking at its finest. While you may not be as enamoured with the films as I am you’ll know doubt appreciate the best efforts of an incredible crew at giving us pure entertainment that will take our minds off even the most pressing issues for a solid few hours.

Two Towers, The: The Lord Of The Rings

It comes as no surprise that there was intense scrutiny over the transfer with this release, as always befalls the blockbusters immediately after they hit the shelves. There are a few issues to do with the transfer but the majority of them have been raised by the die-hard fans who would flinch at an imperfection because the transfer is so near perfect it’s a surprise.

With the current state of cinema projections in Australia it’s no surprise that we’ve taken up DVD at a rapid rate. If my local is anything to go by then you’re better off investing in a home cinema because in the long run it’ll surpass any trip to the multiplex hands down.

So on to the visual transfer on the DVD. The 2.35:1, 16:9 enhanced presentation is, erm, pretty much perfect. This is the reason DVD was invented, so we don’t have to put up with out of focus cinema screenings or dirty prints ever again. The colour levels are brilliant, as evidenced by those amazing landscape shots of New Zealand. Blacks are incredibly deep yet maintain the outstanding sharpness that really does stand out for the duration of the film.

The sharpness may well be the villain with this presentation, merely because it is just too good. Some of the effects, most obviously used with a blue screen and some computer trickery, look a little out of place but are thankfully limited to almost single second clips across the board. I’m thinking Legolas shooting arrows at a rampant orc half way through proceedings as an example, which will shoot by (pardon the pun) so fast that many may well miss what I’m talking about.

The rest of the visuals cannot be faulted. Some of the landscapes and sets would be a nightmare if not given the appropriate time and effort, so thankfully the efforts paid off with this disc by giving us faultless visuals unless you are using your remote to go back and be picky. But when you put it into context most viewers won’t want to be interrupting the incredible story just to pick out their own piece of grain that lasts for half a second.

In all, this transfer is out-and-out reference quality and will remain that way for a long while to come, I’m sure.

Two Towers, The: The Lord Of The Rings

Remember the furor over the Region 4 audio mix of The Fellowship Of The Ring’s Extended Edition. Well, lessons have been learnt and those Down Under can rest assured there’s very little wrong with this mix.

Included on the disc is possibly the most immersive Dolby Digital 5.1 (EX) track I’ve ever heard. The DTS mix might surpass it when the extended edition streets in November but for a traditional 5.1 soundtrack this one takes the cake. Everything from Howard Shore’s top-notch score to the ambient effects that chime in when needed combine to make the soundtrack a joy to listen to.

Surround usage is basically constant throughout. The score kicks in during the more mellow moments while arrows, swords and orcs belt around the rears during the action sequences, supported by the sub-woofer which reveled in the constant supply of low frequency effects to really give the mix some added punch. My cat enjoyed sitting on the big sub-woofer box for most of the film so she’s an indication that there were precious few down times throughout.

My ears, while sensitive, didn’t pick up on any flaws in the soundtrack, whether it be clicks or pops bobbing up or problems with the dialogue being drowned out by the score. The volume level for everything was set perfectly so there will be no need to adjust the volume for particular scenes if you have your equipment set up correctly.

Again, this is almost perfection, and I’m guessing a lot of home setups will beat the pants off all but the best cinema sound outputs going around.

Bearing in mind this release is for fans but not die-hards or collectors, Roadshow/New Line have assembled a sizeable list of supplements to keep us interested until the entirely new batch is shipped with the extended edition in a couple of months. Many of these you may have seen floating around the web and some contain bits we were privy to on the Fellowship discs last year, but on the whole there’s some new stuff to plough through which will keep you entertained for a while.

First up is the featurette Starz Encore Special, entitled On The Set Of The Two Towers. Probably not the best way to start as this piece is pretty fluffy, consisting of a mix of interviews, clips from the film and behind the scenes footage. The best bit comes right at the start, when Elijah Wood recounts what some people said to him after the first film finished up on a mini-cliffhanger. “What’s with the ending, dude?”, to which Elijah replied “Well, it’s gonna continue.”

The next piece is Return To Middle Earth a WB cable special complete with energetic voiceover, interviews and other footage. Running for over forty minutes there is a mix of familiar stories and events as well as some new stuff that will keep your interest throughout this featurette. After seeing the film it may appear as if everyone’s just stating the obvious, but you’ve got to put it into the context with which it was aired.

Two Towers, The: The Lord Of The Rings

A great addition to the disc is a short film by Sean Astin, who plays Sam in the films, entitled The Long and Short Of It. Preceded by a very genuine introduction from Astin himself, this little film is great to watch, though I’m sure Astin’s not Oscar-bound just yet. But with the calibre of the Rings crew it’s no surprise that this little flick is well worth a look.

Accompanying the short film is the making of The Long and Short Of It, which is quite a funny piece looking at how Astin assembled the crew and how those in charge of the larger film become small fry in his creation. It’s Astin and Wood at the helm for this one, making for a quirky behind the scenes look at Astin killing some time in the rain of New Zealand.

The next batch of extras are the featurettes, which were published on the net in the lead-up to the screening of the film. They may be short but they are a welcome addition to the disc, covering everything from arms and armour to the sounds of Middle Earth.

Moving right along, the theatrical trailer makes its way on to the disc along with the teaser, which look even better than when I viewed them in anticipation before the film was released. Alongside these are the TV spots for the film, totaling a whopping sixteen in all.

If you’re a fan of the music from the movie then the music video of Emiliana Torrini’s Gollum’s Song will be right up your alley. It’s not so much a music video as a highlights reel of the film with a few shots of Emiliana herself thrown in for effect. Great song, though.

Now where would we be without a bit of promotion, eh? Included to boost sales is the special edition DVD preview. This is more than just promotion, though, as Jackson and a few other key members explain the motivation behind all the extra footage that will be included in the extended edition. More than just cut footage, these scenes will add a lot more weight to the story for those who wish to sit through it all.

There is also a video game preview from the folks at Electronic Arts, for both The Two Towers and The Return Of The King. The games sure do look cool, so we’ll wait with baited breath for our gaming equivalents to come up with a detailed review like this one.

And the jewel in the crown of this disc is undoubtedly the Return Of The King preview, running for around twelve minutes. This includes a lot of footage and background information on the film which might go a short way to curing the insatiable cravings those die-hard fans already have. I can’t wait, that’s for sure.

Two Towers, The: The Lord Of The Rings

In all this is a pretty darn good collection for this release, bearing in mind the bulk of the quality extras will make their way on to the extended edition later on. There’s some real value here and casual fans who buy this disc won’t be disappointed. Also remember that none of this material is going to be on the extended edition, so you guys have a few choices to make.

This is cinema and DVD at its best. Enough said.