Special Extended Edition

Review by Mark Wiechman

Stars:  Elijah Wood, Ian McKellen, Viggo Mortensen, Liv Tyler, Sean Astin, Christopher Lee, Orlando Bloom
Director:  Peter Jackson 
Audio:  Dolby Digital EX 5.1, DTS ES, Dolby Surround
Video:  Anamorphic Widescreen 2.35:1
Studio:  New Line Cinema
Features:  See Review
Length:  223 Minutes
Release Date:  November 18, 2003

Film ****

Tolkienís Lord of the Rings  saga continues in this second installment of Peter Jacksonís  movie version of the best-selling fantasy series.  In this episode, Frodo and Sam continue into the land of Mordor, where they must attempt to destroy the Ring by flinging it into the volcanic Mount Doom.  Since they do not know the way, they are led there by Gollum, the twisted wretch whose slavish devotion to the Ring has made him a split-personality of gracious servitude who chides Sam for cooking meat and who also plots to do whatever it takes to get the ring back.   Meanwhile, Aragorn, Gimli, and Legolas search for Merry and Pippin.  We also find out whether Gandalf survived his fall into the abyss.  The movie concludes with an incredible battle at Helmís Deep.  Not for the sheepish (or anyone who has not seen the first movie).

The title refers to the unholy alliance of the wizard Sarumanís Isengard tower of Orthanc where he breeds orcs and orchestrates the destruction of Middle Earth with Sauronís tower of Barad-dur, where his great Eye watches seeks the Ring, just as it seeks him.

I agree with many other reviewers who thought that this movie was as good as The Fellowship of the Ring and maybe even better in many aspects.  In the extras for the first DVD set, Jackson explained how complicated it was to take the original Tolkien trilogy and make it into movies, partly because they were not certain if they were going to make one, two, or three full-length movies.  Naturally this made the screenwriting process even more convoluted. 

In the end, it was decided that three movies would indeed be made, but that the movies would not necessarily match the movies in their structure.  I thought this was an excellent idea since of the three original novels, The Two Towers was a dull collection of adjectives about trees and family folklore compared with the originality of Fellowship and the thrilling action-filled climax, Return of the King.  I was afraid that Towers, if filmed to match the novel page for page, would bore everyone and the project would not last.  Instead, Jackson and company have managed to spread the action and non-action around very well and obviously the whole entertainment world is already anticipating the theatrical release of Return of the King.  I also feel that this trilogy will stand for many, many years (if not forever) as the definitive motion picture adaptation of The Lord of the Rings.  It has set a whole new standard for movie magic, even eclipsing the new Star Wars trilogy. 

In this chapter Tolkienís real world is clearly reflected in his writing.  The villagers being chased out by orcs reminds me of the Nazis overrunning Europe and the Ents complaining about how no one cares about the trees is a commentary on the ecological apathy of most of the twentieth century.  And just as Sauronís evil sweeps over Middle Earth, evil forces of the early 20th century were coming close to dominating Europe.

When I saw this movie in the theatre on New Yearís Eve 2002 (using the pass which came with the Fellowship extended set), I remember that I hardly breathed the whole time, and barely anyone else did, either.  I did not say a word to my friend nor do I remember if I ate anything.  I could hardly talk when it was over because it was such an incredible high, like a rock concert.  

And I cannot let my review go without praising the incredible CGI and elocution behind the character of Gollum, the poster child for greed corrupting an innocent soul and ten times the character that Lucasí Jar-Jar ever was.  How does it feel, Mr. Lucas, to have someone else take your technology and make something so much better? 

Video ****

Clear, flawless, no splotchiness of any kind that I can see even in the dark caves or in the forest.   No loss of integrity or problems with special effects, even better than the first.

Audio ****

DTS or death, I say!  Ironically though, the use of all channels is not as adventurous as in Fellowship, and the overall volume is a bit lower than expected, but the quality is excellent, with the excellent soundtrack almost becoming a character unto itself without ever crowding out the dialogue and sound effects.  Cheers to the composer, sound engineers, and DVD preparation teams.

Features ****

The commentaries are marginally interesting to me but it is fun to get to know the cast and creators more personally.  But I would recommend skipping to the first documentary on disc three, which goes into more enormous detail about how the screenplay was shaped, and in what ways it differs from the books.  More good biographical information about Tolkien is also refreshing, including descriptions of his deep friendship with C.S. Lewis, author of The Lion, the Witch, and the Wardrobe.  I never knew they were friends!  Also discussed is the publisherís perspective on Tolkienís unusual construction of the books, which a ďprofessionalĒ author would not have done but which worked wonderfully anyway, of course.  There are thirteen documentaries in all, including interviews with most cast members, editing, music, etc.   It may take months (years?) to get through them all, but rarely do we get to see behind the scenes of a trilogy which is making history. 

Summary :

This edition is well worth waiting for.  But where is my pass for Return of the King?  Oh, I guess the climax is worth the full price ticket.  This four-disc edition certainly was.